December 2012Tales from Outside the Classroom: December 2012

New Design!

I'm so excited!  I spent some time the last couple days redesigning my blog.  By myself.  I'm all kinds of excited about that.  It's been so much fun.  And I LOVE how it turned out.  Don't get me wrong- I liked my last design.  But I was just over it.  And ready for a change.  So come on over from your reader and check it out.

Also, I had so much fun with it, I think I might start doing some blog design on the side.  Maybe.  Like I might put together some pre-made templates this week.  Maybe.  But if you're in the market for a new design, let me know! ;)

I'm not sure how I'll be ringing in the new year, but however you choose to do it, I hope you have a rockin good time :)  See you in 2013!!

PQA and Constructed Response

None of us want to admit it, but test prep is a crucial part of many of our jobs.  We have to introduce kids to the format of the test before they get to the test.  We have to teach them how to respond to the sort of questions the test will ask them.  And we have to teach them to read and answer thoroughly and completely. I don't know about you, but most of my kids try and take the easy way out.

Q:  "Who was the main character?" A: Jake  
Q: "How did Jake's feelings change throughout the story?  Support your answer with details from the text."  A: He was sad and then he was happy.    

Working with RtI students means this is what I see all day long.  All day.  A good part of our time is spent teaching the kids how to respond to questions and proving their answers using the text.  We would much rather see an answer that says "Jake's feelings went from sad to happy.  In the beginning, he was sad that he didn't have anyone to play with.  At the end, he was happy because his best friends came over."  Most often, we can get the kids to tell us that in words when we ask, but when we ask them to write ....screeeeeeeech.... it comes to a halt.  So, we practice.  With older kids, we practice about oncce a week.  We give the kids a format similar to the test where they have the text right there with them to help them respond.  We teach them to use their highlighter or pencil to prove their answer in the text.  And we teach them to write in PQA.  What's PQA?
{right click the picture to download the poster}
PQA is Putting the Question in the Answer.  I thought this was a common acronym but after asking around, I found out it's not.  If you want to see my post with an alternative poster and posters for other acronyms on this skill, click here.  

Every district I've worked in uses that acronym but I know many others do not and have something else they use.  We begin really introducing it in 2nd grade and ask the students to do it in all responses beginning in 3rd grade.  You might be shocked, but I still have to remind our 7th graders that they need to do it when they respond to a question.  Yeah, you're a teacher, you probably aren't shocked.

When we get back from break, I'm going to begin to work through passages with constructed response questions with my 2nd graders.  They've already begun doing it in their classrooms, but we haven't worked on it so much in RtI yet because we've been working so much on decoding.  They're ready now.  But, one thing I noticed was that I could not find passages and questions I could use.  Seriously.  I looked through the books I had.  I looked through the books of others.  I looked online at TpT.  I couldn't find what I was looking for.  Yes, I found passages but all of the questions were very-rote and/or multiple choice.  There wasn't anything that I could find that was at a lower reading level but still open ended.  So I made some....

These two pages are samples so that you can see and try them out with your students if you'd like.  I put the first two pages in the Preview for free.  Just click on any of the pictures to head to my store and then click on the Download Preview button to download the preview with the 2 passages and questions.

With my third graders (and it's applicable for 4th & 5th too) in the spring we really start working on applying these skills with much more complex texts.  That text complexity is crucial leading into our state testing.  We apply this skill using my African-American Heroes set.  The students learn about important people in our history but really work to answer constructed response and extended response question using textual evidence.  It's also perfect for Black History Month since it's just before state testing begins.  It includes not only short answer constructed response type questions, but also extended response questions.  It really helps students apply opinion writing to a text citing textual evidence to support their reasonings.  It's been a great practice for my students leading up to our state testing in March.


You can try out this set by clicking on any of the pictures to head to the product on TpT and downloading the preview file.

Because not every student is ready for these, and because this skill should be introduced in younger grades, I also made a set for younger students.

What do you do to get your kids ready for the mandated test?  Do you have any tips or acronyms to share?

Subscribe by Email Blog Lovin My TpT Store Facebook My TN Store Pinterest Instagram Email Me Image Map


This the first year I've heard of RACK {Random Acts of Christmas Kindness}.  Back in college we participated in RAK {Random Acts of Kindness} each year.  I've known the concept for a long time, and try to encourage others to do it.  Buying others' orders at the drive thru is a common practice.  My friend said at Starbucks a couple weeks back that the lady told her she was the 20th something car in a row to participate.  I love that!  I truly think the little things you can do to give back to humanity pay out in the long run.

