Educents Sale! July 30-August 2, 2014!

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Back to School - Let the FUN Begin!

It's officially that time again! With my new job as elementary principal, I've been back to work for a few days - even though school doesn't officially begin for us until later August. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I've been getting B2S deals in the mail for over a month now!

But this time of year also means there are some GREAT deals coming our way! We all know as educators we spend way too much money out of pocket for our kiddos - either out of necessity or the goodness of our hearts. So why not take advantage of the companies that recognize this and give us a break!

1. Educents is throwing a HUGE back-to-school sale on several different products! The deals will only last from July 30-August 2! You can find my Alphabet Letter Mazes as part of the Kindergarten bundle. This product recently received a face lift, so make sure to check out the FREEBIE of it by clicking on the picture below! {If you like the freebie, make sure to give the entire bundle a try! It's 75% off!!!}

Kindergarten Full-Year Curriculum Bundle - 75% OFF


2. Teachers Pay Teachers is throwing their quarterly sale Monday & Tuesday, August 4 and 5. You can visit my store for the 28% off by clicking here. {Just don't forget to enter code BTS14 at checkout! I've forgotten before, and it's always a bummer!}

3. Wal-Mart is offering 10% e-gift cards on purchases made through July 31st (today).

4. Staples has a 5% back program. (I can't specifically speak to this one since the closest Staples in about three hours from me. Insert.Sad.Face.)

5. Office Depot allows you to earn up to 20% back! (Again, this is another store I hardly ever shop at due to location - 3+ hours...)

6. And finally, yours truly is hosting a giveaway starting right here on the blog. But you will have to come back on Thursday, August 7 to see what it's for! {Unless of course you follow me on Facebook, then you probably already know! =) } 

If you know about some other back to school deals or giveaways, please leave them in the comments below!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Departmentalizing Across Grade Levels

This past year our elementary school did something different. We departmentalized across grades. Why, you ask? Because we only have one section of each grade, yet we felt our upper elementary students needed to rotate teachers to prepare them for junior high. That, and the three teachers each had a specialty. 

Our fourth grade teacher is excellent at teaching math and extremely qualified. I love reading and have my Reading Specialist degree. And finally, the 5th grade teacher was perfectly fine setting up the science experiments and doing some extra social studies. (I think we were all pretty excited to give up the subjects we weren't as passionate about, so it worked out well!)

We started planning for this change months before we actually implemented it. There's so much to figure out...classroom schedules, who teaches what, common rules, how to track behavior, how to contact parents, how to switch rooms with the least amount of teaching time lost, similar classroom policies/procedures to make it easier on kids, etc.


  • We all got to teach a subject we love!
  • We had a common prep time each day so we were able to discuss things as needed. We didn't have an "official" time to meet, but knowing that we shared a 30 minute prep each day made our lives a bit easier. 
  • Being able to bounce ideas off two other teachers when you have a student you can't reach was priceless. We all have those "tough cookies", and knowing you had two other people who work with that student every day made it easier to get ideas.
  • It felt like I was working less. I know from an hourly standpoint I truly wasn't, but because I was teaching only subjects that I'm really passionate about my job seemed easier this past year. 
  • Our 6th graders are going to go to middle school better prepared for switching teachers each day.
  • When you have a "tough" class, they rotate between rooms. This helps prevent teacher burnout and gives everyone a break during the day by taking on another class.
  • On the same note, when you have a really large class - they rotate! You don't have to grade papers for that large class in all subjects, just the ones you teach!


  • We had to attend a LOT of special ed and Title I meetings. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it didn't dawn on me before we made this change that I would be going to three times the meetings. It was an adjustment.
  • Parents sometimes contacted one of us with a complaint about another. Thankfully we had been upfront with one another at the beginning of the year and said that if we had a parent say anything we were to send them directly to the teacher they had an issue with. It worked out really well for us and we had all issues handled promptly! 
  • Some of the kiddos struggled with switching teachers at the beginning of the year. I had a few 4th graders who would just gawk around my room in awe and not really hear a word I said. Thankfully this ended within about a month, but it did take some getting used to for them and me.
  • You have to get along with all of the people on the team. We had a GREAT team and no problems. :) However, I could see this being an issue if people don't communicate well with one another.
  • You don't get to know the kids as well. But even as I type this, it's not entirely true. Yes, I did not get as much time with this year's 6th grade class as I did last year's. However, in future years every teacher will have an equivalent of a full year with the students - except that year will be spread over three. It will all work out in the end. It just happens that the first year or two I may not know the students as well. (When I was doing research on being departmentalized last year I saw a bunch of research saying that you lose the relationships. I can honestly say that I didn't feel that way! Even though I saw over 50 students each day, I had a good connection with the majority of them. And I think each subsequent year with them would just make it better!) 
  • Scheduling was a bit of a nightmare. We started the year with 60 minute blocks, but found that wasn't enough time. We had to make the entire elementary change their specials schedules so we could change to 90 minute blocks. EEK! It ended up working out just fine, but the point is that you will need to be open and honest to get this to work. And be prepared for some bumps along the way. It took us about two months to have all the kinks worked out, but it was well worth it!

