Another School Year Has Begun…

Wow.  This is my second year at OLC, and you’d think having done it all before, it would be easier — or at least less work… Not at all.  I feel like I have been running around like crazy since school started — and even before it began!

I got back from my month-long stay Honduras at the very end of July and within days was back to work — working with a 4th grade student to complete 35 hours of tutoring, as well as teaching night classes at my second job.  That did not leave a whole lot of time to get my room ready, and I was determined to clear all the junk and old stuff out of all my cupboards, countertops, and filing cabinets.  I took over last year for a teacher who had retired, which was a blessing overall (she left me ALL of her stuff!) but at the same time presented its own challenges.  Not having the time to do a total and thorough cleaning, most of the stuff remained in the cupboard all year.  This summer, the very first thing I did upon my return was pull EVERYTHING out of the cupboards.


the tip of the iceberg (of science stuff)

On top of all the stuff I already had, I was hooked up with a fellow NSTA member from the Erie area through the award I received last April.  This retired teacher was cleaning out her own cupboards and offered to donate bags and bags of things — student rewards, books, science kits, magnifiers, craft supplies, etc — to my classroom. Yay! And also: Uhhh, where’s this all going to go???  Anyway, I had lots of STUFF and it was EVERYWHERE.

With the help of my hardworking mom and aunt, and the company and only slight distraction of my slacker boyfriend (he played with magnets while I worked on my room), I did manage to get it all done!  I kept a lot of the decorations and organization elements from last year, but I also revamped a lot of my systems and switched to a slightly different color scheme (gray and blue, compared to last year’s brown and blue).  While I still have a ton of STUFF in my room, I think I’ve avoided a “clutter” feel, which I sometimes thought about my room last year. 

Here are some of my favorite additions and revamps:

I taped those neon garage-sale-stickers to all of my nonfiction books, sorting them into the various sciences (I chose physical, earth, life, and environmental). I’ve found this makes it very easy for students to take out a book and know where to return it to, and it’s also a way to direct students to nonfiction texts that fall within our content focus.
I’ve tried a number of ways to deal with absent students over the years, moving back and forth from over reliance on student responsibility to making way more work for myself… This year, I tried to blend the two, creating this “While You Were Out” bin. I have assigned a student (or two or three) in each class to act as our Attendance Secretaries. When a student is absent, they are to speak with an Attendance Secretary to find out what work they missed. Then, they can get whatever handouts students received that day from this “While You Were Out” bin. In addition to this, because my students are using interactive notebooks this year, absent students can also refer to my own interactive notebook that I have been building right alongside the students. This strategy seems to have worked with the few students we have had absent so far, and doesn’t seem to have put any extra work on my plate.
I love this idea — a voice levels chart. I first saw something like this when I was working in Charlotte, but this is the first year I have used it up north. While I don’t ALWAYS remember to identify what voice level we’re working at (I’ll admit sometimes I forget), it’s been my experience that students more consistently keep to an acceptable volume when I DO remember to identify a level. The descriptions in this chart also help to differentiate between the different levels, as compared to a vague directive like “talk quietly.”
This is easily one of my very favorite revamps. While I still have a supply center on the counter near the window, at each table group is a mini supply box with a few scissors, glue sticks, markers, crayons, and colored pencils. I even through in a few pencils and pens. This has eliminated a lot of supply-seeking things like asking neighbors, getting out of seats, etc. Students have also done a better job returning supplies to the correct location, probably since it’s right there in front of them! The books on the middle shelf are texts we use on a day to day basis (Sciencesaurus, Science Daybooks, and dictionaries), and the very bottom shelf is for my homeroom students to keep any extra books, trapper-keepers, etc. that won’t fit into their desks or cubbies. I have assigned one or two students in each class to be responsible for making sure the supply shelves stay neat and organized, and so far I haven’t had to say much about keeping them clean.
Just another way to stay organized. Now I can put any papers, supplies, etc. that I will need later in the week in their appropriate folder to keep my desk (maybe a little tiny bit) more clutter-free. I can make all my copies at the beginning of the week and just put them in the appropriate day’s folder. (FYI Those tabs are titled with the days of the week.)
Pinterest project! When students leave the room, they can write their names with dry erase markers in the appropriate box. I can quickly check to remind myself who is out, and students enjoy using the dry erase markers. Win win!


