Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Summer of Mustaches

Mustaches have (oddly) had a reoccurring appearance in my life this summer.  First, there was the EduBros Mustache party at ISTE '12.  Then, this article in the Seattle Weekly coining the term "Ironic Mustache Syndrome."  And, just when I thought I was done with them, a friend recently told me about mustache-themed classroom decor.  All of this resulted in a running joke between my husband and I, which I have now turned into a classroom/PD "parking lot" sign.

My plan is to put it on 11 x 17, laminate, and hang in my classroom.  Students will use sticky notes to write questions while I'm busy working with other students (mainly during small groups/conferring).  I've found that having this space allows students who are working independently to come to me while cutting down on interruptions at the same time. Win-win!

I put the image in a Google Doc just in case you want to use it, too.  Snag it here.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Several recent conversations have gotten me thinking about energy's role in schools and the relationships we have with our colleagues and students. Every year I teach a science unit on the different forms of energy.  Early on, students learn three basic things:

  1. Energy is all around us.
  2. Energy does work/causes change.
  3. Energy cannot be created or destroyed - only changed.

I had a busy week attending district retreats, serving on an interview committee, planning professional development, and continuing to prepare instructional activities.  While I'm incredibly excited for students to return, I love the time I spend with my colleagues this time of year.  We are relaxed, refreshed, and optimistic. There's a lot of good energy all around us, and I thrive on it.    

As a result of this collective positive energy, good things happen.  We work together to collaborate on projects, have engaging conversations regarding school culture, and help each other realize the awesome potential a new school year brings.  We are productive and happy educators ready to tackle any obstacle that comes our way.

And then something happens.

I'm not sure when, where, or why, but ultimately, there's a shift from good energy to...not so good energy.  You know what I'm talking about because we've all been there.  This negative energy can pervade a school culture like an infectious disease.  Teachers stop collaborating, snarky comments infuse themselves into conversations, and general unhappiness abounds.  Students and families begin to pick up on it, and it's definitely not a good thing.

What changed?  Why did it change?  How were we, as individuals, responsible for that change?  Can positive energy eventually reemerge?

I implore you to think back to those three basic properties of energy and remember the following during those endless staff meetings, while collaborating with difficult colleagues, or when working in challenging situations over the course of the next school year:

  1. Energy is all around us.  We all are responsible for the energy we bring into a situation or relationship. It's up to us to harness it in a positive and productive way.
  2. Energy creates energy.  Your mindset has a direct effect on the surrounding environment, as well as your relationships with colleagues, students, and families.  
  3. Energy cannot be created or destroyed - only changed.  You have to work with the energy already existing within your organization, but that doesn't mean it can't change or continue to get better. Take a step back.  Try to see a different perspective.  Keep that catty comment to yourself, or better yet, turn a negative comment into a positive one.  If you don't like the energy you're feeling, work to change it.
As I (officially) head back to staff meetings next week, I hope to keep that good energy flowing by being cognizant of what I'm transmitting and how I react to others.  We hold great power in our hands as educators, touching the lives of students and colleagues each day (often unknowingly).  We must remember that our energies are all connected, important, and vital to the success of our schools. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Classroom Set-Up Day 5

The first dragon has been slain - I have conquered the Great Classroom Set-Up of '12.

I feel great starting the school year knowing that every cabinet and classroom space has a purpose and is completely organized and tidy.  It was time consuming and I had to give up a few days of my summer vacation, but completely worth it.  I am confident that clearing out the clutter will allow me to focus on the more important stuff during the school year rather than endlessly searching for missing items or weeding through unused stuff.

Today's first task was to fix the computer cables, because,'s just embarrassing (and probably a hazard of some sort):

Remember those lime green curtains I found smooshed behind some dictionaries on Day 2?  Turns out, they came in handy to hide this ugly mess of cords.  After taking everything apart and making all the cords look nice (you'll have to trust me on this one...), I used Velcro squares to attach one of the curtain panels to the desk.  To finish it off, I lowered the legs on a large table and placed it in front of the media cart.  I'm envisioning lots of collaborative iPad projects, writing conferences, and math games going on here.  So much nicer!