As I look at the above lists, from a length standpoint the cons win (although I did include our "fixes" to each con in this section). This could not be farther from the truth! This was a great system! All three teachers loved it, the students learned to love it (some did gripe a little at the beginning of the year), and we received a BUNCH of positive feedback from parents as well. Yes, it was a learning experience this first year, but we are definitely doing it again next year!

Now I realize this is jut my list of pros and cons. However, I've found a couple other websites that share information on departmentalizing in this way as well. There are real opinions from others teachers! Here they are:

In case you're wondering how we did the switches, here you go:
  • Math, 4th Grade Homeroom (spelling, grammar, social studies)
  • Science, 6th Grade Social Studies, 5th Grade Homeroom (spelling, grammar)
  • Reading, Writing, 6th Grade Homeroom (spelling, grammar)
As I mentioned above, we started the year with 60 minute switches, but found that wasn't working. So we switched to 90 minute classes. All switches took place in the morning before lunch with a 30 minute special class in between them to break the morning up. 

Next year we are changing things up a little bit:
  • 4th Grade Homeroom will teach ALL math & spelling
  • 5th Grade Homeroom will teach ALL science & social studies
  • 6th Grade Homeroom will teach ALL reading, writing, grammar
We will again go with 90 minute blocks in the morning with a 30 minute special in between. This allows each homeroom teacher to have their class all afternoon, and it gives us more flexibility with scheduling specials in the afternoon.

We are really excited to continue this program! The kids love seeing three different teachers each day, and we have received a bunch of positive comments from parents. 

Want to read more thoughts on HoJo's Teaching Adventures about departmentalizing? This blog post is about how I organized classroom supplies and this one explains one way to organize paperwork and student workbooks. 

Do you departmentalize in this way? If so, I'd love to hear your perspective in the comments below! Do you have further ideas, suggestions, or questions? Ask away!

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Stomp Out Inappropriate Language

The other day I shared my classroom rules and how I teach them in the first days/weeks of the school year. Today I want to take those one step farther and also show you how I get rid of inappropriate language in my classroom from the first days.

The first day or two is when we discuss the rules and list specific examples of what each rules looks like, sounds like, etc. By the third day I feel I really need to dive into appropriate language for my classroom. I grew up in a home where the words "dummy" and "stupid" were considered cuss words. Likewise, my siblings and I were never allowed to utter the phrase "shut up" without getting in trouble. While it may seem a bit strict, I feel this philosophy also works well in the classroom!

Each year around the third day I tell my students that we are going to "stomp out" the bad words I don't want to hear in my classroom. I always start by saying that we all know the "cuss words" and that we aren't going to say any of those horrible words out loud. So I write "cuss words" on paper - you'll understand why I use paper a little later on in the post. Then I also explain that our classroom has no tolerance for "racial slurs" and I write that on the paper. From there I take a deep breath and ask the students what other words they think might be inappropriate in the classroom. Sometimes it takes them awhile to get going, but by the time we're done we have a pretty good list. {i.e. shut up, stupid, retard, idiot, gay, dumb, knucklehead, loser, sucks, you get the idea...}

I have had a time or two were students have blurted out a completely inappropriate word or phrase. Be ready for that! I've found that a stern look will often stop the gigglers, and I will simply say, "Yes, that is an inappropriate word/phrase. I'm so glad we will not hear it again this year." One time I had to pull a student out into the hall to talk with me after trying to get attention by saying several inappropriate terms, but after our little chat he was good as gold and he learned where my line was! 

Here's a picture of the list I used last year. Yes, I even take a picture of it - so if we need a reminder part way through the year, I can pull it out and reference all the words we "stomped"!

When we are done creating our "list" we then "stomp it out". I literally start taking our large sheet of paper and ripping it into pieces to give each student. Each student gets a piece and we "stomp" it out, rip it up, etc. I've done this "stomping" activity with students in Kindergarten through sixth grade. Yes, the sixth graders rolled their eyes a little, but it still got the point across and they were giggling a little by the end. At the end we made sure all of our pieces ended up in the garbage, which only reinforced my clean room philosophy even more!

