Making Over Third Grade!
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Sunday, January 14, 2018

NBCT: Now That is Me

I have a confession to make. I like being a student and learning new things. Most of all I love the feeling I get when I have finished a course or program and I get the letter grade or certification.

When I was a child I told my parents that I wanted to have "all of the college diplomas." I was a
weird kid. But I never forgot that idea of wanting to learn. Still, school wasn't easy for me.  In third grade, I took home every book, every day in order to complete my classwork because my class time was devoted to an endless pile of worksheets that were not allowed to go home. In order to "catch up" and not have to take the books home, I had to spend an extra hour a day for a week at school working on those worksheets. Third grade introduced me to a hatred of worksheets, particularly as busy work. Still, that was the year I learned to love to read and I found books as an escape. This served me well as I grew up. I matured before other girls and was teased to the point of tears many times until I learned to ignore it and I created a safe place for me in my room with my books. Books were a lifesaver for me through middle and high school.

After high school, I started taking college classes but due to family issues, I had to stop for several years. I didn't go back to school until I was in my mid/late 20s. By then I was even more goal oriented than I was when I was in high school. I wanted my degree and I didn't want to waste any more time to get it. Thanks to the distance learning program from Thomas Edison University I was able to complete my BA in 3 years. I was that much closer to my dream of becoming a teacher.

I enrolled in my Master's program at the University of Phoenix Online and in 18 months had completed both my Masters and my CLAD classes for the state of California. I had my teaching credential and was ready to go!

After I had been teaching for a few years I decided it was time to get my doctorate. So I enrolled in a program at Argosy and worked on that degree for 3 years. I completed, and successfully defended, my dissertation on the use of mnemonics and their impact on student test scores. I had my Ed.D. and the title of Doctor. I had done as I had promised myself so many years before.

At that point, you would think I was done; right? Nope. Not even close. I enrolled in and completed my Autism Certification program through Cal Poly. Done? Not a chance. I debated getting a second Masters. Why? Because there was more I wanted to learn. In the end, I opted to try for my National Board Certification instead. I mean, I had nothing to lose, the district I teach in was willing to pay the fees so I just had to pay the $75 enrollment fees each year. If I didn't pass the components, no real loss right? That is what I kept telling myself. Though, in reality, I likely would have turned around and paid to retake them had I not passed for some reason.

Now, here I am two years later and now I am a National Board Certified Teacher. I am proud of this accomplishment but by no means do I think I am done. There is still so much out there to learn.

Do you keep signing up for courses? Why, or why not? I hope you share your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to hear about your experiences!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

STEMing it Up with the Help of OTC

My grade level team decided that this year we needed to make a commitment to our students to ensure that we are incorporating more hands-on STEM activities this year. We decided the best way to do this was to commit to one day each month as our STEM rotation day. The first Wednesday of each month has been set aside as our STEM day. The kids love it, and truth be told I think the teachers do too! At least I know I do!

To complete our rotations we split two classes so that we have three groups of students moving through the rotations. Two of the third-grade teachers float with the larger groups and three teachers remain in classrooms to lead the activities.

For December we chose activities with a winter theme. The first rotation was an engineering activity where students had to take a bag of materials (two napkins, a coffee filter, some string, and a Dixie cup) to create a parachute for Santa. We took our parachutes outside and let them go off the top of the playground. Since our Santas were a bit big for our cups we declared that any Santa that remained in the cup was a survivor and only those Santas that fell out of the cup were the result of an unsuccessful attempt. The kids had fun letting their Santas fall and determining if their parachutes were a success or not. The best part was when they were testing them during the first graders' recess. The first graders were enthralled!

Makingoverthirdgrade.blogspot.comNext year when we do this activity I think we need larger cups as our Santas were too large for the small cups we used this time. If you want to try this activity we used the directions and videos found here at the TpT store of All About STEM, and these bendable Santas from Oriental Trading Co.

