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Early Finisher and Enrichment Solutions

I've been teaching gifted and high achieving students for the past 15 years. In that time, I've come to have a great understanding of what motivates bright minds and what turns them off. I have a solid understanding of what I can expect my young, bright minded students to do independently. Often their enrichment work needs to be done independently because the reality of the classroom is that your high-fliers are not the ones getting your individual attention. In many classrooms, even those taught by some of the most amazing teachers I know, the default for your brightest kids is for them to read a book while you're working with your lower babies who are struggling to read sight words.

Often you'll find that those kids love to read, so you feel ok with that decision. I did too for a long time, but then it started to weigh on my mind that I had these super bright kids who probably read at home all the time and here I am just having them read more.  The kids seemed content and they were "busy" while I worked with the kids who needed interventions that I had to provide one-on-one. But something was nagging at me. I knew I had to do something else for my early finishers and enrichment students.

I remember hearing about a project where the kids would research an animal of their choice and determine how much it would cost them to keep and care of that animal as pet. This would require them to use newspaper ads, internet research, interviews with vets or groomers, after which they would prepare a presentation to share with the class. Sounds amazing. Until they need help with just about every step of the way and it turns into a giant headache for you and lots of lost time in the classroom. Trust me. I tried it. It was a great idea in theory, but in practice it needed a lot of refinement. Perhaps older students could do this independently, but not second and third graders.

I decided to come up with much smaller projects that they could tackle. Much, much smaller. I have found that although the kids can use a computer and an iPad to play games and manipulate apps, many of them lack the basic skills necessary to complete a large, complex research project. They need practice with the baby steps to get there. So I created shorter research activities that will give them the foundation to complete those larger projects in the future. In one activity, students research to find out which part of the body a specialist treats. In another, they research the average cost of ordinary objects on the day they were born. In another they have to research some unusual words and determine if it names a fruit or a country.  In yet another they research the hedgehog and then make a justification about having one as a class pet. These are short, interesting, independent research projects that the kids navigate by themselves or with a friend. 

Along with these shorter research projects, I also like to have on hand some other things to engage my fast finishers. I think I know how these kids feel, because I was one of these kids. I was a super fast finisher. I remember one teacher I had who would ask us to bring her our work when we were done. In my elementary classroom in the early 80's we sat in rows, silently working away. I remember finishing way faster than my peers and then pretending to keep working until some other brave soul walked to the front of the room with their finished work. Then I would follow them up to the teacher's desk. After which I would take out the Judy Blume book I was currently obsessed with and quietly read until it was time to do something else. I was a word nerd. I would have LOVED it if my teacher knew this and handed me a puzzle or a brain teaser. So for those kids who are like me, I created some thing I think they would like.

I was a writer too. From a very early age I would write long rambling stories on any scrap of paper I could find. I was never given much direction for my writing, but I remember my teachers praising me for it. Again, I would have loved it if my teacher provided some direction for my rambling stories. This is exactly what I've tried to do for my students with the writing tasks I've created.

Your high math kids need complex thinking challenges, not just more problems on a page or working with an extra digit to subtract. Both open ended and discrete math challenges are provided in this pack as well.

 I've also provided opportunities for art expression, design, personal reflection, history, and science.

The work I've created in this pack is very versatile. Use them to enhance your planned curriculum, differentiate homework, or provide challenging work for higher groups or individual students. Of course, this is not the only thing we need to do for the brightest minds in our charge, but it's a great set of materials to have on hand to give them the challenge they're probably craving. You can check out the pack here on tpt.

P.S. This set of materials is a "sequel" of sorts. I created a first set of 50 Printables years ago which became one of my best selling and highest rated products. You can see the original here.

Kids are Incredible Week!

There is some really fun stuff going on at Carson Dellosa this week.  They've declared it Kids are Incredible Week! I couldn't agree more.

