Sunday, March 8, 2015

Time Saving Tips for Using Lap books in the Classroom

Hi Dear Friends!

Today, I wanted to share with you some tips on using those lap books and interactive notebooks in the classroom.  I ABSOLUTELY love the end results of lap books and interactive notebooks!  It's the process that can sometimes be frustrating and just plain time consuming.  I've used lap books and interactive notebooks for the past couple of years, so I've learned to streamline the process with my kiddos to make it quicker and less frustrating for me.

Let me give you a little glimpse into what using a lapbook in my classroom used to be like.  We would discuss the lesson, and then it was time to work on the fold-it that would go with the lesson.  Students would spend 5 minutes looking for their supplies or asking to borrow glue and scissors because they had lost theirs.  In the meantime, I have asked my students in several different ways to quiet their voices so that they could listen to instructions.  They would until another student or two began asking for materials they had lost.  Agh!!  Then we would get back to task.  Some students could spend 10 minutes just cutting out the fold-it.  Then the folding....   Yikes!  For some it was so difficult.  AND we haven't even written any information down in our fold-its yet!!!  By the time the lesson was over, I was exhausted and oh so frustrated.    There had to be a better way.

What kept me going???  I received so many positives from parents.  They LOVED seeing these finished lap books!  Most of our curriculum books for science and social studies are outdated, and these lap books are a great way to show parents what their children have been working on.   I think they are a great way to introduce my students to researching for information as well.  My admin. loves to see the lapbooks too!  AND I love, love, using lap books as study guides for tests over the units.


1. Complete 1 fold-it at the end of each daily lesson.  I never save the lap books for a project to do at the end of the unit.  It gives me too much frustration. 

2.  ALWAYS pre-cut the fold-its before passing out to students.  SUCH a HUGE TIME SAVER!  This cuts down on students getting scissors or looking for lost scissors, and etc.  I have parent volunteers that come in on a weekly basis to help.  This is one of the items they are willing to help me with.  

3.  ALWAYS have fold-its prefolded.  This makes it easier for students to already see where to make the folds.   It cuts down on all those hands raised about how and where to fold.  Again, I have my parent volunteers help with this.

4. Have a basket of glue sticks for each group of students.   I always have a basket of glue sticks for each table of students.  I have a designated leader for the week in each group that knows where to get these glue sticks.  It cuts down on time significantly, when the materials that all students can use are  readily available to them.

5.  Have a designated place that all lap books go.  Each of my students have a cardboard book box at the back of the room.  These boxes are numbered to correspond with each students number.  At the end of each lesson, students know to place these in their cardboard book boxes. They also know where to quickly get them before the lesson begins.  It keeps the mess out of their desk and prevents them from getting all bent up or torn up if kept in a folder in their desk.

I would love to hear your tips on using lap books or interactive notebooks in your classroom!

If you are looking for lap books for social studies, science, or literacy units please stop by my store.  I have many to choose from! Just click on the photo below for the link to the social studies and science lap books.

Click HERE for the link to my literacy units with lap books.
Thanks for stopping by Friends!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

So near and dear to my heart..... Journey with Sensory Integration

Hi Dear Friends!!

With this post, I will be wearing my heart on my sleeve.  It's so near and dear to me, and something I've been struggling with as a Mom in some aspects.   It's that darn Mother's guilt.  I contribute it to some of the reasons why I've been so quiet on my blog awhile.  My hubs and I have spent a lot of our time and energy these past several months, working on things at home with our amazing, youngest child.  I am SO thankful for all the things we have learned on this journey thus far ,and this AMAZING little soul that God blessed into our lives. 

I wanted to share a little bit of our journey with sensory integration therapy for our youngest son.  It has been nothing but AMAZING!!!    I know there are many families questioning some of the same kinds of things my hubs and I questioned about our youngest, and maybe this information will help some families and answer some questions.

