Thursday, October 5, 2017

Classroom Organization 2017

Finally settling in to a new school year.  Processes and procedures are being followed (mostly) and I marvel at how quickly the students adapt to new routines, once you spell them out clearly and reinforce expectations.
I had a doctor's appointment today and I took a moment's look around the room, appreciative of its "labeledness".  Yes that is a word.  And I really like that word.  I think that if you can make things easy to find for others who come to your room, you don't have to freak out worrying if you're gone.  Don't get me wrong,  I bribed 3 girls this afternoon with principal praise over the announcements if they could ensure my room was left just as they leave it every day.  A bribe, really, for something they do anyway.
Here are a few of my favorite things (cue Julie Andrews here):

  • I 💚 my 10 drawer rolling cart.
    • When kids are absent or lose their homework, I'll say something like, "Go to the Monday Language Arts Drawer."  And they find it. OR if I copy stuff early, I'll stick it in the drawer already for next week.  These labels really help. You can buy them here in my TPT store.
  • I 💚 the way these journals are organized.
    • They are color coded by class (I see 5 different classes in a day).  I put a marker stripe through the bottom of the sheets and we can see if one is misplaced.  They used to carry their journals from class to class, but somehow 4 journals and a Chromebook and a 3 ring binder were not always making it from class to class.  I keep the journals for my class.
  • I 💚 personal laminator machines. That's me using 3 at a time.
    • They're not all mine!  Just the pink one. ☺ Waiting for stuff to be laminated at school can be painstakingly slow.  I get my sheets at Amazon.  They are 100 for $13.  That's like half the price of other brands.  I've been using Business Source brands for about 7 years now.  Love them!
  • I 💚 that my students get me and my need for organization.
    • This is when they had to put their binders outside my room before recess.  Some stayed behind and organized the binders by color and by type.  I left a note for them.
Are there things that bring you joy in your classroom, besides your students?  Things that you rest your eyes on and your heart goes pitter patter?  I'd love to hear them!
Have a great week! Stephenie

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Are Binders Better than Filing Cabinets?

Are Binders the Way to Go?
My short answer is a resounding YES!
But first, let's look at my evolution from full filing cabinet to organized binders.

For 17 years my big gray filing cabinet was a point of pride.  Each drawer was labeled with a subject, and within, my manila folders were organized-- color coded even.  Whenever my principal moved me to another classroom (which was often, by the way), it was a given that the custodian would load that monstrosity onto a dolly and roll it to my new room.  Voila.  Easy right?

But then I moved to Virginia with my 17 years worth of... you know.  Despite trying desperately to purge materials (class sets, ditto machine purple inked copies-yes I had those, student samples), I still had 3 full white file boxes of folders.  My new room did not have a filing cabinet, nor would one even fit. So I housed those white boxes in the corner of the room.

I met a teacher (thank you Mrs. Pittman!) who went to her closet one day, to pull out a resource I wanted to borrow.  There was a bright white light and I think I heard angels.  Inside of her binders, she had hole punched her files while still inside her binders!
Image result for file folders inside a binder 
It kind of looked like this.  I loved it and immediately chose that the next weekend I would punch holes in everything (including the manila folder) and put it all in binders.  It was lovely, for a time.  My binders would fit on a shelf.  I could color code my binders.  It was great for a couple of years.

Then I got an itch, and I wanted to make everything pretty.  I bought the special printable tabs, used a great font, and made dividers instead.  LOVED it!  But then I found it kind of difficult to find stuff.  Despite being labeled, I had to thumb through the tabs to find what I needed.  

Had to change again, and I think I've found perfection.

Mrs. Pittman and I (thanks, my dear!) used numbered tabs for student data binders.  Everything was so easy to find.  I thought about those days and decided to do that with my binders.  I had to buy one of those 24 tab packs for math (and even then I used 2 binders). I was able to fit my reading into 12 tabs. This weekend I tackled my reading binder.

Look at how easy it is to find stuff!  I had to move my Clarifying section to another binder, but that's word work and that section is growing and growing...

One more look
I know, you're probably thinking it's time for me to go digital.  I just can't do that yet.  I know it's the next step.  Like my disdain for eReaders, I like to be able to physically thumb through materials. Maybe one day, though.

Reading is done.  Math is done.  Writing is done.  Now I just have to do my Seasonal Resources  and Science binders.

Have you stepped out of your filing cabinet?  How do you organize your paper resources?  Have you gone digital?  Share what you've done.  I'd love to hear about it.  🌟

Friday, August 11, 2017

Start Each Class Efficiently

How do you start each day or each block with your students?  Is there a bit of chaos? Does the amount of time you give your students to come in and do what they need to do vary, simply because you are doing last minute preparation right before school or in between classes?  (Been there!) This variance of time, and the location of some of the systems you have in place, may be hindering a smooth start to the day.

I have some ideas to start your class that may help.

I teach 5th grade.  In any given day, 6 different classes of students come through my door (reminiscent of a middle school schedule), one each hour.  Teaching elementary school in Florida for 17 years, I never had that.  The max I ever had was an AM & PM class, or maybe my team shifted 5 or so kiddos for reading groups.  When I moved to Virginia, and started this whole block schedule thing right from the get go, I had to learn how to have smooth and efficient transitions from class to class.  If not, we were starting at a point of chaos, and that, my friends, is not a good way to start.

Here are some easy to implement ideas to make the start of your class or your block run more smoothly and efficiently.

If you think putting the pencil sharpener near the door is a good idea, think again.  In your head, you may imagine the kids coming in, pencils in hand, stopping at the sharpener, and then moving on into the room.  In reality, you create a bottle neck.  Some students are filing in one way, and then other students are moving right back toward the door (after they have put their stuff down) to sharpen their pencils.  Then, they all seem to stop and congregate, impeding any flow of traffic into the room or toward the sharpener.  Move the sharpener towards the back of the room if you can, away from the entry point.  Bonus points to you if you can find a somewhat open place away from desks where a line for the sharpener can form.