The meeting area is still a little unkempt, but has the makings of a great learning space.  Once I get the chairs out of the way, I know it'll come together quickly. This space is where we do morning meeting, calendar math, and whole group mini-lessons.  The biggest change I'm making this year is going rug-less.  I have never had a rug last more than one year, so I've decided just forgo it (even if it does tie the room together).  I've purchased several small stools from IKEA for students to use during lessons and independent reading.
At the end of the day I sat down to write an epic to-do list...feeling thankful I still have a few weeks left!

Thank you for joining me on this journey this week!  Stay tuned for more back to school fun in the coming weeks!    


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Classroom Set-Up Day 4

  Day four's victories:
  • Put this poster up on the window


  • One neat and tidy filing cabinet
  • Boxes broken down and ready to go back into basement storage
  • Last box of random stuff eliminated (how did I get so many paperclips?!)
  • Labels printed and placed on Sharpies ready to be shared!
  • Math games cut and ready to be laminated (it only took me three years...)
  • Helped a friend set up his classroom at a neighboring school! 


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Classroom Set-Up Day 3

After yesterday's chaotic cleaning spree, I needed a quieter day to sort, organize, and pretty-up my room.  My colleagues have been floating in and out of the building all week, so it's been fun to balance an unpleasant task with great hallway conversations.

One of my original goals was to re-sort and condense two three-drawer storage units into one.  I like having a place to put frequently used supplies and equipment, but I realized last year that I wasn't frequently using those supplies.  My attempts at organization were really just weighing me down!  And I just don't need six junk drawers in my life.  

This is what six junk drawers looks like.

Having just read Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken, I decided to turn this task into a game.  I turned on some music, set the timer, and went to work!  Since I was working for speed, I employed the "dump-everything-out-and-quickly-decide-what-to-do-with-it" method.  The end result is all kinds of awesome.  The top drawer holds office supplies, the middle drawer has stickers and hall passes, and the bottom has all my techie gear.  Total time: 22 minutes. 

This was only two drawers...

So much better!
The next project was to find homes for all the books that were either waiting to be shelved or needed to be put back into the correct bin.  I also checked to make sure each book and bin had matching stickers to make returns easy for our classroom librarians.  This is a tedious process, but absolutely necessary for me to keep track of 2,000+ books!

Dictionaries + 2 cases nonfiction + 2 cases fiction picture books
Series chapter books, poetry, and drawing books
(the top shelf is waiting to be filled with graphic novels -
I know I am seriously lacking in this department!)
General fiction chapter books

And to complete the library, I put up the gallery wall of fun quotes.  I have plans for the empty space on the right involving a greeting card I found with some cute seahorses on it.

And that's what I accomplished on day three!  Tomorrow's plan is to go through my filing cabinet and make some math games.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Classroom Set-Up Day 2

Today was about problem solving.  I decided to focus on the back wall of my classroom because it was the area that needed the most attention. 

Problem #1: Storage area

This space is in a prime location in the room, but has always been overlooked.  I wanted to make it more accessible and useful for my students.   It was full of old, unused dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a set of lime green curtains (why?!).  Also, my goodie bag and table baskets ended up vacationing here over summer break.  

After some thinking, I thought this might be a better place for all of my rainy day recess games.  I weeded out the usable dictionaries and moved them over to the library.  Then, the games moved in.  I think it looks pretty good!
Problem #1 solved!

Problem #2: Under the sink storage

Need some old dried up watercolors, crusty paintbrushes, almost-finished bottles of glue, plastic bags, or really old cleaning supplies?  Yeah, me neither.  My sink area was just plain nasty and needed a good overhaul. 

Problem #2 solved!

Problem #3: teacher resource area

This area of my classroom houses all of my curriculum, student files, and frequently used personal resources.  I keep my favorite read alouds and nicer, oversized picture books on the tall bookshelf. This is also where rainy day recess materials used to live.  I had spent a lot of time here last summer, so this was more a case of tidying up and weeding out/putting away resources I don't use very often or no longer need.  

