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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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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Recess Matters for Middle-Schoolers, Too

Please welcome guest blogger David Reeves, marketing manager of Playland Inc. He has some great points about students having recess - even at the middle school level!

Study after study has shown the importance of recess on the physical and mental health and well being of kids. Yet it seems that schools continue cutting recess for the upper grades in favor of another hour of academic excellence. If recess is so important to kids, does that importance diminish when the kids hit middle school? Does gym class give enough of a break and enough physical exercise for kids to get the benefit? The answer is a resounding no.

P.E. and Recess Are Not the Same

One of the first arguments against recess in middle school is the presence of a structured physical education program. First, don’t forget that most elementary schools have physical education for younger kids, and still have recess. Yet at the middle school level, where academics become more rigorous, recess is regularly cut.

But recess and physical education are not the same thing. P.E. class is highly structured and kids are asked to perform specific physical activities that they may or may not enjoy. Some kids may even find it stressful if they are being graded on their performance and are not necessarily good at the particular activity.

Recess, on the other hand, gives kids a mental break from the stress of school. They have the freedom to decide what they want to do with their time. It is unstructured, unstressful and provides a needed opportunity to wind down. It also provides social interaction, which is crucial in the middle school years.

According to Dr. Robert Murray, pediatrician and professor at the Ohio State University, recess is vital. He told Time magazine that "Children need to have downtime between complex cognitive challenges." He also emphasized that the longer kids were held to a task, the harder that task became and the less they were able to process the information. Recess provides that cognitive and physical break.

Benefits of Recess Extend into Middle School

The benefits of recess are being heralded far and wide by pediatricians and concerned parents. Children who have recess are able to perform better and more productively in school. They have better social development when they can enjoy child-led play with their peers. Childhood obesity rates are lowered when kids get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day, and recess helps with this.

Do these benefits suddenly disappear when the child enters fifth grade? Are they magically no longer at risk for obesity or no longer need social time? The answer is no. Pulling recess from middle school children means holding them back from enjoying these advantages.

Practical Opportunities to Add Recess

The problem that most middle schools face is that they are pressed for time. The school day is already longer than most kids and parents would prefer, and the teachers and administration need to cram as much learning into that time as they can, as the academic challenges at this age become more intense.

The answer may lie in simply extending the lunch period. Students can use a 40-minute lunch period as they see fit, either to eat and socialize or to spend time outdoors. Encouraging outdoor play or even requiring that some of the time be spent outside can encourage more physical activity. By giving kids the opportunity and an extended break, schools give them the chance to benefit from recess without adding too much time to the school day.

Recess matters, even in middle school. By giving kids this chance to play, schools set them up for greater success, both academically and physically, now and in the future.

About the author:

David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Playland Inc. ( in Carrollton, GA. Playland Inc. is a total solutions manufacturer and supplier of outdoor play equipment, including bridges, climbers and age specific play structures. It has developed into the only company in its field to offer direct to all of its customers, the ability to purchase outdoor and indoor playgrounds and amenities.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Lazy Teachers Take Summers Off

If I hear one more person tell me the statement above I think I'm going to scream! First of all, very few of us are actually "off" during the summer. Many of us have second jobs to make ends meet, or we simply spend time in our regular classroom so we don't live there during the school year. (Heaven forbid we take off our first summer in years to spend time with family, move, help out friends/family, and just enjoy a month or two "off" before starting up the insanity again!)

Now - I know what you're thinking - why is she preaching this to us? We're teachers  - we get it! I know you do! But what should we say to those people who make comments such as these? Or what about the person who "compliments" you personally by saying, "I'm so glad you're not like 'normal' teachers. You actually do something in the summers. You're not lazy." Um - thanks. While you think you may have complimented me, I feel like you just back-handed every other person around the world that loves this profession and feels a calling to go to work every day. Those are the people I call friends, and you just lumped them all into one category - lazy. That's not alright in my book.

Or what during the summer months when you take a trip, people ask what you do, and you respond "I teach." I can't count how many times I then hear - "Must be nice to have your summers off!" Sometimes they say it with a smile on their faces, but oftentimes they are just flat out rude about it. It almost makes me want to lie about my profession, but yet that is not something I can do. I'm too honest, and I love teaching!

So what can we do?

Let's start with a little math. I know there are different numbers all over, but I'm going to use the numbers that pertain to me.

180 contracted days (student contact days and inservice)
8 hours each day

So I'm contracted to work 1,440 hours each year. Not bad at all! HA! Let's see how the numbers really pan out...

