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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: Behavior Management (part 4)

It's hard to believe my post on behavior management has turned into a 4-part series, but I'm glad it did. Behavior management, in its entirety is the single most important aspect of teaching in my opinion. So here we go with Part 4: strategies I use with individual students rather than a class as a whole. 

I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating that I currently teach a student population that has some significant behavior challenges. In the first 7 years of my teaching I taught in a very different environment and did not use or need any of these strategies that I am sharing with you today. Yes, I recognized and redirected individual students, and even had individualized behavior plans for a few students, but I did not have a need for a systematic way of rewarding, redirecting, or correcting students individually. I used only a whole-class system and that was enough. But the majority of my current students do not get much affirmation, attention, or established and implemented boundaries at home. I found that whole-class systems were not enough to enable my students to feel secure and loved, no matter how much I tried to communicate that informally. So after 6 months of struggling and a winter break full of intense reflection, I implemented not 1, not 2, but 3 new systems to deal with students on an individual level. One is for correcting, one for redirecting, and one for affirming. Most of them are stolen from or inspired by other sources, so please make sure you check out the links for each one to find out more detail about the individual ideas.

So let's start with correction. One of the systems I wanted to implement was a way to guide students in reflecting on their behavior, and also communicate behavior issues to parents, homeroom teachers, and the principal if needed. An online search turned up quite a few wonderful ideas for behavior reflection sheets and notes home. I wanted something that would be quick and easy to fill out and also reinforced my 3 class rules, so I took the ideas from a lot of different sources and came up with this:

At first I intended to have students fill the form out themselves, but I quickly found that when a student is dis-regulated, they just create more disruption when I try to have them sit and write about their behavior in class. So I have switched to filling it out myself, then using it to talk about and reflect on the behavior with the student. We both sign it in front of each other after the student has agreed to what I wrote (and sometimes we make changes after our conversation), and then the student takes it home to have it signed. I usually show the homeroom teacher the slip before I hand it to the student so that I can quickly communicate the issue to them without discussing it in front of the class while they are standing in line. If I have to send them to the principal's office or somewhere else for their behavior, I send the note with them as a way to communicate the issue. Usually the principal signs the note as well in that case.

I have found that the most important part of the implementation of this system is the follow-up. I tell students they have a week to get the signed note back to me. I try to remind them several times when I see them in the hallways etc, and when it is approaching a week I remind them that if they don't get it back to me I will be calling home. When I first started I had several students try to call my bluff but they quickly found out that I wasn't lying. Once I speak to the parents, I usually have no issue getting the notes back the next day. 

The second system I implemented is for redirection. I use this for minor behavior problems, as a warning. If they get a warning and then continue to have issues, I move on to the behavior slip. This is a popular idea making the rounds on Pinterest called the resting spot:

It's not pretty but it does the job. I got the idea first from Mrs. King's Music Class. I have a sign with a big picture of a rest (which I have found has really made it much easier to introduce the rest sign to my kindergarteners because they have seen it so much already!), and a desk in the far corner of my room. Our district uses an emotional literacy program that includes the idea of a "meta-moment", where students think through how they should respond appropriately to conflict. I have the poster for that concept taped to the desk for students to reference.

I try to make it clear that students should not see this as "punishment" or make it a big deal, but rather take it as an opportunity to reflect on and modify their behavior for themselves. In keeping with our district's program, students are also free to go there on their own if they feel themselves getting frustrated and want to prevent inappropriate behavior.

I have found this system to be very helpful, with one caveat- I have had to tell some classes that if they over-use it, I will take away the privilege of having the rest area. I had one class last year that I actually forbid from using it, because students were constantly getting up and dramatically stomping over to the rest area out of supposed frustration, causing more disruptions to the class. I also make sure students understand they cannot stay there for a long time. I can usually tell when a student is just being lazy and wanting to get out of doing class work, and I will remind them that they need to rejoin the class again.

My third system for managing individual student behaviors has been, hands down, the most effective behavior management tool I have ever used. It is called the "happy note" and I got mine here as a free download from Kristin Lukow. It was so successful that, at our last staff meeting last year, several of the homeroom teachers and the principal were talking to the entire staff about how effective it was for their students.

