Sunday, July 5, 2015

Advice for New Teacher Moms

I'm linking up with Ms. Kerri and her Krazy Klass to share some tips and advice for teachers who are also moms. And if you're not a mom (or a dad!), stay tuned because I have a freebie that could work for everyone at the end!
My kiddos! Sly is 5 years, MC (Middle Child) is 3 years, and Muffin is 10 months.
I have three kids, which means I've been on maternity leave three times. I've heard many stories from teachers across the country about what their schools expect from them while on maternity leave. I am thankful that at my school, they hired a licensed teacher to take my place for up to 12 weeks.

I wrote a 20-ish page document I lovingly called "How to Run my Classroom" and gave it to my long-term substitutes. Haha!! I hope I didn't scare them too much! I met with each of them for at least a half-day before my leave to show them around my classroom, meet my students, and answer questions.
Is it hard to completely disconnect? Yes... and no :) Once you're holding your baby, all you'll be thinking about is feeding, diapers, and sleep. If you're trying to manage a baby and a toddler, or in my case last time, I had a kindergartener, a toddler, and a baby, then the days REALLY fly by. I also felt that for 12 weeks, my classroom wasn't mine-- my long term substitute needed to run my class in the ways that worked best for her. And even the best substitute in the world isn't me. No matter what, I would have to change things when I got back. So I let her do her thing, and then I did mine when I got back. Kids are flexible. When they would question me ("That's not how Mrs. _____ did it."), I would reply, "I know. But this is the way we're going to do it now." and my students were fine. I am thankful for AMAZING teammates who know exactly what I want in my classroom and who were willing to help and mentor my long-term substitutes.

My leaves were unpaid, but I could use my sick/personal days to get partially paid. Although you can imagine how many days left I had after 3 children in 5 years... When my MC was born, I sent Sly to daycare for three half-days. When Muffin was born, Sly was in kindergarten and I sent MC to daycare for three full days. I am thankful for an understanding husband and the ability to save money so I could have one-on-one time with my new babies.

What about when it's time to go back?
Two of my maternity leaves were at the very beginning of the school year. Let me tell you, that was HARD! Another teacher set up my classroom. Another teacher built my classroom community. And then here I come waltzing in 12 weeks later, and, "HEY KIDS! I'm your teacher. Now let's get to work!" I remember after my first maternity leave, I looked at a few of my students and had NO IDEA what their names were! That first week I got back, we did a lot of rules, routines, and expectations. Just like it was the beginning of the year. I moved at a faster pace, since it wasn't the beginning of the year and we had curriculum to cover. I did this even when I came back in January after my October baby. If you don't do this, you'll be dealing with behaviors for the rest of the year.

Are you a nursing mama? I was able to successfully pump at work with MC and Muffin. I pumped for 5 months with MC and 7 months with Muffin. I pumped 3 times a day on most days: 9:00 during my prep, 11:45 at lunch, 1:45 at afternoon recess. I let my principal know ahead of time of my plan to pump, and I was on the scheduling committee, so I could make sure I had consistent times every day to pump. I was also able to switch duties with my teammates so that I never had afternoon recess duty.

When I pumped, I only allowed myself to do it for 15 minutes. Some days it was 10 minutes if I was late getting started or needed to stop early. But my LC told me that any amount of time is better than no time :) By law, your place of work needs to give you time to pump, so if you don't have the schedule that I had, talk to your principal/supervisor.
My space was behind my desk.
I don't have a picture of what it actually looked like behind my desk, but let me tell you about it. Under my desk I had a mini fridge. I used a bathroom mat from IKEA to sit on to keep my bum from getting too cold on the tile floor. I originally bought the mats for my students to sit on during Read to Self, but I have five of them, so I felt OK permanently borrowing it from them! I had an outlet back there and kept my pump plugged in all day long. I also brought a Thirty-One thermal lunch tote back and forth every day to transport my milk and my pump parts. When it was time to pump, I pulled my rolling chair out of the way, unfolded and set up my mat, sat down on the floor and got down to business. I liked sitting on the floor. I could be more relaxed and comfortable on the floor.
I learned that little nugget from my LC. Such a time saver!!

