September 13, 2014

Inbox Overflowing?

Perhaps this post would better titled as "Confessions of an Email Hoarder" because that's exactly what it felt like every time I opened my school email over the years!

But now that's all in the past.

Thanks to four easy steps, I've whittled my inbox down to one of the most beautiful sight a teacher can behold:
And though I know there are so many of you who are way more organized than I am, I wanted to share what has worked for me...just in case there is a fellow email hoarder out there ;)

Step One: Answer Anything You Can Immediately
If there's any email I can respond to right away, I do. I scan my inbox for parent and administration emails and take care of those quickly. 

If I answer emails from my administration or colleagues right away, I delete them. This clears a lot of mail very quickly! For parent emails, well, that leads me to the next step...

Step Two: File in Folders
Folders are wonderful for all of those emails you would like to keep throughout the school year:
I have folders set up for parent emails, assessment information, EL student information, professional development, and more (as you can see above).

This keeps my inbox empty of those emails I don't need right at the moment, but will need in the future.

Step 3: Flag Emails to Answer Soon
What about those emails you don't have time to answer as your students are streaming through your classroom door? 

Or the ones that require you to sit and think for a bit over a cup of coffee on the weekend? 

These are the emails I flag, to deal with as soon as I can in the near future:
(I actually do email myself all of the time, with links and documents to print!)

Step 4: Copy Information in Your Planbook
This is a newer step for me and has quickly become my favorite trick...it has already helped me so much in the few short weeks we've been in school!

As soon as I receive an email with any upcoming events, I add it right to my plan book (I use planbook.com, you can read more about it here: Make a Digital Plan). This allows me to instantly delete tons of emails. 

Band Demo on Monday? Added to my plan book and deleted the email:

Workshop agenda sent by my principal? Copied and pasted right into my plans, deleted the email right away!

And that's it! With these four easy tricks, I have maintained an organized filing system for important emails and an empty inbox which makes me feel SO much more zen. 

What are your favorite tips for keeping up with email? I'd love to learn some new tricks from you!
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August 26, 2014

Classroom Sneak Peek and Desk Plates to Share


I know so many of you are already back to school and I have been admiring your gorgeous classrooms! We don't head back until after Labor Day, so I'm still working away on my room. I did want to share a little sneak peek of what's going on though.

I am keeping the black with brights theme I've had for a couple of years now. There is nothing I love more than fine-tuning a classroom scheme and evolving it a bit each year...plus my students love those colors so I am committed for another year (or more??).

Here are a few things I've been tweaking so far...

New Contact Paper
If  you've followed the blog for awhile, you will know I love to cover my mismatched tables with contact paper. Last year, I went with black paper and it looked really sleek and modern...but in the end it was a lot of black along with my bulletin boards and I knew I would change it up a bit in the future. Here's a picture of last year's tables in black:

The tables in our classroom have about five different wood grains, so I decided to choose the...well...for lack of a better word, prettiest one to use this year! Three of our round tables are a warm, maple color. So I found some contact paper that matched really well at a local hardware store and have been covering all those mismatching tables with a new shade this year. 

Here's a darker table being transformed with new maple contact paper:

New Carpet
I found a new carpet back in June at Target for a nice sale price and I actually purchased two because they are my students' favorite alternative seating (besides our little couch, more to come on that later!). This is a messy-work-in-progress shot that shows the carpet design:

New Library Labels
The carpets actually led to a new library label inspiration. I knew since the spring I wanted a black and white label with an icon look this year... and I tried out a different shape as well. These labels are from my Simply Iconic Library Labels set and they have a regular rectangle shape as well (plus a white with black option):


New Dry Erase Features
I've also been having a lot of fun using dry erase shapes to tie in with that icon-looking layout for my morning meeting area. 

I used my circle cutter to make this calendar, so my 5th graders can write the date each day:
I realize it is still slightly askew (it's that Thursday column!!) but it was about 9,000% humidity the other day and we don't have AC at school...I will fix it next time.

And then I tried to this one look notebook paper-ish...

I have a couple of others I'm working on as well--they've been a lot of fun to make and they really stand out on the black contact-papered boards!

New Desk Plates

I've also reworked our desk plates since last year, after careful observation of how my students (especially the ones who really need these references) use them each day. 

I've always made my multiplication charts alternate colors in columns like this...it really helps students track the numbers with their finger and not get confused. I enlarged the charts as much as possible for the best readability and left a small space to write the name...since it's 5th grade and the name is more for substitute teachers.