The note is simple but the effect is powerful. I choose one student at the end of every class period and fill out a note. I write their name on the front and a specific praise on the back, and announce it to the entire class before they leave. The students go crazy for these things, and I have heard from several students and parents who have told me that they have their note proudly displayed at home. Students will often parade it around at school as well- pulling it out of their pocket to show their friends, their teachers, the principal, and anyone else who happens to walk by. :) I have quite honestly been amazed at the power of this tiny note!

One of the big improvements that I have been able to make this school year is getting the support of the homeroom teachers. I went around to every classroom before school started, explained my system, and asked if they would be willing to reinforce the behavior with consequences in their homeroom. Although the response was not uniform, every teacher agreed to reinforce it in some way- by having students move up or down levels (if they use a clip-chart) for behavior notes and happy notes, or adding or subtracting points (if they use a banking system), or taking away and adding minutes (if they do some sort of "fun Friday" or other free time system). Many of the teachers have also been very helpful in following up with parents when I send home a behavior slip, stapling it into the student's agenda notebook or including a note in an email home. With so many students to manage, it has been very helpful to have their help and support, and also added some weight to the rewards and consequences beyond their short time in music class.

If you want to read about the rest of my behavior management systems, click on the behavior management category on the right side of the blog page and check out all my previous posts on the topic.

What systems do you use in your classroom to address students individually? Leave a comment!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mommy Monday: talking to children to encourage self identity

Today's Mommy post is going to be a little bit different, but it is about an issue that I care deeply for so bear with me while I philosophize for a bit. To give you a quick background: I am a single mother to twin girls who are currently 2.5 years old.

I have been making a conscious effort for the past couple of years not to say things like, "you are so silly/smart/strong", "you're a good girl", "you're such a good reader/cook/helper" or "you are a big girl now". When you start noticing them, it is crazy how many times those comments are made to children. It seems that the default way to praise children is to point out the positive character trait ("you're so strong etc") or maturity ("you're so big") they are demonstrating.

At first glance these comments seem perfectly harmless- wonderful even. Adults are noticing a child's positive actions and praising them, encouraging and fostering those character traits. And I do not doubt that the people who make these comments to my children, or any other child, are doing so out of love. I hope that my girls will also take those comments that way for the rest of their lives.

But I think when adults say these things, it sends two subtle messages: 1) that the child's actions define who they are, and 2) that the adults around them define who the child is for them.

I am a people-pleaser. I am the oldest child in my family and I grew up as a preacher's kid. I think very highly of my parents and have a wonderful relationship with them to this day, but those two realities of my life made me susceptible to finding my self-worth and identity in others, especially the important adults in my life (my parents first and foremost, and my teachers and other important adults secondarily). I am very aware of this aspect of my character, and want to do my best to discourage this trait in my children, because I believe that it has hurt my self-worth and inhibited and twisted the development of my self-identify as well.

Let me give a concrete example to demonstrate the difference I am aiming for. Let's say one of my girls did a somersault for the first time (which yes, she did recently, thank you very much). If I say, "Wow! You're so strong!", my child starts to understand that when she achieves a new physical skill, others see her as a strong person. If I tell her, "Wow! You just did a somersault!", my child hears the acknowledgement of her effort and accomplishment and feels proud of what she did, but is not defined as a person by that action. What if she tries to do a handstand next and she can't get it? With the former comment, she may see herself as a failure- she is a strong person and should be able to do these things- or she may even feel a loss of identity, because if she cannot perform a physical task she is no longer the person that I told her she was. With the latter comment, it is simply a failure of a particular task (and dealing with failure would be another topic for another time) rather than a failure of her person or identity.

This phenomena becomes even more apparent when you add the twin element to the mix. When I tell one child that she is strong because she did a somersault, but the other child can't do one yet, she starts to think that she must not be strong. In this case, she is probably less likely to keep working at physical skills, because she is not a strong person. There is real danger in this scenario because twins (and siblings of different ages, to a lesser degree) compare themselves to each other (and others compare them to each other as well). It is very easy for a child to lock themselves into a particular identity, like "I am the sporty one and she is the artsy one".