I keep my door locked at all times, so when it was time to pump, I would shut off the lights and close the door. Sometimes I would put a sticky note on the handle of my door, OVER the lock, that said "Please don't come in." I only did that when the custodians were around. Don't need them walking in on that!! Make sure you put the note OVER the lock. I've heard of people putting the note on the door and still getting walked in on. If you put it over the lock, they have to move it in order to key in.

Honestly, I didn't mind if adults walked in on me. All of the teachers in my wing knew about my situation. I was well hidden behind my desk, so I would shout "Hello!" when the door opened, so they knew I was in there. I've also participated in quite a few team meetings while pumping! I never had a student walk in on me, but I have had them rattling the door knob and banging on the door. We had several chats about how it wasn't OK to do that. During inside recess, I would retreat to an empty classroom to pump.

Pumping at work definitely takes dedication. Some women can work while they're pumping. I can't. I found that I didn't make as much when I wasn't relaxed. I had to completely shut off my school brain to pump. Yes, it was hard to get back into school mode. And every night, I came home with a mountain of school work to do because I couldn't do it at work. Yes, many times I would get overwhelmed. But I just kept telling myself that I wasn't doing it for me; I was doing it for my baby. And it was only temporary. It also helped to have many supportive coworkers to remind me that I'm a mom first.

When I go back to work in September, I will not be pumping. #beenthere #donethat #SOoverit! My baby will be a year old, and my plan is to nurse in the morning and at night. But what can I do to make sure I DON'T come home with my school bag bursting at the seams?

I came up with this:
I need to make sure not one second of my prep time is wasted. So I made a schedule of what I am going do and when. This is actually for my schedule last year. I had a prep every day for at least 40 minutes. Every other Monday I had an additional 30 minute guidance prep. Every third Tuesday I had an additional 30 minute Spanish prep. On Thursdays, I had an 80 minute art prep. Every other Friday I had phy ed, which was 40 minutes, in addition to my 40 minute music prep. So those days were a little more loaded than other days.

Do I do all of these things every day? No. I know that things come up. Sometimes I have parents to call or additional meetings to attend. During grading periods, progress reports and report cards need to be completed. But it's a great guide to keep me focused so I'm not wasting 10 minutes of my prep figuring out what to do. Click HERE if you'd like a copy of my "Weekly To Do List." It is editable. You'll need these fonts: KG Skinny Latte, KG Be Still and Know, KG Miss Kindergarten, KG Lego House, KG Always a Good Time. If you use your own fonts, no worries, but some of the formatting will be off.

I love being a teacher. I love being a mom. It definitely is a balancing act to do both well. And having a cleaning lady helps too! What tips do you have for a working teacher mom?

Sunday, June 28, 2015


There have been so many AMAZING blogger meet ups happening over the past few months!  I've been having a serious case of FOMO as I've seen bloggers and TpTers connecting and sharing across the country. So, my friend, Jessica, from Mrs. Plemons' Kindergarten and I decided to host a Blogger Back to School Bash right in our own backyards so we can meet, connect, and collaborate with our Wisconsin blogging friends!
I know what you're thinking... BACK TO SCHOOL?! But we just got out!!!

Since the meet up will be happening in August, our Blogger Back to School Bash will be a great way to get excited about the upcoming school year. You'll also score some SWAG to take back to your classroom!

The plan is to meet up at The Delafield Brewhaus on Saturday, August 15th from noon-4:00.
The Delafield Brewhaus is conveniently located right off of I-94, about halfway between Milwaukee and Madison. We'll meet in the mezzanine to have lunch, give away awesome prizes, and chat and get to know each other in REAL LIFE! You'll also take home a sweet bag of SWAG to start the 2015-2016 off with a BANG! In addition, we are looking into going to a paint bar later in the evening for those who are interested.

To join us, please CLICK HERE!

Please note that you DO NOT have to be from Wisconsin to attend :) Please RSVP by August 1st so we can make sure we have enough goodies for everyone! Our space can only accommodate up to 40 guests, so make sure you sign up right away.