Anyway, I'm linking up with a fantastic RACK linky party with First Grade in Foxwell Forest.

Here's how it works:
You choose 2 blogs that you follow {one newer blog that you recently began following and one blog that you have been following since you first began} and highlight them on your blog by explaining why you think they are such a gift! Then you give them a RACK by offering them one item as a gift from your TPT store!

The two bloggers I'd like to feature are:
DeAnne from First Grade and Fabulous was one of the first blogs that I found.  I LOVED the colors on her blog and loved all of the freebies she was always offering.   I'm so happy to now call her a friend.  She is always looking at the bright side of things and is a great supporter of everyone.  If you want to check out some of her freebies, click here.  Otherwise, I know she'd be more than happy if you spent some time browsing throughout the rest of her blog!

Sour Apple Studio
The other blogger I'd like to feature is the awesome Kelley from Teacher Idea Factory.  I first found her blog early this summer.  I soon fell in love shortly after.  I love the design of her blog and have actually stalked her designer a time or two. :)  I also love that Kelley has such a distinct style.  I wish I would have had the foresight to create all of my covers with a similar style.  It makes it easy to spot one of her phenomenal.  Plus, have you seen her Good Morning Work for first grade?   It's ah-mazing.  Kelley also has a ton of freebies on her blog that you can find here.  I know that she'd love to have you browse throughout her site as well.

I probably won't be back on for the next couple days.  I've got major tons of laundry to get through today and some cooking and baking to do.  If you celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful and merry Christmas!

Best and Brightest Linky

I spent my day being lazy today.  There's so much I need to do to get ready to host Christmas dinner, but I did none of it today.  I guess that means that's how I'll be spending my Christmas eve since I'm sitting here blogging (and watching The Sound of Music) instead of cleaning.  I decided to link up with Christina Bainbridge's Best and Brightest linky party.

My most viewed post of the year (which is all time for me since this is my first year blogging) was the post where I shared my 2nd grade Common Core math warm ups.  My top 3 posts are actually the three posts where I explained the different grade level sets.  It's amazing to me that the posts with the most traffic of mine were of me sharing products I created.  It's very ironic to me that my posts where I'm more personal are often overlooked by many followers.  You can click the picture below to see the post about the 2nd grade warm ups.

Two other very popular posts had freebies.  The most popular freebie post was where I shared some of my terms for common phonics "chunks".

The second most popular freebie post was where I shared my Easter Color by Sight word sets

One thing I'd like to brag about is my new clip art venture.  I never thought I'd be able to sell some of the things I created to use in my products.  After a lot of encouragement and support from some fantastic blogger friends,  I decided to take the plunge!  I shared much of it in this blog post

I also am so happy of many of the friendships I've made throughout blogging this past year.  There are some pretty talented teachers out there in this world and I'm happy to call them my friend.  If you want to see some of my favorite bloggers, you can check out my pinboard here.
Thank you so much for finding and following me this year.  Blogging has been such an outlet for me this year.  I'm still in shock that anyone wants to read anything I have to say.  I'm excited to see what 2013 will bring!

Back to Reality

It might seem weird to you that I'm talking about math and scissors today.  I get that.  But, for me, I need to go back to reality.  So much of work today was focused on our safety procedures and looking at everything with a new eye.  I need to move on.  Not to forget the terrible things that happened, but to remember that there's so much more out there.  So much good.  So much I can do with my kids.  So much I hope to share with you.  I can't dwell on what happened.  It would consume me.  It would stay in me forever in ways I can't let it.  So, forever will I remember what happened on 12-10-12, but I'm looking for those pieces of reality.  If you're with me....keep reading!

I'm so excited to share some new finds with you.  I get sent office supplies to try out from time to time.  I like it because I find new things, and what teacher doesn't love office supplies?  Well, I got some scissors that sent me from Westcott.  My life is forever changed.  Have you heard of the Scissors Mouse by Westcott?
It looks like a mouse (for the computer) and contours to your hand the same way.  However, you line it up with your paper and drag to cut.  It's so crazy simple.  You see that 0 and the line- they help you center.  I am not a patient cutter at.all.  This helps me keeps things pretty straight.  I used it to cut out my Snowman Math centers from the laminated sheets so that I could cut the cards on our paper cutter.
It was so easy to cut through the laminating sheets.  I was able to glide the mouse along and make a long cut in a matter of seconds.  I swear to you, my life is forever changed.  Once I cut them out I went to my paper cutter and was trying to cut the cards out.  I was having the hardest time.  So I decided to try out the scissors mouse on it.
I was shocked.  I was able to cut straight and cut out the squares.  I'm not kidding when I tell you I was able to cut straight.  I am not a good cutter.  Like I said, I'm not patient.  I was able to cut all the cards out on the sheet so quickly!  And I didn't mess up. Having that guide is so handy.  Oh, and the added bonus is that your hand doesn't hurt after like it would after normally cutting out 45 hundred million snowmen.  Forever changed.  Seriously.

