Thursday, September 21, 2017

Why Use Experts in the Classroom?

When I was in the classroom I often had visitors from outside fields.  Some teachers loved this and piggy backed, having the visitor come to their classroom after mine or brought their class over to visit.  But some teachers didn't like visitors, citing lost learning time when the expert isn't good with kids or just the amount of time it takes compared to a lesson.

So then why use them?  Is it really that valuable?  Or was I just being lazy (as one teacher told me) by having other people come in and do my teaching work?  
Image result for guest speaker

Here's my case for using visiting experts in the classroom.

1-  A lot of organizations now have a person who's job is dedicated to the teaching outreach aspect of their organization.  We've had visitors from the dairy council (along with her cow), a local water conservation organization, education researchers from local colleges, health care workers and even our local police department now has a designated "educator".  These people specialize in working with kids and know how to keep them engaged.  And as experts in their fields, they also know what information is most relevant to the child's life.  The water conservation person knew kids couldn't vote, but they could turn the water off while brushing their teeth.  

Down below I'll address what to do if you're not getting an education expert, but for now let's continue with why you want outside experts to begin with.

2-  Students often get to use real tools or see tools in real life.  Learning about wire strippers and ammeters and what electricians to do is vastly different, and less likely to be remembered, than actually stripping a wire with wire strippers or watching an electrician use an ammeter to check the current to your classroom equipment.

Image result for science tools

3-  When an expert visits the teacher is usually learning something too.  Surprise! We don't know everything!  It's a great opportunity for students to see teachers as learners, for you to model how to appropriately ask questions, to show what it means to be a life long learner.  Modeling this is invaluable.

4-  It's like a mini field trip without having to go anywhere!  You don't have to collect permission slips or book buses or be on top kids about paying.  You enjoy a real life lesson from the comfort of your own classroom. Sometimes the information is even better than a field trip.  For example, say your class goes to the zoo.  There's a person there who presents an animal, maybe gives a small presentation, has time for just a few questions and then the kids are learning little bits here and there as they wander around the zoo in their groups.  They learn a lot for sure.  But let me tell you about my daughter.

   My daughter went to the zoo in first grade.  She's in 4th grade now.  She remembers there were monkeys and that aardvarks were bigger than she thought they'd be.  She remembers a kid misbehaving. ;) She also now remembers what most of those animals look like in real life.  That's about it.   But you know what, my daughter will NEVER forget the day she got to hold a baby alligator.  It was three years ago as well and she still talks about it.  She also still remembers quite a lot about alligators and reptiles from that presentation because she was so emotionally tied into it.  That was not at the zoo.  That was at school when a wild life rep from a rescue place came to her school.  The kids got to hold large snakes, baby alligators, and guess the age of a desert tortoise.  That was 3 years ago and those kids can still tell me the answer to just about any question I have related to reptiles.

Image result for baby alligator

5- With scientists specifically, kids learn how to give evidence.  They see it in action.  When the visiting biologist asks kids to guess what an animal eats and explain why they're thinking what they are and then kids get to see the teeth of the animal and hear about their native habitats to help further the validity of their guesses (or change their guess all together), students see how evidence is really used to drive what we learn.

6-  There's a different relationship developed with your students when you share the experience from their point of view.  Instead of you being on the presenting side of the memory, you are on the receiving side with them.  I've been having a hard time figuring out how to explain this, but the bottom line is there is some sort of comraderie that develops when you experience learning together.

7-  Students get to see a far wider range of careers.  Most students don't realize there are so many branches to each job.  A scientist isn't just a scient.  One is a rock expert who examines every detail. One performs research that helps other scientists.  One discovers new ways to generate electricity.  A writer doesn't just write kids books.  He/she can write magazine articles, novels, newspaper articles, travel for journalism, write cookcooks, and more.  An engineer can design and test new products that will later become used across the world every day or design freeway overpasses that are safer and alleviate traffic.  A doctor can be a foot doctor, a kid doctor, a researching doctor or even a teaching doctor.