I have a copy of the desk plate to share below...please click on the image if you would like to download:
http://bit.ly/1tRgt6Y
I have tons more to share but I don't think I'll have a full classroom tour until a couple of weeks into September...I hope you'll have a chance to visit the tour then, I feel so behind everyone else!

Are you still setting up your classroom? Or have you been back to school already? Thanks so much for stopping by!
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July 27, 2014

Smooth Sailing Back to School Tips

Hey everyone! I hope you've had a chance to sail over to my friends' blogs and read their advice for smooth sailing into a new year. We want to share our tips and tricks to get you on your way to a new (and smooth) year!


For my school year to get off to a smooth start, I always need to have everything ready to go and at my fingertips, so I don't have to lose a moment searching for anything. Here are some of the best ways I have been able to have everything ready and instantly accessible for those beginning weeks:

1. Make Student Supplies Easily Accessible
I like to have all the supplies my students will need during the day right at their fingertips (no roaming around the classroom!!). So last year I tried Student Toolboxes:

These toolboxes hold everything we normally use in a school day and worked like an absolute dream! No supplies were lost, no supplies were put in the wrong places...everything was right where we needed it:

With all student supplies are easily accessible in one places, activities and transitions run more smoothly, leading to increased instructional time. 

2. Number Student Storage Areas
Those of you who have read my blog over the years know I like to use a numbering system. This is an organizational technique that has helped me in so many ways--especially on the first day of school.

My class list tends to be in flux during the first couple of weeks. Students move away over the summer, newcomer EL students arrive in those first weeks (and not necessarily the first day).

With numbers, I am able to set up the whole classroom in advance, without any names, until my students arrive:

This allows me to have all my students' materials right at my fingertips...actually, at their fingertips!
If you are a fan of the numbering system, pre-numbering student areas will allow you to have all student materials and paperwork ready to go for those first days, before your students even arrive.

3. Label EVERYTHING!!!
This probably sounds like an obvious statement, but I have learned over the years that the more I label every single thing in my room, the less I misplace.

This is the case with my teacher toolbox:


Subject area baskets:
and so many other parts of our classroom.

If something is labeled, you will always put it back where it belongs and be able to find it at a moment's notice.

4. Get Ahead on Copying
This is something I have started getting better about more recently, thanks to the incredible units out there on Teachers Pay Teachers. With so many in-depth and long-term resources, it is possible to prepare units well in advance.

I will be copying numerous resources to get my students and I set up for the month of September, allowing me to have all the papers we need at our fingertips.

Here are just a few of my favorites I'm already prepping for September:
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Interactive-Math-Journal-315177
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Calendar-Math-for-the-Upper-Grades-5th-Grade-Starter-Kit-776253
http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Spelling-with-Morphology-An-Entire-Year-of-Differentiated-Spelling-Lists-1233025

The more you have copied and right at your fingertips, the more time you will have to focus on building those crucial classroom routines in the beginning weeks.

5. First Day Organization
And then there's the first day itself.

No matter how long I've taught I still get those jitters...and that leads to a scattered "Um, where were we? What are we doing next?" feeling that I just cannot have on that first day.

So I made a first day of school sheet to keep track all of the important things I would like to remember for the day.

There are places to record the activities and routines I'll cover for each subject, any important notes from parents I meet that morning, dismissal notes for the first day, things to prep for the next day, and more. I'll be keeping this sheet on a clipboard with me throughout the first day.

Please click on the image below if you'd like to download a copy for your big day:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2ARzMSbNzXNWDFjSjlnRmJpMEU/edit?usp=sharing
Keeping all important information for the first day of school at your fingertips will keep you on track, allowing you to focus on the most important thing--welcoming your students to a new year!

To help you sail smoothly into a new school year, please visit my friends' blogs to read their tips and tricks...

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July 7, 2014

Organizing Running Records

Running Records. Love the assessments, can't stand storing the materials. You should have seen the mess I've had over the years. Oh wait, you can! I have photographic evidence...
(promise not to pin these two pics?)

So I knew this would be the a great project for me to tackle this summer for Tara's Monday Made It:
http://4thgradefrolics.blogspot.com/2014/07/monday-made-it-summer-week-6.html
Since I work with an international class of EL newcomers and mainstream students (all 5th grade) I encounter quite the range of reading levels...so I need both of the benchmark kits for our running record assessments.

But they are just awful.

The folders are jam-packed and totally disorganized. And they have to hold both the fiction and nonfiction materials, which leads to this:
 and this:
(don't pin these either please, HA!)

