Teacher Secret Weapon

You’ve got the students engaged and excited to complete an activity… they’re reared up and ready to get to work… there is electricity in the air….

Then…

The choir starts….

“My pencil broke!”

“I don’t have a pencil!”

“My pencil won’t sharpen!”

All of that momentum is lost while you try to get the sharpener working… “Does someone have a pencil to lend Susie?” “Who sharpened a colored pencil in the sharpener?”

I have spent a small fortune on sharpeners for my classroom. My school gave me one, and I bought 3. None of them work – except the battery operated one that I keep at my desk. And even then – it is such a pain to get those little broken lead tips out when they get stuck. It’s also battery operated — totally not practical for high traffic use…

CUE the choir of angels… signifying the answer to all of your teacher prayers!

Classroom Friendly Supplies Pencil Sharpener

This pencil sharpener was designed by (and is sold by) a teacher.

Why is it so good??

  • It’s silent
  • Portable (or you can fastened it to a table/shelf)
  • Easy to use
  • Easy to unblock if lead gets stuck (which has only happened to me a couple of times in the last month and a half!)
  • It sharpens pencils to a perfect point! (not only is the point nice and sharp – but it’s a strong point… It’s the second week of school, and I haven’t had to sharpen any pencils!!! Crazy, right? I know we’re not using the pencils as much as we will – but we have definitely been using them… and with other sharpeners I’ve had to resharpen within the first hour, let alone the first week!)
  • It comes in a variety of CUTE/FUN colors!!! (Okay okay – nothing to do with how well it sharpens, but still a valid point!)

I also absolutely loved the packaging that it was delivered in…

pencil sharpener learning wholeheartedly

It also came with care instructions and directions for use.

I was super excited to get this sharpener – but it exceeded my expectations.. which I didn’t think was possible!

I highly recommend you check out the website… and rather than waste money on yet another electric sharpener… invest in this amazing sharpener, and support a fellow teacher while you’re at it. I think it’s awesome that this sharpener was designed by and is sold by a teacher! Totally makes sense that it would be this awesome! ūüėČ

www.classroomfriendlysupplies.com

(there is also this video for more info)

If managing lost pencils is something you struggle with… stay tuned – I’ll share my solution to that problem soon!

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How to Keep Your Custodians Happy

I don’t know about your custodians, but we have¬†the best custodians around. We are in a 60 year old building (give or take a couple years)…so needless to say, there are many challenges that our custodians have to tackle on a daily basis.

Considering that the custodians have to sweep and clean every classroom floor – the least we can do is make sure that the floor is picked up (that is the strangest American saying in my opinion) and chairs are stacked – so that sweeping is as simple as sweeping should be.

That being said…

Teachers have SO much on their plates too – the least important of which is picking up the floor (I really can’t get the image of someone literally trying to pick up a floor out of my head).

Enter…..¬†Mystery Trash.

Mystery Trash game

Sometimes I have to play a second round, because the mystery item is not cleaned up and time ran out. Sometimes we keep going until the room is¬†spotless.¬†There are no steadfast rules – I’ve known teachers who don’t even pick a piece of trash until the room is almost clean… I can’t live on the edge like that. Although, sometimes I miss my item being cleaned up and my students get an opportunity to demonstrate trustworthiness.

I generally play this game during dismissal, but you could do a 20 second round of Mystery Trash as a transition between lessons, before lunch, or after a particularly messy activity. The possibilities are endless.

There is nothing more satisfying than seeing students put ANYTHING and EVERYTHING away…they straighten… they tidy…. it’s AAHHHMAAAZING!!

Have you ever played Mystery Trash or a version of it? 

If so, does it work for you? If not, do you have a different way to get students to help clean up?