Focusing on individual accomplishments and events ("you did" statements), rather than defining a child's identify by their actions ("you are" statements), gives children the freedom to continue exploring all facets of development and learning without feeling like certain things are "their area" and others not. It has been shown time and time again that when a person sincerely believes they can do something, they usually will, and if they believe they can't, they usually won't.

This aspect of defining who a child is and what they are good at comes into play in school as well. If I respond to a child who answers a question correctly by saying, "You're so smart!", the focus is on that child's identity, not on that particular accomplishment. This mindset can lead to the idea that some are born smart and some aren't (or at least that we are "smart" in different subject areas), and that innate trait will determine whether or not we are successful (there have been several studies on this that I find really fascinating- you can read a little about them here).

As a mother, I want my children to develop their identities through a life-long process of discovery- not by listening to what others (including me) tell them to be. I want them to find joy in little triumphs every day- not because it proves to me or anyone else that they are worthy, or have a certain desirable characteristic, but because they accomplished something. And that is enough.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Guest Post: Blogging 101

Hi everyone! Today I'm excited to introduce you to a wonderful blogger: Jennifer from The Yellow Brick Road! I found her blog last year and felt that as a teacher I could relate to so much of what she shared, and got quite a few awesome ideas from her as well. This summer Jennifer decided to become a full-time teacher-author/blogger, and she has shared some fantastic tutorials on her blog for blog design, so I wanted to invite her to come and share some of her top tips for blogging. Having started this blog not too long ago myself, I am excited to hear her advice. After you read her post here, don't forget to head on over to her blog to find more awesome ideas for music teachers and bloggers! Enjoy!

First, I would like to thank Elizabeth for inviting me to be a guest on her blog. I'm thrilled to share my ideas with all of you in my first venture as a guest blogger!

Today I'll be sharing what I've learned about blogs as a long-time reader and author. Long ago, in my first years of teaching, music education blogs were a haven for newbie music teachers like me. I've since moved beyond that frightening first year, but I continue to value the many benefits that blogs bring to my life, including real-life experiences, teaching tips, and amazing ideas for the classroom.

Back when I was an avid blog-reader, I tended to have a lot of questions about how to start blogging. Today, I'll be dissecting some of those questions, along with questions I've heard repeatedly from others. Whether you're a reader, author, or blogger-in-training, these ideas will help get you started in one of my favorite music teacher resources: blogs.

Why should I continue to read blogs, and why might I choose to author my own blog?

When you consider the wealth of knowledge that comes from real-life experiences of music teachers from around the world, reading blogs is the most cost-effective professional development you'll ever receive. I've learned about classroom management, music technology, curriculum development, assessment tools, and many other best practices, all by reading music education blogs. As an added bonus, many blogs offer music resources and freebies that you can immediately implement into your own classroom.

Reading blogs also prevents the social isolation that many music teachers experience in their first years. When I was teaching elementary music, I often felt as though I was on my own little, musical island. After becoming a follower of several music education blogs and connecting with other teachers through social media, I discovered that my experiences were shared among a large group of music teachers from all around the world. It made me feel less alone and helped me to feel more confident about the decisions I was making for my own elementary music program.

As a teacher, what are the benefits to becoming a blog author?

Writing about your experiences as a teacher is a great way to reflect on your practice. When I write an entry about how to play a rhythmic game or how to manage the classroom, I'm forced to reflect on my efficiency as a teacher. Through your writing, you're held accountable by your readers to present ideas that are both thorough and effective. Through this type of self-reflection, you learn to improve your craft and fine-tune every detail of your lesson.

Blogging is more than just improving your teaching; however, it's also a way to share your knowledge with others. You may be surprised to discover that what seems like a simple idea to you is considered a breakthrough by another teacher.

Below is a short list of blogs and the reason why their authors continue to share their thoughts with the world.

-To record experiences for family, friends, or the entire world
Love, Teach

-To share ideas and connect with colleagues
The Yellow Brick Road

-To satisfy a desire to write
Laura Writes Stuff

-To earn an income through writing
The Art of Doing Stuff

What would I write about as a blog author?