Bathroom/hall passes. I really wasn’t planning on going with the girl=pink and boy=blue but it was honestly the only two colors of washi tape I had on hand. I actually thought about flip-flopping it but I figured my 5th grade boys would not appreciate carrying around the pink hall pass…
My “Word Wall” of scientific vocabulary. I know there are a lot of really creative ways to use a word wall to make them more valuable to the student, but I’ve honestly not put much thought into it yet. I like that it fills up those cupboards, because last year I didn’t do much with them (I used all my posters all over the other walls), and hopefully at some point this year I’ll be able to put them to work in some of my lessons. Anyone have any ideas??? PS – Click the picture to download the chevron alphabet banner!
Made some super-cute curtains to hide my “storage cubby.”
I also made simple curtains for the windows. They were a little tricky to get up there since the window was so wide and the wall is cement. I ended up just stringing them on rope and then hung the rope on the wall with those Command hook things. So far they have not fallen!


In addition to the NEW stuff I’ve shared above, here are some of the elements I kept from last year:

Here is our “Critter Corner” (Forgive me: I ran out of C’s with the letters so had to go cutesy K for “kritter” on the board…) We have the tropical aquarium, a tropical terrarium with tree frogs and green anoles, hermit crabs (not pictured here), and then two pet rats (to the right of this picture). I’ve used the aquarium and terrarium a TON in my ecology lessons, as we talk about the interactions between/within populations, communities, and ecosystems, and I recently read that children develop compassion first through interactions with animals and pets… so hopefully they are benefiting through the care of our rats, Winkin and Nod.
Comfy Corner. The kids love this.
Supply Shop! Students can look here for any other supplies they might need — pencils, erasers, more gluesticks, more scissors, rulers, paperclips, rubber bands (have to watch those…), etc. There is also an electric pencil sharpener, a stapler, a hole punch, and a bunch of clipboards at this center.


Oh, and here is me on the first day of school (what a geek!): 


Hope you all had a fabulous first day, first week, and first month!


Middle School

Classroom Set Up 02: DIY Projects


Since school is starting in literally two days, I figured I should finish posting about my classroom setup.  I still have a few things to do, but here are some of the projects I completed this summer (in no particular order):

1. Chalkboard Painted Desk:  With the permission of my principal, I painted the front and two sides of my desk with chalkboard paint.  Now, both the students and I can use the space for art and drawing, posting notes, etc.

First, I sanded down the painted metal desk, just enough to rough it up a bit.  Then, I applied two coats of chalkboard paint – I used the kind from the can, NOT the spray kind.



2. Extra Storage:  Who doesn’t need a little extra space?  I found this little island in my neighbor’s yard, heading to the dump.  It was an ugly beige color, so I painted it blue to brighten it up.  I then painted little brown dots along the drawers to add a little character.



3. Memory Wall:  When I taught in North Carolina last year, I had access to a great book called Teaching for Excellence with the PEAK Team.  I recommend it for all teachers working with kids in grades 4 and up. There are some AWESOME instructional ideas, as well as information on classroom management, organization/setup, parent contact, etc.  One of the ideas I found in the book was the Memory Wall.  Basically, throughout the year, you take pictures of student activities, projects, special days, etc.  Students can also bring in their own photos as well.  At the end of the year, you can take all the pictures and create a scrapbook or album.  It’s a neat relationship-building/community-building center in the room.

I took pages of scrapbook and attached them to the chalkboard to create the quilted look.  Then, I added border to separate it from the rest of the board.



4. Comfy Cozy Reading Center: I created a corner of the room for students to get comfortable and read.  The fifth and sixth grade teachers at my school have built a Silent Sustained Reading time into the schedule at the end of the day, and I am implementing a Drop Everything And Read time in the morning for my homeroom as well, so I think students will definitely enjoy this corner.  If behavior becomes an issue, I may use the pillows and beanbags as an incentive for good behavior — for example, they may be able to “buy” corner time with their ClassDojo points.  I am going to try keeping it open for now though.

I also added mini lights and cute lamps to the area to soften it up.  Right now, my room gets a TON of sunlight, but I figure those soft lights may be nice in the winter when everything is cold and gray!



5. Supply Station:  I painted a crate I purchased at the craft store blue and set it up as a Student Supply Station.  Students are welcome to use any of the supplies in the box, provided they return them.  I will have one student responsible for monitoring the box in each class, making sure all supplies are returned before dismissal.  I will also have a student sharpen the pencils in the box each day (the regular ones, not necessarily the colored ones), so that students who need a pencil do not need to interrupt class with the loud sharpener.



6. Group Choosy Thingamabobs:  I “stole” this idea from a professor I took Content Literacy with, but I spruced it up Pinterest-style with some cute paints.  Basically, each corner of the popsicle stick has either a letter, number, symbol or color.  The four options divide the students into different number groups — there are four shapes/symbols, eight numbers, five letters, and six colors.  Students will draw a popsicle stick, but they may not know in which way you plan to divide them.  This prevents the, “Oh, let me switch with you so I can be in So-and-So’s group,” swapping that happens in all middle and high school classrooms (maybe even elementary — not really my area of expertise!).  It also makes sure to randomize grouping, as counting off in assigned seats will not give you much variety after a while.