Disclaimer: I’d love to say that we don’t have to play this game… that my students take such pride and ownership in our classroom that the extrinsic reward¬†is never necessary… but let’s be real…. that’s still a work in progress, and if I ever get that buy in to the same degree¬†as “Mystery Trash” … I’ll be sure to share how I did it. If you’ve done it…please feel free to share!!!¬†

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Starting a Student Led Class Blog

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  • Check in with your administrator. Make sure that they understand your vision for the blog and that they are on board.¬†
  • Introduce your students to the idea of a blog – read some student/class blogs with the students and have them identify what makes a good post good. Also discuss commenting and set some guidelines.
  • Decide on a platform – we used edublogs because it’s easy to connect with other class blogs, teachers, and students. But you could use any site that you feel is appropriate for your students and district.
  • Set up the blog – write an introduction piece.
  • Send home media release forms (so that you can include photos of students) – I adapted the social media release forms from Great Minds Teach Alike. If you are signed up for my newsletter, you should have received a free copy of my EduBlogs media release from – if you have not signed up yet, what are you waiting for?
  • Add a contributor account (if you go to “add users” you should be able to add a contributor) – this way you will have to approve posts and comments… students will not be able to post online without you reviewing it first.
  • Consider what your first posts will be.
    • We went with a book review created in Wixie – that way I saved the Wixie pages as images and just posted them for the students.
    • Our first “real” posts were group posts
      • Groups decided on a topic and divided up subtopics
      • Each individual wrote their portion/paragraph, revised, edited
      • The group came together to put all the paragraphs together
      • A student typed up the post
      • Another student checked it for errors
      • A student searched for an image to go along with the post
  • Last, students should comment on one another’s posts and respond to commenters.

You can read my student-led class blog here. We’d love for you to leave some comments.

Do you have a class blog?

What have you found to be the most important thing to ensure it is meaningful?

If you have a tech tip or suggestion to share – feel free to join my link up below. If you’d like to add the link up button to your blog – you can get the InLinkz code¬†here.

What You Need to Know About Plickers

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As teachers we all know how important it is to take the temperature of the room. To figure out if our students are following along and understanding the lesson. But, sometimes that can be difficult – we can do a “thumbs up, thumbs down” or “vote with your feet/toes” or even an every student response with white boards. However, there is an easier, more effective, and more efficient way to do this. There is an app called Plickers that has changed the way I check for understanding in my classroom.

1-class using plickers-001

In this post you will find:

  • Pros & cons to using plickers
  • Ideas for using plickers in your classroom
  • Student reviews about plickers
  • What you need to know in order to use Plickers tomorrow (checklist freebie included)

Plickers Pros

 

Plickers Cons

Ways You Could Use Plickers in Your Classroom and at Your School:

  • formative assessments
  • take the temperature of the room (surveys)
  • self reflection (I use them with this daily outcome recording/reflection sheet)
  • lunch choice count collection
  • check in during rotations (from across the room)
  • staff surveys

2-Students review Plickers-001

I recently did a Periscope tutorial on Plickers. In this 10 minute video you will learn¬†everything you need to know in order to start using Plickers in your classroom¬†tomorrow! You can also use this checklist (a freebie only available to my blog followers/readers) to ensure you’ve done everything you need to do before trying it out (it’s not complicated at all). For other exclusive freebies – be sure to sign up for my monthly newsletter!

**If you’ve read this far – you deserve a special tip: I write the letter choices on the back of the Plicker cards (very very small) to help students ensure they put the correct letter choice up)**

I’d love to hear from you!

If you’ve tried Plickers before – let me know what you used it for and how it went in your classroom. If you’ve never tried it – let me know if you’re going to give it a try now…

If you’ve written a blog post on technology in the classroom (doesn’t have to be plickers) — join my link up below. And if you’d like to join up again next month – sign up for my tech link up newsletter here.

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Thanks to Meg @ Meg’s New Box of Crayons for the awesome conversation hearts stock image.

Metamorphosis in Progress…

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I just want to thank you for reading my blog while it undergoes a metamorphosis… I recently changed the title of my blog, from Mrs B (4th Grade Teacher) to Learning Wholeheartedly. Now I’m in the process of updating my blog with my new colors, logo, header, etc. More on that in a little bit, first, I’d like to provide some background on the name change.