You've probably heard this before, but it's worth repeating. Write about what you know. The best entries I've ever written are the ones in which I felt the most passionate, hence my own music education blog. Your perspective is unique and valuable. To quote Dr. Suess, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

How do I get started?

To get your blog running, you'll need to choose a platform, such as Blogger, Weebly, or Wordpress. As for the looks of your blog, you can choose to hire a blog designer or purchase a pre-made blog template.

If you're like me, and tend to "learn by doing," you may want to design your own blog. It's not nearly as daunting as it sounds. If you'd like to go this route, you can check out my tutorials here. In these tutorials I take you through designing your blog header step-by-step. I give you tips for choosing a color palette, properly crediting graphic artists, as well as how to create a clickable blog header for your social media icons.

How often should I write in my blog?

I know from personal experience that I won't be consistent in visiting a blog if the author isn't consistent in posting. If a blogger says, "I'm going to post once a week," then I expect them to follow through. Occasionally there are unforeseen circumstances that make writing a post impossible, in which case it's nice to hear from the blog author why posts will be delayed. I value honesty, and I suspect that other readers do too.

If you would like to read more about my experiences with blogging, head on over to The Yellow Brick Road. From there, you can read through old blog posts, sift through free music resources, and even browse my TPT store.

Thank you again to Elizabeth for inviting me to write on her blog and share ideas with her readers and colleagues. If you have any questions about blogging, please don't hesitate to leave them in the comments. I would be happy to continue to share ideas with you!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: Recorder Karate sheet music organization

Welcome back to Teacher Tuesday! I hope you all are having a fantastic start to the week!

Along with many others (as evidenced by the many pins on Pinterest related to the topic), our district has adopted the "recorder karate" curriculum to use with our 3rd graders in general music class. I have my own opinions about the merits and drawbacks of the curriculum, but today I want to talk about an idea I stumbled on last year to keep up with all the sheets of music for students to use when they are working on earning their belts.

If you don't know about the Recorder Karate program, you can read about it here. I used to just keep a file folder with each of the songs in belt order, and when a student passed a belt I would pull out the next song and hand it to them. But that takes up precious time when I could be listening to or helping another student, and it means I have to keep up with a LOT of papers! Enter my new system:

I have this big magnetic chalk board at the back of my room, so I stole obtained some mailing envelopes from the school secretary and attached a piece of construction paper to the back of each one, labeled with the belt color. On other side of the envelope I put some adhesive magnet dots to help them stay on the wall. Then I put all the corresponding papers in each envelope and put them on the wall, with a big magnet on the envelope flap, in belt order.

I really like this system because the students can see where they are in the belt rankings, and they can easily go and get their next paper when they pass a belt without me getting it out for them. It is also something colorful to have on the walls, and the younger students always ask me what it is for (and I tell them that they can find out in 3rd grade, which just infuriates them and makes them want to ask the 3rd graders what they are doing!).

I was also able to put the recorder fingering charts up next to the belt songs. I started with just B, A, and G and added more as students started working on higher belts with more notes in them. If you want the same fingering chart posters, you can find them here from Marti Chandler.

I have plans to spiffy these up a bit to make it pretty, but I love the basic idea of hanging the envelopes and labeling them by belt color. It has definitely made my life easier while we are doing the program in class!

Do you have any tricks for keeping up with all the sheet music for recorder karate? Share your tips in the comments!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mommy Monday: toy storage

Today's edition of Mommy Monday is all about toys! No matter how much I try to whittle them down, my girls always seem to have an over-abundance of toys. And the truth is, they are all so great, I have a hard time getting rid of them. So the result is a lot of stuff that needs to be easily taken out and put away by 2 year olds (you know I'm not doing that for them!) and hopefully not be too much of an eye-sore.

Here's one of my current solutions:

(See what I mean about the over-abundance problem? Groan...)

