Thursday, July 24, 2014

3 Weeks Out, Panic Sets In

First off, I want to apologize for missing comments on previous blog posts. I used to get e-mail notifications, and just noticed last night as I was perusing my junk mail that they are all being redirected there. I will be responding today!

So yesterday I posted on the FB page, a bit stressed. :/

Our show ended on Sunday, and I really didn't work on much while that was going on because it was all consuming and amazing. Here are some pics - I cropped other people out of them because I didn't want to post them on here without permission, but you can get an idea of the 70's flair. It was a lot of hairspray, polyester, eyeshadow, and fun.

It takes a lot of work to poof the hair

If you haven't seen "9 to 5", there is a hilarious puppet scene. This is my partner, Flower, covering his eyes because it was the last show :(

I played Dr. Becker and Joan the Secretary

If you enjoy musicals, I highly recommend doing this during the summertime! It is such a great way to meet new people, and a lot of them are teachers (surprise!).

As much as I didn't want it to end, I can spend more time focusing on the upcoming school year now, and it felt like a semi-truck full of ideas and resources was coming at me full speed!

So here I am, navigating the space between a show ending and a vacation starting, and finding myself unable to focus on a single task for more than ten minutes. Probably because we leave for NYC in...3 days...

Thanks to Tieks for sending me the AMAZING gift box back in the winter, we are going to see Aladdin on Broadway, for FREE! We also tried out the Priceline Negotiator for the first time, and got hotels at amazing prices. I'm a control freak, but it was kind of thrilling to not know what you're going to get (to be fair, I only picked 5 and 4 star hotels, so it couldn't have been a total dump).

Ok, so back to reality. I gathered up all my unit resources, my previous years ISN's, and sat down to "wade" through the materials.

Here's how I start:

1. I make a list of activities that I know work in my classroom that are not part of the resources from the book:

-Close Reading
-Two Column Notes
-Preview Sketches
-Mind Maps
-NKQ's (New Knowledge Questions)

2. I determine which skills are a priority to do as an introductory unit, and map out what these will be. This year I am focusing on Close Reading, Types of Questions, Multidraft Reading, Notice and Note Signposts, and Analyzing Arguments. I am skipping the objective summary and academic vocabulary this year, as every grade level did it last year so they have already covered it.

3. Then I go through the book resources and determine which activities are best for my ET students based on previous years. In my Pearson book resources these tend to be:

-Vocabulary Warm-Up (even though they know most of these words, it's a great opportunity to have them write using these words)
-Reading and Literary Analysis Pages (these emphasize the skills featured in common core- fact vs. opinion, context clues, etc...)
-Enrichment (I usually use these as a jumping off page into a deeper project)

Narrowing these down really helps me because there are just SO many resources it is overwhelming!

4. Next it's time to pull out the curriculum map. We just did an overhaul of our curriculum map this year, making it much more streamlined, thank goodness!

5. We have required selections and suggested selections, and then I use exemplar texts to supplement. For example, last year with the drama unit we read "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" (a teleplay), and then I had them do "The Hitchhiker" (Radio Play) and "Sorry, Wrong Number" (Stage Play). Then they compared and contrasted how the different formats enhanced the story. These are both listed as exemplar texts and were free online.

With my ET students I can usually get through more selections, so I added in a few from last year that worked really well for certain skills.

 (Now that this step is done, I can go through a figure out individual activities and pull worksheets from resource books)

6. I also try to figure out when in the year I'll have time for a novel study. This year, it looks like 4th quarter I'll be doing a novel study with both my 7th and 8th graders. My 7th graders are going to read The Little Prince and my 8th graders will read Night again. I would love to switch it up with 8th grade and do Lord of the Flies, but I feel that Night is such a profound story they can't miss out on it!

7. Finally, I start setting up my Google Doc for my ISN Table of Contents.

Looking at's already going to change. Which is why Google docs is great!

Even though this seems like a lot of work, I feel that it gives me a great idea of where I need to go at the beginning of the school year, that way I'm not scrambling. I only have students update their table of contents when we put something new in, that way I can rearrange or add things if I need to at the last minute.

I hope that helps explain my planning process, I received a few e-mail questions about it, and I feel like this puts me in a good place to start the year!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"Genius Hour"

I've been spending the last few days developing materials to use in the new class I'm teaching this year, based off of the "Genius Hour" made famous by Google's 20% time idea. This is part of our new Content Area Extension classes, and is for students who can work independently and are intrinsically motivated and curious to learn about a variety of subjects. Students will be working alone to learn about any topic that is interesting to them, and I'm so excited to take this journey during the school year with them!

I've been doing research on this since the idea was introduced to me last year, and I'm so excited about implementing it in my classroom!

Here's a quick breakdown on how it will work in my classroom:

Every quarter (9 weeks) students will go through the following process:


At the end of the project window, students will produce a completed product. It could be an event or service to help others in the school or community. It could also be a digital project like a short film or video game. However, it can also be a presentation of information learned from a variety of topics, ranging from ideas such as “How to create a vegetable garden”, or “How the mind creates memories”.