7. Student Choosy Thingamabobs:  I don’t remember where I heard of this idea, but I think it’s a great one too.  Instead of doing the, “Can anyone tell me…?”  and hearing from the same four kids every time, choosing popsicle sticks with student names randomizes the selection and also sends the message that all students need to be prepared to participate at all times.

Of course, I like to give students the opportunity to be successful before putting them on the spot, so I like to use Think-Pair-Share or similar discuss-with-your-neighbor type activities before I actually call on anyone.  Another strategy I really liked that I learned in North Carolina was, “What did you hear in your discussions?”  It gives kids an “out” — instead of asking them to share only their own thoughts (which can be really intimidating for some kids), students can share ideas under the guise of “perhaps someone else said it.”  Of course, sometimes they may share things someone else actually said as well – and that is great too! At least you know they were listening to each other!


8. Clipboards:  All teachers have clipboards around – you never know when a student might need to take something in the hallway, outside, or just at centers around the room.  I spruced mine up with some scrapbook paper and mod podge!  I have about eight in all now, although only a few are shown here.  I found simple brown ones at Walmart for $0.50, so it wasn’t a lot of money out of my pocket and the result is super cute!


9. Dry Erase Boards:  Kids love dry erase boards, and it’s a good way to check for understanding in the class at large.  Pose a question, students write their answer and hold it up on your command. Bingo, you can see who got it right, who got it wrong, the overall understanding of the class, etc. without actually putting anyone on the spot.  Instead of costing me a fortune buying $10+ boards from Target or Office Max, I went to Lowes and bought a $13  sheet of “white panel board” in the molding section.  Then, I had them cut it into 12″ x 18″ rectangles and voila! Dry erase boards.

Since taking this picture, I have covered the edges with cute washi tape to create a bordered, finished look.


10. Tabletop Bookshelf:  I used the top half of a cheap fiberboard bookshelf I picked up at a garage sale to create a tabletop science center display case.  I want my students to become familiar with scientific tools, so I am displaying them 24/7 to peak student curiosity! I have labeled the various instruments, so that students can connect the proper name with the actual tool.




Education, Middle School

Classroom Set Up 01: Bulletin Boards and Banners

When I took the job in North Carolina last summer, I literally drove down Sunday and started inservices on Monday, so I didn’t have a lot of time to set up and decorate my room.  I also didn’t have a lot of money (though that really hasn’t changed), so I didn’t have a lot to work with.

Thankfully this year I had all summer to plan, and I am SO PLEASED with the final product.  As I have worked to arrange and decorate my room the last few weeks, I have spent a lot of time incorporating classroom management and instructional techniques into my design.  I’ll be sharing with you what I have done over the next few blog posts…


Ms. Over-Achiever


The girls I worked with last year in Charlotte had some great decorating ideas that I was able to utilize this year.  One of those ideas is the use of fabric to decorate bulletin boards.  First, it is just ADORABLE — you can get it in so many designs and colors.  It also looks very sharp — you don’t get the wrinkles, tears, etc. that you end up with when you use large butcher paper.  Finally, although the upfront cost is higher than that free paper, it is WAY more durable and you can use it for years.  I am even hoping next spring I can get away with simply covering all my boards with butcher paper (to prevent fading), so I won’t have to spend the extra time recovering them all in the fall.

While I wanted a cohesive look in my classroom this fall, I also did not want to limit myself to a specific theme.  I decided to choose a color scheme, and inspired by a cute trim I found in the closet, I went with blue and brown.  It actually worked out really well because all the wood in the classroom is brown anyway.

Here is the fabric and trim I ended up with:


IMG_3064Next year, I think I will put the blue polka-dot all the way around the brown board (directly above) and the flags all the way around the blue board (the very first picture above) to enhance that contrast, but I don’t feel like redoing it all at this point.



IMG_3062I have since decided that this fabric is a little too busy for my bulletin board, but again, I have run out of time and am not redoing it at the moment.  I plan to use this fabric to make some pillow covers for my “Cozy Corner” section of the room when I do tear the board down, and I have some simpler light blue and dark brown fabrics that I will put up in its place.  In the meantime, though, I plan to put some sort of student work on this board.

In addition to covering the boards with fabric, I am in the process of making some dangling streamers from embroidery hoops and strips of fabric.  I’ll definitely get some pictures of those up soon.

Finally, I made a banner from double-sided scrapbook paper and baker’s twine that I have hung around the “Ms. Fuhrman’s Corner” of the room.