Pretty much every store has these cube shelves these days. I got mine on Craigslist (originally from IKEA). I also got those different bins on Craigslist- aesthetically it would probably be better to use just one kind of bin, but to be honest I kindof like the eclectic/colorful look, and I am able to use the different bins for different purposes (and also I don't want to spend more money). Here's a look at what's inside those bins:

In the two big wicker bins I have dress-up clothes and accessories in one and stuffed animals in the other. We have quite a collection in both of those categories, so it's nice to be able to use the full space of the cube to hold everything in one place. The down-side (and the reason I wouldn't want to use them for all the toys) is that you can't see what's inside very easily.

The two bigger colored bins on the bottom shelf hold music toys/instruments and kitchen/food toys. Again, we have a lot of each of those, so it's nice to have a bigger bin, but they are easier to see into and easier for the girls to pull in and out.

I think you can see the contents of the two smaller bins on the top shelf in the first picture so I didn't take another- the pink one has our toy cars and the purple one has different stacking and sorting toys (that they have mostly grown out of and I should get rid of but I can't because every now and then they pull them out and get a lot of fun and skill practice out of them). The other two cubes on the top shelf have some of the most-loved stuffed animals and creative play supplies.

I have two more bins on top of the shelf unit- one has all the pieces for our toy zoo and the other has assorted lego-type building blocks. I put them up there originally because the girls couldn't reach that high and I didn't want those toys with lots of little pieces to get pulled out without my supervision. But now that they are bigger and can reach them, I have kept them there because it keeps them a little bit "out of sight, out of mind", and honestly, I still don't want all those pieces pulled out all the time!

The shelves are nice for storing bigger items, and bigger groups of toys, but I also have another storage space for toys on the other side of my living room:

These are the "bits and bobs"- the smaller toys that I want the girls to be able to get in and out separately. The bins, along with the two toys that live on the floor, are behind the glider:

Putting it back there still keeps it within view and gives the girls easy access, but also keeps the room from looking too much like a daycare. I may be outnumbered by toddlers, but I do still have my standards, after all!

These bins have been great for keeping up with all the smaller toys, and the girls have had no difficulty putting them back and taking them out on their own.

The bins are still organized in categories: all the puzzles together, all the balls, all the cups, and all the dolls have their own bin to share.

Sidenote: I have thought about putting labels on all the bins, as I have seen some others do, but I like having the flexibility to change things up if we get a new toy or get rid of an old one, or if I want to draw the girls' attention to something that I think is under-used. And since the girls don't seem to have a problem knowing where to put things, I haven't seen the need. I think having the toys always visible makes it easier to keep up with the system without having to go around labeling everything.

So there you have it- my two main toy storage solutions! I have a few other toy-related ideas to share, but I will save those for another post ;) How do you (attempt to) corral all the toys in your house?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: classroom setup update!

It's Teacher Tuesday! Today I'm rounding up all of the updates I have made to my classroom since I last shared in my post on my classroom setup. There were quite a few projects that I hadn't completed (or even started!) when classes started- I guess it's always a work in progress, right?!? :)

First I would like to introduce you to my now-in-use behavior reward / color-coding board!

I created a few more magnets to use in the color-coded teams section of the board. I made little pennies and nickles (with a big 1 and 5 on them) to give points to different teams. I have told the students that I will not always award a team with a point every time they do something great (win a game, do an activity really well), but I will plan in advance when I want to award a team for a particular activity. It keeps them on their toes a little bit and gives students a chance to "win" in a smaller group, especially for those students who are stuck in a class full of difficult behaviors... if you know what I mean ;) It has also been great to see students connecting with students in other classes and grade levels by finding out they are on the same team. I even had one student report that she and her brother were on the same team so they were relieved to not be competing against each other! :)

The minion magnet shows which team will be leading the class to the door at the end of class. I used a minion because I put minion tape on the floor to show where the students should line up! That has been a huge hit of course.

I also have a magnet for the bass xylophone. I currently only have 1 bass xylophone, and last year it caused major issues every time we played our Orff instruments. People would literally leap over the instruments to get to it, and there would be temper tantrums and tears from students saying they had never had a turn- and I'm just talking about my sixth graders! So I decided to split up the school year into 6 (we are on trimesters so half a trimester each) and give a team "dibs" on the bass xylophone for a period of time. Hopefully this will make it easier for me to keep track of who has had a turn, and it will at least ensure that there are fewer arguments and more people will get turns. I have already used it with a few classes and so far it has made everything much simpler!

