Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fostering Independence

Dear Teacher,
I love to go to you with all of my problems.  I love that you are always there to fix them for me.  When I told you that Sally wouldn't share the ball with me, you told her she has to.  When I needed help opening my chips, you were always there to do it.  When I need help on my work, I know you will be there to help me find the answer.  When my shoes need tied, you are just the one I want to go to.  Thanks for always being there to fix my problems for me.
Love Always,
The Dependent Student

Dear Teacher,
Thank you for NOT always solving my problems.  You were always there for me, but you gave me the tools to fix them myself.  When I told you Sally wouldn't share her ball with me, you told me how I should address Sally to take care of the problem myself. Now, I know how to handle conflict with friends and I don't need to rush to you when there is a problem.  When I needed help opening my chips, you taught me how.  At first my hands were not strong enough to pull the bag open, but with lots of practice, I can do it on my own.  When I needed help with my work, you reminded me to read the directions, go back and check my answers, sound words out.  You gave me the tools I need to do my work independently.  When my shoes needed tied, you taught me to tie them.  It took many lessons before I finally got it, but I am so proud of myself now because I know I can do it.  Thank you for not always doing it for me.  Thank you for teaching me how to be an independent, problem solver.
Love Always,
The Independent Student

I began my teaching career in preschool.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher so I began working with kids while I was in high school.  I started out in a classroom for three year-olds.  I thought those little kids were so darn cute!  So little!  So young! Babies really! The teacher in the room, Ms. Martha, was in her late sixties.  She has been teaching little kids all her life.  She would scold anybody who called her kids babies!  They were three!  They were capable!  They were not babies!  At first, I thought she was so harsh and callus.  She wanted these little tiny kids to put their own shoes on!  They had to clean up all their messes themselves.  She forbid anyone from carrying these little darlings.  She did not put up with crying or whining.  They had to make their own beds before nap time and put them away after.  I admit that when I started I felt bad for these little kids!  It didn't take long for me to see that even though she had high expectations for these kids, they always met them.  They could clean their messes.  They were capable of putting their own shoes on.  There was very rarely any crying or whining because they knew it would not work for them.  They made their beds and seemed to enjoy it.  The following year, I was moved to the four year old classroom.  This teacher was in her thirties and very sweet.  She had a different philosophy than Ms. Martha.  She viewed the kids as little babies who needed her help.  She had me cleaning their messes and putting on their shoes. I made the beds and put them away. There were constant tattles and whining.  Many of the kids were the same that I had in the three year-old room.  I knew they were capable.  The expectation had changed and so had they.  Working at the preschool helped me realize what kind of teacher I wanted to be; the kind with high expectations.  My classroom would foster independence.   I strive to do this everyday.

In the ten years I have been in first grade, I have seen a change in the children.  Every year, they seem younger and more immature.  We have farther to go to get them to that independent stage.  I have kids who cannot speak in proper sentences, "I go bathroom?" This is because they are not corrected at home.  Baby talk in first grade is not cute.  It needs to be corrected.  I have kids who cannot button their own pants.  I have had parents who do EVERYTHING for their children to the point where it has affected fine motor strength.  I have had first graders who expect me to wipe their noses!  How is this happening?
The other day, I was talking to my dad.  He was telling me about working when he was a kid.  When he was in first grade, he chopped fire wood.  I can't imagine my firsties with an ax!  How dangerous! When he was 12, he drove heavy machines at his family's sawmill.  I have a 12 year old.  There is no way I would let her drive!  That is just crazy!  I asked my dad if his family was crazy to let such young kids do such serious work.  He told me this was the norm.  His friends had these same type of chores.  Times have changed.  Expectations have changed.  What will the world be like for my children's children?  Will we have a future like in the movie Wallie where we are all obese and live in our own little bubbles?  It seems like a scary likelihood.
What can we do about it?  I try to teach my parents how to help create independence at home.  I give them realistic expectations for their kids.  They should be squeezing their own toothpaste on their toothbrush.  They can help load the dishwasher.  At school, I do not solve my students' problems for them.  I teach them to do it.  I will be honest, TEACHING them how to take care of problem takes ten times longer than just doing it for them.  Once they know how, my life becomes easier.  Second grade teachers will have a better year with them.  They are more confident and capable.  They quickly learn NOT to run to my with their problems.  They know what I will say, "How can you take care of it?"  I see them start to come to me, rethink it, and then try on their own.  If they try and can't, I am always there to help them.  I just expect them to TRY on their own before coming to me.  I also teach them the difference between tattling and telling.  Tattling is trying to get someone in trouble. Telling is when someone is hurt or could get hurt.  I always want them to come to me if someone is hurt or could get hurt because my job is to keep them safe.
That teacher in the four year-old classroom was doing her best.  She was trying her hardest and wanted only the best for those kids.  I was so fortunate to see these two vastly different approaches to teaching.  They have helped me as both a parent and a teacher.