For the same reasons above.  Your hope is that they turn in the paper(s) as they walk in.  Reality says, however, they go to their seats to unpack their binder or backpack and then return toward the door area to turn in that paper.  And then, *whoosh* you've got bottle neck, conversations where no one can fit in the door way and no one can get past to turn in the paper(s).  Consider moving your turn in box to another corner of the room away from the incoming students.

This one is my favorite.  I got the idea from my teammates, and then changed it around a little.  Many teachers like to have a Do Now posted up front.  My Do Now screen is multi-faceted and helps with an effective and efficient transition into class.  Let's take a look at one of my screens.  I have one for each class that I teach.  The screen shot is from a SMART board, but I used to use PowerPoint. 
  • At the top is the title of the class (I have one for each subject I teach).
  • Next is what I want them to do.
  • I have 2 timers.  1 set for kids to sharpen pencils.  I give 3 minutes once most students are in the room. (I don't allow pencils sharpening during class. I allow before or after, but not during.  I do provide sharpened old pencils, ones I find on the floor while they last.) The other one is a timer for their Do Now.  Some days are longer, but at least they know how much time they have.  The timer especially helps students who need that kind of reinforcement.
  • A meme.  For some reason, my kids really latched on to Chuck Norris when we talked about hyperbole.  We had Chuck Norris Fridays- a very exciting day!  Some teachers might do a Google search for inspirational memes or inspirational quotes for kids.  My personality dictates that we have a funny and punny meme, or a current event meme.  When we went on a trip to a Colonial farm, I looked up farm memes. The memes get them looking at the board, and may even provide a fun side conversation while kids are filing in.
The timers are an easy thing to add.  In SMART Notebook, click on the little picture with the frame.  Search timer.  Click the "button" that says "Interactive and Multimedia".  Just click and drag to your screen.
Even younger, responsible students can help you by setting the timer (click the arrows up to 3:00) or starting the timer.  Responsible, early students can help collect homework.  Whatever 2 minutes they do for you, that is 2 more minutes you have to your day.

Make their Do Now predictable and as much the same every-single-day.  Like muscle memory, they'll just come in and do it without it feeling like a laborious job.

You running around hair-brained at the beginning of school or class, sets that tone for the rest of class, or the rest of the morning.  Set yourself up for success by having the Welcome Screen or Do Now already written on the board.  Have the homework written on the board already.  Have the Essential Questions or Flow of the Day on the board already. Have the calendar piece flipped and the date already written on the board.  If mornings don't work for you, do this right after school before you leave.  It also helps so much if you are unexpectedly out the next day.  Hooray!  Your homework is written and the classroom board is prepared for the day.

Changing classes every that time just flies by.  I've used an old iPhone, a Fitbit I loaded up with vibrating alarms, and a timer I downloaded on my SMARTboard (note-bad idea, I had to keep resetting it whenever it went off).  Whatever works for you.  I also set mine for 3 minutes before the kids leave.  If it was a timer they could hear, they knew that we still had 3 minutes left and time to pack up.

I hope that you can implement at least one of these ideas to help make student entry into your class a smooth and efficient one.  What other ideas do you have to help start everyone's day more smoothly?✩

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tried it, Loved it!

     I'd like to dedicate my first ever post to those who have have come before me and inspired me to simplify and organize.  
Today, as teachers, we are spoiled with visuals and ideas.  But these ideas come at us a million miles per hour, and we can't try them all at once.
Sometimes I see ideas and I think, "[snicker] Yeah, I tried that.  Hope you can make it work.  Didn't for me."
Other times I think, "BRILLIANT!  Why didn't I think of that?!"
And still other times, "Awesome, been doin' that one forever."

Here is a brief round up of some excellent organizational ideas for my digital life that I've tried and loved.  Links are provided (if they are from another source) in case you'd like to read from the original post.

Organize your Desktop

My desktop version
I saw this idea about using boxes on my desktop and a warm glow came over me.  I simplified it, to have fewer rectangles, but the idea came from Teaching in Wonderland.  The process is simple,
--> Open PowerPoint
--> Insert background (choose whatever you want for the background- I chose a digital paper I had downloaded)
--> Insert shape {rectangle}- play around with the sizes and locations and shadows and colors
--> Insert text on top of your rectangles to name them and change the font
--> I added clip art too.
DONE?  The important part is to save as a JPEG. (Now it's a picture.)I save stuff on my desktop first, then move or trash them when I'm done.  When you right click on the picture file, you'll see Set as desktop background.  Then, move your files into your rectangles, or into your documents folder.  After my first year of doing this, I started getting fancy and made holiday colored backgrounds.

Organize Your Digital Life

   I've always had a pretty good handle on my emails, but I must admit, the inbox got a little out of hand.  Every time I had more than 1 email about a topic, I created a folder for it.  If you're looking for ideas for folder topics, feel free to adopt, adapt, and improve.  Other than 45 email kind of days, it's been working well.
   Google products were pretty much new to me a year ago, and yet I was expected to use Google Classroom and Google Forms like a pro.  My Google Drive was a mess.  Every time I tried to create a folder it said that I might be taking away someone else's access to it.  I was scared to touch it.  I got few pointers from my teaching partners and found this tutorial on Lady Bug's Teacher Files. (Love her!)  Poof!  No more mess on my Google Drive. 

Hope you're enjoying your summer and rejuvenating for the year ahead.
If you've tried any of these or have had success with organizing your digital life, let me know in the comments below.  I'd love to hear from you.