We can't WAIT to see you next month!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

TpT Challenge Week 1: Makeover Madness

I love this challenge put together by Sparkling in Second Grade, Peppy Zesty Teacherista, Teach Create Motivate, and Third in Hollywood! It's just the kick in the pants that I needed to get started on my mile-long To-Do list.

I've had my TpT store for about 2.5 years, and I'd like to think my creative juices have improved over that time. The first big product I made was in March of 2013. I was teaching main idea and determining importance in informational texts, and I was having a really hard time finding texts that were concise yet challenging enough for my second grade kiddos.

So Main Idea Mania was born!

This product is actually my best seller! The content is great, but the fonts, clip art, and graphics were little to be desired. So I gave it a face lift!
AHHH the old cover BURNS MY EYES!! Haha!
If you already own this, please, please, PLEASE redownload it! The content is maybe 90% the same (I did add a new passage about volcanoes and lava!), but with the addition of all the black & white pages, it went from 129 pages to 160 pages! Here's a peek as to what's inside:
---teaching posters for interesting details, important information, wh-questions, main idea, and supporting details
---5 circle maps and coordinating writing paper for each map
---8 nonfiction, single paragraph passages to practice determining Main Idea and Supporting Details
---4 nonfiction, multi-paragraph passages to provide more of a challenge for higher students
---8 graphic organizers to use with any text

Want a closer look? I put together this FREEBIE for you, my awesome friends!

GUESS WHAT?! It's 20% off in my store through tomorrow (Friday, June 19th)! I also may or may not be having a little giveaway over at my Facebook page as well :)

I hope you all love the new version as much as I do!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Interactive Notebooks: IN Wrap Up

Here we are, at the last post of my Interactive Notebook series.
Thanks for your patience in these last few months, as I've worked through, wrote, and rewrote these posts to be as clear and concise as I could be. I hope that you've had a few "aha" moments throughout this series, and that you've taken away some ideas to use your classroom.

Here are some take aways I'm hoping you've discovered:
Our ultimate goal is to teach students to be independent notetakers and thinkers. Will they be able to do this at the primary level? Most likely not. I'm talking middle school, high school, and even college level. Let's start them young!

The purpose of an interactive notebook is for students to interact with the CONTENT at a high level. Foldables and lift-the-flap tabs are one way you can interact with the new information being taught, but it's not the only way.

The notebook should be a reference tool (input) as well as a place for students to demonstrate their understanding of the new information (output). We are teaching our kids how to take notes from a variety of sources and then apply their learning in a way that makes sense for them to help the new information "stick." This is true engagement!!

You can make your own interactive notebook lessons! Even if you claim to not be tech savvy! You don't even need to create anything. Take a look at this mammals lesson my kiddos did the other day:
Our objective was to learn the characteristics of mammals. First they wrote a few mammals they knew on the Thinking Side. Then, with a partner, they read some pages in our textbook. Next, we worked together to make the list of characteristics on the Learning Side. Then, we watched a video about mammals. While the video was playing, they wrote down the important information from the video. And yes, everyone did this without my prompting. My kids were even asking me to stop the video so they could write down the important vocabulary words. They shared their notes with their neighbor and added more mammals to their "Mammals I Know" lists. Finally, students chose one mammal from the video and wrote at least two reasons why they knew that animal was a mammal.

Could I have created some cutesy foldable? Sure, absolutely! Would it have been necessary? HECK NO!

OK, so I want to try interactive notebooks in my classroom. Where do I start???
My suggestion is to start small. As enthusiastic as you might be about starting to use interactive notebooks, they can get super overwhelming if you don't have a plan. I want you to stick with it for the long haul! When I started using INs in 2012, I chose one subject: science. I picked science because I only have 5 units. I also alternate teaching science and social studies, so when I wasn't teaching science, I had time to plan and prepare for my next unit. If you're thinking math, maybe choose a unit or two to try out the notebooks. Don't pressure yourself into feeling like you need to be using notebooks all day, every day. Once you get the hang of it, then add more units/subjects. I went from just science that first year to using INs in 5 subjects the following year, and I wasn't overwhelmed in the least.