How do you create independent students?  Do you agree that they seem to come in more needy each year?  Share your thoughts!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Hour of Code in First Grade

A few weeks ago, my sister asked if I had heard of the Hour of Code.  I asked if this was a movie.  She told me that if I was going to call myself "The Primary Techie", I better find out about the Hour of Code.  So, I did what any good techie would do, I Googled it!  The Hour of Code is a global movement to encourage children to learn basic computer coding.  Computers are our students' futures.  I believe that we should immerse them in technology.  I am a wannabe techie and know NOTHING about coding.  That being said, I believe that if I want to learn something, I can.
I signed my class up to participate and began watching the tutorial videos.  I was surprised by how easy it was to understand.  Many activities were based on popular characters and themes like Frozen and Angry Birds.  There are many activities to choose from.  The tasks become more challenging as more puzzles are completed.
Some of the activities seemed much more appropriate for older students (independent readers).  I borrowed a third grade class yesterday so that I could play with the more difficult activities.  The kids were so into it, that they asked for the website so they could continue coding at home.  With my firsties, I introduced all concepts on the smartboard.  We walked through the activities together.
The kids were bursting with excitement to try the coding on their own.  One of the many tutorial videos showed how two kids should work together on one computer.  They talked about one being the driver and the other is the navigator.  The activities are perfect for taking turns and working together.  I have four laptops in my room, so computers are usually one of my six stations.  I wanted them to try the partner work, so I used two laptops at two different centers.  This worked really well because the kids were able to keep their computers for two center transitions,  which gave them longer turns.
I knew they would learn computer stuff, but I was surprised by all the other benefits of the activities.  They are excellent for problem solving, mathematical thinking, reading, and communication skills.  Whether you are a techie or not, you should check out The Hour of Code.  After you sign-up, you will get an email with certificates to print for your class.    
I told the technology director at my school about our Hour of Code.  His response was, "What now?"  I was so excited and that response kind of deflated me a bit.  What now?  He is right!  What now?  We are excited about it.  We like it.  What now?  Does this fizzle out until next year when I do it again with a new group of kids?  NO!  I want my kids to continue this enthusiasm.  We need to keep it going.  We will add these activities to our weekly learning stations.  We will incorporate this in our weekly tech lab time.  The Hour of Code will not last just this week.  The Hour of Code will become the YEAR of Code for my students.
I took typing in high school - on a TYPEWRITER!  When I was in college, we didn't know how to cite the internet because it was too new.  Technology changes so quickly and encompasses every aspect of our daily lives.  I can't imagine what my students' futures hold, but I know that time spent teaching them about technology is a valuable use of time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Classroom Management Life Savers and FREEBIE

December is fun, but man it wipes me out!  These kids are pumped full of candy canes and hot cocoa!  Who wants to work when there are fun decorations and presents in your near future?  To be honest, most of the time I would rather be home wrapping presents and eating cookies!  I know my kids would, too.  Behavior management is serious business.  ESPECIALLY this time of the year!  That is why I am SO excited to tell you about my newest creation:  Classroom Management Life Savers!  Pretty serious name, huh?  Don't worry!  It lives up to the name!

  What is this?  
This is a behavior management system that you run on your board.  You do not need a smartboard to run this. Any projector will work.  I strongly recommend a wireless mouse, keyboard, or presentation clicker.  This will allow you to use the program from any where in the room.  You can redirect students with the push of a button.  It doesn’t matter if you are on the phone, talking to your principal, working with a small group, or testing students.  One click and your whole class is back on track!

Why I made this:
I have a marble jar in my classroom.  When the jar is full, we vote on a class reward.  I would often give my students challenges like “If you can pack-up quietly, you will earn 10 marbles.”  As they cleaned, I would count down.  “Now it is worth 9 marbles.” And so on.  This works SO well for me at clean-up time.  The problem is, I can’t do it while multi-tasking.  When I am running a reading group, I forget what number we are on.  I hate interrupting my readers to re-direct the rest of the class.  Now, my board does it all for me.  

How to use it:
Just start the slide show and do your thing!  These are great to use for a specific period of time (not the same one running all day).  I love these during reading groups.  Each PowerPoint gives the class a goal.  In Take Away Tools, the goal is to keep the objects (marbles, gingerbread men, etc.)  In Build Tools, the goal is to gain pieces to create a picture. The students must try to reach the goal before our next transition.  

About Take Away Tools:
Take away tools  count down and deter negative behaviors.  We always start with 10.  If my students get too noisy or are off-task, I just click the mouse .  One object will disappear and a chime signals the class that they have lost one object.  This sound reminds them to get back on-task.  YOU don’t have to say a word!  I love this because I can use it while I am working with small groups and don’t need to interrupt my group at all.  One click and they students are refocused.  I use Take Away tools along with my marble jar.  However many objects are left determines the number of marbles the class earns.  It can also be used as a consequence.  For example, if my students lose all of the objects, they lose recess or a fun activity.  I call this “Plan B”.  You never want to have a “plan B day”.  Plan A is always much more fun!  

