Sunday, September 13, 2015

Cute Classroom Theme-based Decorations

I have been teaching for a long time-long enough to have two of my daughters follow me into teaching. I am humbled by their incredible creativity. Each year them send me pictures of what they have done in their room and each year I am totally impressed. I asked permission to share a couple of their ideas with you and, today is that day.

First, there is Grand Central Reading Station.  This is an excellent example of how to make a reading space that kids will want to use.

The train is actually a bookcase. I love all the little details.

Every train station has a bench for waiting. This one is no different, but I do have to say that this one looks a lot more comfortable!

This is a way to keep track of how the kids are doing.

The great Safari decorations were fun to see. Welcome to a classroom where everyone belongs!

The little plastic safari hats add to the pictures, which are actually placemats from Botswana. The African animal borders complete the picture.

Have you ever used a theme to decorate your room? What did you use? I'd love to hear about it!

Pinterest to the Rescue

Teaching in a small, multi-grade, self-contained classroom has a plethora of challenges. Organization is one of the greatest challenges, because I have to keep track of all the assignments for each day. I like to work ahead, but often found myself making the same materials over because I could not find the ones I have already made. I tried the folder method, with a folder for each day. I would take the folder out and it would disappear. It doesn't help that I seem to be in constant motion all day and would carry it off, lay it down and forget where it was or leave it on my desk and cover it with a couple pieces of paper. Then, I was perusing Pinterest when I found what has proven to be my greatest find.

The funny thing was, I was not unfamiliar with the solution; I had just never put the two things together. Plastic drawers that hold 8 x 11 1/2 inch paper saved my day, and maybe, my sanity. I bought two sets of them and used sentence strips to label the first five: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The bottom drawer (there are three drawers in each set) is used for left-overs or for things still too far in the future. It makes keeping track of the work as easy as pie.
The site where I found the ideas was Controlling My Chaos.

My second greatest frustration in my classroom was the bulletin board. I loving having them. I hate changing them. I do not know where I saw this on Pinterest, but I followed a link about bulletin boards. The author suggested putting up a black background because I would go with anything. Last school year, I bought black material and put it on the board. Amazing! First, I love black and how it makes everything pop. Second, it really does go with everything!!! To make it even better, I found chevron borders at Joann's Fabric, in close-out. Check out how my board looks now!
I loved it so much, I used black on the bulletin board in the hall this year!

When I wanted to make a giant class puzzle for the first day of school, the idea was inspired by a link on Pinterest. I went to Have Fun Teaching because I check out most of my links because some don't work. I saw puzzles and thought about a first day of school activity that I had seen on the Internet, though I know not where. I made a giant puzzle by blowing up the puzzle pieces and gave one to each child. They wrote their name on it and decorated it. We put the puzzle together and I put the school and such on extra pieces. We glued the puzzle on to stock board and hung it on our door. Every piece was necessary for a complete classroom!

Our last day of school is totally fun. I look for activities that a school with students from K-8 can enjoy together. Looking at Pinterest, I found several Minute to Win It sites and saved lots of ideas. When it came time to plan the day, I went to my End of the Year Activities board and created our last day plan.

That worked so well, I spent spare summer moments building a new board for Back to School activities. A few days before my wonderful class entered the building, I sat down and used many of the ideas I pinned here and organized our first day together. I have to have tons of ideas because I teach the same children for up to six years and Pinterest has so many ideas, I never have to repeat myself unless I want to redo something they loved.

This year, I am trying to be a STEM classroom, that is I was until I went on to Pinterest and found out about STEAM. Now, with the tons of pins I have pinned, I will never run out of ideas and activities. I only have one problem now. I keep trying to remember how I taught before Pinterest, and I can't quite seem to remember! What is your best find on Pinterest?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Portable Centers

My classroom is small and I do not have good places to set up centers for every subject. Labor Day weekend gave me some free time to actually think about the situation and I think I may have come up with a workable idea.

I stopped by a dollar store to check for yummy veggies and fruit. As I walked down one aisle, I noticed the little, tri-fold boards and an idea was born. I bought it and brought it home.