Do you have interactive notebook products in your TpT store?
Yes I do! :) You can find them here! I have a year's worth of phonics INs and a few math units. Currently, my science and social studies units are not for sale, as most of them were created with my teaching teammates during school hours. I have received a few requests for science/social studies units, and I so have them on my "to do" list. A few of you also showed interest in my phases of the moon wheel from a previous post... click HERE to grab it for free :)
Please know that I personally don't use every single component that's in each unit in my classroom. I want my students to write as much as possible, in order for them to have ownership of their notes/notebooks. However, as a TpT seller, I want my units to be "the complete, whole package," so people who've bought my units aren't guessing what my intentions were when I was creating each unit. My interactive notebook units are set up with the Learning Side and the Thinking Side that I've referred through during the entire series. You will NOT find a bazillion little foldables and lift-the-flap tabs in my units.

You've probably seen many other sellers with IN products in their stores. My suggestion is to decide what your learning objectives for your lessons/units are, and then see if those products are a good fit for you. I've noticed that many IN products for sale don't include the Input/Learning Side, so you might have to add that part yourself. Again, remember that the ultimate goal is for our students to learn HOW to take notes and how to interact the new information at a high level to make it their own.

READ: Not just cutesy cut-and-paste projects.

Thank you for coming along on this journey with me! I hope that my interactive notebooks series has inspired you to give them a try in your classroom. Interactive notebooks are a powerful tool in increasing student engagement and accountability in your classroom. As you're working to develop your own lessons and units, if you have a questions, please get in touch with me! I'm happy to help you along the way as you discover the potential of these amazing tools!
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Interactive Notebooks: Why I Don't Grade My Notebooks

Hi everyone! In today's interactive notebook post, we're going to talk about grading the notebooks. Or for me, the lack thereof...
In the traditional sense, I don't grade my notebooks. I don't think it's right to assign students an academic grade for formatting the notebook, cutting on the lines, or coloring/writing neatly. In my district, we score to the standards. If the goal of my lesson is for students to identify characteristics of mammals, then that's what I'm looking for when I'm assessing my students' notebooks.

We are BIG on formative assessments in my district. As my students are working, I'm walking around my classroom and checking out the thinking side of the notebooks. I keep a checklist of the standards we're working on, and I score my students on a 3, 2, 1 scale; the same scale they use to self-assess themselves before and after the lesson. Actually, I don't record the 3s; just the 2s and the 1s, so I know who needs extra practice or reteaching. If the box is blank on my checklist, I know that they've earned a 3.

At the end of a unit, I have multiple formative grades, both from the notebook and from other sources. We take a summative assessment, usually in the form of a test. After the tests are graded, I look at the scores. Anything 80% and above is a 3. If a student's score is below 80%, then I look at the formative scores throughout the grading period and use a trend grading approach. If I notice that the student has mostly 3s, then I would give the student the benefit of the doubt and give a 3 as the final grade for the standard. We all have bad days every now and then, right? If I'm seeing lots of 2s and 1s, along with a low score on the summative assessment, then I give 2 or a 1 for that standard. Students who get 2s and 1s as final score rarely come as a surprise to me due to my formative assessments.

So if I'm not grading my students on neatness, how can I ensure my students put forth their best effort when working in their notebooks? It's simple. My kids need their notebooks. I let my students take their notebooks home a few days before the test to study. If they don't write neatly or have all of the information in their notebooks, then they can't prepare for the test. I do send a note home to families outlining what will be on the test (don't forget, we are second graders after all!), so they have some guidance from me, but the rest is on my students.

I also let my kids use their notebooks when they take tests.


Yes, it's true. My kids can use their notebooks on the test. So there's even more motivation to make sure their notebooks are in tip-top shape.

Here are a few photos of my kids using their notebooks on the test:
Do you see what I see? Yep, they're not even using the notebooks! Why not??? Because they don't need them! Through the learning and application activities, my students have a strong grasp of the skills and standards we've learned. I have seen a few kids paging through their notebooks to confirm their answers, but for the most part, the notebooks don't even get opened.

"Isn't that cheating?" you ask.

I don't think so. My kids worked hard to learn and apply the new information. Why not get rid of that added stress and pressure of taking a test? After all, they are second graders :) And honestly, since I've been formatively assessing my students every step of the way, I already know who's mastered the standards and who hasn't before I even pass out the test.