Let me begin by sharing with you about our youngest, " T".  What an AMAZING blessing from God this sweet boy is to our family!!  I found out I was pregnant with T only 2 months after my Mom had passed away from cancer.  He was a complete and utter surprise for my hubs and I.  I have 2 children from my previous marriage, and my hubs has 1 child from his previous marriage.  This would make NUMBER 4 for us!!  T was born 3 days before Christmas and after spending a couple of days in NICU for low blood sugar, came home with us on Christmas day.   If you've ever lost a loved one, you know that the holidays are excruciating, especially those first ones.  The Christmas T was born was the first one without my Mom, so I can tell you there was definitely some sadness, but this sweet boy brought so much joy.  My Dad even spent several days with us during this time.  I know that T's birth was a blessing to my Dad also.    AND if you are like my hubs and I, and have a BLENDED family, you know the trials and tribulations that come with blending a family.  It's tough and takes work.  This precious little miracle "T" is/was just amazing for blending together our 2 families.   

"T" was a fussy baby.  I didn't think too much about it because my first child was fussy too.  BUT "T" was/is  a terrible eater.  I can remember going back to work and the babysitter calling me to ask if I could come over during my lunch break and give T a bottle because he had refused one all morning.  We had several visits to the pediatrician trying to figure out if something was wrong  ... At one point she even prescribed some medicine for acid reflux for T and then sent him to a specialist at Children's Hospital.  Children's found nothing wrong with T and said he's just a fussy baby.  T was gaining weight but he would only eat well when he was back home with Mom ,and I was feeding him.  T's always been very active, somewhat clumsy, quirky, and is prone to meltdowns over minor things.  So much that my hubs and I have to hold him closely to help him begin to calm down.  He is prone to hurt himself during meltdowns.    I just knew that T was different from my other kiddos.   My hubs and I made sure we had daily routines for T and clear expectations.  This seemed to help but once he began early childhood preschool, we knew there was more....

As a teacher, I struggled with this.  I do not like labels.  I'd rather work on the areas of weakness than label a child.  So... I can tell you that T has never been diagnosed with ASD or Sensory Processing Disorder but has been evaluated by an OT on things that he needs help with.  There may come a time where a diagnosis is needed.... We'll cross that bridge when/if the time comes.  T does have an IEP in his Early Childhood Program in my school district.  I had always hoped that it would magically disappear when he began kindergarten.  BUT at his PTC in the Fall, his FABULOUS preschool teacher prepared me.  I am so glad she did.  She said she felt T would probably need an IEP in kindergarten because he really had lots of difficulty being attentive in a group setting.  I was devastated. So my hubs and I began actively looking for other ways we could help T besides all the services he was receiving in the school setting.  T has PT/OT 20 minutes a week through the school, and is enrolled in the early childhood/at risk program in our school district.


I work with some amazing special education teachers!!!  I have shared with a particular teacher my concerns with T on many occasions.   She suggested a book called " The Out of Sync Child".  Wow!  After only reading the first chapter, I knew this described our T.  My hubs agreed.  So once again this amazing teacher gave me the name of a Pediatric Therapy place that was about a 45 minute drive from our house.  We called and made an appointment for an evaluation.   The therapist saw all of the things that T's preschool teacher and my hubs and I had concerns with.  AND the best part was that T loved it there!!!!  So once a week T goes to therapy for sensory processing issues such as self regulation and fine motor skills.  He loves his OT Miss Eileen!!!  T has been going since late November, and in just a few months time, his progress has simply been amazing.  Miss Eileen began by introducing ankle weights and a wrap to place around his tummy ( for a hug) to T.  He responded well to this and actually asked for them.  It helps his self regulation. He would wear them for an hour in the morning, and hour before school begins ( 12:30), and an hour before bedtime.  He's beginning to be able to regulate his self, so the OT just started this week by decreasing his time wearing the weights.   She also has given us a Sensory Diet that includes heavy work to do with T.  We do lots of scooter activities, and bear crawls.  This also helps with his low muscle tone and with strengthening his core.  We do this 15 minutes each evening and whenever we can add in more.  For his fine motor strength, his OT has asked us to incorporate things like play doh and this dinosaur popper.  T loves playing with the dinosaur popper.

 We get a bucket and have a contest on who can get the most ping pong balls in the bucket.

