Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: July 2018

Tips for Prepping Center Materials


If you have been following me for long, you know how much I loved using centers in my classroom! Math and reading centers are engaging and make differentiation a piece of cake. (If you are looking for more information about math centers, you can check out THIS blog post or THIS video series.)

My math centers for grades 2-5 are very popular and I have just started to release a line of 3rd grade reading centers. Teachers love having the activities prepped and ready to go for their students. 


That being said, I get questions every day about prepping centers. I thought that it might help everyone if I publicly shared my favorite tips. Enjoy!

Printing


Some teachers have trouble getting their printers to print centers. Either they get weird lines through the centers or their printer just has trouble flattening the file. The reason is that the centers have lots of layers and images on them. This can especially be tough on older printers. No worries! There are simple fixes for this!

First, before you even go to print your centers, update your Adobe Reader. Adobe has updates like a jillion times a day. (I'm only being slightly sarcastic here.) I set my computer to automatically update. I know this is tougher at school. My school Adobe was ALWAYS out of date.

Next, set your printer to print as an image. This will make the file flatten faster and your printer will like you more. This option is found under the advanced printer setting.


These suggestions fix 99.9% of the printing challenges. If you are part of the unlucky .1% that are still having trouble, I HIGHLY recommend putting in a help ticket with TpT. They have a team of people that are awesome with printer troubleshooting! (Just click on HELP in the top right-hand corner of the TpT home page.)

Paper


I personally print my centers on cardstock. I like them to be thick and durable because I don't want to have to print them again next summer.


That being said, if you have a good laminator, you can get away with printing the centers on regular copy paper.

If you are using the backline option, you might want to consider printing each of the 10 centers on different colors of paper to help keep the center pieces together.

Laminating


I laminate all of my centers. Again, I want them to last more than one year. It's cheaper to laminate now than it is to print and prep new centers every year.

I DO NOT cut out my centers before laminating. I save time and only cut after laminating.

I do have a personal laminator and I think that it works much better than the laminator my school had. The laminating pouches are thicker and so I have never had trouble with the lamination pealing.

Cutting


If you have a good paper cutter, you can save yourself lots of time by cutting the centers with it instead of scissors! 

As you are cutting, you might want to write center numbers on the back of the cards. I think this is especially helpful if you are using the black line version of the centers. I don't do this because I used the color version and my students can tell which centers the pieces belong to based on the background color.

Organizing

I wrote THIS post all about organizing your center materials. I included tons of different options and FREE labels.


I also have THIS video that basically goes through the same ideas if you prefer to watch rather than read.



I hope that these tips are helpful!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!


Start the Year Off Right With Back to School Curriculum Night

Use these tips to plan a back to school curriculum night! The post includes a free PowerPoint!

Teacher communication is a vital part of a classroom's success. A perfect way to start this line of communication at the beginning of the year is at Open House or Curriculum Night.

Every school has a different name for this event.  I am NOT referring to Meet the Teacher, when you open your classroom doors, and meet your students for the first time.

Let's face it, that event can be a little chaotic for families and teachers!  At my school, I felt overwhelmed when a rush of over 40 parents and students, that I did not know, came streaming into my classroom. I am sure that I had families go home exhausted from that event as well. There are lots of ways to prepare for this event in order to feel more organized. To read more about Meet the Teacher ideas, click HERE.

Today, I want to discuss how you can start the year off right with Curriculum Night.

Why Should I Offer Curriculum Night?


Curriculum Night is an opportunity for teachers to explain their expectations, procedures, and curriculum for the year.

I love how Curriculum Night forced me to be organized as well. I had to think through my expectations and procedures in order to have this information ready to present.

This is an opportunity for you to build a relationship with your classroom families. Parents appreciate that you as a teacher are willing to meet them in the evening to discuss the upcoming year. It gives parents an opportunity to ask the questions they may have about your classroom.