I was also able to try out the Westcott Titanium Bonded 8" Non-Stick Straight Scissors.
I was pleasantly surprised.  They are a great, heavy duty set of scissors.  They cut easily.  My hands are very small and so they were a bit hard to manage for me and were a little heavy.  However, I will continue to use them often- especially on difficult to cut items.

Finally, I was able to try out the Westcott Kids Scissors with Microban Protection.  Like so many other kids scissors, these were light and easy to use.  They had a blunt tip for safety.  And I love that they have Microban protection.  I'm in need of some kids scissors for my room so I will be looking into buying a set of these.

Also, one of my first grade teachers asked for a couple specific pages to go along with my Snowman Math set.  I loved her idea!  So, for the adding and subtracting rules pages there's an additional page that adds 1, 10, and 100, and for the subtraction page it subtracts 1 and 10 and then adds 100.  They aren't ready for place value above 100 yet so they can't subtract 100.  But, I did also create a subtraction page that does all three.  I have the three pages here for free so you can snag them and use them with your students.  You can use any number cards that you have if you don't have my Snowman Math unit.  

You can download the three pages for free by clicking on the picture below.

If you'd like to check out the rest of the unit, you can click the picture(s) below.

We did our mid-year NWEA last week and are looking at data this week to prepare for new groupings after break. My mind is all data oriented so forgive me if I'm sharing old news :)  How are you spending your week?  Are any of you lucky to be off? How was life at work today?

A tutorial

I'm a hands-on learner.  I learn best by doing.  And as I've been in this blogging and TpT adventure, I learned a few tricks along the way!  I thought I could do a lot of creating on my own, but little did I know, there were so many tricks out there that would make things easier!

First, I prefer Publisher.  There are some things I like about Powerpoint (hello, saving all the slides with one single click.  Voila!, but there are also some things that I don't.  First, I feel like moving objects is harsh (I'm not even sure if that's the right word, but it's not smooth).  Second, it's difficult to work with anything larger than the page size.  Third, this awesome little trick I learned to match colors exactly.  Exactamundo.  Precisely.  Enjoy!

If you'd like to check out my Rocking Out the Hundreds Chart unit that I used in the video, click the brand-spanking new cover below to check it out!

Did you know this trick before?  Do you have any others that you'd like to share with me?

12 in 12

I'm a little late- of course- but I'm linking up with the fabulous A Teeny Tiny Teacher and Miss Kindergarten to share some of my favorites from this year.  I'll be honest with you.  This year was pretty terrible for me in many, many ways.  I won't bore you with the details, but it's definitely been eye-opening, heart breaking, and made me stop and evaluate everything I have going on in my life.  I will say, though, that one huge positive in my life has been this blog and opening a store on TpT and TN.  I have made so many friends, people I am so proud to call my friends, and my life has been forever changed.  I have found the creativity in education that I had lost for a while.  It got me excited about teaching again.  All thanks to Pinterest (that's another positive in my life as well).   So, thank you to all of you for following me.  Thank you for your kind words and feedback.  Thank you for your positivity and support.  :)

12. Favorite movie you watched:
I'm not gonna lie- I'm a huge Twilight fan.  A few months ago I might have said Hunger Games (partially because I don't go to movies much) but Breaking Dawn changed that for me.  I would not consider myself a Twihard by any means, but this movie was nothing that I expected.

11. Favorite TV series:
So, I might be behind in this.  I haven't watched an episode since school started, but that's because you CANNOT miss one.  So, this break, I am going to get all caught up again.  Promise.  I need to know what the heck happened!!

10. Favorite restaurant:
I go out to eat A LOT.  I work really late hours and then when I come home I have no energy to cook, so it's so easy for me to just go eat somewhere.  My favorite, most frequented place, is probably the little Mexican place like two miles from my house.  We go there almost weekly sometimes.  But I also go through addiction spurts and will go to the same place all the time, craving it, and then move on to something else.  I'm currently addiction-food-free and trying to stick with thtat.  