The Proposal 
-Once the student has an idea of what project/topic they want to pursue, they begin writing the proposal. This is how they will pitch the project/topic to me and the rest of the class. 

I created a handout with questions for students to answer. 

The Blog 
Each week the student is required to write a blog post to discuss their progress. They will write about the week, what they worked on, what they learned, what challenges they faced, and what they anticipate in the future. Each blog post must be at least 150 words, or in some cases more. 

I created a handout for this as well, outlining what they should be talking about in their blogs, and they will write these on a private Weebly website. 

Everyday Work

Throughout the course, students will have at least four days during the week to work on their research and projects. Students have to manage their time and determine how much time outside of school they must devote to their project. 

Students will also learn research and technology skills during this time with quick mini-lessons done by me. 

Timeline and Assessment

At the end of each nine week period, each individual will present their final product to students.

It runs as a pass/fail class. In order to pass, students must complete all of the following: Quarterly Proposal, Weekly Blog Posts, and Final Product demonstrating the result of their research. 

If there is interest, I will upload my forms to TpT for free for a limited time, so please let me know if you would like to check them out!

This is my favorite resource so far that I have used, it is amazing!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Monday Made It, four days late

Hi everyone!

My Monday Made It took me a little bit longer than just Monday, mostly because I was being lazy while the hubster was out of town.

1. I uploaded five new items to Teachers Pay Teachers: my Writer's Workshop package, Teacher Binder/Planner, Four Corners Signs, 5 W's of Characterization Handout, and some cute Owls for classroom decorations.
I'm so excited about my teacher binder/planner. I use it in conjunction with my Erin Condren Teacher Planner because if you are one of those people that loves writing down your plans, you can never have enough places to do it. I justify it because my EC planner goes everywhere with me, and this one will stay at school. It is also something I will use for data collection so to know it's always at school and ready to go with me for a meeting, or there for a sub, is great!

I've thought about possibly packaging it and sending out as a hard copy, but I like the idea of giving people the chance to print out multiple copies and use what they need and in what order works best for them. That's my one complaint about the EC planner, so I was trying to think what I would want out of a planner. I'm going to ARC mine this year, and that way I can move stuff around and add as much as I want!

I'm very proud of this one. I finally got my stuff together and articulated in a way that makes sense (to me) for running a Writer's Workshop. It includes all handouts and information you would need to run a successful workshop!

I'm having a sale in my TpT store until tomorrow to celebrate the five new items in my shop! You can check it out here!

2. For my house: I put together my new kitchen cart from IKEA and "prettified" it. You can see my other project, cleaning out my upper cabinets, in the background.

3. My other Monday Made It was my giant floor pillows, which had to wait to be sewn until I picked up my sewing machine from school today :)

Since two of my circle chairs went kaput after years of kids jumping at the chance to sit in them (literally)...

RIP blue chair from college...

RIP Cheap-O Blue Chair from 1st year of teaching...

 I decided it was time for a pinterest project!


I was inspired by Oven Lovin' and her Giant Floor Pillows so I ran out to Hobby Lobby and Jo-Ann (armed with coupons) and picked up some fabric!

I'm keeping the green, teal, white theme, but since I bought a rug at IKEA that is black with white dots, I figured I'd throw in those colors as well. 

I only tweaked her directions a bit, and I kept each side as a full yard. She cut hers to 31 inch squares, so I was going for a more rectangular look. I wasn't super precise in my measurements, and it turned out fine.

I'd say total time between cutting and sewing was about 1 1/2 hours...

The stuffing part? Took about an hour on its own. I stuffed and stuffed and stuffed. In total I used about 15 lbs. of poly-fill spread between the two pillows. 

Instead of hand sewing the final corner, I just smushed the edge into my sewing machine and hoped for the best. Thankfully, it worked!

I can't wait to put these in my room in addition to my new rug and my old pinterest bench (I sure hope chevron doesn't go too out of style soon)

Spoils from IKEA: Legs for the desk, chair bottom, a green lamp, small plastic boxes in green, blue, and white/clear, a file organizer, tiny throw, and white magazine files.

My desk top, green chair seat, and rug

I'm getting anxious to get my rosters and get in my classroom. I need to chill and enjoy the next few weeks before I get fully back in to school mode!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Organizing Resources Part 1

Ok, back to organizing resources! I don't know about all of you, but we have so many resources with our Pearson textbook series that it is kind of overwhelming. Plus, we all use supplementary resources and teacher created resources, plus assessment tools, and it just becomes ridiculous!

I have always used a binder system, since I started teaching. It works well, and everything is in one place, but there is one problem... Throw a binder or two or three in a bag with a laptop, teacher edition book, and papers to grade, and it's ridiculously heavy! Plus, the binding breaks or cracks, and eventually the binder itself stops opening and closing, and papers start falling out.