True, you might only have four parents show up. Don't get frustrated if this happens. Instead, think of it this way- that will be four families that you will get to know a little better and build a relationship with right away. These might be the four families who are willing to volunteer for you, or send in items for you. Offering this time for them, shows these families that you are dedicated and committed to their children's learning.

What Should I Discuss?


Parents always want to know what the big topics are for the year. This is a great opportunity to tell them what the important standards are for your grade level and what curriculum you will be using to teach it.  Keep it simple, you do not need to mention every standard. That would be long and likely boring. I just mention the big ideas for each quarter.

Parents will also want to know what your homework policy is. This is where parents usually help the most, so lay out your expectations for nightly homework at this time. I also mention websites, apps, or games that families can play at home to help their child be more successful. They may never go to these websites, but at least I offered families a resource!

Another topic I always prefer to discuss at Curriculum Night are my classroom rules.  I want parents to know what my behavior policy is, and what steps I went through before their child was sent home with a behavior note. I also discuss my classroom and school-wide rewards at this time.

Other topics you might include could be your daily schedule, planned field trips, classroom and at-home volunteer opportunities, contact information, communication platforms (Remind, Bloomz, ClassDojo, ClassTag, weekly emails, etc.) and some important notes from your specialist teachers.

How Should I Present This Information?


First, it is important to remember to respect their time. Start when you informed parents you would, and end when you said you would. Let parents know that you value their time and that you prefer to hold all questions until the end, but that you will be available to answer any questions when you are done.

Next, I use a slide show to present my information. This keeps me on topic and reminds me what I wanted to explain. There is nothing like forgetting what you wanted to say in front of a crowd!

Free back to school PowerPoint template!

I don't print anything out for Curriculum Night. Instead, I inform parents that I will email the slide show to everyone later that evening. This way, families that could not make it, still have the information you presented.

I think it is helpful to ask if young children be kept at home if at all possible. If it is not possible, I like to keep out some coloring pages or word searches for children that need to come along. (Search Pinterest for some free ones!)

It is also a good idea to keep out some pens and sticky notes in case parents want to write down a question to come back to at the end. 

Don't forget to thank your families for coming and sharing their children with you for the year. Let them know that you are excited about the new year, that you have loved getting to know their children in the last couple of days, and that you can't wait to see how much growth they will make by the end of the year. Parents love to see the excitement you have for their children. 

Would you like a FREE slide show to help you prepare for Curriculum Night? Click HERE!

Use these tips to plan a back to school curriculum night! The post includes a free PowerPoint!


Have a Not So Wimpy Day!




Apps to Increase Parent Communication

Apps to Increase Parent Communication: Bloomz, Remind, Class DoJo and Class Tag

I am a creature of habit, I have always felt most comfortable using email for parent communication. However, I've come to realize that with smartphones being the norm, a texting feature may be convenient for many families. This summer, I decided to reach out and learn about popular and free parent communication apps for my classroom. I looked into Bloomz, Remind, ClassDojo, and ClassTag. 

There are several similarities with these applications.


  • Each communication tool will send out messages to a whole group, or can be sent to individuals. 
  • Messages, photos, and videos can be shared with each of these. 
  • All of these allow you to share information through your phone, without sharing your phone number and keeping parent information secure. 
  • Families will have instant access across multiple devices, including desktop, iPad, iPhone, and Android. 
  • All users seem to agree that these are all very user-friendly.

Bloomz

Bloomz is a popular parent communication app to use with elementary school teachers.

Bloomz is set up for open dialogue, similar to a Facebook feed. This means that parents can "like" or comment on a message you send out. Teachers have the capability of deleting a comment if needed. Teachers also have the capability of turning off commenting for a post as well.

With Bloomz, you can also create sign-ups for conferences, ask for volunteers, create classroom calendars, and share student portfolios. A behavior management tool has recently been added and can be turned on or off by the teacher.

Teachers also have the ability of enabling parent-parent communication. Parents can chat with each other or as a group.