The results so far have been absolutely AMAZING!!!  T seems happier and more content.  This is one of the first things his grandparents mentioned to us  that they thought T seemed happier.  T has had little to no meltdowns.  T can finally write his name by himself.  He still has work to do on this, but it's so much better.  T is more self regulated.  Before, he was a bundle of legs and arms moving in all different directions.  Now he seems to have his legs and arms under control most times.  T is gaining upper body strength and can attend to a task for 3 minutes without verbal cues.  This is HUGE!!!  T just went for his kindergarten check up and the pediatrician even mentioned how calm  he seemed.  ( Seriously folks when I took him to the pediatrician this past fall he was an anxious mess.  He was shouting at me and screeching.  Those in the waiting room could hear him telling me how he was never going to eat the food I cooked and that it was gross.   I was just thinking it's a good thing we don't use curse words in our house or they would be hearing that instead.)   Another huge success is that T had gained 3 lbs from his appointment that Fall to the appointment he had a few weeks ago.   This is HUGE folks!!!  T has remained the same weight since his 3 year old check-up.  He's a terribly picky eater ,and it's a challenge to get him to just stop and eat.  I truly believe that the therapy has been helping him be less anxious and able to slow down for a bit and eat.
AND so far our insurance has covered this therapy except for the $20 copay.  

If you live in the St. Louis or Metro East area, I highly recommend the pediatric therapy of Believe to Achieve.
   If you live in the St. Louis or Metro East area, I highly recommend the pediatric therapy of Believe to Achieve.
 T is such an amazing child.  We are embracing his differences. He has such a fun sense of humor, and LOVES life!!!  T loves his big brothers and sister and is able to connect with each of them individually.  He is obsessed with toy soldiers and old, old WWII movies.  He loves to cuddle with me and tells me " I love you Mommy" several times daily.  Makes my heart melt.... 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wonders Pacing Guide

Hi Dear Friends!

If you've been following this little ole' blog for awhile now, you'll know that my school district adopted the McGraw-Hill Wonders curriculum last year.  Now that I have one full year with this series under my belt, I feel better prepared for what I NEED to do/ WANT to do with this series to help it blend with my teaching style.

So.. I sat down and created a pacing guide that I could follow this year. When we first began the series last year, each week for me was more like 10 days.  Everything was so new to our kiddos and they needed extra practice and a slower pace.  This year it is much different.  I LOVE to use stations and more hands on activities with the Wonders series to change things up a bit.     I created a 7 day pacing guide for each week in our series.  I'm still making sure I get in the skills, vocabulary, and stories, but I'm making it fit "me" and my teaching style.   ( I should preface this by saying the district I teach in does not require that we teach things exactly from the series, but make sure we hit the skills that are with each week.)   I also have been teaching a novel/literacy unit at the end of each unit.  The kids love it!  AND... it's a nice break from the reading series.      By the end of the school year, I will have completed 4 Wonders Units and 4 literacy units.    (My admin. asks that we get through 4 units of the Wonders during 1 school year.)

So, here's the  7 day pacing guide I created for myself.  I simply copy one for each week, pencil in the information with stories we will read and the activities that we will do with each skill.  Then I 3 hole punch this pacing guide and place in my lesson plan binder.
You can click HERE or on each picture above to download my 7 day pacing guide.

I have also created Wonders supplemental units that include fold-its with comprehension and skill strategies over the reading stories.  These work well in an interactive reading notebook.  There are also vocabulary activities that work well in stations, spelling tri-folds, and my favorite are the daily morning warm-ups.  These review the language arts skills that are taught in each week.  I also send home weekly focus walls to my student's parents.  These include the vocab words, spelling words, and skills taught in reading for that particular week.  If you are interested in finding out more, please click HERE to find these units in my TPT store, or on the photo below.

I would LOVE to hear how you use Wonders in your classroom, and what supplemental resources you would love to see for this series.

Enjoy your week!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Creating a digital Danielson Evidence Binder

Hi Dear Friends!!!

My school district is embracing the Danielson model of teacher evaluations.  There is still some dispute in our district on what types of items should be included for showing student growth, so that part is missing right now.  This year our school district was simply asking for volunteers that would be willing to pilot this model.   I volunteered.  I realize it would require more work, but it's something that will be expected in the future years.

I created a binder with sections for Domains 1-4.   In this binder I have things such as copies of parent e-mails and communication and district logs of activities.  That is all that I have in this binder!!!  My administrator is a proponent of less paper, so I decided to keep the rest of my evidence in a digital file.  I love it, especially since I did away with most of my paper files in my classroom this past summer.   I keep most everything on my flash drives in files labeled with each subject area and month.  

First, I had to get my desktop of my Mac organized.  I would have many files, so I created this screen saver for my desktop.

The graphics are by Ashley Hughes.  You can grab this screen saver by clicking on the photo below and saving it.  Then go into the preferences on your computer.  Go to screen saver, and upload this photo.
To create my Danielson Digital Binder, I first purchased a flash drive.  I would load my file from my laptop onto the flash drive to give to my administrator.    Then I created files on my desktop so that I could easily copy my "evidence" from my other flash drives.  Here's a photo of the files I created.  I created a language arts, behavior management, writing, social studies/science, lesson plans and newsletters, parent communication, and reading.  You can include whatever files fit for Domains 1 and 4.  I could have also included a student data file with samples of student work.  Rather I decided to make a file within each subject area for uploading samples of student work.
Once I created files on my desktop, I simply began copying my "evidence" from my flash drives into the files.  This was easy since I have already have my information organized on my flash drives.  For reading, I included things I had created to go with our reading series and other products I have purchased to go along with our reading series.  I also had copied student work and uploaded these samples into an area called " student work".  I included rubrics created, photos of bulletin boards created,  and research projects as well.  I did this for each file area.  In my behavior management, I included copies of my rules, clip chart, classroom coupons, information handed out to parents, and etc.  In my parent communication, I included notes that I've sent home, information with passwords for various online tools students have access to, and my parent handbook that is given at the beginning of the school year.  In my lesson plans and newsletters, I included a copy of my online digital lesson plan book, lesson plans that I daily have out on my desk just in case a substitute is needed, and copies of newsletters that are e-mailed to parents on a weekly basis.

After I had copied all the information I wanted,  I then created a file on my desktop called " Mehrtens' Digital Danielson Binder".
Before I dragged and dropped all of my files into this one file, I created an introduction that I placed in each file for my administrator to look it.  I basically just mentioned some of the things my administrator was going to find in each file.   Here's a look at one sample of this:
If you would like this cute little format, you can snag it HERE for free from my Google Docs.  The graphics are by the amazing Ashley Hughes.
Finally, once I had created and placed these introduction pages into each file, I was ready to drag and drop all the files into my "Mehrtens' Digital Danielson Binder".   Then I was able to insert my new flash drive and drag my file onto the flash drive.  Voila!  It's ready for me to give to my administrator tomorrow.

I would love to hear from all of you on any suggestions that you have.   This is my first time with this type of evaluation, and so I'm on a huge learning curve right now.   What are some things you have included and have you created a digital binder rather than a paper binder? 

Thanks so much for stopping by friends!!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Little Secret About my Classroom Reveal.... A Welcome banner FREEBIE

Hey Dear Friends!
Since it's just you and me reading this post.... I have a BIG Secret to tell you.
*** I didn't redo or change my classroom this year.***
I JUST couldn't do it.  
1.  It gets too EXPENSIVE to change everything.
2.  Too time consuming. ( Seriously.... why didn't I listen to my family and friends who said that when your kids get older you actually have LESS free time than when they were younger.  It's TRUE, I tell you!   I'm in the middle of finding that out now.  I have 2 teenagers, a 9 year old, and a 4 year old.  Our Nissan Armada is now officially a taxi to sporting events, piano lessons, gymnastics, and so much more. ) Life is hectic and I don't have a lot of time to redo it all. 

 I FINALLY said it.  I feel better.

I did move to a new classroom this year, so my bulletin boards and etc may be in different places.  I even purged so much stuff at the end of the year.  ( Like those all those bulletin board pieces from 15 years ago!)  My filing cabinet no longer holds files.... I purged all of my paper files too.   I went digital!  My filing cabinets are the new home to games and activities that I use in stations.

Just for memory's sake you can check out last year's Classroom Reveal HERE.

I'll leave you with a few pics I took of my completed classroom for this year and a  Welcome banner FREEBIE I created with graphics from Melonheadz Illustrating.