Plus, I find myself starting to shove things into the binder halfway through a unit because I am honest to goodness too busy to open the ring and put it back in the right place. Here's how a typical binder is organized on the inside:

I put any DVD's, models, and notes in the pocket for easy access

I also put a sheet in the front of the binder listing the dates and what we do in the unit that year. I LOVE having this the next year, especially if we are studying a novel, so I can remember how many days it took to get through it!

I also do put in this in addition to the dates. I put in the selections we are reading, along with the handouts I'm going to use from the resources, so I know what needs to be copied. I can also start setting up my Table of Contents for the ISN (Interactive Student Notebook) by having this sheet handy (more on the ISN in a bit)

For writing units, I include the mentor texts we will use to teach the writing. This is from the argumentative writing unit I do for 8th grade.

I like to include lesson order (not necessarily specific to date) so I know where I'm at. We use this in our PLC group as well so we know we've covered everything. 

I also have it differentiated for my ET classes. I highly recommend doing this for your lessons!

For every unit, I have New Knowledge Questions. Students get used to the idea that at the beginning of the unit they will get NKQ's. Every day I will have a prompt, either "Do 1 NKQ" or "Do 2 NKQ's", or if we are at the end of the unit, "Finish all remaining NKQ's". These are great simple questions about vocabulary and terms that require them to use their book. This is what I use for bell ringers. I then do attendance while they work on this (for 5 minutes), and walk around and put the paw stamp and pad on someone's desk who is finished. Students raise their hands and the person with the paw stamp walks around and stamps them in. It is SO easy!

I include copies of any selections we will use for close reading right in my binder and label them Less Complex and More Complex. I do not do close reading with every selection. I try to do at least one per unit (a short selection), along with non-fiction articles, or a one page excerpt from a short story. 

This is another example with the poetry unit. I included a "table of contents" in my binder, and these were the masters I needed to copy for the student ISN.


Another unit outline for a poetry unit. This unit is available in my tpt store.

A quick sheet with exemplar texts to use for next year in the drama unit.

Here's the bad part about binders....
 I had GREAT intentions about putting ALL of my Pearson resources in one binder. Here's what it looked like by the end of the year. I million random sticky notes, and papers out of order shoved into pockets. Thanks, past me. I really appreciate reorganizing all of this. :/

 This is where the ARC system comes in to place. Now, it costs a bit of money to initially invest, but it is so worth it, I promise!!

Here is the ARC punch. It's around $42 and only available at Staples, so this was about an hour journey for me. 

Here are the supplies I picked up. The Martha Stewart discbound accessories are compatible with the ARC system, score! You buy the discs for around $3.50 a pack, and they come in a variety of sizes. To me this is awesome, because I can reuse them and change sizes, and they won't break like my binders do!

Here's a video of the ARC in action!

You can purchase the discs separately, or you can get already made notebooks. I have done both so I could get the filler paper as well, but I have purchased about 5 sets of ARC discs separately, and then made my own covers.

They have a very limited amount of covers available for the ARC system, so to save on costs and add variety, I picked up three of these view pocket folders at Staples, 

I cut them in half...

And punched!

Now I have the equivalent of an empty binder to start with...

Planning for me requires a lot of "drafts", so I started with my three core classes for next year. Can I just say how excited I am that I only have FOUR preps next year, and one of them is "Genius Hour"? It feels like a huge weight off my shoulders. Plus, I have taught these classes now for 3-4 years in a row, so I am considering myself very fortunate even though the curriculum has changed multiple times.

If you are looking to do ISN's, this planning begins when you are outlining the year, so this is the baby steps for ISN planning if you are wanting to try it out! You can see I originally wrote binders for each unit, because I was feeling lazy and not wanting to re-do them. I quickly changed my mind as you will see...
This is a horrible picture, but I went to my curriculum map for 7th grade, and wrote down the selections I would be covering quarter 1. This was my jumping off place. I then went through the current unit resources and tagged which ones i would use. I teach ET (gifted) so I already had an idea on which ones would be helpful and which would be rigorous. 
Next, even though the curriculum changed again, I still had done some of the selections from last year, so I pulled up my ISN table of contents from last year (I always recommend doing it in a google doc that way students can see changes immediately and you always have access to it), to see which activities I did last year that I enjoyed. I also looked at my notes from the units (which I need to put in a better place this year, rather than just on random sticky notes and my notepad in my phone), to see what worked, what didn't and what I wanted to do but didn't. This was a great time for reflection on the previous year. *Off Topic- I just discovered A&W Ten, and I'm in love!

After I had finished, I made a list of all of the activities and assessments I would do that would go in the ISN that were not in the textbook. 

Then I started working on my Table of Contents for Quarter 1
This will change. I wrote it in pen because I was feeling ambitious. I would recommend you start with a google doc first, and only copy in when it actually goes in the ISN. 

These are the Martha Stewart discbound tabs.

In the ARC I plan to put all of the master handouts, #'d for copying in ISN's, along with assessments for each quarter. I would ideally like to end up with all my resources for all four quarters in this binder, we'll see what happens!

Next Time... How do I do/start/begin/introduce this whole ISN thing?