Sunday, August 16, 2015

1st FULL week of school VISUAL PLANS

School has begun!!!  We had 3 days with students last week, and I was completely, and utterly exhausted.... as always that first week.  It was also an emotional week for me as a Mom.  My oldest began high school and my youngest started kindergarten.  I'm not sure if I am ready for this or not.  Sigh!!  

I hope to share with you soon my first day of school plans and my classroom.  Until then... I have posted my visual plans for the first week of school with clickable links on the photos below the calendars.   I am not a math teacher this year, so you will not see any math plans on the calendar.  I teach two sections of reading and E.L.A.  I love it!!

Click on any of the resources below to be taken to the link.

Have a great week Friends!!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

DeClutter Your Classroom

Hi Dear Friends!  It's Back to School Time for me!!  AND you know what that means.... time to get that classroom ready.   Something that I spend some time on at the end of the year and sometimes at the very beginning of the year is streamlining my classroom.  I feel claustraphobic in clutter.  It's terrible.. I know!!  

We all begin the school year with a beautiful and highly organized classroom.  It's the rest of the year that I often struggle with.  My motto used to be... if you can't see it, then there's no clutter.  Seriously... my classroom could appear to be organized ,but if you were to open my filing cabinet, storage closet, and even inside some of my boxes that held files one would see a major paper mess. So I finally did something about it by finding ways to keep things organized... not just at the start of the school year.

1.  Get rid of most paper in your filing cabinet!!  

It's a leap, I know BUT it was the best thing I did.  Most of my files are now digital.  I purchased a flash drive and have files listed with subjects and by quarter.  I dump the digital copy of each item into this particular folder.  I have 2 school flash drives.... Just in case I lose one.  Actually the other one I keep with my Danielsen binder. This has actually made my life much easier as many times my planning takes place of an evening after I tuck my kiddos into bed.  There's no need to go into my classroom late at night because I have all I need for planning on my flash drive.

2. Organize those task cards and games into plastic tubs that are labeled.
I have all of my math task cards and activities in plastic tubs.  They are labeled according to the unit.  I also have my Wonders for reading organized into these very same plastic tubs.  It makes it so much easier for me to place those task cards or activities that I have spent so long laminating back into these plastic tubs.  In the past, these task cards might be shoved into all different sorts of cubbies in my room.  The plastic tubs stay shelved above the storage cabinet in my room. 

3. Banker boxes and canvas bins to keep copies for the week and lessons for each day.
 It seems that each year I have been so fortunate to have amazing parent volunteers.  Last year my parent volunteer came in EVERY single FRIDAY.  One of the things she would do for me is copy all that I needed for the following week.  I would simply paper clip items needed for each day that needed copying.  She would copy them and then place the completed copies in the banker boxes for me.  It was AWESOME, and such a time saver!!  This also reduced my paper clutter by no longer having stacks of papers sitting in piles on the back of my cabinet.

4. If you haven't used it in the past two years... throw it away!
Last year, our entire school had many classroom changes due to a grade level moving into a different building.  So I had to move my entire classroom at the end of the year!  It was a lot of work, but one of the best things I did to get rid of my clutter.  I have taught for 18 years, and I had items from my student teaching days that were never used.  SO there's nothing like having to pack your entire room to make you really think about whether you need something or not.  If I hadn't used it in the last two years, I donated it to others or threw it away.  It helped tremendously with the clutter, and I didn't miss one single item that I had thrown away in that purge.

5.  Lastly, try working without a desk.  I think you will like it!!

I had a desk... that I NEVER sat at.  It basically held my papers, lesson plan book, and supplies.  It also took up a lot of room in my classroom.  So I made the plunge 2 years ago to get rid of it.  I replaced it with a round table that I desperately needed for small group work.  My plan book with lessons and activities for the day sits on the back of my counter.  My papers that needed graded, filed, copied and other supplies are now found in these containers next to my counter.  It took me a few weeks to get used to not having a desk.  I did miss it in the beginning, but now I would never go back to a desk in my room again. 

Enjoy the rest of your week!!  I know many of you are already back in the trenches or are working on your rooms.  Best of luck to you on a new school year!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Back To School Paper Bag Projects

Have you used paper bags in your classroom recently?  As most of you know... those brown lunch sacks aren't just for lunch anymore.  Ever since I attended a workshop a couple of years ago in which the presenter gave me a glimpse of the possibilities of these paper bags, I've been using them for all kinds of projects at home and at school.  I'm hooked on Paper Bag Albums!!
These are so EASY to make.  All you  need are 4 brown lunch sacks to make 1 album.
Step 1:   Lay the first paper sack down with the flap on the left side facing "up".
Then rotate the other sacks with flap on right then left and so on.
Step 2:  Fold the paper sacks in half
Step 3:  Place 3 hole punches in the folded paper sacks and tie with ribbon.

Voila!   You know have a paper bag album in which the possibilities are endless!!

Just a few of my favorite ways to use these paper bag albums:

1.  We are working on an alphabet paper bag album at home right now.  My son also cuts out photos from some magazines of the alphabet sounds and places them in the appropriate pockets that are made from the paper bag album.  He is creating his own masterpiece while working on his alphabet and fine motor skills.  Bonus!!

2.  A sports album

If your family is like mine, we have oodles of those sports' trading card pictures of friends from each season whether it be soccer, football, and baseball.  The paper bag album would make a perfect sports album for these cards.  I created a cover page and autograph pages to add to these sports' albums.  Then the trading card could be adhered to the page or placed in the pocket of the album.  You can get this FREEBIE sports album here or by clicking on the photos below.

3.  School Albums

I have used these paper bag albums in all areas in the classroom.  We've used them as a home for fold-its that go with literacy units, science units, and social studies units.  I also created a Back to School Album that documents the entire year a couple of years ago as well.
I gave this unit a complete new look!
You can see more of this album by clicking HERE or on the photo above.

I would love to hear how you use paper bag albums!

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!!!