Sunday, August 31, 2014

S.T.E.M. Lessons POP! and FREEBIES

Are you familiar with S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering & Math) Lessons?  To be honest, I knew it had to do with science, but I didn't know much else about it.  Enter one very curious, engineer-loving little boy into my classroom this year (my son, Jack) and I decided it was time to learn MORE and to add some of these type lessons to my classroom.  (I mean, who doesn't need a quick and easy way to get kids excited about learning?)  
Waiting, waiting….and then POP!

I read a lot online about STEM activities and, of course, went to TpT to see what was offered.  That's when I found the Science Demo Guy…let's just say he's awesome!  He gives you everything you need in one, fun lesson (even a video demo that explains the science behind the activity)  I used his FREEBIE found {HERE}!
My kids were BEYOND excited!!  First I gathered our supplies (from Amazon).
The activity pack included all the things we needed, including all the standards covered!
We even journaled about what happened!
The page below I created as a beginner page for the STEM activities I plan to do in the future:
This FREEBIE can be found {HERE} with graphics by Graphics From the Pond (who I love!!)
How do you integrate STEM themed activities into your classroom??

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How's School? Autism In My Classroom Update {First Then FREEBIE}

I've been SUPER busy with school, even more so than usual. I decided to teach my son, Jack, this year and was filled with trepidation at the thought.  I am happy report that it's a lot better than I thought it would be, but still a lot of work.  Jack requires a lot of attention, so I find myself battling between giving him the attention he needs and balancing it with the attention the rest of my class needs.  I honestly don't think it is just because he's my son…I think I am showing him the attention that any student on the spectrum requires, but naturally I have a vested interest in his success.  
His first day, he fell asleep in one of the spots I've designated for him to go when he's feeling stressed or under/over stimulated.  The next day he fell asleep on the way home =)
Currently he is obsessed with turrets.  Turrets everywhere, his poor neighbors at his table have learned everything there is to know about turrets and then some more.  
I let him use post it notes, which we quickly decided he needed to use to make a 'post it book' out of and keep in his folder.  Here's a picture of just one side of his area where he'd stuck them:
He struggles with sight words…I mean STRUGGLES…so we drew pictures that meant something to him and posted them in his line of sight.  It must have helped, he made a 90! =)
 Right now I am having to figure out what works and what is acceptable for him to do.  I need to limit his iPad time and so I am using the token board I got from my friend, Erin {from Creating and Teaching} so that when he finishes class work and assignments  (etc) he can add a Creeper.  When he gets 5, he can have 10 minutes of iPad time (as long as I'm not in the middle of teaching.)  Everything is a learning curve.  
He has most of his issues when he goes to specials, so I created a little board (shown below) to help him if he melts down so that he and his teacher have a list of acceptable choices… sometimes just the distraction of talking about the choices calms him.  Each teacher will have a board to use and keep in their rooms.
I also have a ring of choices for meltdowns or stressful times, this is good so that if something comes up and he goes to a class where they don't have a board, I can hand them this…or it is good for him to use with a sub.  Post it notes are for him to draw about what's bugging him, headphones to limit distractions/noise, computer and iPad for reward, and our special ed teacher's door since she's his safe person.
 First/Then Visual Schedules are great for when he's being non-compliant, he gets to choose the "Then" activity….I choose the "First".
I am sharing the First/Then Visual Schedules I made as a FREEBIE {HERE}
Autism Classroom
I tried to take pictures as a concrete example of what the behavior looks like:
Below are the things he can do if he is having difficulty with stress or staying in his seat in my classroom….none of these are for a long time, maybe 5 minutes using a visual timer.  He also understands which is an appropriate choice for what time.  The pillows are actually in laundry baskets under my loft and is his favorite spot for when I am giving directions or reading.  He's listening, he's just not doing it in his desk (and I am ok with that).  Otherwise, he's in his desk, but moving around so much that it is a distraction to everyone, including me…and him.
Here's another choice, I am not sure if it's a keeper yet.  He only uses it for short periods of time and then takes it off his seat, but I have noticed that when he does use it, he is better able to sit still.

He has to have options, especially for sitting.  He has a lot of sensory issues and cannot sit still for very long…so in addition to Brain Breaks, we have several places for him to go if he starts feeling like he needs that stimulation…one other choice is the balance beam from IKEA.  Yes, I got it originally for additional seating at the carpet, but along with my reading loft, it is a great place for Jack to go and sit during class.
What have I learned?  Patience is key.  Being flexible is also important.  You have to understand that his behavior isn't a choice that he's making and that most times when he acts or speaks out, it's because he is feeling frustrated or anxious.  He avoids things that make him uncomfortable.  I've learned that I have to allow alternatives and compromise.  I have to choose my battles and let some things go.  I have to let go of the control.  It's ok if he does his work in the loft….at least he's doing his work.  I have to understand that if he's listening to me reading a book under the loft, not facing me.,. that he's still listening.  If I force the issue and try to make him do the things that I usually expect from "neuro-typical" children, not only will he not be listening or working, but he'll disrupt the rest of the class.  My motto this year, "Don't sweat the small stuff."  I do force the issue if it's something important or educational.  
The other day I handed out a time filler (first one of the year).  It was a little page that had a coloring key. He said he didn't want to do it.  It really wasn't serving an educational purpose, so I let it go.  I told him he could look at one of his science books instead, as long as he didn't disturb the other kids.  Did he try to get out of the other activities that day?  No.  Just the coloring page.  He knows what is important and what's not.  He's just not that into coloring or time fillers.  And that's ok.
We are making progress and although Jack says school is just a 'little bit fun', it's still not that bad. 
I'll take it.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