Our second rotation required students to use 40 gumdrops and 20 toothpicks to create a barn that can hold Rudolph. We used dollar store toothpicks but they were too thin so I think it is worth getting the fatter round toothpicks for next year. Some students actually decided to break the toothpicks so that they would have enough for all of the gumdrops. There were a few groups though that figured out if they used triangles or pentagons they were able to use everything without running out of materials. We used these bendable reindeer from OTC for this activity. It was fun to watch the kids figure out that they could bend Rudolph to fit in their barns.
The last rotation required students to use 20 straws, a foot of tape, and two weighted gingerbread cutouts. The goal of this activity was to create a raft that would hold both weighted gingerbread cutouts, to be successful their gingerbread people had to stay dry for a minimum of 30 seconds. This year they had to take turns in the sink and some of the students began to get off task while waiting. Next year to decrease the downtime for this activity we will be bringing in buckets or small bowls so that all of the groups can test their rafts at the same time. Still, the kids had fun and they loved watching to see if their raft designs were successful or not. One group even created seatbelts for their cutouts and they worked! For this activity, we used two large boxes of straws, a roll of masking tape (we used the a roll of the colorful masking tape from Oriental Trading in part to give it color and also because our school tape never works), and two pennies per gingerbread cutout for weight. You can find this activity on TpT at Gretchen Hilley's store

While each of our third grade classes are incorporating STEM and other hands-on activities each month in our own classes we have found that devoting a day each month for the kids to work with other students and teachers has been beneficial for them and for us, as teachers, to watch some of the quietest students become the most vocal during these activities. I am glad that we committed to this idea last year and I am grateful that my grade level team has successfully implemented these rotations each month. I can't wait to see what next month brings! 

Do you do STEM activities in your class? Do you work with others to implement these activities? How do they work out for you? I hope that you share your ideas in the comments below! 

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post by Oriental Trading Co., all opinions are my honest opinions. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

More Than a Hashtag: Teachers Helping Teachers

In recent weeks there have been two terrible hurricanes and now the awful fires that consume the airwaves. I always feel for the people affected and feel like what I do isn't enough. So when Harvey hit I started a hashtag #teachershelpingHouston and tried to get classroom decor and books for the teachers that were affected. The teacher who said she would get me a school address never got back
to me but a teacher at my site knew someone at a Texas school and her husband took what we had collected with him to the school her friend worked at.

We collected another box (it is sitting in our classroom) and it is earmarked for Texas but now with these fires so close to home. (I mean really close, I live in Fairfield.) I want to collect things to help local teachers get back on their feet as they prepare to open their classrooms as they rebuild or weed out things that have been ruined by smoke.

This doesn't mean that those in Texas, Florida, or Puerto Rico don't also need our help. (Though in
P, R. they are far from ready to start thinking about school yet.) There has to be a way for teachers to band together to help each other during these difficult times.

If you are at a school that needs help, or if you can provide help please add your information to the comments below. Together we can help others get their classrooms up and running again. Teachers Helping Teachers - a force to be reckoned with.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Evaluations: Anxiety & Action

It is that time of year again when evaluations are underway. I don't know why, but the idea of being evaluated has never gotten easier as time goes on. It always reminds me of Sally Field's at the 1985 Oscars:

It never gets easier. At least not for me. I was listing to the "My Bad" podcast (if you haven't listened to this podcast you should check it out), the teacher today was talking about mistakes he'd made early in his career and how he hadn't received the best scores.
Oh, the shame! For real! We seem to never tell teachers, particularly new teachers, that it is a hard job with a stiff learning curve and that they are not all going to emerge as superstars their first year, or even the first few.  It is a disservice to those teachers who are killing themselves and leaving the profession thinking they aren't good enough, and a disservice to ourselves in not helping them adjust to the demands of teaching. So, here is my story, not the only story, not the best, or the worst, but it is mine, and it may help. If it helps just one new teacher feel better about him/herself then sharing this publically is well worth any potential shame it may also bring.

All I ever wanted to do was teach. I was meant to be a teacher. I mean, I would play school with the neighborhood delinquent who was smoking butts from the gutter in second grade.  I would play school all the time - it was a part of me.

I started teaching later than most, my mom was ill and helping her took priority over school and my future so this isn't a right out high school and college story. Still, I think it may help, so here it goes.

I was hired after school started to take a class that would ease overcrowding. I was given books and kids all in 24 hours! My first classroom was half of someone else's and we literally had to walk sideways to get anywhere until our portable came 2 months later. I was always a week ahead of the kids in the curriculum, I had a revolving door for students, I think I had nearly 35 kids that year (class size was 20 - this is from them coming and going). I struggled to find my way and I worked ALL THE TIME. The year ended, I moved into a third classroom and prepared for my second year.

I took EVERY BIT OF CURRICULUM home, color-coded, and arranged it into files. I knew it all inside and out, backward and forwards by the end of the summer. I went to a local year-round school and observed classes during the first week of school. I felt I was ready and I couldn't wait for school to start.