Of course, with all the photos I took of my classroom, I forgot to take a picture of the Welcome Banner I created for the outside of my classroom.  You can grab this Welcome Banner Freebie HERE or by clicking on the photo collage below.  Enjoy!!

ONE more secret..... Did you know that TPT is having their BACK To SCHOOL Sale on Monday, August 4 and Tuesday, August 5?
Everything in my store is 20% off.  If you use the TPT promo code BTS14, you get a total of 28% of everything you purchase.  Now is the time to stock up!   Just click HERE or on the photo above to check out the products in my store.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Adding some SUNSHINE to a school year and a FREEBIE

Hey Dear Friends!

I've had a chance to get back into my classroom this week and begin preparing it for a new group of 3rd graders.  As I've been working in my classroom, I have time to reflect upon the new group of students I will have this school year, and how to make our learning community a positive and FUN  (yes I said fun) experience for every student.   

Do you ever feel like teaching at times is like the postcard below?
As a third grade teacher, in the state that I teach in, I do at times.  I feel like the the bar is constantly being raised for our students ,and that they are missing out on some important life lessons such as social time with others and just having time to be a "kid.  It makes me sad for our kids.  I LOVED going to school and enjoyed 2 recesses a day to talk with my friends.  I remember my 5th grade teacher teaching us how to make these little bunsen burners out of a coffee can for a day camping trip we were going to take. We even got to repel off of a small, small, cliff.   ( I know.. it's been decades since I've been in grade school.)

When I look at my empty classroom that is soon to be filled with new students, it's important to me to  incorporate activities throughout the year that will put a smile on their face and great memories from 3rd grade.   

Life has changed so much for the society in which we live and SO quickly it seems to me.  In my little learning community, I have had students who have parents with cancer, parents who have passed away from cancer, students who are  homeless, students who are home alone for long periods of time after school, students who come from broken homes, students who are being raised by their grandparents, students who may have a sibling that requires lots of extra care and assistance, and the list goes on and on.     Can you imagine being a student with one or more of those worries weighing on their little heart?  It breaks my heart, AND then we expect them to come to school and leave all those worries at the door and LEARN?    I don't know about you, but if I were going through some of these things I couldn't do that.

SO it's time to put some FUN back into learning.  For many of the students mentioned above, school is a "safe" place from those problems.  It's a place for students to visit with their friends and just be a "kid" for a little while each day anyway. 

I realize I may sound like I'm on my soapbox.  I apologize!  It's so important to me to  make sure my learning community is a safe, caring, and fun place for my students.

Here are just a few easy things I do/ plan to do  in my classroom to help encourage a positive and caring classroom environment:

1.  I LOVE to share with my students a funny story from home or maybe something my family did over the weekend.... Believe it or not... Students LOVE to see this "real" side of you.  I often have parents that comment  or e-mail me about these little stories as well because their child shared it with them after school.     I think it also helps my students feel more comfortable and at home in our learning community.

2.Sunshine notes

While it would be extremely difficult to give each and every student in my classroom a personal handwritten note about a success that day, I do pick 5 or 6 students daily to give handwritten sunshine notes.  These notes are short little notes from me that might compliment them on something that day, praise them for working hard in a particular area, and etc.  If I do 5 or 6 a day, by the end of the week each student in my room has received a personal handwritten sunshine note from me.   It's amazing what these little notes do for some of these students!   ( I just need to be a lot better about fitting these notes in on a weekly basis this year.  These notes do make a big difference.)    You can snag these little "Sending you some Sunshine" notes for FREE  HERE or by clicking on the photo below. I've included a color and black and white version.

3.  Warm and Fuzzy Jar
 A.K.A. marble jar

This works similar to the marble jar except that students get to put in those pom poms  for doing something kind for someone else.  Once the jar is filled to the top, the class gets a "classroom filled with kindness" party.
To make this project all you need are:  some pom poms- I purchased mine from the Dollar Tree
ribbon to go around the top of the jar
a jar- I stocked up on the plastic jars from Dollar Tree
the "warm and fuzzy" printable- you can download it for free from HERE

4. Brag Tags
 I started using brag tags on a regular basis with my students last year.  It was such a hit!  They looked forward to getting a new "tag" on their necklace.  I had a special place in the classroom in which all of the necklaces were placed.  Students could wear their brag tags on Fridays.  This was so great for inspiring a positive learning environment.  Students would give out compliments to others on the "earning" of a new tag.