It seems most of us are getting ready for school to begin, or are like me, trying to survive the first couple of weeks of school.  Anything that will make our life easier is a welcome addition to our classrooms.  BIC sent me a box of goodies that are PERFECT for my classroom of writers and learners.
To help achieve our goal, BIC has launched the “Fight for Your Write” campaign, which reinforces how fun and empowering writing can be. The campaign, which can be found at, offers information about writing and tips from literacy expert Pam Allyn to help parents, caregivers and students make a commitment to write more often.
So now that you’re ready to write—but you need the right tools! BIC’s new back-to-school products help make writing fun, inspiring students to confidently express their thoughts through the written word.   I especially LOVE the KIDS line of writing products designed specifically for children's hands!
I usually start the year off with a lot of labeling activities at my writing station and use that as inspiration for my writing activities later…These pages are from my Back to School Labeling Pack =)  BIC's dry erase markers are PERFECT for labeling!  
Enter to win your own set of BIC writing tools!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ants Close Read {Giveaway}

I've had one of those weekends where I find myself sorta "over" being an adult.  I am wishing my biggest worry and responsibility was doing my homework and whether I can get by not cleaning my room.  Since when did I become the person responsible for EVERYTHING?  When did I grow up?  
I'm just over it.
But, I guess I AM an adult…and I am responsible. 
So between mowing grass with a push mower, insurance adjusters and quotes for our tree removal and storm damage, birthday parties, prep and planning for next week, I also managed to complete my Ants Close Read {here}.

I added it to the Close Read Bundle #1 {here}…so if you purchased that bundle, you can go and download it again to get the new pack.  For those of you that also bought Bundle #2, I appreciate your patience and I should be adding the first pack to it next weekend =)

To go along with my ant close read, why not try out First Grade Parade's "Hey, Little Ant" Activity, which we did this week and my kids LOVED!
 Even my Jack liked it…look what a great job he did:
Let's all have a great week and try to be ok with the fact that we are adults!
Leave a comment if you'd like a chance to win my Ants Close Read =)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Should Kids Play in School? {Stretch and Connect Builders Review}

Lakeshore Learning asked me recently if I would like to review one of their products.  I decided I wanted to try Stretch and Connect Builders, they looked fun and I wanted to breathe new life into my Free-Time Fridays!  Yes, I allow my students to have about an hour of free time on Fridays.  
They play.  They have fun.  They talk.  They laugh.  They interact with each other in an unstructured way.  They enjoy it.  Shhh….please don't tell anyone!
They create.
It makes me sad to know that I feel guilty for letting my kids play.  I think play is one of the most valuable ways children learn, especially in the early grades.  I understand rigor and standards…I understand kids need to learn more than they've ever been expected to learn at an earlier age. I get that it's important.  But so is play!
Ok, I'm getting off my soapbox (temporarily, more of it at the end of this post!!)
Back to the review:
The first one to test them out was Jack.  He didn't really pay attention to the box at first, but once he did, he was SOLD.  He built a turret.  He refused to let anyone take it apart.  I think that means that I made a good choice, don't you?
Then he made adjustments:
Jack tested, Jack approved.  Thank you Lakeshore for giving me the opportunity to try them out and give my kids another way to play!
Now before you go tattling on me about allowing my kids to play, take a moment and watch this 
TED Talk about the four letter word we don't allow in schools enough: PLAY!


Monday, August 11, 2014

Reading Corners {Oriental Trading}

When Oriental Trading contacted me about creating a Reading Corner in my classroom, I was a little surprised.  I know their company mostly for their party supplies and craft goodies…but after visiting their website's special section for Reading Corners, I realized I hadn't been paying very close attention to their site!  I spent a lot of time looking at all the different products and I finally decided to not do just a single "theme"…instead, I wanted to create a space that helps make reading fun!
I got this great circus "Big Top" canopy, perfect for a reading spot…I even got the big, bright pillows from Oriental Trading!
 The reading strips are perfect for kids like my son who need help focusing on a single line of text.
 I found a Cat in the Hat Pointer and Word Swatters, too!
Did I mention that I decided to get a Reading Tunnel, too?  It's perfect for reading…I can fold it up and store it easily and then open it when we need a special spot for reading!
Oriental Trading had everything I needed to create a Reading Corner that reflect my bright classroom…and fun approach to learning!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Classroom Reveal 2014 {Meet the Teacher FREEBIE}

Ok, so here it is (so far)…we started school last Thursday and I figured I needed to go ahead and share the pictures before my room gets that "lived in" look!
My new balance beam from IKEA works perfectly for seating at my carpet area:

All my rugs are from IKEA!
My new desk pockets…I am IN LOVE with them!  They are from Really Good Stuff {here}
IKEA's rug and balance beam are perfect for my Word Work Area!
 Listening station:
Math Cart:
My writing station:
 Letters and Sounds:

 The loft:
 Word Work:
Behind my desk:
My guided reading table:
Station Rotation Chart:
The chalkboard banners and frame are from Hobby Lobby.
The banner over my windows is from Target's Party Section.
For Meet the Teacher I got my students large magnets that I found at Dollar Tree and attached a tag that says, "Let's Stick Together in First Grade!"  They were a huge hit as the kids were occupied walking around the room trying to see what was magnetic and what was not.
I created a file that has a tag for 1st, 2nd, and Kindergarten…and a generic "Our Class" tag…Get your
And my hallway displays (previously shared on instagram)
And yes, there are only 16 names…and 2 haven't come yet, so my roll is actually 14 right now =)  I can't complain!
I hope you enjoyed this year's tour of my classroom and that I didn't bore you too much!
Oh, and if you have purchased my Dice Games Bundle, do download it again, I just added the Back to School Pack!  You can find the bundle {here} and the new pack {here}
One more picture, me and my favorite first grader: