Sunday, September 6, 2015

Classroom Website: Evolved

Like most things in my classroom, my classroom website has really evolved over the last three years (the last time I talked about my website was in this post... yikes!). I've gone from using Google Sites (which just didn't do what I wanted it to do, was clunky to maneuver through, and was ugly) to Blogger (which I am very comfortable with using, but it wasn't really what I needed for my site to be), to now creating a free website using Wix.* Over the past few years, I have discovered that there are some elements to a classroom website that are necessary for the site to be functional and to attract the attention of your students. Tonight's post is a picture-heavy virtual tour of my new classroom website, with tips for adding more functionality to your own class website.

VIRTUAL TOUR TIP: Click the pictures to see them in their full-sized glory. :)

Here's the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read) Version of These Tips:

  • Clearly label your pages to guide your viewers.
  • Make sure your name is somewhere on the homepage so the students/parents know they've come to the right place.
  • At-a-glance classroom news on the homepage is useful when you don't have time to read detailed plans in the classroom agenda.
  • Embedded links help students find resources quickly and easily.
  • Have elements of fun on your page, like countdown clocks and cheesy jokes.
  • Include buttons that link up to the outside websites your classes use frequently.
  • Class agendas help keep everyone on the same page every day (even absent kids).
  • Have a page dedicated to classroom resources, such as printables and notes.
  • Bios make teachers more relatable to their students.
  • Make sure your contact information is readily available.
I'll be back soon with a post about how you can easily use Wix* to create a free, beautiful website!

Happy 3-Day Weekend!

*For the record, Wix isn't giving me anything for writing this post. I'm not necessarily even writing to convince you to use Wix, although I honestly love the look and utility of it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Smash Books: Year 2

After tackling Smash Books for the first time last year, I decided to make a couple of changes to how I'm organizing them this year. I was really pleased overall with our implementation of these (you can read about my experiences here and here and here), but there were a couple of things I wanted to do to make the Smash Book even more organized.

Here are the three changes I've made (so far) this year.

1. Five tabbed sections - I broke the Smash Book into five sections this year:

  • Table of Contents (T.O.C.)
  • Words Worth Knowing (W.W.K.)
  • Skills
  • Reading Journal
  • References
The little tabs will make it easier to flip through the sections of the book.

2. A references section - I'm going to use this for the non-skills material, such as the syllabus, the student account log, the learning styles and multiple intelligences quizzes, etc. These are things I want the students to keep and reference back to, but I think it might be easier to keep them separate this year.

3. A reading journal - I want to do a better job of encouraging my students to read, so a section of the Smash Book is dedicated to letting students record their thoughts about their reading. The section includes:
  • Books I Want to Read
  • Books I Abandoned
  • Favorite Quotes
  • Book Reviews (short form and long form)

Each year I use a Prezi to walk students through setting up the Smash Book, so I thought I'd share that with you. It's public and editable to your needs, if that's something that interests you. Just swap out your own pictures and instructions, if you like. You can find my Smash Book Set-Up Prezi (with a more detailed look at the guts of my Smash Book) here.

Happy Teaching!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Classroom Tour 2015

This past week was my first week back to school (our first student day was Wednesday) and I had to scramble this year to get my classroom together! It was so unlike me... usually I spend a couple of weeks throughout the summer doing a little of this, a little of that. That wasn't possible this year because 1. CPR classes being held in my classroom and 2. baby. So it was a mad dash to the finish line this year, but I'm really happy with how things went. Actually my pictures this year were taken at the end of the first student day, so the room had already been pulled through the ringer and survived! #winning

I didn't make any major changes this year; in fact, I went back to my roots in a couple of ways. After five years of trial-and-error, I decided to pull some of the best things I've done and incorporate those into my classroom environment. I think you could call this the "Best Of" Classroom Tour.

(Want to see how my room has evolved? Here are my classroom tours from 20122013, and 2014.)

