Monday, July 28, 2014

Setting Up the Classroom: Part Four (Getting Organized!)


Today's post is going to be a little bit of a jump from my posts over the last few days.  The previous post show me working with my friend "S" to set up her classroom after returning to teaching after 4 years of being a mommy.  So, with her, we were starting from scratch.  I hope to post some final pictures of her room very soon!

This post is focusing on a DIFFERENT friend.  I went up to help my friend "H" set up her classroom. She was returning to the classroom after being on maternity leave for a few weeks.  She missed the end of the year- and the packing up!! She was also making a huge change from being a co-taught classroom (for almost 5 years!!) to being a general ed classroom. So our focus was more organizing all the things she already had.


Three things kept us on track: a tight schedule, a big trash can, and each other!! LOL!   

Since we are now both mommies, we had a limited amount of time to get the room organized. It helped keep us from chatting and hanging out too much and helped us get right to work since we had to get home to our kids after a few hours. 

 We also got some trash bags to throw away any materials that were out-dated or just yuck. More about that later!  

And each other!  We kept each other company, laughed a lot, and motivated each other.  There is nothing like a good friend to keep you honest when organizing and help you "let go" of old materials.  I wish I could say we are the super cute girls in the picture, but we are not!  Those are some random girls I found on a free photograph site!  I couldn't find any pictures of just the two of us!!


We had a plan of what we wanted to work on.  H wanted to reorganize the room and make the most of the spacious room with just her.  She was so used to sharing the space with her co-teacher, that she wasn't even sure where to start!


Because there were two teachers in the classroom previously, there was a lot of extra furniture in the room.  We had to make a plan and figure how she would use each piece of furniture and what was necessary and what was not. She was also not happy with her teacher area and felt it was unorganized.  It made finding her things more laborious than necessary. That is her area straight ahead, under the TV.


After talking about possible arrangements, the best use of furniture, and setting up her teacher area, we decided to start shifting furniture.


We talked a lot about her "style."  What areas were important to her?  How did she use her materials?  I could help her organize all day long, but it was her room and she needed to feel comfortable with the set up.  We were trying to maximize her efficiency and if I just did it my way, it would do her no good.


After we got the furniture set up, it was time to organized!  My favorite part!  The labels above are from my classroom.  You can get the labels FREE here.


We unloaded all the materials in her teacher area that she wanted to organize on  tables in the center of the room.  As I finished dragging around the furniture, she carefully went through each pile of "stuff" on the table deciding if it was needed or not.


We knew we want to organize her teacher area first because we had a specific plan. Her least used materials went on the top shelf, and her most used materials went on the bottom shelves. She was easily able to reach what she needed.


She had gone through most the stuff on the tables and her teacher area was mostly organized. The one thing  we needed to work on was her guided reading books.  She was using tubs with the books in gallon sized bags.  Because it was open storage, it looked messy and it was hard to flip through.  We decided to try another option.


This piece of furniture was previously holding math manipulatives that she didn't use very often because she already had  the manipulatives in other areas.  We decided to take the books out of the bags, label them with the level, and then rubber band each set together.  Each bucket was a different level.  The math materials that were in the buckets got a wipe down, and were reorganized into another easier-to-access system.  I will show that in a minute.

We worked for about 4 hours and this is as far as we got.  I only had childcare for that time period and had to head home.  H was able to stay for a few more hours and get a bit more done.  The next day NEITHER of us had childcare, but we decided to see what would happen and brought all of our kids.  Between the two of us we had a 3 year old, two year old, one year old, and two month old!!!!! We figured we would just stay for an hour, maybe even less, depending on the kids.

H continued to organize the guided reading books after I left they day before...and realized that they wouldn't fit in the bottom buckets.  Womp, womp. So we tried plan B and used this shelf. The books fit great!





Then we went on a labeling and organizing bonanza.


Normally I like to make super  cute labels on the computer that match with cute font and blah, blah, 
blah.  Well, we had a room full of kids and time was not on our side.  She had these cute name plates and we used them as labels.  Minus my handwriting, they are still cute, right?!!?

We then labeled all the math manipulatives that were moved out of that piece of furniture.


The top shelf holds community art supplies and the bottom two shelves hold  extra math manipulatives.  We used the same name plates to label the boxes.



Then it was pick up time.  All the materials that she need to copy and laminate went on the front table right by the door.  All the trash and stuff to give away to a good home, went by the front door (not pictured- it was a BIIGGGG pile!





I love the round table next to the math manipulatives! I can just picture kids playing math games there!


Her teacher table still had a few things to go through.  But, you can see our little helpers that were about ready to go...