So I decided to do away with those separate kits and bought a huge file box. I also purchased green and blue hanging files (to keep consistent with the green and blue benchmark kits I used to have). 

Most importantly, I bought enough folders to separate the fiction and nonfiction testing materials for each reading level:

which means I can easily get into each folder and grab exactly what I need:
 (I have these labels to share at the end of this post)

I decided not to make a label for this box (shocking, huh?) as it's pretty obvious what it is. But I did want to adorn it with some necessary information...namely some district charts I tend to misplace each trimester.

So I typed up the charts and used a little color-coding to identify the benchmark levels for each grade (the numbers on the left chart are used to enter data online for each level). Then I laminated the charts and velcroed them to the box, so I could grab them when needed:

And I did the same on the other side of the box, for the primary grade levels:

Now I have everything I need, all in one happy, organized box!

If you would like to use the file folder labels, please click on the image below:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B2ARzMSbNzXNbDNRMmNFRnNlNUE/edit?usp=sharing
This system would also work well for organizing your guided reading materials. Hmmm...I may have just found my next Monday Made It project! 

I hope some of you can use the file, thanks for visiting!
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June 29, 2014

Customize Your Covers on Pinterest

Happy Summer everyone!! I think I can officially say that to all of you now, right? :) And summer freedom means more time to join in with Tara for her weekly Monday Made It, one of the best parts of summer!
http://4thgradefrolics.blogspot.com/2014/06/monday-made-it-summer-week-5.html

So, like any teacher, I have a looooong list of things to work on during the free time of summer. And one of my first tasks was to tackle my boards on Pinterest.

Because I seriously had to be the worst pinner in the world. 

My boards were a mess, my pins were totally intermittent, and I literally cringed every time I looked at my boards.

So I decided to get on track as a pinner by reorganizing my boards and bringing a little cohesion to everything:
I am a HUGE admirer of so many boards that are gorgeously organized, with the perfect photograph chosen as the cover image. But I am not very good about that part, so I went with the other option and designed my own board covers.

I designed all of my covers in Fireworks, a graphics software I use for practically everything I make. But you can also design these covers in Powerpoint (my other true love!) and the steps are as follows:

1. Set Up the Board Image

Open a new file in Powerpoint. Using the Shapes tool, draw a rectangle. I found this excellent site that shares all of the sizes of the various Pinterest features: The Pinterest Cheat Sheet to Image Sizes

The board covers on Pinterest are 217 x 147 pixels...which is roughly 3.01" x 2.04" so I set the rectangle to this size:

2. Text Time
Then I used a couple of textboxes to write the board name. For mine, I left a lot of space on the bottom and I'll explain more about that at the bottom of this post:

3. Take a Picture
Well save it as a picture, really. Use the "Select All" command, then right-click (or control + click on a Mac) to get the "Save as a Picture" option:

4. Name It
Name your new little picture, so it will be ready for uploading:

5. Upload Your Cover
Head into the board you would like to customize first (in this example, I am in my Admire Beautiful Classrooms board). Click on the + sign to add a pin:

Then, click on the arrow for the Your Computer option:

Next, upload the image you created:

Make sure your image is on the board you would like it to appear on:

Then describe the pin...I just give it the name of the board, as it is the new cover for that board:

Edited to add another important step!!!
Much thanks to my sweet friend Diane from Fifth in the Middle who has done this process in the past. Diane tells us that you can link your board itself to the cover images you design.

Simply go to one of your boards and grab the URL of that board:

Then paste that link in the box next to "Source":
Your board cover will now take your fellow pinners right to that board! Thank you so much Diane!!!

All that is left is to set your new image as your board cover:

A couple of things to consider:
  • Branding: If you are a blogger and would like your boards to represent you and your brand, you can use a color scheme that matches your blog. The end result will be a page that looks like your blog and is easily recognized by your readers, which is great for branding.
  • Layout: I am a tad obsessive over these kinds of things, but there is really is a lot you can do with the layout and design of your cover. You can crop the images/graphics for that look everyone loves. You can use a variety of fonts for a fun look, or the same fonts for cohesion. Even of the positioning of the images and text on the cover can have an impact. I left some space at the bottom of my covers so that number of pins text could stand out nicely on its own:

As you can see by my boards (Ladybug's Teacher Files), I still have a lot to learn and a LOT to pin! Do you have any tips you would like to share with us about Pinterest? I would love to learn more from you!
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