9. Favorite new thing you tried:

I love my Keurig and have a monthly subscription from Green Mountain Coffee.  I recently ordered these and I'm in love.  It's like vanilla heaven!  It's almost like white hot chocolate but not.  I'm drinking like one every day.  I need to skip this month's order because I have so many boxes on reserve, but I really think I need to order more.  I love these!

8. Favorite gift you got:

7. Favorite thing you pinned:

Sour Cream Noodle Bake from The Pioneer Woman.  It's so simple to make, is so delicious, and it's with items I always have on hand.  I make it every couple weeks and LOVE it!

6. Favorite blog post:
My first one.  It's been an amazing year.  I'm still trying to figure out this blogging thing.  Figure out what readers like that matches what I like.  (Crazy for me, my followers don't seem to like these posts and I get like no traffic when they're personal.  Most bloggers say otherwise.)  But the fact that anyone wants to read anything I have to say is very strange to me.  

5. Best accomplishment:
Being elected as the President of a non-profit in 2013.  It's going to be a busy and exciting year, and I'm proud that others have entrusted our organization in me, especially given our trying times.  Here's to a wonderful 2013!

4. Favorite picture:
So, did you know that tagging is all different now in Facebook.  When they say they're with you, it doesn't go into your photos.  You still have to manually tag someone like in the olden fb days.  I didn't know this at all and there were a ton of pictures posted on my wall this year that I can't find because they're not in my pictures.  I'll totally stop that from happening again, but I'm disappointed in the meantime that I can't find them.  Alas, I hunted this one down.  It's from a Sunday morning in Chicago when some of my bffs from college came to visit.  I had a *rough* night the night before so I'm looking a little rough myself, but I loved hanging out with them for a few hours.  Even if it did rain.  And I love Buckingham Fountain!

3. Favorite memory:
I feel like this should be epic, and heartfelt, and sweet, and aww-worthy.  Instead, I'm going to go with spending a few hours with a bunch of old guys.  Enjoying Aerosmith in concert.  Cross that one off my bucket list!

2. Goal for 2013:
Finding some peace in me.  As I said, it's been a rough year.  I've questioned many things in my life.  I want to find some peace and happiness next year and stop questioning everything and just live.  Happily.

1. One Little Word:

Math, math, math

Hi!  Remember me?  Yes, I'm that blogger you love hearing from.  The one that posts the most random things from kindergarten math, to sixth grade reading, to clip art.  Yeah, I took a little hiatus.  Prepping for the big sale wore me out.  I took a few (fourteen) steps back from the computer for a few days and enjoyed life as a non-blogger.  I didn't creating anything at all, for almost two weeks, for the first time in months.  I do have quite a few things that I found that I want to share with you soon, but, first up, some goodies from me!

I'm still spending a lot of my thinking energy on my number sense kiddos.  Since they didn't grasp number sense the first, second, third (I could keep going ) time around, I'm trying to come up with other ways to make it click and stick!  My cuties in second are still struggling with place value and understanding what each place means.  I'll think they get it but then they don't, and I have to come up with something new.  One thing I tried on Friday was a spur of the moment, they-aren't-getting-it-and-I'm-out-of-ideas idea.  We borrowed the middle school science room (the only room in the building with tile instead of carpet) because they just happened to be at lunch.  I used a dry erase marker to write H, T, and O in the tiles.  Then I'd name or write a number and ask the students to jump into the place a specific digit was in.  Or, I'd say something like, "If I add 40 to this number, what digit changes?"  It seemed to go pretty well for two of the three kiddos.

So on the way home from school yesterday I was trying to think of what else I could do with them, and I thought of this song.  I'm going to teach it to them the next time I'm with them.  It's gotta help, right?!?

You can click on the picture to download it as a pdf.

I'm also gearing up to use my Snowman Math centers with them.  I created them just with them in mind.  It works on place value, mentally adding multiples of tens, comparing numbers, and more.  You can click on the picture below to head to my TpT store and check it out.
Or, if you prefer Teacher's Notebook, you can get it by clicking here.

And, last but not least, right before the sale launched I finished the full year set of my 2nd grade common core Daily Math Warm Ups!  I had a lot of requests for the full year and I just kept putting it off.  Just like my third grade set, it includes every standard (except one) in the set, there are 40 pages, and 5 review standards per page.  There are 4 sets in all and each set reviews the same standards.  Much of the sets are review with the same format, just different numbers, but some of the standards are presented differently.  You can check it out, and download 4 free pages, but clicking the picture below.  The 4 free pages are in the preview file.