Believe it or not we were there with ALLL those children from 10:30-3:30!  We were shocked! Everyone was VERY ready to head home at 3:30 and got a great nap that day- including me! LOL!


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Two Stars and A Wish Blog Hop



It is that time of year again!  Time to reflect upon what we loved about past school years and things that...we didn't love so much.  I am joining over 40 other bloggers to share some awesome tips that you can use in your classroom. Each blog post shares two ideas that worked very well- our "star ideas," and well, one area we want to improve upon.  We are all learners, right?

It took me years to figure this out. The first day should be as simple as possible.  Parents always want to talk and kids are always skeered.  Sometimes I am too. :) Why make it any harder than it has to be?


Supplies are always overwhelming.  Before Sneak-a-Peek/ Meet the Teacher I run to my local grocery store and beg for some large, paper bags. I ask for about 25- or one for each student in the class.   I have found Publix to be especially generous.

I write each student's name on the bag in large black marker on the bag and then place the bag in the chair.  If students bring supplies to Sneak-a-Peek/Meet the Teacher I ask student sot put all the supplies in the paper bag.  I usually collect the tissues and copy paper, since they are so big.

For the first day of school, I ask students to put all their supplies in the paper bag and again, collect the copy paper and tissues.

Organizing supplies can be a HUGE task and I HATE to waste that valuable first day, when I really need to establish procedures and get the students moving with labeling stuff.  I try to do that the second day of school.  I know, I am a rebel.


Since my student's supplies are neatly packed away in a grocery bag under  their seats I make sure to have one sharp pencil on every desk the first day.  For morning work, I usually have a coloring sheet on one side and a word search on the other.  I use the program PuzzleMaker by Discovery Education to create a word search with students's names. I like to do this so students can start to become familiar with reading (or trying to) classmate's names.

 I like to use a coloring sheet, because really, what kid doesn't want to break in those new crayons?  I do let them get the crayons out of their bag, but I don't let them sharpen the million and one pencils in the box.  No sir, that one will do ya' just fine for today!


Okay, full disclosure here. I am not in the classroom this year, BUT if I were in the classroom I would really want to focus on interactive notebooks.  I always pictured this:


But, beyond the whole explosions of glue sticks and landfill-like floor, I really struggled with the idea of meeting my student's needs. With my experience co-teaching, I really learned that not every kid gets it at the same time, the same way. I knew it, but boy did it bring it home for me.


I tried to differentiate as many as the tasks as possible and also include some that are simple enough for the very first days of school to teach students the procedures for interactive notebooks.  

Want to take a peek?  Here are a few pages:




Want to snag a copy? It is 10% off for today only!  Yahoo!  This will be a monthly series so check back soon for the other months!


If If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider joining me on Facebook for more great ideas!

For more star ideas more than 40 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic that interests you. Thanks for visiting!



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Setting Up the Classroom (Part Three): Tackling the Classroom Library!

I am back (again) sharing some tips for setting up and organizing the classroom! Today's focus is


I love books.  Any kind and all kinds of books, but children's books will always hold a special place in my heart.  I have written a good bit about my classroom library and how I choose to organize mine here and then was also featured on Reading Rockets.

In general, I do not choose to level my classroom library.  I, personally, would rather teach children how to choose appropriate books as a life skill, because they will be able to practice this every time they walk into a public library, Barnes and Nobles, or Borders bookstore. The real world isn't leveled by AR or colored dots and I want my classroom library to mimic that. So please keep that in mind as you read this post :).

Okay, off my soapbox!


Most teachers like to create a reading "nook" or corner.  However, don't be stuck on the idea of it being a true corner.  In both the classrooms I worked recently, both teachers wanted to use a corner, but it wouldn't work with the arrangement of the furniture and outlets and such.  So we just created our own corner using bookshelves!

The bookshelves will be for baskets for books by genre or theme.  The slanted bookcase will be used to display seasonal or books related to a specific learning theme.  These will be changed out pretty often.

I would caution using tall bookshelves because they are a tipping hazard when students pull books off shelves.  Also, be very aware of your "sight line" and that the shelves don't block the teacher's ability to see EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE in the classroom.  I made that mistake my first year. Whoops. Kids like to find blocked and hidden areas and are drawn to them like magnets! It is like a kid super power!


To organize the library I like to have pens or black markers, address sticker labels, post it notes, and baskets. To create this classroom library we used a combination of cheap, shoe box style, plastic boxes from the Dollar Tree (They are green and blue to match classroom decor) and more expensive Sterilite baskets from Target. We used the smaller baskets for chapter books and the larger baskets for picture books.

When planning the baskets you will need, also take into account how much shelf space you have.  It doesn't matter how many baskets you have if you have no place to put them! LOL!


We unloaded ALLLLLL of her children's books in one area and I got down to business.