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments section!
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Interactive Notebooks: Teaching with INs

Our amazing lessons are planned. Our notebooks are set up and ready to go. Now it's time to TEACH! 
I have a SMARTBoard in my room, and I create a lesson for each interactive notebook lesson I teach. These SMARTBoard lessons not only guide me during my teaching, but they show the students what their notebooks should look like.

I am required to use a lesson plan format called GANAG. Having used this format for 5+ years, I will admit that it has made me a more focused, goal-driven teacher (as opposed to a-bunch-of-activities-strung-together teacher), and even though I'm required to use it, I do actually enjoy it.


Here's what a typical lesson would look like in my class. This is a math lesson on triangles from my Geometry IN unit. I took screen shots of my actual SMARTBoard lesson for you to see what my kids see.

First we read through the goal/objective for the lesson on our table of contents. We look for key words. Sometimes we underline them or highlight them. We talk about if we know what the key words mean. Then my kids give themselves a "Before Learning Score." They rate their knowledge of the goal. I use a 3-point scale:
   1 = I know nothing about the goal
   2 = I know a few things about the goal
   3 = I know many things about the goal.
I know many people use a 4-point scale, with 4=I know many things about the goal AND I could teach it to someone. I use the 3-point scale to maintain consistency with my grading system.
Then they flip to the next open page in their notebook and write the heading for the lesson in the top margin of the Learning/Information page. This is usually the topic of the lesson or maybe a few of the key words from the goal.

My next step is a quick 1-3 minute activity to jump start their brains. I talked about this a bit in the application activities post. It may or may not include writing in the notebook, but if it does, we do this writing/drawing on the Thinking Side of the notebook.
After that, we dig into the new information. I gave tons of examples on the learning activities post of ways I present the new information. We work on the Learning/Information side of the notebook during this step. A lot of this is guided by me. As a second grade teacher, my ultimate goal is to teach my students how to take notes to prepare them for the upper grades. We discuss what we want to write in our notebooks (with a lot of guiding from me to make sure we get the important info), I write it on the SMARTBoard, and they all copy it down. I would say that 90% of the time, all of my students' notebooks all look the same on the Learning/Information side. Keep in mind, though, that since I'm a primary teacher, my kids don't have experience taking their own notes. So we do it together :) If you teach the intermediate/upper grades, you would adjust your involvement according to your students' ability.
The fourth step is when the true "interaction" of Interactive Notebooks happen. It's when the students take what was learned and apply it in a way that makes sense to them and makes the information stick. This post was all about strategies and activities we use to apply the new information.
For this activity, students were also supposed to draw their own example of each kind of triangle, but those directions are not written on the slides.
I mentioned in a previous post that I will oftentimes give new information in small doses and then we complete the application activity. Then more new info, then more application. Rinse and repeat as often as necessary :) That way I don't find myself lecturing for 20-30 minutes and my kiddos falling asleep on me!

The last part of my lesson is when we go back to review the goal. Think of it like wrapping up a present and putting a bow on it. We go back to the table of contents, read the goal, write the page number that has the information on it, and students give themselves an After Learning Score. While they are doing this, I am circulating the room and checking to see who thinks they still need more practice with the goal. My students self-score every day, several times a day. At this point in the school year, I don't really have to worry about kids who are generous with their self-score; they tend to be pretty honest if they don't understand. We also have lots of discussions about how if they tell me they understand a concept, but they really don't, then I can't help them because I don't know they need help. Other ways I check in with my kiddos are exit slips, pair/share with your neighbor: 2 things you learned, one question you still have, etc.
Is it a lot of work to create these SMARTBoard lessons? You bet! Thankfully I have an awesome team, and we all work together to divide and conquer the work. And the nice thing is that we have these lessons for the next year too, so it makes our job a lot easier.

In my next post, I'm going to talk about why I don't grade my interactive notebooks. I know that it's a hot topic, but it's something I believe in very strongly. So stay tuned!
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Monday, April 6, 2015

Interactive Notebooks: Setting Up the Notebook

Now that we have AMAZING lessons all planned out, it's time to start teaching. First we need to set up our notebooks.