It never ceases to amaze me that even months into the school year, the students will correct ME if I utter one of the words we stomped out. --> "Miss Whetham, you just called the book dumb! We stomped that out!" 

I always make a bit deal about my mix-up and tell them we all make mistakes. Then I apologize to the class, and ask them to forgive me. {I feel this shows that I'm human also - and all of us are going to make mistakes from time to time.}

How do you keep the language appropriate in your classroom? I'd love to learn some new strategies! Please let me know in the comments below.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

School Rules - How to Teach Them to Start the Year Off Right!

I like to keep my classroom rules VERY easy! Typically it's just one rule - be nice or show respect. The K-2 folks get the "be nice" rule, while the older kids get the "show respect" rule.

This rules is then broken up into three main parts.
  • to others
  • to property
  • to yourself

Even though the rule only has one main part (or three smaller ones!), it can still be a challenge for kids to understand. That's why I always go through the rules. The students and I brainstorm what these rules will look and sound like.

Here's the lists that last years 6th graders came up with.

{Pretty sure that should read "keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself!

Not sure how my middle schoolers didn't catch that last year! lol}

Typically we write our ideas on paper that we can save all year. (aka - I can store them in the closet and pull them out whenever the kiddos "forget" how they should be behaving or if we have a bunch of new students join us.) However, last year I wrote them on the whiteboard, left them for about two weeks, and didn't have another problem all year. (Although technically I knew I had taken these pictures and could bring them up again if needed!) =) This year my plan is to put them up on the ActivBoard and pull them up as needed throughout the year. 

I also make sure to refer to these a LOT in those first weeks. Custodians LOVE my room because I expect it to be clean. I tell the students that they are the ones who make the mess, so they are the ones who clean it up! Yes, sometimes they grumble and complain that it's the janitors' jobs - but I always say it's there job to clean up the school, NOT to clean up after little slobs. When I'm strict about the rules from the get-go the students get used to it and it simply becomes a "norm" in my room. It's so great to see students cleaning up by the end of the year without even being asked! Students truly do reach the high standards we set for them. =)

What are your class rules and how do you teach them?

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Teachers Chat with Obama - My Take...

In case you hadn't heard, President Obama recently sat down with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and four teachers for an hour long lunch at the White House. From what I read of their chats, I am hopeful for the future of education here in America. 

There are times where it seems the only thing that matters in today's classrooms are test scores. However, we've all seen students who come to school without breakfast or without any sleep the night before due to the violence that was happening in or around their home. These things break our hearts as educators. Yet, we persevere because we love our jobs and we want the very best for our students. We realize that the best doesn't always mean having a perfect test score. It may mean feeling safe or perhaps having enough food to take home to feed a younger sibling for the night. However hope may look, it gives life to our students and allows them to be successful.

One of my biggest take-aways after reading about this meeting with President Obama was that teachers shared that it's not about bad teachers - sometimes just poor teaching. I am so relieved to read this! Yes, there are a few bad apples - but the way teachers all too often get portrayed in the media is that the majority of us are bad apples. That is simply not true!

The general public needs to do a better job of listening to teachers! We are the ones in the classrooms each and every day. We know what is best for our students. We were educated to reach students in the best way possible. When we all join together, we can do amazing things!

Here is my favorite quote from the one of the articles ---
Yes, we want to recruit talented new teachers who walk in the door with high potential for perseverance, intelligence, and compassion. But we don’t need to swap out all the bad and mediocre teachers for better teachers, anymore than we should swap out our struggling students for more advanced students. We need to build systems that support every teacher willing to put in the work it takes to move from novice to competent, competent to excellent, and beyond. ---- from the Washington Post article by Justin Minkel (written by Valerie Strauss) 

It's going to continue to be an uphill battle, but if politicians and the general public continue to listen to what those of us in the trenches have to say, there's a good chance of continued success! 

I'm so thankful that this conversation has been started by the President. It leaves me hopeful that we will be able to continue it! 

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

New Tutorial on Using Magic Square Puzzles {with Exclusive FREEBIES!}

I am so excited to be showing off my first-ever YouTube video. It shows you how to use Magic Square Puzzles. Please be kind because I know there are higher-quality videos out there, but we all have to start somewhere! =)

If you want to learn even more about how to use Magic Square Puzzles, check out this blog post ---

Now for the best part of this blog post! I recently had the opportunity to guest blog for two of my favorite bloggers - Rachel Lynette at Minds in Bloom and Denise at Sunny Days in Second Grade. Click on either picture below to grab your free Magic Square Puzzles!