I have loved learning for as long as I can remember. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did not always love learning in the traditional sense. Up until 7th grade I was an average student – maybe slightly above average. I was always in the top class, but never really put much effort into my academics until high school. That being said, I was always interested in “self-help” books (now more preferably labeled personal development books). From a very young age I would browse this section of our public library. I have always been hungry to learn new things – especially things that would help me grow as a person.¬†

I have also always hungered for human connections. I look back on my days at school and although I did not get along with everyone all the time, I did develop friendships with many different groups of people. I believe I’ve always tried to be authentically me, and live wholeheartedly. ¬†As I get older, and read more books and meet more like-minded people, I feel like I’m developing a better understanding what that means. This is also why I’m 100% content with turning 30 years old this year… because I feel more ME than I’ve ever felt!! I can’t wait to share more about this journey of wholehearted living (and teaching – because it definitely comes out in my teaching too) with you.¬†

This is another reason why I am so grateful to have made the friends that I have made through periscope, blab, instragram, and teachers pay teachers. One of those friends is Ashley (Ms. Idealistic) from Canada.

Ash¬†is one of the most down to earth persicopers that I have had the privilege of getting to know. She also happens to be a tech and design guru!! She hosts a weekly blab with the iteachtvnetwork called Teaching Tech, every Tuesday at 8pm (EST). Ashley is also one of the most generous and helpful people I’ve met! She designed my logo, my header/banner, and my new signature – and has been SO helpful with my whole “rebranding” – giving me great advice and collaborating with me (which is not easy, since I really struggle with making decisions). If you are on the market for a new logo or just want some design or coding advice – please please check out Ms. Idealistic’s shop here!! She is amazing to work with and very reasonably priced!!

I am so excited for the future of this blog and cannot wait to connect with you more and hopefully collaborate with you! If you’re interested in joining my monthly tech link up – you can sign up for the newsletter here, or read more about it here.

I’d also love to get some feedback on my blog as it continues it’s metamorphosis… What do you think of the name change, the new header, logo, etc?

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How to Change Your Students’ Lives

Isn’t this the big questions all teachers want to know? I know this is why I got into the profession – because we have such an amazing opportunity to shape the future leaders of our world. To help mould young children to become happy, kind, educated, passionate, and driven adults who can make a difference.

As a teacher, I know the feeling of despair when you have one or two (or five, or six) students in your class that you just can’t seem to reach. They’re the ones that keep you up at night, or have you in tears at the end of the day. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we can at least make a difference in the lives of 85% or 90% of the students in our class that year.

But, what if I told you that the GREAT teachers make a difference in 100% of the students lives in their class. I’m not talking about the standard “difference” teachers make by simply doing their jobs – I’m talking about substantial, life changing difference. What they do is not rocket science, and it’s not a secret…

Kim Bearden is one of those GREAT teachers.

If you don’t know who Kim is, I’ll give you a very brief overview – she is the cofounder of, and an ELA teacher at, the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is also one of the most self-reflective, self-aware, passionate, whole-hearted people that you will ever get to know. 

You can get to know Kim through periscope (or watch her past broadcasts on katch.me) and through her book Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me

Kim bearden 0

It is through this book that I have found the “recipe” for changing students’ lives. I think we can mostly agree (I wish I could say all, but I know that there are some nay-sayers) that the Ron Clark Academy is making a difference, and there are many many teachers who dream of recreating that magic in their classrooms and schools around the world. Well, in Crash Course, Kim gives us a very intimate glimpse into what the Ron Clark Academy is all about, and how any teacher willing to put in the work, can recreate that magic.

I’m going to start by giving you a brief review of the book itself, then I’ll share some of the key takeaways that I had while reading. Last, I’ll outline the things that I’m going to do differently to help bring some RCA magic into my classroom and school.

About Crash Course:

The book is organized into 17 short chapters. With topics ranging from creativity and improvisation to faith and generosity. Each of these chapters includes vulnerable stories from Kim’s life. She is very transparent and honest in her writing, and never claims to have all the answers. These stories help the reader not only connect with Kim and her students, they are the backbone of the book – the life lessons her students taught her. They also helped me as a teacher, formulate a more detailed dream for my students. Every chapter ends with a bullet list of the chapter’s important points and homework. The homework lists 2-4 steps you can take to help with that area of your life and work as an educator. They are practical ways for you to reflect on the chapter’s lessons and synthesize what you learned and how you can apply it.