Image result for career

So what do you do if you have a willing expert to visit your class but they are not one who specializes in working with kids?  There's a lot you can do to make their experience, and your classroom experience, valuable and smooth.

-Make sure you provide all the details the visitor will need.  Date, time, location, how long of a time frame they have, etc... You could even let them know your discipline policy if you think they'll feel comfortable using it.  You should also tell them how many students you have so they bring the right amount of materials.

-Ask them for what they will need and make sure it's ready.  Will kids need paper?  Do you need to move desks out of the way before hand for a wide open space?  Do they need access to water or electricity or something like that? Do you need to be able to make the room completely dark with no light at all?  Also make sure they know you're available for feedback if they have an idea they want to try with the kids but they're not sure it's the right level.

-Ask your visitor for any special instructions for your kids before the speaker arrives.  Do students need to be extra quiet to not scare a sensitive animal?  Do they need to have questions on a certain topic prepared in advance?

-I liked to have my students wear name tags and I wrote their names on them myself to ensure the tags were large enough to read across the room.  It's just a lot easier for a presenter to call a volunteer by name or pick someone to answer a question by name rather than by pointing and going through the whole "Who me?" with every person remotely near the one you're pointing at while you're saying things like "You there. In the red shirt."
Image result for name tag

-Remind students about proper behavior for a visitor before the expert ever enters the room.  Always remind.  Yes, they already know.  Still, remind.

-Follow up with feedback.  Student thank you notes are always nice. I used to make my students be specific about an item they learned to make the notes more interesting to read.  (30 letters of "Thanks for coming!  We love you." get boring after about 6). Also, if the expert was fabulous and has a boss at their organization, sending a note their superior about how much the class enjoyed them and how influential their presentation was is always appreciated.

What about you?  Do you have any tips to add for using experts in the classroom? Is there a type of expert you think is easily available for most schools but is underutilized?  Share in the comments below!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fall Classroom Ideas for Upper Elementary

Do you 3rd-6th grade teachers ever feel like k-2 get all the fun with the seasons and holidays?  Well not this year.  I'm determined to post every season and/or holiday with fun, valuable learning activities. 

Let's start right now with fall!

There are a ton of upper grade art ideas, but I think I'll do those last.  How about we start with inclusive units and then we can do separate subjects?

Products and ideas for multiple subject areas:

How about we start with a fall pretzel pack.  I love this because it is not "Halloween" specific so you can use it if you have kids who don't celebrate that and you can use it through November.  It includes math, reading, writing and art.  And learning with food is always engaging.

Here are the specifics about what is in the pak:
-Pumpkin shaped fraction book (equivalents, comparison, +/-, probability and percentages) The book is easy to alter for what your students have covered- just leave off pages of topics that haven’t yet been covered.
-graphing and data
-writing prompts (12 prompts, both fiction and nonfiction are included)
-nonfiction original reading selection about bats in the ecosystem
-Ratio art drawing project

I also love this blog post from Rundee's Room.  She has candy graphing, a blood model, and, my personal favorite, the candy corn math and pumpkin pie math.

Let's move on to Language Arts:

I've never read this book but it looks fun!  If you've read it, please leave us a review in the comments!

How about this $1 game with synonyms?

Let's not forget Science!

I have two STEM labs in my store that fit well into fall!  The Pumpkin Chuckin' Engingeering Challenge is one of my top sellers!

And what could beat learning about density through bobbing for apples?

A random idea:

Does anyone decorate their door to match the seasons?  We don't decorate the outside of doors around here because we don't have indoor hallways so weathering would be an issue.  I'm always jealous of teachers who can do this:

OK- On to art and the plethora of beautiful projects out there!

I love this lesson on abstract leaves.  They look so elegant.  And there's a step by step tutorial to go with it!

This 3D pumpkin and cat also have a step by step lesson.  You'll have to throw in the whole "blend different colors of orange and yellow to get the pumpkin looking right" lesson but it's the simplest 3D I've seen with this level of coolness.