I like that teachers can enable quiet hours to keep notifications off at certain times of the day.

Many teachers agree that the app is easy to use and prefer this over ClassDojo because there is not a limit to the number pictures you can send though the app. However, many have reported that their messages wouldn't always get to parents and they encountered glitches within the app often. 

Remind

Remind seems to be the easiest and most efficient with users.

Teachers agree that they enjoy being able to send out quick and simple messages. There is an option to enable replies to the teacher's messages, but only the teacher can see the comment.

Many people enjoy the fact that Remind now has a Google Drive option.

Remind does not have options to create sign-ups, calendars, or behavior tracking. A negative feature that teachers seem to not like is that it has a limit of 140 characters per message. 

ClassDojo

ClassDojo is focused more on classroom management and behavior tracking compared to the other apps. Teachers can monitor student behavior by adding or taking away points for behavior. This information can then be shared with parent(s) or guardians.

Teachers also have the ability to send instant messages that can include photos, videos, or documents. However, many teachers have reported that they wish it would send more than one photo at a time. Reportedly, this will be a feature that will be corrected in July of 2018.

Similar to Bloomz, teachers can share student digital portfolios with families. Other unique features of this app include management tools like the group maker and a timer. Teachers can display the app on their board and randomly create groups for different activities, and can display a timer for different activities.

Many teachers have reported that ClassDojo is easier to navigate for families, compared to Bloomz. Others have noted that the behavior management piece can be hard to keep up with throughout the day. Many have moved away from using the behavior management portion, and use the app for the other features.

ClassTag

ClassTag is a newer app on the market for parent communication.

This app has a unique feature that the others do not have. A "Classroom Bank" is included within a section called the Marketplace of your app. Here, teachers can engage with sponsors and earn Class Coins. The Class Coins become payouts to classroom teachers twice a year through PayPal or checks. Teachers can get Class Coins by asking their class members' (parents) to make online purchases through participating retailers/affiliate links within the app. Classrooms can receive 1-3% cash back from online purchases with this feature.  Classrooms will also receive a sponsorship from a company who will advertise a small logo on your home screen. Parent interactions with this link will lead to Classroom Coins as well.

Another interesting feature with ClassTag is the "Stat" section. Here, teachers can see how often parents are interacting with your classroom through ClassTag.

I also like the setting features, which allow teachers to enable or disable parent conversations with other parents, choose whether they will allow parents to create activities and announcements, or choose whether they'd like the classroom directory be shown to parents. Parents can also decide whether they'd like their contact information shared with the class.

Similar to Bloomz, teachers can also easily create sign-ups for conferences or ask for parent volunteers.

The hardest part of using a parent-communication app is getting 100% of your families signed up. A great feature with ClassTag is that it will still send email messages with timely updates and notifications even if they haven't joined the system.

Some negative features with ClassTag is that you can not set up "do not disturb" hours. Users have also reported an increase in ads that pop up when using this app.

Apps to Increase Parent Communication: Bloomz, Remind, Class DoJo and Class Tag


Each of these apps allow the basic instant messaging. Determining what other features you need the most for your classroom will help you decide what app to use for your class.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!




Simple Ways to Celebrate Student Birthdays


Building relationships with your students is often more important than any reading or math skill that we'll teach in our classrooms. When kids know you care, they'll work harder and enjoy school more. One way to strengthen relationships with your students is by recognizing their birthdays. Let them know you care by focusing on their special day! The good news? It doesn't have to cost a dime!

Try these simple ways to celebrate student birthdays.

Read all about it.

Grow your classroom library and celebrate student birthdays by inviting them to bring in an extra copy of their favorite book. Students can write their name and birthday in the front of the book and add their special story to your shelves.

Have the student read their book (or a portion depending on the length) aloud to the class. For struggling readers, you may choose to read to them. Your students' birthdays will be part of your classroom forever while letting them provide their own gift of literacy!


Grab this free birthday letter by clicking HERE.