About Build Tools:
I believe that positive reinforcement works much more effectively than negative, so I also created Building Tools.  With the Build Tools, positive behavior is rewarded by creating a picture.  When I catch them all working on-task, I click to give them a piece of a picture.  I tell my students that if they reach the goal by the end of our reading groups, they will earn a reward.  This can be a small treat like an M&M (yes, they do get excited about ONE M&M!), “take your shoes off” until our next transition, extra minutes of recess, everybody moves their clip up, or marbles for our jar.  These are just a few ideas.  I like to change it up on them all the time so it is new and fresh.  If it gets boring, it will lose its effectiveness. 

About the Files:
To keep students engaged, I like to switch themes often.  I have named the files to make them easy for you to find.  Themes that can be used anytime (like pirates, marble jar, fish, and aliens) have names that begin with 0.  All monthly themes are named with the number of the month followed by the name.  For example, Santa will be used in December.  December is the 12th month, so this file will be called 12- Santa.  If you are looking for St. Patrick’s Day themes, they will start with 3 because March is the third month.  
This is an expanding file.  I will continue adding new themes until this has a minimum of 40 to give you a new theme each week.  If you have a class theme that is not included, please message me and I will try to add it for you.  You can reach me at or via my facebook page if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions.  I would love to hear from you!  

I am so excited about these that I want to let my blog followers have a set for FREE!  This exclusive link is not listed anywhere else!  Click here to download your own Build a Santa Tool.  
This full set will continue to rise in price as more themes are added.  The sooner you buy, the lower the price.  Check out the full set by clicking here.  

Thanks so much for visiting my blog and reading about my newest treasures.  I hope they save your sanity during this holly, jolly time of year!  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Workin' Hard with the Fit Desk

Cool, but not for me...
Ever since I began creating stuff on TpT, I have found myself sitting on the couch with my laptop for hours and hours and hours (and hours).  I get so sucked into my project that when I eventually stand-up, my legs are asleep and I have couch butt.  I hate this!  I like to move!  I saw these super cool treadmill desks a while back.

I considered buying one.  When I was researching, I found them to be over a thousand bucks each.  If this thing got me moving, it might be worth the money.  My real worry is, what if I get sucked in to my projects and forget to walk?  What if I hurt myself due to my lack of coordination?  As I was looking at the treadmill desks, I found this bike desk.

Here is what I like about the bike desk:
1) It doesn't take up too much floor space.
2) It was only $300.
3) If I forget to pedal, I am safely seated.

I ordered that baby right away!  It came in a little over a week.  I was a bit intimidated by all the pieces and the overwhelming directions.  I do love a good project, so I got busy right away.  I had it completely put together in about two hours.

It is not difficult to work and ride.  I can easily type and pedal.  It is smooth and not jerky.  Instead of spending 3 hours sitting on the couch each evening, I am now spending 3 hours on my bike.  I get all my work done, and get a workout in! I really love my bike and am so happy that I ordered it.  If you feel like you don't have time to work out, check out the Fit Desk!  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why I Am Thankful for TpT

Miss Giraffe is hosting a "Why I'm Thankful for TpT" Linky Party and I HAD to join!  November is a time for reflection, a time for giving thanks.  I cannot let this month pass without thinking of how eternally grateful I am for Teachers Pay Teachers.

I began my journey on TpT just over two years ago.  I have always loved creating things for my own students.  Other teachers always told me I should sell my creations.  I had no faith in myself.  How would I start?  Would anybody really want it?  What if I failed?  I was filled with so much doubt and a tremendous lack of confidence.

In October of 2011, I learned that I needed stomach surgery.  Even with health insurance, it would cost a few thousand dollars.  I was devastated by this news.  Times were so hard then.  Money was so tight.  We bought our home when the market was high and our payment was ridiculous.  My husband is a firefighter, and I am a teacher.  You would think we would be alright, but in actuality, every year we took home less money than the year before.  There was no money in the budget for raises and the cost of insurance and taxes went up and up.

I remember leaving the doctor and crying on the phone to my mom.  How could I even think of getting this surgery?  I was taking money from my kids.  I didn't feel that I was a priority.  I always put myself last.  I felt so guilty that I was now going to be a burden.  After I got off the phone, it hit me!  I could raise the money by selling some of my creations!  I would save all the money I made, and I wouldn't feel guilty.  That very night, I signed up to be a seller on TpT.  I made my very first sale within a couple hours.  After that I was hooked!