Silhouette's are always easy but striking:

Pumpkin names!

And last but not least, I love the look of these pastel pumpkins on the vine:

There you have it!  A plethora of ideas from upper grade math, science, language, and for the 'maturing' artist.

Do you have any fabulous ideas for fall in the upper elementary classroom?  Tell us about them in the comments!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Free In-Depth Resources for Citizen Science from California Academy of Sciences

I did a quick Facebook post about this free resource last week and decided it was worthy of an entire blog post.  Not sponsored, I swear.

This is a free resource that is frequently featured in the NSTA (National Science Teacher Association) newsletter.  

So what is Citizen Science and what makes it worthy of a blog post?  The idea behind Citizen Science is that regular everyday citizens can get involved in scientific research in conjunction with scientists who are engaged in actual studies.  

I first came across this a few years ago when my kids and I were looking up the type of squirrel we were seeing in our neighborhood.  There was a Citizen Science study going on in New York that was asking for people all over the country to report in sightings of various types of squirrels for their research.  Upon further investigation I saw that there were other studies and a whole plethora of resources available to people, to teachers, to home schoolers, and more!

The toolkit itself provides some ideas for engaging in studies that are already designed (such as the ones below) or for creating your own studies.  The toolkit not only has directions, but scoring rubrics and all sorts of details and checklist to help you plan your project, big or small.

In addition to setting up or participating is studies, there are several other ways to use the website in your classroom and even a special section for homeschoolers.

-There are virtual programs for several topics ranging in levels from kindergarten through eight grade.  Those are paid programs but look awesome.

-Lesson plans (free) that you can search by grade level-all listing their NGSS standards.  Several of these include language arts connections as well.

-A video vault (I saw at least one Spanish resource in that section)- the "Renewable Energy: Powered by Poop" looks like an engaging video. ;). 

-Classroom kits your school can buy that all have literature, lessons, hands on supplies and more.

-Live special events on various topics and for various grade levels

-Science notebooking resources and ideas

-Teacher workshops

-Live cams for watching various animal populations

I'm sure I missed something!  This site has so much to offer, especially if you need to beef up your own knowledge about certain science topics or you need new ideas and better ways to get kids mentally involved enough to retain what they're learning.

Head on over there and find something in your grade level!


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Indoor PE Freebie!

I saw this type of thing on a health and exercise board somewhere recently and I thought it would be a great idea for indoor PE and recess.  So I adapted it to fit younger people and made a freebie for you!

Here's how it works:

You make sure kids know how to do each of the exercises listed.  That alone could be an indoor PE day.

Then you give them a word to start with.  I was thinking it would be fun to start with their names.  Demonstrate with your own name.  You just spell the name or word and do the work out as you go.  For example, Bob would do 5 crunches for B, then 5 burpees for O, then another 5 crunches for the last B.

Then you can get creative.  Have kids work out their spelling words, or words from content study such as sedimentary, fraction, see where I'm going with this?! Even character traits would be good.  You can incorporate it into any subject.

As a little side bonus, I added a second page with a 2x at the bottom.  You could use that one to prompt kids to automatically do it twice, or you could use the plain one I have and write on it or put a sticky note at the bottom to tell how many time they should repeat.

For display:  You could use a document camera or similar equipment to project it for the class to see. You could also make it into a poster and laminate it if you think you'll use it a lot.  Or you could print one for each student to keep in their desks for whenever you tell them to pull it out.

Don't let the rainy days and snow days (or in my case high-heat days) keep those kids from getting their wiggles out!

If you have other great ideas for indoor PE and recess I'd love for you to post it for all to see in the comments below.

Oh! I just thought of another use- it would make a good center!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

My 18 Before 2018 List

I love this idea from Lisa Jacobs.  She makes a list in the second half of each year with as many items as are in the year number (not 2000!).  Last year was 17 before 2017, this year is 18 before 2018.  It's meant to be a time when you take a look back at your beginning of the year goals and recent items and to find those things that you feel like you really need to finish up to close out the year with a feeling of accomplishment.  I find it to be rejuvenating at a time of year when I need some goal revitalizing. 