Im bringing you this news a bit on the tail end of the celebration, but I just checked out the website and there's still time to take part in all the fun. Start with this cute video of the Carson Dellosa CEO asking kids why they're incredible:

Be sure to stop by their website and check out the free downloads they're offering as part of the celebration.

There's also a fun certificate you can download for your incredible kids:
And there's also a great discount code for their new Brainy Books.

Stop by and join them in celebrating out incredible kids!

Airborne Everyday Giveaway!

I was recently contacted by Airborne, eager to spread the word about their newest daily multivitamin with immune support. I don't often agree to work with companies that aren't directly linked to education in some way, but I was intrigued so I agreed. I have been compensated with free product but the opinions are mine.

What I did not know is that I was getting GUMMIES! I am a huge fan of gummy anything, so I was super excited about trying them. I've thought about buying them in the past, but I'm pretty notorious for buying vitamins and supplements and letting them go to waste. I opened them up and tried them right away and was very pleasantly surprised! Although they are different colors, they all seem to have the same citrus flavor. They are sugar coated so they start off quite sweet and then finish with a tart grapefruit flavor. I've actually reached for an extra gummy before stopping to remind myself that they are vitamins, and I’ve had my daily dose!

The thing I really love about the Airborne Everyday Gummies besides the great flavor and fun factor is the fact that I can just pop a couple in my mouth without water which is especially helpful at school. I can honestly say that this is the first time in my life that I've actually taken any sort of vitamin on a regular basis and I can see it becoming a habit that I can easily stick with. As busy teachers, coaches, moms, spouses, it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves when we’re always taking care of someone else. Remembering to keep our own healthy habits in check is really the most important thing we can do for all those who depend on us.

Here's the fun part. I get to give away a bottle of Airborne Everyday Gummies to 3 lucky readers. Leave a comment on this blog post and tell me what you think of Airborne Everyday Gummies and how they can help you better support your immune system. Winners will be chosen by random number generator from comments on this blog post which must be entered by Wednesday, April 15 Midnight EST.

Good luck!

National Foot Check Day...EPIC April Fools Idea!

I'm learning that after you pull an epic April Fool's Day prank, word spreads. Sometimes you have kids that have heard tales of the prank from older siblings, sometimes other well meaning teachers play your prank before you have a chance with your own kids. Such has been the case for the last two years when with my Lirpaloof Bird Hunt. It was all kinds of awesome, but it became really clear to me that it was time to leave it behind me and search for something new. So I did. And it was incredible!

I have to give credit to Tina Miller inspiring this one. She mentioned the general idea and then I took it to the extreme. 

So many little things lined up to make this work. It was kind of amazing - like the Universe was totally in on the joke. Let me walk you through the day:

As the kids walked in to the room, I noticed one of my little guys hobbling down the hall with an orthopedic boot on. It took me a few minutes to realize that this was his April Fool's prank. And it was my perfect opening. I said, "Oh man. I guess you won't be able to have your foot check today."
He looked a bit panicked, but hobbled in shifting his limp from left foot to right. He caved after about 15 minutes and confessed to me quietly that he didn't really break his foot and that he'd be able to have his feet checked after all. We agreed that he'd tell everybody right before the foot check that it was a joke. Perfect.

Then our math special teacher came to our room because the older kids were testing. And guess what she had the kids do... they measured their FEET! Thank you, Universe! I told her quietly about our upcoming foot check and she managed to work it into her lesson. Rock on!

So, when it was time to do the deal, I called them to the carpet for the day's read aloud which was What if you had Animal Feet?  Great book, by the way.


I explained that today was National Foot Check Day for all second graders, and just like when they had their vision and hearing checked, today a doctor would come in and make sure that their feet were growing correctly for their age and height. I reminded them that their parents returned the form giving permission at the beginning of the year. I explained that the doctor would just come in, ask them to spread their toes as wide as they could and then measure their feet.

Then I gave them the handout that explained the whole thing and we read it together. Click HERE to download a copy.