School started and my first observation of the year was the day students were coming and going to take parts of the CELDT test. I thought it was a mess. I asked to have it redone and was told she saw what she was looking for. What?!? I am someone who takes everything to heart then stresses over it. So that was not an answer that made me feel good. During the debrief my BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support) mentor was there ready to take notes and I braced myself for whatever was ahead (even if I am getting good news I stress - so these things are ALWAYS stressful).  I was told that I had made 5 years of growth in one summer (really nice to hear) and that since my principal didn't want to bring me back (WHAT?!?) and that I was a pleasant surprise. Wait. What? Backup! That's right, she said she didn't want to allow me back for my second year, the vice principal talked her into giving me more time before she made that decision. I am so very grateful to him! I am indebted to him, and always will be. I had a wonderful year and received great marks the entire year but knowing that I had come so close to not having this dream stay a reality was crushing. That is when I decided to 1. always get to know the principal and let him/her
know me 2. help new teachers so that they do not feel so alone and lost their first year.

Years later, I had an observation where I tried something new. It wasn't working and the lesson crashed and burned in a slow-motion manner in front of my eyes. With one eye on the clock, I slowly watched the observation go down the drain and I couldn't help but think about what my principal (different from my first year) was thinking. When the time was over. I stopped the lesson, told the kids it wasn't working and took the steps back that I should have taken as soon as I realized the lesson wasn't working. My principal stayed and unbeknownst to me until later, he used this second period for the observation, My point is even good teachers have bad moments. Lessons fail. Plans don't work out as envisioned. Kids don't respond as you thought they would, Or some other thing is just "off".

Don't let one observation define you. Don't let one person's view or ideas define you. Ask others to come into your room. Ask for feedback. Be prepared to hear the good and the bad. Learn from your mistakes, correct them and move on, Don't dwell on the negative, If I had let that remark in that first debrief my second year define me I wouldn't be teaching, working as an instructional coach, or presenting at conferences. The best thing you can do for yourself is be the best you that you can be, allow yourself to change as needed, and don't be afraid of change. These are good reminders for everyone, think I will take my own advice as I prepare to be observed again this year.

So what's your story? Share in the comments below. I would love to hear how you overcame an adversity to become the teacher you are today.

Friday, September 1, 2017


I love, no I mean I really LOVE, putting my room together. I love the shopping for new items, awaiting their arrival, getting the decor, and then using it to make my room reflect what I want to share with my class for our year together.

I have a running list of stores and sites I love to go to get items for my classroom. I love getting the catalogs in the spring for the upcoming year. Just everything about it is fun.

I usually keep a theme in my room for a few years but I will add to/tweak/change some things within that theme each year. I may keep a bulletin board or two the same from year to year but I am always looking for new things to add to my room.

Last year when Maria and I merged our classroom we changed a few walls to reflect her tastes as well. Then through the course of the year things I had loved needed to change as well. So we changed nearly all of the walls throughout the year last year. I thought we were done and that this would be the first year that I would start a new year without the panic of putting up a new bulletin board, or two, or three, in the two work days that we get before the kids return.

I had signed up last year to be a blog ambassador for Creative Teaching Press. I figured it would be nice to get a few things now and then to use in my room. I am all about using the things I love and it is even better when the companies are willing to give me things to use rather than having to pay for them. I really thought that this program would involve sending me certificates or borders now and then. Nothing. Absolutely nothing prepared me for what I received. Creative Teaching Press sent me a welcome package with a certificate and t-shirt then sent me the entire Bold & Brights line that they introduced this year. Even better? They are going to give one of you the exact same thing! This line is something else. I filmed myself on Twitter when I opened the box, It took three videos due to the time-limit on Twitter. If you want to see everything you could win in this giveaway please watch the three videos below but forgive my recording errors.

There was no way I was going to use it all in our room though so they said to share the wealth with other teachers. This is exactly what I did. We have a number of new teachers in our district so I gave some of the borders, the calendar, job chart, and both birthday options, as well as many of the die cuts to others. I only asked that they share photos of how they used the items with me. Being the beginning of the year, that photo has not been done by many of the teachers as the year started. I will add their photos to this post as I get them. But I did want to share how I used some of the items they sent.
job chart bulletin board

We created a new job chart bulletin board in our room using the black and white polka dot border and the sticky notes die cuts. We used glitter letters from Michaels to add the job names to the sticky
notes and then created personalized buttons for each student using Melonheadz clipart. I love how it turned out!

Kindness bulletin board
This year we are really focusing on being kind and treating others with respect. We had some serious issues with this last year. We are a Wonder class this year and are participating in Dr. Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots public service project program in order to help our students become more aware of their actions and how they impact others (more on these programs in a later post). As bold stripe border along with the colorful spots border with letters I printed from the KG Fonts I got for free from Teachers Pay Teachers. I love how this board turned out as well. Don't you?
part of this focus, Maria and I decided to create a kindness board. I found one on Pinterest I liked and I used that as a jumping off point. We used the

My favorite by far though is the Reading Focus wall. We changed the fabric (it used to be the one that is now on the job chart) to this bright pink, we used the bold & bright striped & spotted pencil border from Creative Teaching Press along with the Bold & Bright 4" Cafe letters. I ADORE these letters! I love them so much I used them on the job chart bulletin board as well.
Reading Focus Wall

We have the two-sided welcome sign in our window next to the welcome chart that we used the 2"
Our classroom window
Cafe letter stickers
to identify our room.

Not only did we change the bulletin boards I remade our Sub Binder with the Bold & Bright Paper. Don't you love it? As soon as I figure out how to make these editable files with the clip art I
will make it available for you FREE for following my blog.

I have been using the extra-large library pockets in place of file folders. They stack easily in the paper sorters and they are quick to identify when we need a particular form or page.

How do you prepare for the beginning of the school year? Do you redo your room, or parts of it each year? Share how you prepare in the comments below.

Monday, August 28, 2017

New Year, New Kids, New Adventures Ahead

Welcome back to the 2017-18 school year. I don't know about you, but I just love this time of the year. It's like my January - new resolutions, new promises, & new beginnings. Getting a new class list, meeting the new kids. All of it holds promises of excitement and new adventures. 

All of the name tags have been made, students have been given their materials, and they have gotten over their awe of being in a new classroom. They are settling in, becoming comfortable, and starting to relax and let their personalities shine. It is just so awesome! I love it!

We are getting ready to start our second week of the core curriculum and digging in, starting the hard work of third grade. What an adventure! I am so glad the roller coaster has begun again. Here is to a new year and new promises!

What is your favorite part of the beginning of the school year?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

New Year, New Things: Thanks to OTC

Last year I was lucky enough to have been approached by Oriental Trading Co. to be a brand ambassador. This year I got to start the year off with help from their new site for teachers, Learn365, getting my room ready for the new year and new students. I had a coffee table with dry erase dots that I love because the kids can figure things out right at the table so when I saw that Oriental Trading Co. large 1/2 circle dry erase dots (see image on the left) I flipped. I couldn't wait to get them for our tables. I love our tables but not being able to write on them is disappointing so I was waiting anxiously for these dry erase dots. I thought I was getting all blue dots - they actually come in three colors (red, blue, and yellow), which looking at the image you would have thought I was aware of, guess my mind had just blocked other the red and yellow dots. The yellow took a bit of getting used to as they are pretty bright but after getting them on the tables they looked much more appealing.

We can't have dry erase dots without new dry erase erasers. I usually buy fabric and cut it into small

squares. Last year I bought facial cleaners from the Dollar Store (thank you Instagram teachers for sharing that awesome idea) but they got lost rather quickly and kids wrote all over them with their dry erase markers (go figure). This year we got the mini dry erase erasers from Learn365. These are perfect for the kids' hands but more importantly, they fit perfectly in our supply
caddies. When we first started using them I thought there were a few kids who were whistling but we discovered that it was actually the erasers when they are used the first few times. I am happy to report that they are no longer whistling after a few days of use.
Last year we had several students who needed fidgets and between the spinners, the slime, and the bands I couldn't take it anymore. I needed something uniform and QUIET before I lost my mind. I received these paw shaped stress relievers. They are nice and soft foam shapes that fit perfectly in our hands and most importantly they are QUIET. What a change over last year! These come in every color of the rainbow (red - purple) so I was able to assign them in either number order or by color. You can even create groups using them by having students seek out those with a particular color to pair up with.
I am excited about this new year and excited to break in all of our new supplies and dig into the learning that will be taking place this year.

Disclaimer: I was compensated for this post but all opinions are my own.

What new items did you plan to start the year with? What was something you used last year that you just HAD to change this year?