These can be personal, professional, a combination (like mine), whatever.  While I didn't start mine at the beginning of the second half, I have recently realized that there are 18 more full weeks until 2018.  That means I can try to concentrate on just one thing a week.

I know we may not want to think about the year ending, and it seems like there's still quite a bit of time left, but this year I have some goals I really want to finish.  Things that need to be tied up.  Things I promised myself I would do just for me.  Things that will help me end 2017 with a bang.

I'm listing my items below.  If you do this feel free to link to your list in the comment section!

18 before 2018:

1-  Finish setting up my e-mail process for my TPT followers. (business goal)

2- Finish and publish my cookbook. (business goal)

3-  Set up another e-mail list for my foodie followers on my daily ration blog. (business goal)

4-  Clean out our shed in the backyard. (home and family goal)

5-  Clear out the garage and organize it. (home and family goal)

6-  Hit my goal weight. (personal goal)

7-  Clean out my clothes and purge. (personal goal)

8-  Complete a December Daily Album. (personal)

9-  Finish 2016 December Daily. (personal)

10-  Finish 2015 December Daily. (personal- seeing a theme here)

11-  Finish Project Life.  2016 (personal)

12-  Finished Project Life. 2017 (personal)

13-  Treat myself to massage and manicure. (personal)

14-  Actually send a newsletter to my foodie e-mails list. (business)

15-  Send a newsletter to my TPT followers. (business)

16-  Post the $50 in new products that I have on my "next projects" list. (business)

17-  Catch up on my One Little Word album. (personal)

18-  List stamps sets I cleared out on Etsy or let them go. (home)

And that's it!  A bit of work productivity, a little bit of healthy, a little bit of home and family service, a little bit of mental health boosting....

What's on your list?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Curated Back to School Ideas

It's that time of year!  It doesn't matter how many years you've been teaching, most educators are always looking for fresh ways to start the new year.  

Here are a few ideas I've been loving on Pinterest lately (click the photos to go to the pin).

You can peruse my whole Beginning of the Year Board here:

But here are my favorite top few:

I love these throw backs from Secondary English Coffee Shop!  They'd make a great 'time capsule' and review at the end of the school year.  It's a free printable too!

I love the snowball fight activity and this one is from Rachel Lynette.

This beautiful art project/social skills project from Mrs. Thomas' Treasures would be great in the first week or two! 

Working on growth mindset?  This book is fabulous and Kirsten's Caboodle has activities to go with it.

What about getting year-long project ready? Like emergency sub plans, a collection of art and poetry for the year, or or back to school ideas that connect to end of the year ideas?

I love this style of welcome letter from Mrs. Southard!

And last but not least, I really like this reminder activity of how to be a good classmate from More Thank a Worksheet.

I'd love to know what you're doing for Back to School. If you have a blog post or video with your special activities, classroom tours, or back to school organizing, leave a link in the comments below!


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

And the Winner Is...

Yesterday I offered a free $10 gift card from Teachers Pay Teachers!  I placed all the entries from the comments below, Instagram, and also my Facebook page and assigned each a number.  

Then I put them all in the random number generator online and I got 5.

Who was number 5? Denise Talbott with her Facebook entry!

Thanks for entering Denise!  E-mail me within 48 hours at and I'll respond with your gift card code.  

For everyone else, there is still a sale going on - 25% off my whole store!  

Monday, July 31, 2017

It's a Back to School Sale and Giveaway!

Are you #BTSReadyWithTpT ?  If you aren't ready today, you will be tomorrow!  August 1st and 2nd I'm throwing a sale in my TPT store!  You can get 25% off!

And you can win a Back To School $10 gift card to help you move those items from your wishlist to your cart!

What would you spend your $10 on?  

Perhaps a year long product such as Poetry and Art Through the Year:

Or the Multiplication Bundle:

Or maybe you want to be prepared for that day you're sick this year and actually take it off.  Then Emergency Sub Plans are for you!  I have two different packs of these, both science and literacy based.