These fabulous tags came from Corinna at Surfin Through Second and Miss Nelson from Run Miss Nelson's Got the Camera.  Click HERE. and HERE. for the links.

5.  Brain Breaks
I find my students start asking for these once the school year is just a few weeks in.  These are a great way to take a "break" for just a few minutes between subjects.  Students often have the opportunity for movement and social interaction during these brain breaks.  You can find them anywhere..  I LOVE using Go Noodle also for brain breaks.

Here is one of the  brain breaks I have in my classroom:

You can find this in my TPT store by clicking HERE or on the photo below.

These are just a few easily manageable things I have added to my classroom to promote a positive, fun, and caring learning atmosphere.   I would love for you to share some of your favorite activities to promote a fun and positive atmosphere for your students!!!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

2 Stars and a Wish.. A Little Back To School Classroom Organization

Hi Sweet Friends!
If you are like me, you are gearing up for another school year.
I couldn't want to link up with Mandy's Tips for Teachers for

I'm ALL about staying organized in my classroom.  I feel like I teach better when my classroom is organized and runs efficiently.  SO I wanted to share with you 2 things ( my STARS)  I feel help me stay organized and  something I wish I could do better.  ( I'm hoping you all will have some tips to help me with this WISH.)
Use magazine boxes labeled with the days of the week to keep your needed copies and other items needed for that particular day.

( My magazine boxes are located on the right hand side of this picture.)
I used to keep my copies and needed items in a file folder in my desk.  I LOVE these magazine boxes.  They hold so much more material, AND they are easy for another teacher to access if needed.  It also helps with those last minute emergency plans for a sub if one of my little ones wakes up and is ill that morning.   My parent volunteer comes in every Thursday or Friday and makes the copies for the following week.  Once the copies are made, I quickly refer to my teacher plans and place the copies in the corresponding box for the following week. 

Forgot My Homework Binder

A teacher on my team introduced this to me last year, and I LOVED it.
I am forever trying to keep track of students who have forgotten their homework, didn't do their reading assignment and etc.  The school in which I teach does a monthly Homework Club Reward, and I have a Homework incentive in my classroom as well.  I used to keep track of missed reading assignments and etc in my teacher planner.  BUT with all of the other notes I jotted down, the student names and assignments missed were hard to find.  I needed something easier and more organized to help me keep track of missing homework.   The "Forgot My Homework Binder" has a tab with each student's name.  Inside of the Binder, each student has a homework sheet.  Each student simply writes the date, assignment that is missing or not completed, and I initial the entry.   I have it sitting by the homework basket in my classroom.  Each morning I check student's planners while they are working on their Daily Morning Warm-Ups.  If a student is missing an assignment or did not complete their reading minutes, I ask them to sign the homework binder.
To create the homework binder, I purchased a 3 ring binder along with enough of the tabbed file folders for each student in my class.  I wrote each student's name on a tab.  Then I made a homework sheet that included a column for the date, item not completed, and my initials.
You can download the cover for the "Missing Homework Binder" and the 'Missing Homework" sheet for FREE from Google Docs by clicking on either photo above or HERE.
Classroom Library Check Out System

Oh my, I need SO much help with this one.  I would love ANY and ALL ideas that have worked for you.  I have YET to find a system that keeps my students responsible for classroom books that they check out of our library.  What do all of you use?  I WISH for a system that is easy for the students to use, helps keep the responsible for returning the library books back to the classroom library, and helps me keep track of my classroom library books.  I loose OODLES of books every year.  I also don't want to have to spend a lot of time managing this system.  

I have entered all of my classroom books online into LibraryThing. I've even reorganized my books by subjects. Here's a little peek into my classroom library.

 Thanks so much for stopping by.  Good luck on a new school year!!  I would LOVE to hear your suggestions on my WISH. 

For more STAR ideas, please check out the links from my FRIENDS below.