The first thing I did was head over to my Anchor Charts board on Pinterest. I chose two math boards, both on fractions. I drew the Backward Zorro on the top half and the Butterfly Method on the bottom. Now I can add exercise sheets (which I will hold in place with page protectors) on either side-the left for the Backward Zorro and the right for the Butterfly Method.

Now I can put it on the table at the side of the room or kids can actually set it up at their desk. That is the beauty of the smaller tri-fold boards-they fit on my student desktops. When we are done, I can put the board away or leave it on the table.

I plan to make them for every subject. When I need to change the subject material, I have another plan. I am going to punch holes in the top of the board and add ring holders. Then I will be able to add new pages. As I change the pages, I will just flip it over to the back. To make the pages durable, I am going to laminate them.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

STEM and the Parachute

Studying air pressure led us to a fun experiment. If you have a higher spot on your playground, you could do it too. For us, there is a second story staircase outside of our gymnasium that, though not as high as I would like, does work for experiments like this one.

When you climb to the top step and drop a metal washer, it falls straight down and lands very quickly. Let your kids see this for themselves Then the experiment begins. Every student needs a washer, a string and a plastic trash bag as well as access to tape. They were to construct their own parachute and see if they could slow the descent of the metal washer.

As you can see from the various pictures, they cut their bags-some into circles and some into squares. Some students opened their bag before they dropped it while others folded it up. They were allowed to re-design their parachutes, try new ways of dropping it and take more than one attempt. When they had all finished their experiment, we went back into the classroom where they wrote about what they did, what they changed and how their results were affected by the changes. When they were completely finished, we had a great class discussion. 

Kids learn so much more when they are allowed to experiment and learn things for themselves. Next year, we will intentionally be doing STEM/STEAM projects in our classroom. This one was just an example of what I like to see my students work in my room.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Easy Games for Mixed Ages

Physical education can be difficult in my classroom because I have a large range of ages in my room. There are a few games that just seem so easy to do in a mixed group. These are some of my student's favorite games.

At my school, we actually have four basketball hoops, but we could still do well if we only had two. These games may be very familiar to you, but you may have forgotten about them. I divide the students in groups of ability, rather than age. Now you may think that that could cause a problem, but I find that this grouping usually put kids in groups with their friends, and, because they have a chance to win, they are all happy in their own games. There are also times when the division ends up being along grade designations.

Golf Basketball:

In this game, a variation of Around the World (another game my kids love enough to play in their free time) you can use hula hoops or chalk. Draw circles in various places-or place the hoops in the various places. Vary the closeness of the "holes." They do not necessarily go in order. Number the holes-if you are using hula hoops, write the number inside the hoop. Also-in a small circle, give the hole a point value with harder shots getting higher points.

The students line up and take turns at each hole. If they make the shot, they go on and do not stop until they miss. As the go, it is up to them to keep their score. They keep playing until everyone finishes the course.


Remember playing horse or pig or whatever word you want to spell. Again, the kids form a line. I will say oldest, youngest or maybe ABC order to give the kids an order to start the game. On the second game, we change the order.

The kids shoot the ball. If they make it, the next people have to do the same shot until someone misses. When someone misses, he gets the first letter from the word being spelled. Then the person behind the one who misses is off the hook and she gets to start with her own shot. The game goes on until someone has spelled the chose word.


This tennis game doesn't actual use a racquet. Create two teams. Draw a line between them on the cement or blacktop. Each team sets up like a volleyball game. One team gets the ball. You can use a tennis ball or a playground ball. The server bounces the ball and hits it across, just like a tennis player. The teams hit the ball back and forth like a tennis match.

The rules are the same in that a team can only get a point if it serves the ball. When a team has served and they fail to score, the ball goes to the other side. Each person has to guard her own space. Rotating is done just like rotating in volleyball.

Sometimes, it helps to draw lines for the different players. Then the rule that says you have to let each person play for themself is easier to monitor.

These are just a few of the games we play that actually work with a multi-grade classroom. They also work in single grade classrooms. Do you have a favorite game that you play with your kids? Share it here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Stretching Classroom Dollars-6 Ideas

This morning, I was writing a post on a blog I have started about living on less (something most Christian teachers due because we are usually paid less than our public teacher friends-and everyone says they don't make enough) when I realized that the information would be good for teachers too. Here are some hints that will help you save money in your classroom.

1) Lighter fluid: A simple bottle of everyday lighter fluid will help you remove gunky materials from scissors (that was what I wrote about on Living Daily for Less) or removing labels from books (really helpful if you buy them at Goodwill.)

2) Batteries: If you have a digital camera in your classroom (or at home) and it burns through the batteries, don't throw them away. They can be used on electronic devices that use less power (like pencil sharpeners or flashlights.)

3) Sales: Check out end of the school sales at stores like Michael's and Joann's. Even Walmart has some great deals. You can save tons of money on things you would like to have in your classroom.

4) Coupons: Stores, like Michael's, have weekly coupons for 40-50%. Adding one item a week can be a huge benefit for your classroom, plus you are more likely to find clearance materials that are great!

5) Handouts: Make handouts for family, friends and church members asking them to save specific things for your classroom. For example, I am giving my people a list that includes things like:

a) Measuring lids from Dayquil and other such bottles-great for science!
b) Paper towel and gift wrap rolls.
c) Cardboard
d) 2-liter Soda bottles (I don't drink soda, but I really, really use the bottles!)
and much more!

6) Ask: Stores often throw away so much stuff that I can use. For example, I was in my local teacher supply store and they were emptying out tall thin boxes with bulletin board paper. I took five home and they are saving more! From Walmart's photography section, I scored 2 plastic bags full of empty film containers. If you see it, ask. The worst they can say is "no." The best that can happen is that you can walk out the door with something free. My personal favorite score was a display for sticky notes. It had suitcases with the names of different countries on it. since I did world history last year, it was the perfect display to sit on top of one of my high bookcases.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Worship on a Prayer! The day I forgot my egg...

I forgot to boil an egg and bring it to school. This would have been no problem if the egg was for my lunch, but this egg was for a worship talk-not just any worship talk. Today, I would be speaking to the entire school. When I realized it, my classroom was about to fill with children. I needed this scene for a little bit longer:

The truth is, every one of my students was there and one of them had just said, "Here they come..." referring to the rest of the school. Have you ever  volunteered to do something (if fact, it was my idea) and then wonder, "What was I thinking?"

I ran to my closet, praying, "Lord, help me find a good worship talk right away!" I often had different 'just in case' items in my closet, but it was the end of the year and I wasn't sure there was anything left.

I opened the door and looked down. There, in front of the first shelf, was an item that, through God's spirit, became my worship talk for the day. What was it? This:

Just common, ordinary duplo blocks that had never looked like a worship talk to me before! Of course, not just those blocks.  I also had a dollar store box with a "lego-like" set of blocks with blocks that were much smaller than Duplos and they were sitting on the shelf just above the Duplos. The two were suddenly a perfect match.

Somehow (actually, I know how-God answers prayers) the idea just fell together. As the younger students settled in their desks, I ran to my desk to grab the only other thing I needed-my Bible.

I dumped the blocks on a plastic tray and added a few Duplo blocks that I picked up at Goodwill. Then I stood in front of the kids, placing my tray on a tall stool.

It went something like this:

Have your ever played with blocks that came in a kit? I tore open the box. Sometimes, you need to have the instructions to figure everything out. Let's see-I need this little piece here and it goes on to this piece. Now it says I add this piece. 

(I continued on for five of six pieces, talking about them as I went. Then I picked up a Duplo block.)

Now, what about this piece. I wonder where it goes. Hmmm... 

(The younger students said, "It doesn't go with the others."

What? It doesn't go with the others?  Let me look at the directions. 

Hmmm, you are right! I don't see the bigger blocks in the directions. I guess it doesn't belong there.

You know, I have another set of directions here. 

(I held up my Bible.)

These directions tell me how to act like Jesus. I like to read them so I know how my life should fit together with someone who wants to be with Jesus in Heaven. It tells me to tell the truth, to be kind and loving. Just like these instructions tell me how to build this little car, my Bible tells me everything I need to do to make Jesus smile. If I am ever not sure about something fitting into my life as a Christian, just like I found out the big block didn't fit with this car, the Bible will let me know if something doesn't fit in with the life I am trying to build.

An example would be-does the Bible tell me anything about how I should act towards my mom and dad?  (They responded) 

Absolutely-it tells me, in the 10 Commandments, that I should honor them. If I am thinking about being rude to my mom, will my instruction book help me?

Today, I am going to ask you to use your instruction book-your Bible-to help you know how you should live your life. If you are not sure about something, also check it out with God's big instruction book.

Then we prayed. 

Teachers, you never know when God can use something as simple as a box of blocks to bring home a message your students need to hear. Have you ever created a successful worship on the spur of the moment? I would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Small School Libraries

If your school library is like my school library, it comes without the benefit of a librarian...or a library...or anything but the books and you. I have a multitude of bookcases in my classroom and they often end up looking even worse than the one in the picture.  On top of that, the books are not all appropriately marked with the necessary grade level/reading level markings. This year, I aim to end that problem and, thanks to a wonderful app, I can do just that.

Literacy Leveler works with your iPod, iPad, and iPhone. It supports the  Guided Reading leveling , DRA and Lexile systems. While not every book is covered in the database, it is very easy to use. The cost is just $3.99.

First, you scan the ISBN and it gives you the levels.  You can search for the book using the title, author or level and add it to your library. The great news is that Literacy Leveler is also available on the android devices-if fact, it is a dollar cheaper on android-$2.99.

I can't wait to get started so that my library can start the year looking like this-with a great deal of the books marked for easy return:

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Multi-grade Fun at the End of the Year-Last Day Activities!

Our school is very small-K-8 school; we have a total of 31 students. Because the size is so small, we always start and end the school year together. It can be a challenge because the age span is large (5-14) and you want everyone to be involved.  One of the things I like about our school is that we are like a family. Believe me, that really makes all-school functions so much easier to do.  So, you may be wondering what kindergartens like doing the graduating eighth-graders like doing. Well, this is how our day went.

Teachers passed out bracelets that glow in the dark. There were green, yellow, orange, blue, purple and pink bracelets. Each color that had six we given to kids to create the blue, orange, yellow and green teams. Pink and purple were combined to make a team of six, too.

We arrived at the school ready for worship. We have three pastors who rotate and bring a plethora of different types of worship every Friday...and the last day was on Friday. We sang songs together, allowing our eighth-graders to pick their favorite songs because this would be their last worship with us. Then we listened to a great nature worship about otters. Now it was time for the fun to begin!

After worship, we headed out to play kickball. We combined colors so that orange, yellow and pink made one team and the other colors made the second team. We played for about 45 minutes.

By the time our kickball game ended, it was getting really warm. We headed into the gym to play a rousing game of Bible Charades. Teams reverted to their original colors and each team was allowed to draw a paper with a Bible story on it.  They spread out over the gym to figure out how to act out their story without words. They were creative and good. Every team was a winner.

Next, we played beach ball volleyball. My older students are use to playing volleyball, but the little ones are not.  We made up our own rules and the game was a lot of fun. First, you can help the server get the ball over the net. Then, the team can hit the ball as many times as they want to, but the ball has to be hit by a second player before the first player can hit it again. The third rule change said there were no out of bounds. It took a while for them to catch on, but they did. Of course, the volleyball was a beach ball.

After that, we played a few Win It In a Minute games. We used m&m's to make faces on a plate using a straw-no hands allowed. Because I bought long straws from the 99¢ Store, we clipped them for any of the younger students who needed a shorter one. Each child had six pieces of candy and had to suck up the candy to make the face. I used the big m&m's because they were too big to go into the straw.

Using green painter's tape, I created zigzag patterns across the tables. Using a straw, two kids blew a cotton ball back and forth across the table while a third team member counted the number of times it crossed the table in one minute. At the end of the minute, we rotated until everyone had a chance to play.

I cut six-inch fish out of tissue paper. Another teacher made paddles from a paper plate by cutting the plate in half and gluing a craft stick on the flat side of the plate. (For thorough drying, make the paddles the night before.) Using the green painter's tape, a starting point was marked. On the other side of the room, there were five tables-one for each group. Every team member, K-8, was given a tissue paper. Each team received a paddle. At the sound of go, the relay started. Older members walked with the younger ones, encouraging and advising them. There were two children who finished a lot later than the others. The entire school cheered them on.

Half of each team was given a craft stick which they placed in their mouth. The other members stacked cereal on the stick. In the actual game, the students stacked their own cereal (or dice or marshmallows) on the stick, but because our tiny ones couldn't hold the stick straight, we gave them the team member job of being the stacker.

Finally, we ended the day with fun food like pizza. The only complaint I heard from anyone went along the lines of, "Aren't we playing more games?"

I hope that this will help you plan your last day of school. If you need more help, you can check my Pinterest board, End of Year Activities.

Here's to you and a wonderful, relaxing summer! God bless!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Full STEAM Ahead

Once a year, I like to give my kids a chance to just create from scraps and pieces of this and that. One year, we had lots of mechanical items that could be taken apart and made into something else. It took a while for them to understand that the only direction that day was to create something on their own. By the end of the day, they were pretty proud of their creations.

This year, I took another avenue. This year, it was all about cardboard. I saved every tissue box; I saved toilet paper rolls. The day before our big day, I went to Walmart and used a shopping cart, pushing it all around the store. Every place someone was emptying boxes and stocking shelves, I asked if I might have the empty boxes. Sometimes, they were required to send the boxes back for some credit, but most of them were made available to me. I loaded my treasures into the back of my little gold Ranger and headed back to my classroom.

The following day, I presented the kids with the boxes, scissors, rolls of tape, glue and staplers. My only requirements were: it had to be original and something on it had to move. My job, then, became circulating around the room, answering questions and providing the kids (grades 3-8) with anything else they needed.

Again, it took a little while to get started, but once they did, they had a creative blast. Here are a few of their projects:

Of course, these pictures are were all of a work in progress. They made vehicles, animals, video games and more. The greatest thing they got out of it was thinking for themselves. Several weeks after we had enjoyed our day, one of the boys came to me and said, "You know, ever since we had that day when we made things out of boxes, I've been thinking that I might like to make things when I grow up." This came from a student who had no idea what he wanted to do in life. Things may very easily change, but at least he is seeing possibilities.

These two days have made me decide that, next year, all year long, my class is going full STEAM ahead with STEM and STEAM activities. I can hardly wait for the school year to begin. Oh, wait, I guess I should finish this year first.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Musical Writing

I was so excited when I found this idea. Because I teach in a multi-grade classroom, I am always looking for ideas that work great in a regular classroom, but are easily adaptable to a multi-grade classroom. Musical Writing is the musical chairs of stories. It was almost too easy.

First, I have to tell you my students' reaction to the activity and then, I'll tell you how it is done. When I told them what we were going to do, they became excited. They said things like, "This is a great idea, Mrs. Collins."  I also heard, "I like this!" and finally, "Can we do this every Friday?"

I know you can't wait to try it, so, here's how you can get your kids excited about writing:

First, push the desks into the center of the room. Have every student put his or her own chair near the desks facing out. They need to have a pencil or pen in their hand.

Then, place a piece of paper with a story-starter upside down on each chair. Have each child face to the right and start the music.

When the music stops, they go to the closest chair, turn the paper over and, after reading the story-starter, they begin writing.

Once the music starts again, they stop (even mid-word), turn in the same direction (to the right) and start moving until the music stops again. Now they read what has been written by the last writer and add to the story.

Continue doing this several times. Finally, say, "You will finish the next story you come to." Play the music. When it stops, they read what was written by the previous students and finish the story.

Share the stories with the class.

My kids loved it and can't wait to do it again!

Here are some things you may want to cover:

1) Use clip boards for the story to help keep the writing smooth.

2) Emphasize good penmanship.

3) Be ready to rotate and help those who are stuck for an idea or can't read what was written-especially in a multi-grade classroom.

4) Set guidelines on what is allowed before they begin. For example, if you want it to be realistic, if you want them to be science fiction, whatever you want, make sure they understand.

5) Decide if you want them to add their name beside what they write.