First, I began by simply sorting her books into simple categories such as chapter books, picture books, nonfiction, and so on. As I went through the books I pulled out any books that were damaged beyond repair, out of date and unlikely to be picked up by kids, or inappropriate for second grade.  I set these to the side.

I looked for similar groups and noticed that she had several Junie B. Jones books, Magic Tree House books, Disney books, and  Magic School Bus books. I started to group these together and made stacks in the floor.


After I went through all the book, I finalized my categories.  I noticed that we had lots of Clifford and Little Critter books, and Dr. Seuss but not enough books (or baskets) for a category for each.  I simply combined these into a "favorites" basket.


Then I went around each stack and counted the number of books in each category.  I wrote the title of the basket category and the number of books in the stack on a post it note. Believe it or not, that is my chicken scratch saying "Chp 13." That means chapter books- 13. After I labeled each stack, I pulled off all the post it notes and stuck them in my purse! Now, I knew exactly how many labels I needed for each category and could make the labels form the comfort of my own home in front of the TV!


Here is an example of the labels I used in my classroom.  I made them more fancy with a matching icon and then used the same icon on the basket label.  You can read more about how I did that here (and even get FREE labels!).We were going for a more simple (and quicker approach), so I simply wrote the category and "This book belongs to..." on each label. I did this at home and made sure I had enough of each different category of baskets by referring to the post it notes!

A tip when creating labels: I noticed that the teacher  wrote, "This book belongs to Mrs. A at A Street Elementary School." Which was fine...when she still worked at A Street Elementary School. Unfortunately, she changed schools...and now all her labels were wrong...and confusing. So you may want to reconsider putting the school on the label and just include your name.

So let's do a clock in at this point.  After I sorted, categorized, and counted the books I had spent about an hour and a half.  Seriously. Then, I went home and spent about 45 minutes or so printing and creating the labels.  They were super simple. I went ahead and printed the whole  pack so there would be plenty of extras for future books.

The next morning I started labeling books first thing.


I labeled each book in a stack and then transferred the stack to a basket. It took about an hour or so to label all the books.  Some of the  books were already labeled with old labels, so I just stuck the new label right on top! LOL!


We loaded up the shelves with all the baskets and added the pillows, lamp, rug and red basket for "lost" books.  It  looked so homey!  The only thing missing?  Basket labels.   I don't have a picture of this (yet) because she ran out of labels.  She said she would send me a picture on Monday and  I will updated the labels to finish off this post.

Total time invested (included home time for creating labels) was about four hours from beginning to very, very end! Not too shabby!


How do you organize your library?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Setting up the Classroom: Part Two


On Tuesday, I shared how I was working with two different teachers and helping them set up their 
classrooms.  I am back today to share the rest of our progress!  Just a note about how I organized this post, the pictures with the blue ribbon on the bottom labeled Mandy's Tips for Teachers are examples from my classroom over the years.  The large photos, with nothing on them, are from my friend's classroom. I did this just so you could see many different examples.

Here are a few more shots of where we left off.



We were pretty proud of all we got done in one day...but stressed as well! 


 Holy cow!  We still had to unpack this!!

But first, we needed to make the room start to feel more polished, and more like a classroom.



We went ahead and placed the furniture, which was fine.  We just did not unpack and organize the shelves. This helped with time because we weren't unpacking the shelves to be able to reach the bulletin board!  I learned *that* the hard way.  You can even put up the material and just the border before moving and placing ANY of the furniture. That is if you can find your material and borders! LOL! If you are looking for a cheap way to cover bulletin boards with fabric, make sure to check out my blog posts on using sheets!  Really!



Big difference, right?


Don't submit to the urge to hang posters yet. You will have time for that later, I promise.


We already placed the furniture, but we made some tweaks and rearranged a bit as the room started to come together AND as we saw how the students desks fit in the space.




Now, it was time to unpack and tackle the last bit of boxes.



When it was time to unpack all my stuff and boxes, I highly recommend thinking about the different 
"zones" in your classroom.  Chances are you have one area that you know how you want to set it up and exactly how you want it to look. Here are a few ideas for possible " zones."



After you unpack all the "zones" you can think of, this usually happens.  Either because you have no easy zones left, or one you are avoiding.  S was avoiding her guided reading table/ desk.  The idea of going deskless overwhelmed her.


Sometimes a break is exactly what you need to get your focus back.  

When I run out of easy "zones" to unpack and the room is still a disaster, I simply start on one side of the room and work my way clock-wise around the room.  Believe it or not, that helps because I just take it a space at a time.

I have one more post about setting up the classroom and getting organized!  Next, I will be sharing how we organized her classroom library and show all her final pictures!