I passed out baby wipes and we cleaned our feet really well. I mean, let's have a little consideration for the podiatrist. Who wants to touch 20 pairs of stinky, dirty feet? So we took off our shoes and socks and got to work cleaning up!

After cleaning up, we put our feet up on the tables so that they'd stay clean and the doctor could just quickly make his way around the room. I told them to tell the doctor if anything had been hurting them lately and to try to remember if they'd ever injured their feet before. Their discussions were completely serious. I told them to practice spreading out their toes as wide as they could so that the doctor wouldn't have to do it (because sometimes that can hurt a little). Look at their faces as they're spreading out those toes!

We waited like this for a bit. Some of us were more relaxed than others...

I honestly had to turn my face to the board a few times because I thought I was going to lose it more than once. When I couldn't take it any more, I spilled the beans. Their reaction was priceless! They totally fell for it! I mean, who checks their feet?? lol!


No Sweat, EZ Prep Centers

Full Disclosure: I'm resurrecting the beginning of this this post from a while ago when I first introduced my EZ Prep See-it Centers, but come on. It's a good one right? 

{For effect, please read the following in your best infomercial announcer voice}

Are you tired of spending hours laminating and cutting materials for centers? Have you gone through endless reams of card stock and too many ink cartridges to count? (you're doing the voice, aren't you? good. Keep going. And imagine a very exasperated teacher blowing her hair out of her eyes)

Do your children run in the opposite direction when you enter the room with arm loads of lamination that needs to be cut? Are you constantly struggling to find the right organizational system to keep track of little cards, stamps, manipulatives, baskets, buckets and envelopes you need to keep your materials together? (Now imagine a very harried looking teacher surrounded by game pieces, various baskets, bags, envelopes, etc. who looks at you and says "There's got to be a better way!")

Ok, before you change the channel. I'll get to the point ;) After spending about 2 hours printing, cutting laminating and sorting things for the upcoming week, I honestly started to think there has got to be a better way! Now at the same time,  I've been mulling over the fact that we were recently told by a common core implementation team that we need to bump up the rigor of our independent centers. I honestly can't argue with them there.

So true story, later that night while in the shower, inspiration struck me like a thunderbolt! I think I figured out a way to make at least some of my centers easier to prep while providing both rigor and engaging activities for the kids. I'm calling them EZ Prep See-it Centers. EZ Prep for you, See-it for the kids. All you have to do is print out ONE page for the center and and answer sheet for the kids - and done! This is from the preview, it explains the whole idea. You can download the preview here.

Since that original post, I've created EZ Prep Centers for  Beach and CampingFall,  Winter FunBowling and Day at the Park, Pirate Adventure and Undersea Fantasy and a FREE Back to School version.

Here's a peek at my newest set, which happens to be my favorite. It's a great one to use at any point in the year and it's going to captivate both boys and girls with the fantasy scenes.

All you have to do is make one color copy of the scene you decide to work with first and then copy the ELA or Math answer sheet for the kids. That's it! Each set contains 2 ELA and 2 Math centers, so really if you use one a week, it will last you all month. These also work great for an early finisher activity. I also have one in my emergency sub folder with the directions to project the scene and let the kids collaborate on the answer sheet. That, by the way, is a great method to introduce the centers to the kids for the first time.

Along with the scene and answer sheets for the kids, I've also created answer keys for you with possible answers. These are really valuable to help you train the kids for how to find what they're looking for. It may be odd at first for a kid to try to list 10 verbs they see when there are no words in the picture! They pick it up fast though and this center has a ridiculously high engagement factor compared to matching cards and writing sets of answers.

Hope you dig this idea as much as I do. I'd love to know what you think!

Tardy to the Valentine Party!

I'm pretty much a professional procrastinator. So just in case we're kindred spirits, I've got some fun, free stuff you might be able to use this week. Or you know, next year...

I've shared most of this before, so you may already have it. Sometimes you just need to see it again to jog your memory. I made one big file with everything you see below so you don't have to click click here, click click there, here a click, there a click...well - you get it.  So click here (last time, promise)

These task cards make great discussion starters or writing prompts.

Everything you need to play this subtraction game is included - you'll just need some extra counter manipulatives or bottle caps.

These make a SUPER fast and cheap gift for your kids.
 Cut them out and stick them to a ruler and call it done!

Use this holiday themed word work for a bell ringer or homework.

Of course - BUMP is back for February!

See this post to learn a bit more about this February word shaker. So fun!
And in the non-free department for this month, my February Math Mats are ready! I know I'm partial because I made these and all, but seriously they are so easy to prep and really provide the kids with some great practice. See the second grade set here and first grade here.
I would have had this post up earlier, but I spent this past weekend in North Carolina working with some of my amazing friends and the team at Carson Dellosa. More on that really soon.

Happy Hearts & Flowers Day, my friends!

Blogging about some new things "under the sun"

So when I had my blog redesigned last year, I specifically asked Michelle to add this phrase to the scrolling bar at the top:

Back then, I had the idea to incorporate more "lifestyle" ideas into my teaching blog. I tossed around the idea of starting a whole different blog,  but then decided to first dip my toes in the water here instead. Surely I'm crazy because I do NOT live in a Pinterest perfect home or claim for one second to be a fashion diva. I'm certainly not one to hand out fitness advice and I don't have children of my own adorably wrapped up in ruffle-butt outfits with big bouncy bows on their heads. Though I try, I am not a great photographer and I will probably not dazzle with you with fancy angles and perfect lighting in my close up shots of household decor. Boy, I'm really selling myself here, huh?

So, what do I have to offer?  Well, I'm just a real life teacher keepin' it real. I struggle to keep a clean-ish house. I drink entirely too much coffee. Occasionally, I lock myself in my craft cave for hours on end. I have recently become a subscription box junkie. I'm a late bloomer when it comes to experimenting with make up and jewelry (well, the 80's don't count. I inhaled too much hairspray during that era to be held accountable for those decisions). I alternate between being on a diet and dining out at some fantastic restaurant to reward myself for said diet (I know. I know...) I'm addicted to the Food Network. I have every kitchen gadget known to man including a Veggetti and I'm on a quest to actually use them before they become antiques. I do have a pretty fantastic husband with whom I love to take little trips (and naps). I'm trying to embrace my "curvy girl' status and break through my selfie-phobia. In my old age, I'm trying to be kinder to myself and forgive my flaws and love myself a little more.  I watch super random shows when I have the TV to myself {Hoarders, True Tori, Intervention, My Strange Addiction, 90 Day Fiance}  I love memes, but not mimes - they're actually quite annoying.  I'm fluent in sarcasm and I live pretty passionately.  I've never been accused of being graceful. I'm a former band nerd. The nerd part kind of stuck. Above all else, I try to cherish every imperfect day and find humor it in all. And sometimes I just want to share all of that with you! After 21 years of teaching and 4 years of blogging pretty consistently, it feels like the right time to branch out and share a little more of the real me. I'm stepping out from behind the teacher's desk and asking you to walk with me my real life. How does that sound?

It's like we've been "work friends" for a few years now and now it's time to get more personal. The primary focus of my blog will continue to be teaching, but I think writing about things that inspire me in other areas will add some new life to this little blog of mine. 

Much of this stems from trends I've noticed on Instagram. It seems that the pictures with the most comments and interaction are usually those that are more "me" and less "school". I find that I do the same with people I follow.  I love to write, always have. It's one of the reasons I started blogging in the first place. I still get excited to post about my classroom, but I feel more "me" when I'm writing about my real life. Plus after four years of blogging about my classroom, it's getting a little difficult to find new ways to show what's going on. Unless I changed everything I do every year, there's bound to be some repetition, which explains my inconsistent and lackluster blogging of late.

I already feel so much more like "me" writing this post. I'm not trying to sell something or myself and I'm just chatting with some old friends. I hope you enjoyed the visit and I'll see you again real soon.
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