For fun this year, I did a little panoramic action to take a 360ยบ view of my classroom. Obviously it's a little warped, but this gives you an idea of what my room as a whole looks like. As I mentioned in this post I've decided that the seating arrangement that ultimately works best for my classroom (due to physical space, number of students, my goals for the class, and various other factors) is the Runway. My room is divided by a runway, with one group of students facing the other across the room. I am very thankful to have much smaller class sizes this year (currently my largest class has twenty-nine students), which has allowed for a wider runway and more space between desks. The students all have a good view of the Smart Board in the front of the room (which we use every single day), but they can also see me just about anywhere in the room. I can teach from the front of the room, the back, or even one of the corners, and there's no severe rubbernecking going on.

If you're wondering about the sticky notes on the desks, I use those to determine student seating for the first day of school. The desks are temporarily numbered with sticky notes. When my students come in on the first day, they find their name and number on the Smart Board, which directs them to their desk. It's a great system.

Okay, let's look at some details.

Classroom Door
So there's my door. As they walk in, students get a little tough love and a little inspiration in their own language. I ran out of time so I didn't get a chance to laminate these, but I will definitely be printing off second copies (in color maybe, if I'm feelin' fancy) and kindly asking the librarian to laminate them for me because she doesn't trust me to use the laminator myself. #icantimaginewhy

Information Bulletin Board

A Closer Look
There's my bulletin board, still rocking the green fabric which is holding up nicely after a couple of years of use. I still have all my required disaster drills and the dress code posted, along with my classroom procedures and the list of consequences. I revamped my tardy sheet this year just to make it look a bit nicer and decided to go with a paper version of the sign-out sheet this year so I have a record to look back on (if you recall, I was using a white board for that before). I'm having another go at my Classroom Rewards Card again this year, so the reminder about that is hanging up on the board. Finally, my class roster lanyard is up there too.

I still have my Smash Book Set-Up papers up as a reminder for everyone as we get going again this year. I also typed up the Holstee Manifesto (discovered via Pinterest) to hang up because, well, I like it.

My homework area is the same as it has always been and it's one of the most utilized spaces in my room. I moved the Absent Binder to the front of the room this year in the hopes that my students will do a better job of checking it before asking me about what they missed.

Teacher Station
It's been a few years since I've used this noisy, slightly broken, rolling podium for something other than as a flat surface to ultimately collect crap. I never teach from behind a podium (I either move throughout the room or sit in a student desk or my teacher chair up front), but it is nice to have a landing point in the front of the room so I'm not constantly running back and forth to my primary teacher station. I have a second set of supplies here, along with all of my teacher edition books. The plastic set of drawers where I keep my copies is in there too.

Classroom Calendar
I downsized my classroom calendar just a bit this year and I used masking tape for the lines. I am forever in search of a better way to do the lines of this calendar. Thus far I've used ribbon and wet erase marker. Now tape. Still not happy, but maybe happier? I really needed a laser level for this job but, again, I was racing against the clock. I also do not love the days of the week across the top (for reasons unknown to me the paper warped in, like, a day) so I'll be redoing and laminating those too.

I moved my round table/grading station/T.A. station to the other side of the room so I actually have access to my cabinets now, rather than student desks blocking them. The one new thing I did this year: I got a vertical file holder to hold graded student work. My T.A.s are going to be responsible for handing out the graded work. We'll see if it works.

My homework trays, paper drawers, and the home of the dreaded Yellow Sheet have all stayed in the same place.

Teacher Station
There's my primary teacher station, looking rather sloppy with that homely gray cardigan I love so much thrown carelessly over the back of a very tired-looking chair. I still love using a regular table and a simple small bookshelf rather than fighting a clunky old desk. The space feels more open and inviting and it stays considerably tidier than my giant old desk did.

So there you have it. Life in A104. Thus far it seems that this environment is going to work out really well for us this year. I'll be keeping you posted if I decide to make any major room changes.

What's going on in your classrooms this year? Feel free to leave your ideas or links to your own classroom tours in the comments below!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Teacher Bag and the Other Random Crap I Keep Stashed in My Classroom

I was packing up my teacher bag last night in preparation for finally getting into my classroom to work this weekend and thought I'd let you guys take a peak inside.