My Biggest Takeaways:

  • The recipe for recreating the magic at RCA: passion, creativity, rigor, and the importance of giving back to the community
  • The teachers at RCA are human… they’ve all been exactly where we are, they’ve made mistakes, they’ve struggled, and they still do
  • The students at RCA are just like my students and your students – Kim shares how new teachers at RCA always seem surprised to learn that the students’ transformation into what we all think of as “Ron Clark Academy students” begins with the teachers
  • The teachers have very very high expectations for their students (and themselves)- and accept nothing but their best efforts. They are also willing to do anything and everything it takes to make sure that every student reaches those expectations. The chapter on expectations was my favorite, and you can hear Kim talk about it here.
  • The school also fosters a culture of creativity, magic, play, and family. Kim writes about how schools today often destroy students’ sense of wonder… isn’t that heartbreaking?
  • We need to teach students in a way that prepares them for the world – they need to learn how to communicate not only their academic understandings, but their insights, their feelings, and their beliefs as people. They also need to learn how to handle the challenges that the real world will bring them – we need to teach students about race and culture and how it “will affect their reality”.
  • To reach all students, we need to take the time to get to know each and every single student. We need to find their gifts, nurture their creativity, and identify their fears. We need to ask them what they love, and then design lessons around those things. We need to sit at their desks and see life from their perspective. We need to start fresh every day – do whatever it takes to get every student excited about learning.
  • The smallest gestures can become the tiny seeds that will one day grow into amazing trees. What you say to students (through words or body language) matters. Taking time to get to know students and their families matters. Taking time to create special moments and memories with (and for) students matters.

Each and every one of these points (and many many more) are elaborated on in the book – with stories to help you understand how important they are and how they can change students’ lives. These points don’t even begin to do the book justice – if any of them resonate with you… do yourself (and your students/teachers) a favor and read the book.

My Personal Action Plan:

  • Develop deeper more meaningful relationships with my students by
    • taking the time to think about how each of them feels in my classroom, at school, at home
    • taking the time to ask them what they love
    • making it clear that I believe in them by holding them to high expectations
    • making each and every one of them feel like they are my favorite student
    • finding their unique gifts and talents
    • being intentional with my comments and compliments
    • finding out what their fears are, and helping them overcome those fears
    • letting students know that every day is a clean slate – when I “fuss” at them, once it’s done, it’s done
  • Create more magic in my classroom by
    • brainstorming ways to make lessons more magical (think classroom transformations, even on a smaller scale – simulations)
    • playing more
  • Teach my students how to support one another by
    • modeling how to encourage others
    • teaching them about other cultures
    • helping them help the community
  • Seek out relationships with people who fill my soul by
    • evaluating current relationships
    • spend more time with people who inspire me
  • Be more grateful by
    • keeping a gratitude journal & writing in it daily
    • letting others know I’m grateful for them
    • praying more

 

Now for some real talk…

I know that this is going to take a great deal of time and effort. Time out of my personal life… time that I will not be paid for. The effort required will be tough to give, because the results are going to take time. I know that if I dedicate myself to this – there will be times that I will want to give up.

I also know that there will be more tears, and many many sleepless nights. Because let’s face it, when you open your heart and make the effort to develop these deep and meaningful relationships with students – you are opening up yourself to hurt and failure. You’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Some of our students face very difficult lives, and I know that I will learn things that will break my heart, some of them will treat me badly. Also, I’m not always going to be enough. What I can do in my classroom (and out of it) will not always be enough.

But… this is why I became a teacher. I didn’t become a teacher to help students pass a test. I didn’t become a teacher to have fun with students from 8 – 3pm. I became a teacher to change lives – it’s my passion, it’s my calling, and I believe the difficult times and the failures I’m bound to experience are worth it. Because at least I can say I truly tried, I gave it my all.

If you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes, what’s the point?