Sing it loud.

No matter how old kids get, they love hearing happy birthday sung to them. The whole class will love joining in the chorus, and it builds a sense of community. Make sure to join in with the tune and show your kids it's OK to sing and be silly! Consider teaching your students "Happy Birthday" in a different language to promote cultural diversity.

I actually made mine into a cheer!
Teacher: I don't know what I've been told!
(Class echos.)
But _____ just turned ____ years old!
(Class echos.)
Sound off!
(Class echos.)
HAPPY!
(Class echos.)
BIRTHDAY!
(Class echos.)
Everyone: Happy birthday, ________!

Share words of kindness.

This is one of my favorite activities to do on a child's birthday. Write the child's name on a chalk or whiteboard in colored dry erase markers or chalk. While the child sits in front of the board, have each student come up and say something nice about the birthday kid. They will then write their compliment on the board.

When finished, you can take a picture of the child surrounded by positive comments to send home with the student and share with their parent(s) or guardians.

Brag tags.

I love using brag tags all year to motivate and reward my students for meeting academic and behavior goals. You can read more about how I use brag tags HERE.

On a student's birthday, it's fun to give them a special tag! This tag is in my brag tag bundle.


Celebrate the star student.

Star students are not just for PreK and kindergarten. Elementary students love being recognized for simply being a unique individual. What better day to do that than on their birthday?

Invite the birthday girl or boy to bring in something special to them for show and tell or to share a special talent or skill with the class.


Leave your students feeling special and recognized on their birthdays. Remember that some students will not have birthdays on school days. Celebrating half birthdays or other designated days can be just as meaningful with these simple ways to celebrate student birthdays. 

Have a Not So Wimpy day!


A Back to School Teacher Pep Talk


It's funny how ideas pop into your head at the oddest times, mine usually come to me in the middle of the night or on my drive to work. My latest brainstorm came to me at mile marker 0.2 on my summer run. Yep....I was already breathing heavy and regretting a 7 a.m. run when the temperature was already 90 degrees.

Well, I set a goal this summer that I would get out and start running again. It's been a while, and a slight injury had me benched. However, I knew I could get back into routine. My mistake though, was trying to start off too strong and jump right back into a full run.

I'm sure you all have heard the phrase from Finding Nemo, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming." That became my motto during this muggy 7 a.m. run, "Just keep running, just keep running."
That's when it hit me, I shouldn't feel like I'm drowning already, like I'm barely keeping my head above water. I won't want to do this again tomorrow if that is how I feel!

I realized then that we as teachers do the same thing to ourselves in our classrooms. We get excited about new goals, ideas, or curriculum in the classroom, and sometimes start them too soon, before having our classroom community fully established.

I did that with my exercising. I didn't take a week to just stretch. I didn't take the next week to just walk. I didn't take the following week to alternate between walking and running. And of course, I definitely did not take a fourth week to move into a slow run. Instead, I jumped right in to my new goal. Well, I wasn't prepared for that. Instead, I was muttering under my breath, "Just keep running, just keep running."

I am writing today to remind you to take it slow at the start of the year with your new routines. Stretching is the most important part of exercising, correct?! Well, so is getting to know your students and establishing a relationship with them. Stretching should happen every...single....day, yes?! Well, so should student relationships. Let them know you care about them and reach out to your students every single day. Think of stretching as your classroom community building activity and do this every day, all year long.

Next, start slow. Just like I should have started off with walking, take a week to slowly implement some of your routines.

Finally, I should have taken another week to complete a walk/run combination. In your classroom, think of this as still modeling and practicing routines, but you are sprinkling some curriculum in here and there.

By starting off slow, not jumping right into your curriculum, you will set a foundation for the rest of the year. And you definitely won't be muttering under your breath by week 8, "Just keep teaching, just keep teaching."


Back to School Resources


Here are some posts to help you build community and practice procedures at the beginning of the year.



Have a Not So Wimpy day!