In the past two years, I have created over 600 resources.  Children in Spain, China, and Australia use my games!  Teachers have shared pictures of their students using my games and even letters from their kids THANKING them for letting them do them.  I am blown away!  I have met some of the nicest people!  I began to realize that teachers actually liked my stuff!  Kids across the country were using my games to have fun and learn!  This is my passion!  This is my dream!  I am all about getting in done, but makin' it fun!  I want kids to LOVE school.  I want them to think they are playing, but really they are learning!  I was now sharing this passion in classrooms across the world!  I had never imagined how fulfilling that could be.

In 2013, I got a booth at the I Teach K conference in Las Vegas and shared my passion with teachers from around the country.  Last summer, I got two booths and presented.  I NEVER would have done this before TpT.  I have found a confidence in myself.  I have realized that I can go as far as I dream.
One year ago, I had my stomach surgery and paid for it all through my TpT earnings.  I feel so much better physically, but I never imaged how much better I would feel emotionally.  TpT has given me a confidence and drive that I never had before.  I know that I am worthy and deserving.  I no longer put myself last.  Teachers Pay Teachers has empowered me, given me a purpose, and allowed me to grow as a human being.  I never expected any of this when I signed up, but I am forever grateful to TpT for helping me discover who I was meant to be.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Life Cycle of a Pumpkin with Free Science Journal

One of my favorite Halloween books is Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbell.

In this story, a little boy throws his old jack-o-lantern into his garden and watches it rot.  He is surprised to find new pumpkin plants sprouting from the rotten shell.  For years, I would leave an old jack-o-lantern out so that we could watch it rot.  It was pretty fun.  Last year, I saw an idea on pinterest where the pumpkin is filled with soil so that the seeds can sprout.  We still have all the fun of watching the pumpkin rot but now we also get to watch the seeds sprout.  The kids LOVE it!


To get started, all you need is a pumpkin and a bag of soil.  Cut the top off the pumpkin and fill that baby up.  Put the pumpkin in a clear plastic tote.  I look for something that can be tossed because after weeks of rotten pumpkin, I don't want to clean it.  Water the seeds and watch.  I created some journals for my kids to record the changes we see.  We are just starting them, but my students were SO excited!   Click here to print your own Pumpkin Science Journals.  Here are the pages:


Inside pages.  I put 6 two-sided sheets in each journal.

Last page - reviewing what we learned from the project.
Until next time-

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Favorite Things Giveaway #2 - PowerPoint Clicker!

Wow!  Long time no blog!  I have been super busy with my new group of kiddos.  I am happy to report that they are a great bunch and we are off to a super start.  It has been a month since my last Favorite Things Giveaway, so I had to return to the blog and get busy!  Each month this year, I will be posting one of my favorite things and giving it away!  This month, I am so excited to giveaway one of my favorite little gadgets - my PowerPoint clicker!  I think this is probably my most used piece of technology, but I am surprised by how many teachers have never heard of them!  Here is the breakdown:

What is it?  
This little gadget lets you click through powerpoint presentations from anywhere in your classroom.  It comes with a little part that looks like a jumpdrive and plugs into your computer.  The actual clicker looks like a small remote control.  It has just a few buttons.  Mine has a laser pointer on the end.  I picked mine up at Target and I think it was around $25.

Why do we need it?
You can be ANYWHERE in your room and still control the board!  Here are some ways that I use the clicker in my room:
  • I use these when I read scanned books to my class.  I am able to sit on the floor with them and flip through the pages of the book.  To read more about scanning books, click here!  
  • We play games with it!  This is especially fun with my Alpha-Stretch games!  I have my kids stand in a circle and give one kid the clicker.  I turn on an Alpha-Stretch with the setting "Click to Advance".  The student holding the clicker must think of a word that begins with the letter on the board.  The whole class does the movement that goes with the letter.  After the student with the clicker says a word, he presses the button to advance to the next letter and gives the clicker to the student next to him.  Once we have gone through the alphabet, we do it again and try to beat our time.  I love this game before holiday parties!  It keeps them engaged and gives them a chance to move around.  To learn more about Alpha-Stretch games, check out this video: 

  • We also use the clicker during morning songs.  My star student gets to hold the clicker and advance through the songs for us.  This helps morning songs run without me.  To read more about morning songs, click here!  
Other tips for using a PowerPoint Clicker:
  • Sometimes, my clicker wanders off.  I hot glued a magnet to the back of it and keep it on my board next to my computer.  This ensures that we can find the clicker when we need it! 
  • Kids can get confused by the buttons.  I used a little bit of red and green nail polish to mark the forward and back buttons.  Green means "GO" to the next slide.  Red means "STOP" and go back!  Why nail polish?  It stays put way longer than regular paint and is opaque enough to cover the writing on the buttons.  
And now...The moment we have all been waiting for...THE GIVEAWAY!!!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway