Powered by Blogger.


I've made a really exciting change this year to my homework routine and I've been waiting to see how it played out in real life before sharing it with you all here on the blog. It's been about five weeks now and things are going pretty darn great, so here we go!

I've never been a huge fan of homework and I've secretly wished I could just not deal with it at all for a long time now. So, when I started to read the recent research that homework was not as beneficial as we had assumed, my curiosity was piqued. Add to that, I work for a progressive principal who has made it clear that he would rather not see homework in its traditional form at our school. I was a little afraid to completely drop homework without having something to replace it with, so Self-Selected Homework was born. 

I calculated that assigning students homework took about 30 precious minutes of class time. Seriously, add up the time it takes to pass out papers or have students find the right page in a workbook, copy things down in an agenda, and pack up a backpack. Then add the time it takes for you to check agendas, even if it's only one or two students who have a hard time copying. Then add in the minutes it takes for you to collect, check, record, and pass back homework from the previous day. Don't forget the time it takes to plan, copy, and explain the homework assignment and model writing in the agenda. See, lots of precious minutes! We have a relatively short school day in south Florida - 6 hours. Really, when you take out specials, lunch, recess, and walking to and from different places, I have about 3 and a half teachable hours. Giving up 30 minutes of that so they could have something to do at home, seems kind of crazy, especially when you consider how different each child's homework experience can be. 

So what's the alternative? In a nutshell, my students are encouraged to study things that they are naturally interested in or pursue hobbies they might normally not have time for because of traditional homework. They are then asked to bring in something they've made to showcase what they've learned. I know that sounds super loosey-goosey, and to be honest, it really was in the beginning. But now I've started to refine things a bit and communicate the changes with my parents. I was even recently asked to share what I'm doing with my faculty. I feel really lucky that my vision is being embraced and I hope that continues as the year goes on and I refine things even more.

To start with, I would suggest clear communication with your parents from the very start. Our Open House {Meet the Teacher} night is about about 6 days of school into the year, so that was my first parent communication. At the time, I had intended to just go paperless for homework, using some of the online programs we have access to, such as Achieve 3000, TenMarks, iReady, Spelling City, etc. As it turns out, we didn't actually have access to all of those programs any more and for the ones we did I needed to have the students complete the initial testing in class, so I had to make some quick changes.

I started talking to the kids about things they could do at home and I mentioned showing the action or setting of a story in a diorama. I quickly realized they had no idea what I was talking about, but lucky for me Crafty Carol over at Cool School has this amazing video explaining exactly what one is and how to to make one. Then I had some kids bring one in the very next day! Here's where I made a big mistake that you can avoid. I still had not clearly communicated my new direction to my parents and I started getting emails about not understanding "the diorama project" and asking when homework was going to start. So I remedied that quickly with a simple email. You can snag a copy of it in Word here, so you can edit it to to fit your own needs. 



After that email, I felt like I was really committed to carrying out my new vision for "homework" and I was SO ok with that. You can see from the letter, there is a lot of choice involved. Students can still access online reading, math, and spelling programs, but they can also feel free to explore their natural curiosity. Have I had any kids choose to do NO homework project at all? Yes. And that's ok too. The research just isn't there to support the fact that doing homework will help them succeed in school, so I've totally let go of that notion.

Below is the slideshow I used when chatting with my faculty. You can download a pdf of it here. It may not make a lot of sense without me explaining it, but it might give you some ideas. I promise more blog posts really soon with specifics because I know this is a lot of info at once already!

A few disclaimers: I teach in a relatively moderate to high income SES school where we had the top test scores in the county. Add to that, I teach a self-contained gifted class. I have parents who hire tutors to help their children even when they don't really need it. I know this may be very different from your teaching situation. I never attempted this type of homework program when I taught in the exact opposite situation. BUT, I will say, when I did teach in the opposite situation, I still had parents who tried hard and wanted the best for their kids, however most of the time, homework that I assigned did not come back or came back done incorrectly because the parents were unable to help either because they were busy, faced a language barrier, or did not understand the material. Now if those parents could help their kids make a quick poster on something they know about, imagine the possibilities! Families could share their heritage, hobbies, crafts... it could be amazing!

I think a big part of the success I'm seeing is from how I help the kids present. I will share that in the next blog post along with some projects the kids have shared. There is a definite springboard effect in place and I think it's essential to capitalize on it. So stay tuned for that! In the meantime, check out my Instagram feed to see examples of my students' projects. I have used the hashtag #selfselectedhomework to make it a bit easier to find them. 

If you have any specific questions, feel free to leave a comment and I'll answer the best I can or I will include the answer in future blog post. 
Whether you're heading into your first year as a teacher, or your 20th, First Day Jitters are real! This will be year 24 for me and although I'm not nervous, per se, I do still get a slight case of the jitters. So what's the cure? Being planned and prepared. In fact, be OVER planned and OVER prepared!

Remember this is a whole new crop of kids who you really don't know too much about. They may be way faster than last year's lovies or maybe they are super slow pokes. You may have to spend some time with a little one not quite ready to say good bye to blankies and cartoons at 8:00 AM (It's hard, y'all!)

So I have a few ideas and essentials that will help you be ready for anything after that first bell rings. This is lots of years of experience talking - if there's one thing I know, it's that the first few days set the tone for the year. You want your new students to feel happy, excited, safe, and secure. This is accomplished by welcoming them with an activity they can start independently right away. Imagine being in your student's shoes. Maybe you're shy, maybe you don't recognize anyone, maybe you're just scared of the "newness" of everything. You walk in, find your seat, and...then what? Wait for everyone else to come in? Let your mind race as your anxiety builds? Start to get a little more upset when you realize your best friend isn't in your class for the first time since Kindergarten? Help ease all of those fears with a simple activity. I've got a few ideas that I've used over the years.

Play-doh! Put a little party favor style tub of Play-Doh on each student's desk before they arrive. This idea has been around for a long time and some teachers who have WAY more time than I do actually make the play doh themselves. I hear that it doesn't take much time, but for me it's worth the $10 to buy it. I found a bag of 15 party favor sized tubs at Amazon here, but I've also had luck finding generic brand Play-Doh at Dollar Tree. (works just as well). Put a note on the board that directs the kids to make something that is important to them or what they did over the summer. You'll have lots of busy hands, relaxed minds, and cute kid chatter as they start creating. Sometimes I put little baskets of tools out on the tables - plastic forks, knives, cookie cutters, etc. This will also give you the first glimpse of their sharing skills.
 I actually like to save this activity for later in the day, like after lunch. It's a great way to break up the day. After we create, we do what I like to call a "half and half walk and talk".  I totally made that up. Catchy though, right?  Basically, it means that half of us get up and walk around the room while the other half stays seated. Then the "walkers" casually stop and the "talkers" tell about their creation. Then we switch. We do this a lot during the year, so we take the time to really set the standard for acceptable noise level, appropriate questions, eye contact, and having an actual conversation.

Handprint Puzzles. I wouldn't suggest starting the day with this one, but definitely make time for it on the first day. I buy blank puzzle templates (you can get them here on Amazon in pack of 24 for $12.99). Be sure to tell the kids NOT to break the puzzle apart until they are done tracing their hand and coloring it. 

I always have a kid or two try to color each puzzle piece a different color, which kind of defeats the purpose of it being a puzzle - so I have an example to show them the difference. After they color the puzzle, then we break it apart, and seal it up in an envelope (I like these self sealing ones). 
Don't forget to add the little poem. You can snag that here from Dropbox. It's the best part! Day one homework is always to put together your puzzle and talk about your first day. Awww...

Welcome Back Pack. This little pack has been a lifesaver for me. I typically put a pack on the students' desks with a fresh pack of crayons and a fun pencil. 
This goes back to my philosophy of giving the kids something they can do right away to take the focus off of their nerves or uncertainty. All of the tasks are things that can be completed independently but can also certainly be done with friends. I don't expect them to come in, sit down and quietly do a packet of worksheets. It's just something for them to focus on and chat about with their new friends. Some kids are naturally great conversationalists (for SURE) but some are not. Those are the kids I worry about. The great part about this pack is that they can keep it in their folder and I can have them pull it out and work on it when I need a few minutes of teacher-time during the first couple of days. You know, when you realize you never sent your attendance, or a new second grade friend shows up at your door in the middle of the day, or you really, really, really have the urge to do a one-on-one with a new little friend to see what's up.  The activities in the pack are not-so-much All About Me so that they don't overlap with the other things like that that we all usually do.  It's a great way to practice acceptable behaviors when moving around the room to work in other areas, like laying on the rug, using the stools, or enjoying other alternative seating options. I've got separate packs for second and third grade and you can find them on tpt here and here.
Icebreaker Game Ok, this one is probably my favorite, especially since it got a fun make-over last year. It's a super easy to prep board game that will help your kids get to know each other. It was meant to be a one time game for the first day, but my kids asked me over and over if they could play the "fish game" so I couldn't pack it up for a couple of weeks. It's also a really great way to set the ground rules for acceptable behavior when choosing parters, personal space, taking turns, cleaning up, etc. You can find it here on tpt.

When I was gathering up ideas for this post, I found so many cute things that I wanted to share, but I feel like this is a pretty good start. I'll do my best to come back in a couple of days to share some other ideas. I'll be in my room most of next week getting it ready and then we officially report back on the 15th. Yikes!

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I am a full-fledged subscription box junkie. Pretty often, this is what awaits me when I get home from work. It's kind of hard to hide from the hubby when they all decide to show up on the same day! I am in full on Treat Yo Self mode these days...
 
At my best count I currently subscribe to 9 different boxes. When I post a snippet on Instagram there's always some interest so I've been toying with the idea of blogging about them for a while but I have been a master procrastinator lately! However, my two newest boxes showed up this week and they are too awesome not to share so it kind of lit a fire under my lazy rump!

Let's start backwards and take a look at my newest box. It's called Peaches and Petals and I found it by cruising #subscriptionbox on Instagram. 

This is not a box specifically for teachers, but this one has classroom decor written alllll over it! Each box is curated with a theme, as many sub boxes are, and Peaches and Petals totally nailed the "Let's Get Together" theme for this box.
The first thing that caught my eye was the set of paper medallions. It's a kit of six multicolored decorations of different sizes. Snuggled under those in the box were two sets of chalkboard decor items...swoon! One was a pack of twelve chalkboard arrows with rub-on chalk art transfers and a 10 foot chalkboard pennant. The pennant set is very cool. Each flag is double sided - black on one side and varied dots and stripes on the other. It also included little chalkboard circles to use with the colored side. The package says that both have write on surfaces and the pennant even comes with cute black and white twine for hanging. Tell me that stuff right there is not totally teacher eye candy! But of course it would be fabulous to use as intended decor for a get-together at home (which appeals to me way more than ever these days).

On to the rest of the goodies! The showstopper item is definitely this set of party tasting spoons. The set of six spoons comes with a matching plate to sit on. I've eyed up these spoons so many times when I've been out shopping and never actually purchased them, so I was super thrilled to see them in the box. Very often, I will gift some items from my boxes to friends or family when I feel like a certain item fits them. I had an inkling about someone who would love these spoons, but I'm not sure I can let them go!

The rest of the items included a cute set of vintage inspired cocktail napkins, an adorable mini cutting board perfect to put out at the drink station with some lemons and limes, a game of charades, and these adorable and super trendy chevron party straws! I was excited when I thought it was a set of four straws, but there are 20 of them in the box! 

This totally is a party in a box. It's getting me in the mood to have friends over for a summer bbq! This box is ridiculously affordable considering how amazing it was - just $19.99! Right now you can still order this exact box with free shipping while supplies last.  You can purchase this box as a one time item or subscribe for 3, 6, or 12 months. The thing about any sub box is that you never know what's going to be inside and some months are definitely better than others, but to me it always works out to be worth it. If I don't love or use every item, I have two sisters, a niece, and a ton of friends who I can gift unwanted items to. There are also forums where people swap and sell box items, which I am definitely going to look into this summer.

You can learn more and purchase the box here if it looks good to you! Next month's theme is "Under the Boardwalk" and I can hardly wait!





Even though I teach gifted students I was finding that many of them lacked quick fact fluency for even one digit addition and subtraction problems. It's hard to teach problem solving, multi-step word problems, and critical thinking when the basic math foundation is weak. So back in November, I started creating games that I could use with my kids as part of our math block. I focused on games that I could put together quickly without a ton of cutting and organizing and without a bunch of little pieces I would need to keep track of. As the year has gone on, I've created a set for each month and I've been improving on the basic idea as I go along. I will most likely go back and add some things to the other sets over the summer because this final set that I finished this week is definitely my favorite! It's probably at least partl because of the summery flip floppy theme but also because these games are really appealing to my kids and covering exactly what I need them to focus on before they leave me and head to third grade! #sniffsniff




I still have to create a set of Back to School and October games and do some sprucing up of my existing sets before I bundle them, but yes a bundle is coming. In the meantime, you can check out this set HERE
and past months at the following links: November, December, January, February, March, April.

Hang in there friends, the light of the summer sun is almost at the end of the tunnel!

With Earth Day right around the corner, I thought I'd share some resources you can use with your kids with minimal prep. That seems to be my focus lately - minimal prep. That is high on my list of criteria for new resources lately, both for those I create and those I purchase. It's almost May. Need I say more?

So first up I have a freebie from my newest product line that I'm calling One Sheet Wonders. I was actually inspired by children's restaurant menus. They really pack a lot of fun stuff in a small space, so I tried to emulate that with these new printables. Of course I'm not actually using them the same way a restaurant would. I created them to align with the major subjects we teach in science and have been using them for the past couple of months. Before we start a new unit, we explore one of the pages and have some fun with word play, coloring, puzzles, and fun facts. It really gets them interested in what's coming their way and it gives me an idea of how much they know or think they know about our next unit of study. Since we've already learned about matter, science tools, and some of the other topics, I've been using those sheets for morning work. I also get called out of the room quite a bit for quick meetings and these have been perfect to leave with the paraprofessional who is covering my classes for a few minutes. So, if you're interested in the whole set, you can find them here.  I'm currently working on a set for habitats, next up is math concepts and social studies. In the meantime, enjoy this one for Earth Day to try them out with your kids. Click here to download it on TpT.


If you follow me in Instagram, you're probably familiar with my Orange Board Question of the Day. Every day I post a quick little question on this easel. This week I've been using facts from this free set of Earth Day task cards. You can download them here for yourself.
They're fun discussion starters or even writing prompts. Before the orange board appeared, I would use these in those weird little five minutes here and there that are too short to really do anything and too long to do nothing.


I've got one more fun freebie for word work. I have a few of these freebies in my store for different holidays, so my kids are used to them. The good thing is that I get a chorus of "yays" instead of "ughs" when I hand them out. lol! Click here to download this freebie.



Enjoy and Happy Earth Day!
I try to teach direct lessons on book genres at the start of the year because it's just such a basic part of kids knowing about books and discovering what they like to read. My library is organized by genre, we discuss genre every time I read a book to them, we pack our book boxes with a mix of genres...so moving the study of genres to the start of the year just seems to make good sense. Plus it's fun for me to be all dramatic when I teach them how to say "genre".

I have a pretty eclectic mix of resources that I use when I'm explicitly teaching genres, but today I'm going to share a few that I found especially fun this time around. The first was actually something I put together a couple of years ago as part of my formal observation lesson. It worked really well during my observation and my kids begged to "play" it again. To introduce the genres, I created a four pictures-one word type activity to play together as a class. Considering it was the first time they were being exposed to the names of the genres, I used the slide that gave them a few letters in the right place to start. {I created three slides for each genre - one with just the spaces, one with a few letters filled in, and one that reveals the answer}

The cards are pretty versatile.  If projecting them whole group doesn't float your boat, you can definitely print them for a literacy center or even an interactive bulletin board. I've just recently polished the set up enough to add to my tpt shop, so if you'd like to check this out to use with your class, you can see it here.

After we had a basic grasp on some genres, we went to town dissecting some Scholastic book order forms to find examples of them. They LOVED this. And I loved hearing all the discussion they were having about how or why particular books would best be suited to each category. It was during this activity they realized that sometimes a book kind of crosses the lines from one genre to another or has some elements of more than one genre. Learning this through their own discovery was much more meaningful than if I were to have told them. If you'd like the simple form I used for this activity, just click here to snag it from Dropbox. I also included a blank form so you can have your kids write in the genres they find if the ones I had listed don't work for you.



Another resource I love to use with my kids are these genre task cards. Kids read a little scenario about an imaginary book and they have to decide the most likely genre of the book. I love the versatility of task cards and most of the year these live on my Brain Builders wall, but we took them down and used them in small groups for this part of our study. You can find those in my tpt shop as well if they look interesting to you.
Happy Teaching, my friends. Until next time...



So, notice anything different around here? How gorgeous is my new blog design!? Big buckets of love and thanks to Megan from A Bird in Hand Designs. It's like she was in my head throughout the entire design process and what she produced for me was exactly what I envisioned. I'm in LoVe!

To celebrate, here's a little freebie you might like. I made a winter version of this game and my kids went bonkers over it! The key is to play just a couple of games at a time over a few days. As my friend Reagan once said, "Always leave them wanting more!" She was talking about her math rotations, but for some reason that little pearl of wisdom just stuck with me. Also, I'm ALWAYS the caller. I have found that that minute that you turn the calling duty over to a kid, chaos ensues along with a chorus of "what did you say?" being yelled whispered after every word.

The kids create their own game boards by cutting and gluing the words of their choice onto the blank bingo board. I take a little time to let them make the game in class, but if your class time is limited, consider sending it home for homework.  If your class time is super limited, you can just have them write the words in the squares on the blank board. With the winter game, we played each day of the last week of school during that weird 10 minute block of time most of us have that's too short to really do anything with but too long to not do anything with. You know what I'm talking about, right? It helped with behavior management too because whenever something was taking a bit too long because of a severe chase of chatterboxia, I would ponder aloud in my most thoughtful teacher voice, "hmmm I wonder if we'll have enough time to play bingo today?" and like magic, we were back on track.



Now to be fair, I did have some pretty cool prizes up for grabs. I picked up some smelly Crayola markers from Walgreens that were about 39 cents each and some random holiday trinkets from the party store. I also offered up some fuzzies that we use for our reward system and some sweet treats. Since we only played 2-3 games a day, I didn't go through too many prizes.

We don't have an all out party for Valentine's Day. Instead it's referred to as a "treat day" which makes NO difference at all in the way the kids perceive the day. They're kids. They're excited about handing out their little cards and packets of Fun-Dip or what have you. So I try to work in as much fun stuff as I can. Can I tell you how big I smiled when I realized we'll celebrate on a Friday this year? Almost, but not quite as big as I smiled when Halloween was celebrated on a Friday! Now that was Heaven sent...

So, if you'd like to download this little freebie for yor kids, just click here. In the product description you'll also find some links for my other bingo games.

Happy Heart Day!




Back to Top