Materials Needed: notebooks, red and green card stock or construction paper, sticky notes, clear packaging tape.

My kids bring in 3-one subject spiral notebooks and 1-three subject notebooks at Open House before school starts. We use the one subject notebooks for math, science, and social studies. The three subject notebook is our literacy notebook. One subject for reading, phonics, and writing. I choose to use spiral notebooks rather than composition notebooks because they're bigger and cheaper.

I get to work right away labeling the Thinking Side and the Learning Side of the notebook. I use card stock or construction paper to make tabs that stick up out of the notebook. That way, no matter what page my students are working on, they can see the Thinking/Information tabs at the top of the page. I use red paper to label the thinking side and green paper to label the learning side. I chose these colors for a reason: Green means Go… Go ahead and write down the new information. Red means Stop…. Stop and think about what you just learned. This year I typed them onto the paper, but last year I hand-wrote them all. Yes, you can imagine how long that took me… Then I "laminated" the tabs with clear packaging tape. I covered the front and back of the tabs with the tape so that they are sturdy.
I choose to put my Learning/Information Side on the right and the Thinking Side on the left. Yes, I know that seems a little backwards, since we typically write on the information side first; however, I always tell my students we need to stop and think about what we've learned, and I like the physical "going back" to the left side to write down our thoughts. 

On the back cover I also put an envelope to store small pieces. This year, I had a parent make me some out of construction paper and staple them to the back cover. You could also buy real envelopes if you wanted to. I don't put envelopes on my three subject notebooks because those have folders inside the notebooks, so we just use that to store our odds and ends.
I've also seen people attach a piece of yard or ribbon to the back cover for students to use as a bookmark to keep track of what page they're on. I tried that two years ago, but I found it to be more of a hassle than something helpful.

Before I start each unit, I take a day to set up the notebook. It's slow and painful at first, but once they've done it a few times, it takes 10-15 minutes to set up our notebook. We use sticky notes to label each unit. My students write the name of the unit on the edge of the sticky note, opposite the side that's sticky. Then they put the sticky note so it hangs off the side a little bit, like a tab. A parent helper covers the entire sticky note with clear packaging tape. I think I need to buy stock in clear packaging tape...
At the front of my science, social studies, and math notebooks (not the literacy notebook), we glue in a notebook Table of Contents. As we start a new unit, we write the color of the unit sticky note on the Table of Contents:
We are working hard to stagger our sticky notes on the side :)
Each unit gets a table of contents, which includes the lesson goals, and spots to write the page number and rate their before and after learning understanding of each lesson goal. You can also see that this is the page the unit sticky note goes on. We put it underneath the unit table of contents, so that when we glue the TOC down, the sticky note gets glued down too. Just be careful when you're covering the sticky note with the tape to NOT cover the boxes where the kids are supposed to write :)
This Little Love is awfully tough on herself when she gave her After Learning ratings!
The next step in notebook set up is numbering the pages. Each lesson needs two pages, so I just count the lessons and double it. Students write the page numbers in the upper corner of each page. Students just use the red margin lines to guide where they write their numbers.
I also have cover sheets that students can decorate. And you guessed it… when they're done, my parent helpers cover them with clear packaging tape. I love my parent helpers!!! Not sure if they love me...
Click here if you'd like a copy of my interactive notebook covers!

So you might be thinking… if you don't use a book mark, then how do your students know what page they're on? I've seen people cut the bottom corners of their used notebook pages, but I haven't tried that. It seems like a good idea in theory, but if we don't have our scissors out, then it seems like an extra step. I also don't want 21 little paper triangles all over my floor. Honestly, my kids just know what page they're on. Even the slow pokes. We start every lesson on the table of contents page, and with the sticky notes, they can get there very quickly. My literacy notebook doesn't have a table of contents because it's more of a mishmash of skills and strategies, rather than whole units. So when we're working in our literacy notebook, I'll just say "Open up to the next clean page of the _______ section (reading, phonics, writing) in your Big Literacy Notebook." Then I circulate the classroom and help those that need it to get to the right page.

I think that's it? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments section below if you have any questions!

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