By the way, if you are a teacher and you don't have a teacher bag, you're doing it wrong. This is a necessity, people! I mean, who would Mary Poppins be without her magical carpet bag? She'd just be any other boring English nanny! Would Santa really be Santa if he didn't have that giant magical bag of toys? Nope. Where would Dora the Explorer be without her backpack? She'd just be a lost little girl wandering through the world with an anthropomorphic purple monkey wearing red boots. And, teacher friend, who would you be without your teacher bag? You would probably be someone who is either A) a disorganized or B) such a badass at your job that you need never transport your work to home (in which case, your Majesty, I grovel at your feet).

Got a little carried away there. Moving on...

Alrighty, so there are all kinds of useful vessels that can be used as teacher bags. Backpacks are a very good option, as are tote bags, satchels, and laptop bags. Less traditional but nonetheless functional options could include a gym bag, a milk crate, or one of those sturdy brown paper bags with handles you get from Cracker Barrel.

Here is my teacher bag.

I feel I should go on record as saying that I don't buy Thirty-One stuff because, as freaking adorable as it all is and as much as I like it, I'm not willing to drop that kind of dough on a tote bag. #stingy #teachersalary My mother-in-law, however, is the queen of gift-giving and she is the one who so graciously gifted me this perfect teacher bag. This bad boy has SEVEN outside pockets and a very spacious interior, but it is also still small enough to be convenient. Bonus points for the color scheme.

This is my grading file. I've used it for several years, now, and it's actually holding up quite nicely. This is my system I use for taking home student work. I keep everything filed by class period and keep a file of answer keys as well. Great way to stash paperwork that needs to travel without losing too many things.

That's my school iPad, which is paradoxically the most useless and the most useful piece of technology I own. I mean, I own no other Apple products, so it's not at all compatible with any other technology in my life, but it's really useful for grading student papers that are turned in using It's also synced up to my work emails, so if I feel like doing even more work from home, I can access my emails very quickly.

That's a student handbook/planner (from last year, might I add; I just included it for the picture lol). While all the important dates and lesson planning goes into my Sanity Saver, it's nice to keep one of these handy for a reference. It includes the school's policies on everything, the delay schedules, all of the sporting events, and most other major events throughout the school year.

That's my pen case with a selection of pretty ink pens. I also keep a pair of scissors handy along with the pen that comes with a real Smash Book (it has a black felt-tip pen on one end and a glue stick on the other... so handy!).

I typically carry a book with me everywhere I go. In the summertime, I just keep one in my purse, but during the school year I don't usually carry a purse, so the personal reading book goes in my teacher bag (along with my car keys, wallet, etc.). I think if I'm going to ask my students to read and hope to help them develop a love of reading, I need them to see me reading for enjoyment too. Usually throughout the school year I read novels suggested by students. Just getting started with this one.

My Sanity Saver and my Smash Books go in my teacher bag too. Other things that may or may not make an appearance in my bag include:

  • chewing gum
  • binder clips
  • paper clips
  • tape
  • highlighters
  • a ruler
  • bandaids
  • Post-It notes (actually, I do have Post-It notes in there, but they are currently stuck to the back cover of my Smash Book)

After writing this fun post about the things teachers really have on their back-to-school shopping lists, it got me thinking about the non-school supplies things that I keep stashed in my classroom. When you spend 8+ hours a day (and oftentimes it's more like 10+ hours) in your classroom, sometimes there's just some other random crap that needs to be hiding out in your classroom. Things like:
  • deodorant
  • toothbrush/toothpaste/floss/mouthwash
  • comb/brush
  • mousse
  • hair spray
  • chapstick
  • emergency lunch items (cans of soup, tuna lunch kits)
  • snacks (microwave popcorn, trail mix, Kind bars)
  • a dressy change of clothes (for the morning you spill your coffee all over your clothes)
  • a cruddy change of clothes (for the afternoon you're going to be cleaning out the prop room)
  • a pair of comfortable shoes
  • Ibuprofen
  • allergy medicine
  • antacids
  • Jolly Ranchers (if you're pregnant and sick as a dog like I was)
  • feminine hygiene products (if you're a lady teacher in a high school, I can pretty much guarantee at least one young lady will ask you for one of these)
  • a hundred different cardigans
  • bobby pins
  • mascara
  • concealer
  • lotion
  • several dollars in quarters and singles for the vending machine
  • paper 
  • plates
  • plastic forks
  • napkins
  • a Tide pen
  • Febreeze
So I'm very curious... what am I missing? What absolute necessity is in your teacher bag? What are the really bizarre essentials you keep in your classroom?