I'd love to hear how you use Magic Squares in your classroom or with your own children. Please share them below!

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Getting Excited about STEM! {Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math}

Hello Everyone ! I am so excited to share a little about STEM with you today. My name is Carol and my blog is Teachers Are Terrific! and I started on this STEM journey about a year ago.  Let me give you some quick background information. I taught third grade for 17 years and then had the amazing opportunity to switch to something brand new for our school system. I am now the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Lab teacher for grades 3-5 in our city's magnet school. I see each class of students in my school once a week. We complete one-day challenges and also lengthy projects. Yes, it's wonderful!

So, why is it so wonderful?
I'm going to tell you the story of one little boy, a third grader.

Let's call him Julio (of course that is not his real name). Last year Julio was 
 a stand-out student in his class. He was always excited about coming to the lab. Excellent student, easy to get along with, and a great team member.
So, I announced one day that we would be building cars using junk- starting the next week. The only requirement was that the cars had to roll. I shared the array of supplies I would have available.

Here's a photo:

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I also told the class that they could bring things from home as long as they were not actually parts of toy cars.

The next week I met Julio's class outside the lab and noted that he was carrying a little bundle. He had brought some supplies! (Not many kids did!) He showed me some pieces of cardboard, some straws, and four CD's. He explained that the CD's would be the wheels of his car.

We got into groups, supplies from my supply table were chosen, and the children got right to work.

Using my supplies they had a grand time trying to manipulate the materials and make a rolling car.

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I had styrofoam blocks and florist foam blocks for the car bodies. They used plastic sticks or straws for axles and washers or cups for wheels.

In the meantime, Julio and his team were hard at work with a piece of cardboard. And 4 CD's. They used tape and rubber bands and tried some of my supplies, too. Julio stubbornly insisted they could make the CD's work as wheels. 

This was a project for which I had allotted two weeks.
At the end of class we packed everything away to continue the next week.

The next week everyone finished a car. Some rolled!

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Except Julio's group. Their car was not finished. They had a lot of trouble getting the cardboard in the shape needed.  They needed a longer axle than the plastic pieces I had. (I helped them cut a wooden dowel stick in the right length.) The CD wheels were just too large. However, I could tell this was important to Julio, so I packed their supplies in a box and told him we would continue the next week.

The next week Julio came in and I announced we would be completing a challenge to build a bubble wand. Supplies were given out and Julio came to me and said, "Can I work on my car?"
Of course I said, "Yes!"

As the other students blew bubbles and designed a bubble wand (even Julio's group members) he tackled getting his car finished. The problem was he just could not get the axle and wheels to work together and he couldn't determine how to attach it all to the cardboard body. I watched as he tried different things. He asked for additional supplies. He tried pipe cleaners, rubber bands, straws, craft sticks, and finally he asked for those little things you put on papers. Paperclips!

Now, here's the reason for this story and the reason I love STEM. Julio tried clipping the wooden dowel stick axles to the cardboard. No rolling. He knew the axle had to be suspended from the cardboard body. Then, he tried unbending the paper clip. He poked the straightened end into the folds of the cardboard and curled the other end around the dowel stick. 
It rolled.

When he called my name I went over and he showed me how the car was rolling. Then the paper clips kept  sliding off the ends of the dowel sticks.
Another failure.

I watched for a second as he thought about it. He finally said, "I need those rubber bands again!"

A few minutes later I went back to see.
Julio's car was rolling. Rubber bands on the ends of the dowel sticks were keeping the paper clips from sliding off.
He had done it!

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So, why is STEM so wonderful?

Friends, I love STEM because of kids like Julio. Kids that never give up. Kids that have a task that they persist in completing. Kids that think and think and think and try, try again. Kids that think outside the box, kids that create and build, kids that let their failures teach them what to do next.

Actually, that's what STEM is all about.
I see it everyday in so many kids that are just like Julio.

Have you tried a STEM activity yet?
Try an activity or challenge.

You will be glad you did!

If you need more information here's a source I have used:
Engineering is Elementary

The company has tons of engineering products, teacher's guides, complete kits, and videos available on the website.

To see more STEM in action visit my blog! Here are some specific topics:

Challenges About Volume 
The Great Spaghetti Challenge
Chromatography, Parachutes, and Electric Circuits
Chemical Testing

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