Whatever you choose, you'll be off to a great start!

So how do you enter the giveaway?

There are three ways!  You can enter here on my blog, one my Facebook page, and on my Instagram page.  Comment with your favorite product from my TPT store.  You can enter the same favorite product on all three platforms and get 3 entries!  For every two people you tag on Facebook and Instagram you'll get another entry!  

I will assign all entries a number and put them through a random generator to post tomorrow - Tuesday August 1st at noon Pacific time. 

All entries must be made before 10 am Pacific time, Tuesday August 1st.  Any late entries will not be counted.  I will notify the winner on all three platforms at noon Pacific time and you'll need to e-mail me at so I can respond with your gift card code.  

If the winner does not respond within 48 hours I will pick another winner.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Summer Plans?

This is a 'just thinking while my fingers are on the keyboard' type post.  No product, no fun pictures, no how-to...just journaling really.  
I feel like everyone has already gotten out of school except us.  We still have a whole week to go!  But that does not stop me from making summer plans.

I sat down yesterday and corralled all my notes and lists about stuff I want to do this summer or needed to put off until summer because life is too busy at the end of the school year to do everything.  I bet you know how that feels.

Have you ever made your summer list and decided it was too long?  That's what happened to me yesterday.  At first, I thought I could get it all in.  I made weekly plan sheets and assigned everything a spot so I could make sure it all got done.  It technically could, if I don't want to enjoy summer break at all.  Sigh.  Now I'm looking my list and deciding what needs to go.  

What I ended up deciding was that maybe I would just prioritize and do the most important things first,  then when those things got done the rest could fill in the remainder of the summer.  The problem is that some of those things can't be done until after certain dates.  For example, there are a few things I want to do that I can't do until after the Teachers Pay Teachers conference in July. There are some household things I can't do until after we make an out of town trip to my husband's class reunion.  

Still, I haven't lost hope.  And (until a few weeks into summer at least) I haven't lost focus.  

I now have a list of most important tasks.  They MUST be done before the end of summer.  I tried to include the most important one or two items from each of my areas of life.  They aren't in order of importance but they are the most important 10 items.  That way, I can be flexible in how I get them done.  Every day I can look at it and ask myself - "Can I do something on this list today?" and if so, do it.  If I can't because I'm waiting for a certain time, all hope is not lost, because I WILL eventually be able to say yes to that item.  

So here's what's on my Must Do list this summer (Top Ten):

1-   Get my TPT newsletter e-mail list up and running!  That's right, I will finally have monthly tips and anecdotes for you!  Look for that in late July or early August.

2-  Change out my old product covers.  Please don't go back and sort my products by most recent and scroll down to my oldest.  I really didn't know what I was doing then as far as cover design goes.  Seriously.  Don't. 

3-  Take my kids to the library weekly and have 'reading parties' at home after each visit.  We usually go to the library a lot in the summer, but this year I'm adding the reading party to make it more fun and have calm afternoons.  A reading party is really just sitting around with free range snacks and all reading our own books on blankets, etc...

4-  Finish and publish my cookbook.  I've mentioned it in passing before.  I'm publishing a cookbook!  It's been a long time coming.  The end is near.  Thank goodness.

5-  Preserve all my garden produce so nothing gets wasted.  Seriously.  Share, can, dry, freeze, it needs to be a priority.  I'm great at getting to my tomatoes every year but not necessarily everything else.

6-  Take the kids to grandma's pool more often.  I'm not putting a number of visits on this one.  More often will be better than the 'next to none' last year.  I am hoping to get it done once a week though.

7-  Clean out the garage.  I semi did this in January so I'm hoping this will be a quick 1-2 day job. 

8-  Deep clean the girl's room.  I'll be packing up their room again like I did last summer - just to get rid of stuff.  But they will be cleaning it top to bottom.

9-  Redecorate my son's room.  He's promoting from 6th grade to middle  school next week and he still has the Where the Wild Things Are motif I painted everywhere when he was a baby.  It's way past time to update his room. 

10- Have a good trip with the family.  We're heading to Northern California for my husband's 20 year class reunion.  It's just a 4 day trip, but I am hoping to be present, not doing any business, and enjoying nature with them.  That sounds easy, but we leave the day after the Teachers Pay Teachers conference ends.  I know I will have a ton of stuff going through my head that I will be motivated to work on and think about.  It will be a struggle for me to fight that natural motivation instead of work with it.  

So those are my top ten.  There are tons of other things I'm not ignoring.  I hope to continue my kids cooking lessons, do a small scrapbook retreat, get my kids science fair project done ahead of time like we did last summer (which rocked when schools started), teach my girls to sew, and much much more.  But if I get these top 10 things done I will count summer as a success.  Wish me luck!

I actually counted everything on my list and there were 127 things.  I'm not even sure how to react to that. 

What's on your 'must do' list this summer?  I'd love to know! 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Teacher Appreciation Lunch - A Late Post

If you didn't know, I am no longer in the classroom.  I write for TPT, I sub at my kids' school, I occasionally do intervention or trainings, but mostly I am almost at my kids' school as a volunteer and part of the PTA there.  As a result of missing teaching and being in PTA, I almost always volunteer for the jobs that encourage and thank the teachers. That's really where my heart it right now.  This was my first time taking over the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon. 

I had fun.  The teachers had lots of positive comments.  And, most importantly, they seemed to look relaxed and happy leaving the lounge after lunch that day while sipping drinks from colorful cups with palm tree straws.  ;)

So here's what I went with.  It was a Lorax Luau theme.  It combined a tropical theme with Dr. Seuss.  Don't ask me why, it's a long story. 

I started before teacher appreciation week with these invitations.  (We had just paid for a new playground'll see why that's pertinent when you read the invitation poem I wrote).  Forgive the sad picture from my phone in poor lighting.  I only remembered to take the pic as I was sticking them in teacher boxes,

We catered it from Ono Hawaiian BBQ, who provided some delicious aloha chicken, green salad, rice, and crab Rangoon.  I also make a tropical fruit salad, Hawaiian rolls and pineapple cupcakes with coconut buttercream frosting to go along with it.  We had tropical iced tea and Hawaiian punch to wash it all down.  Hawaiian music played softly in the background.  All I forgot was to scent the air with something tropical.

Little Lorax faces peeked out from several places all over the lounge, including the menu at the door:

And speaking of the door, we had to set the stage right away, so this is what welcomed them on the outside, and we greeted them with leis and "aloha"s on the inside.

Here's a closer look at what the blurb said:

I didn't do a very good job at capturing the truffula trees I made and put in clusters all over the lounge; but, you can see one group of them by the supply room door and you can see the tropical decorations in this shot.

At the end I donated the truffula trees and some Lorax pots (you'll see them soon) to some primary teachers who do a lot on Read Across America Day.

At the food table we had silverware wrapped and placed in the Lorax pots:

And another Lorax pot was by the door with truffula pens to give teachers as they left.  There was a message with the pens about how in the story of The Lorax the truffula trees were an invaluable resource that made the forest and all its inhabitants thrive, and that they (the teachers) were like the truffula trees, an invaluable resource, key to making our children thrive. 

And that was it!  I hope they felt loved on and appreciated!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer Bridge Practice for Fourth Graders Going to Fifth Grade

Stop the summer slide and bridge the gap between fourth and fifth grade with this summer practice pack!  Math, reading, writing, grammar, research, science, social's all here!  There's also a parent letter explaining the packet and the importance of keeping the brain active over summer, a reading log, suggested reading list, and much more!


This is one of those projects I've been working on for a while.  It seemed to go on and on and on.  I'm finally finished and it's available to you in my TPT store!

Every subject is covered and it is all stuff a fourth grader should be able to do independently (other than a parent possibly driving them to a library) and uses items from around the house.  

Just copy and send it home!

Get yours now!