Not-So-Happy Summer's-Almost-Over!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sanity Saver: Evolved

Since I first introduced you to my Sanity Saver back in 2012(!) my organizational needs have changed. Over the last few years, several of the records I used to keep in my Sanity Saver binder have moved to being digital. I'm all for this, of course, because I love me some technology. But as much as I love working on the computer and storing things online, there are some tasks that I prefer to take care of on paper. My Sanity Saver is still an absolute necessity in the classroom, but it changes as I change. I thought I would show you what it looks like nowadays.

One obvious difference: it's no longer a binder. This is new for me this year. I'm giving the spiral-binding a try to see if it holds up a bit better. I got the book printed and bound at Staples. It has a clear plastic front cover and a black vinyl back cover. The color turned out great! I'm really pleased with the printing and definitely plan on getting more stuff printed and bound like this.

You would think that, after five years of working at my building, I would have the address and phone number memorized. Nope, not yet. So that's on the About Me page, along with a space for my class schedule and the number of students in each period. That's handy info to have.

I also created an account log for all of the random accounts I have to keep for school.

I am currently doing a terrible job of keeping track of my professional growth points, which I will need to renew my license in a couple years. So hopefully this will help me stay on track.

My calendar is still present, of course, in a lovely assortment of colors. :)

This section is right before my planning pages. I am notorious for planning on days that are not actually available for lessons, so hopefully this will keep me from making that mistake.

I used a calendar like this last year when doing my long-term planning and LOVED IT. Seriously, it makes it so clear what's going on all year and how many days it's going to take to do it. I goofed, though. I meant to get two of these in the Sanity Saver, one for each subject I teach, but I only got the one. Oh well, I can make it work. #thatswhatdifferentcolorpensarefor #nottheterracottaorcatpukecolorsthough #periwinkleforthewin

This is the shorter version of my weekly lesson planning forms I use (the one that's available to you here!). I decided this year it made a lot more sense to plan my subjects, not my class periods, because I honestly was leaving a lot of space blank. This also made my planner much more affordable, which is kind of important. Kind of.

While I will still continue to print my students' accommodations, I created a little cheat sheet this year where I can just jot down their names and place a check mark in the boxes of their accommodations.

Parent Contact Log is still present.

This Discipline Record is new for me. At my current school, we usually just fire off an email to our assistant principal when we have a discipline problem and he records it in our system. It's a very laid back system. At my old school, we had to fill out referrals for discipline issues and that system seemed much firmer to me. I need something in the middle. I want to do a better job keeping track of the (few and far between) discipline issues I have in my classroom, especially the cell phone problem. I think this will do the trick because it will be at hand (being part of my Sanity Saver) and the form is concise. It will give me a record, something I miss from my old school, while not being disruptive to class time, which was problematic at the old school.

Note-taking space. I like graph paper for notes.

The back cover (great place to store sticky notes!)
Things that are notably missing:

  • a grade book - honestly, nowadays I just find it a whole heck of a lot easier to print copies of my digital grade book at the end of the week or every other week than to enter everything twice.
  • attendance - I have a new system for attendance (this will be my second year using it) that I'm much happier with
  • student data - all on the computer now
  • theatre - outgrew the Sanity Saver and needed a binder all of its own
  • copies of standards - I live in Indiana. Our Frankenstandards mutate on a regular basis. I'm better off to just follow along with whatever the DOE's flavor of the month looks like.
  • freshmen class info - I'm still the class sponsor, but this section was actually pretty useless. Didn't have anything in there!
Since I generated some new documents this year while putting this together, I'm sharing! The Accommodations Cheat Sheet is an editable Word document to you and is a freebie! The other items are going up in my Teachers Pay Teachers store and are only $1.50 apiece. Check them out!

Sanity Saver and two Smash Books
Here they are... my keys to an organized 2015-2016 school year! What will you be using to keep you on track this year?