Problem #3 solved!

Before school starts, I'm going to put a curtain up to hide the upper shelves.  Since my students don't use any of that stuff, they don't need to look at it.  

The last thing I did was set up my mementos area.  I know it looks a little tacky, but I can't help but smile whenever I look here.  Each object is tied to an unforgettable student or has an awesome story.  We all need those things in our lives to remind us why we keep going.

Tomorrow I'm hoping to work in the library and meeting area. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Classroom Set-Up Day 1

I'm setting up my classroom this week, and I thought it'd be fun to document and share the process.  

Here's what I walked into at 8 A.M.:

The four most important areas in my classroom are the meeting area, classroom library, student tables, and small group area.  Today's game plan focused on tackling the classroom library and student tables, as well as making sure things were generally where they needed to be.

After shoving the bookshelves back into the corner, I was able to get most of the books back into a bin on a shelf.  Last year's students organized the library really, really well before the end of the school year.  I am thankful for their hard work because it made my life a lot easier today.  There are still books everywhere that need stickers and sorting, but that can get done later.  I'm also thinking of purchasing two more shelves.

Next, I managed to spread the tables out so I can imagine students living here. I'm betting the table placements will change no less than 17 times by the end of August, but at least it's a start!   

Finally, I put all the random things like school supplies and plastic bins where they'll be easy for me to sort through and put away later this week.

By the end of the day, I had this (and a new to-do list!):

Next up: tidy up my teacher resources and the dreaded under-the-sink cabinets (not pictured)...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Favorite Beginning of the Year Read Alouds

While I still have a month until I'm back with students, I'm starting to get organized and ready for the start of school.  I've found that it's usually best to start with a story, so here are a few of my favorite beginning of the year read alouds.

Picture Books:
The Awesome Book - Dallas Clayton

This guy is easily becoming my new favorite person.  I love the message behind his words and the simplicity of his poetry.

Officer Buckle and Gloria - Peggy Rathmann

I use this book to spark a discussion on classroom safety and expectations for the classroom community.

Paulie Pastrami Achieves World Peace - James Proimos

Can kids change the world?  You bet! I often use this book as a set up for a Socratic Seminar-esque discussion - "can world peace be achieved through cupcakes?"  Afterwards, I have teams work together to make a batch of cupcakes.

Because Brian Hugged His Mother - David Rice

Actions matter and we are all connected, so be nice.

Do Unto Otters -  Laurie Keller

We're all here for the same purpose.  So, again, be nice.

It's Okay to be Different - Todd Parr

One of my all-time favorites celebrating individuality.

The Incredible Book Eating Boy - Oliver Jeffers

Room 106 is full of voracious readers!

The New Girl...and Me - Jaqui Robbins

An especially good read as friendships start to change in 2/3rd grade and kids aren't always sure how to deal with it.

Squids Will be Squids - Jon Scieszka

This guy is brilliant and another favorite author of mine.  Just a nice little collection of modern fables kids really like.

Oh, The Thinks You Can Think - Dr. Seuss

Think big!

Thank You, Mr. Falker - Patricia Polacco

Great book for students who've struggled in learning.  I cannot get through this book without crying at the end.  Never ever.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon - Patty Lovell

Awesome message on self-confidence!

Horton Hatches the Egg - Dr. Seuss

Good to use when discussing qualities of excellent citizenship. "I meant what I said and I said what I meant.  An elephant's faithful one hundred percent."

Chapter Books:
Sideways Stories From Wayside School - Louis Sachar

I've started this book on the first day of school with my students for the past 5 years.  Kids (and teachers) can easily connect to the characters, however silly they may be.  A great community builder, for sure.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Beverly Cleary

Who doesn't love Ramona?!  Cleary accurately captures the different emotions an 8 year old can feel towards his or her family, friends, and teachers.


The First Day of School - Judith Viorst
We all have first day jitters :)

Whatifs - Shel Silverstein
Getting all those worries down on paper helps them to disappear.

Helping - Shel Silverstein
I'm thinking this might pair well with Because Brian Hugged His Mother.

Did I miss any? What are your favorites?