  • Start with my 8 hours each day. 1440 hours all year
  • But I also put in another 20 hours before school even starts just setting up my classroom. (All that "cute" stuff you see on open house night doesn't just magically jump up on the walls!) 1460 hours all year
  • And I put in another 10 days over the summer rearranging my classroom and files before I even actually start to set anything up 1540 hours all year
  • I spent at least 20 hours reading professional books over the summer to help me become better at different skills. These are not required reading, but I do them because I want to get better at my job. 1560 hours all year
  • Oh - let's not forget the professional development that I'm required to take to keep my teaching license current. I average about two credits per year (30 hours), and my district and/or state often require something above and beyond what I've chosen to take. (another 30 hours) 1620 hours all year
  • That still doesn't seem so bad, but this is where the "real" numbers come into play. I don't work eight hour days. I'm not a morning person, so I get to work right around 8 each day. However, I typically stay until 6. That's another 360 hours throughout the year. 1980 hours all year
  • And don't forget about the hour of work I take home each night 2160 hours each year
  • AND I typically put in another four hours each weekend - so at 36 weeks in a typical school year, or another 144 hours 2304 hours all year
I'm sure I'm forgetting other hours I put in, but oh well. I think you all get the point. So - let's compare. Many (not all) professionals put in a forty hour workweek. Assuming they work every week of the year (52) that would be 2080 hours. {And I honestly don't know too many professions without paid time off... So I'm being very generous with those 2080 hours.} 

And I know people who make the argument that doctors and lawyers work way more hours, and they're right. However, I do believe they are compensated just a bit better than teachers are!

(Please don't get me wrong. I LOVE my job! Teaching is a calling, and one I feel passionate about each day. I didn't go into it thinking I would get rich! However, I get really sick of the people out there who bash us on a regular basis.)

So this, ladies and gents, leaves me with one last question - Why am I, or any other teacher, lazy??

Thank you for listening.

Rant over.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Summertime Learning FUN! {Lower Elementary}

Last week I showed you what the upper elementary kiddos and I did last year during summer school. Now I'm going to show you what the younger elementary students and I worked on quite a bit!

First up, who can go wrong with a little sidewalk chalk!? Whether we were writing, doing math facts, or simply working on spelling - it was a great way to enjoy the sun!

This is something I wish I had known about back when I taught Kindergarten. Our special ed teacher has this kit in her classroom.
There are every day objects for each letter of the alphabet! How did I not know about this before hand?!? I've seen teachers make their own collection of these in the past, but to be able to buy them in one spot and have it all there - priceless! 

We played a lot of "Pig Pals" games. Donna Whyte runs The Smartie Zone, and she has some AMAZING things! Unfortunately I do not currently see these "Pig Pals" in her store, but I've also personally used her Popcorn Words set and her book The More Ways You Teach, The More Students You Reach. These two items and all of her other products can be found directly at her website - here. If you are looking for a dynamic speaker with some great ideas, she is well worth it! I heard her speak in 2010, and I'm still using many of her great ideas today!

Donna is in no way influencing me endorsing her products. There are no affiliate links in the above paragraph, and I am not receiving compensation from her in any way. These are just my true feelings!

We also did some basic writing each and every day. Sometimes we used paper, other times we wrote our stories on the sidewalk with the chalk mentioned above, and sometimes we just found a random spot in the room and wrote on small white boards. We mixed it up enough that it was fun and not a chore!

Another thing we did that I can't believe I don't have pictures of - ahhh - was play dodgeball math, just like I did with the older students. However, some of these kiddos still needed the dots to do their basic addition skills. No problem! They make fuzzy dice for that too! (I *might* have about a dozen different large, fuzzy dice in my classroom!)

The younger students were OBSESSED with Magic Square Puzzles! I seriously had to crank out as many sets of these puppies as I could last year because the kids just simply couldn't get enough! We worked on short vowels, beginning sounds, compound words, rhyming, addition, telling time, shapes, money, subtraction, matching uppercase and lowercase letters, and MUCH MORE! After I introduced them, the students would beg to do these each day. It actually worked out to my advantage because we could focus on the "less fun" activities first, and the students would work hard knowing they got to complete these when they were done! ;)

Last summer was simply great! I'm the type of person who needs to stay busy, so teaching summer school (while earning a little extra money on the side) was great for me! This summer has been just as crazy, but not in a teaching way. I recently got married, as did every other sibling in my and my husband's family! Seriously - five weddings in about 10 months! If you want to read all about the wedding craziness - from planning to the actual day - head over to my personal blog.

How's your summer going so far?

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