My next update is just a little thing. I had been meaning to update the "title" for my dry erase objectives boards ever since I made them last school year, and I just never got around to it. Now it has been updated and it looks so much cooler! :)

This was another little thing but it has made my life a lot easier: I attached my white board markers to the top of the board with velcro dots!

I saw the idea on Pinterest here. I love that it makes the markers last longer because they are hanging upside down. The added benefit for me, though, is that my white board is pretty much on its last leg- literally. The legs are wobbly and shake like crazy every time I have to roll the board anywhere, and the markers were constantly falling off the little shelf on the bottom. Problem solved! I also realized after I did it that now most of my students can't reach the markers, so I don't have to worry about someone using them. And, of course, they only add to my rainbow-ified room now that they are all lined up in rainbow order! :)

Speaking of rainbows... I also finished up my color-coded supplies area!

I color-coded the clip boards and dry erase boards and put half in each milk crate, then labeled the crates with the color teams that store their boards in that box. I also covered up some six packs with black paper and rainbow duct tape to hold my cups with color-coded pencils, white board pens, and crayons:

So far the system is working out well. No missing pencils yet! And it's very easy for me to keep track of who hasn't put things away, and the handing out/putting away process is much faster.

My art teacher colleague had an old mailbox she was getting rid of, so I covered the tags with more rainbow duct tape and labeled them for each class:

I have been using it to hold papers that get turned in, and then I put them back there after I grade them to pass back. After using it I am liking it so much that I may get a couple more- I have a few ideas in mind that I would like to try!

If you follow my Facebook page, you may have already seen this picture:

I am absolutely ecstatic about that minion pillow. I bought some cheap pillows this summer to make a little listening/reading area when I do centers (don't worry, I will pull them out from under the table when they are using them!), including a couple of white ones to decorate with fabric pens. I did the first one (you can see it peeking out behind the yellow pillow) and knew I needed help! My art teacher colleague swooped in to the rescue again and came up with the musical minion idea on her own as well- she handed it to me and I almost did a back flip I was so excited (OK not really because I'm too old for that... but you know what I mean)! Isn't it amazing?!? OK time to stop gushing.

I also got some visuals up in the hallway outside my classroom. The posters you see here are in the main hallway outside my room, and I bought them from Lindsay Jervis here. I love how colorful they are, and they are written in kid-friendly, easy to understand language.

They are the perfect thing for the hallway for any administrators and homeroom teachers to notice as they walk by! :)

Just inside the door to the right of those posters is a small entry hallway with doors to a small "practice room" (which is actually where the instrumental teacher has her pull-out lessons) and my room. I made these up and finally finished printing, cutting, laminating, and stapling. Whew! I do still need to fill in the rest of the wall a bit, but I am glad to have it up before open house rolls around tomorrow!

I think that just about covers it- hopefully things will settle down enough so I don't have to do part 3 for my classroom setup later LOL! If you missed the original post, you can find it here:

Hope you are having a wonderful week!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mommy Monday: dry erase organizers

Happy Monday! Today's ideas have endless possibilities for organizing pretty much anything in your life, whether at home or at work. It is my go-to formula for bringing order to chaos!

I'm talking about dry erase boards made from cheap photo frames, scrapbook paper, and stickers.

Can you tell I am a little obsessed? There are so many directions you can go with this- today I'm rounding up a few of the ones I have made so far to get you started with some ideas.

I have already described these in an earlier post, but I have to start with 2 dry erase organizers that I have in my home command center. The first is a cleaning schedule and check list:

I used the back of the paper that came in the frame already as my white background. I used stickers to mark each day of the week, taped strips of scrapbook paper next to each day, and wrote down the "bare necessities" on a few of the strips. Stick it back in the frame and I can check things off with a dry erase marker each week, or add things to the list on another day if other tasks need to be done that week.

The second dry erase organizer in my command center is a weekly calendar:

I bought an 8-frame collage frame from Walmart for this one, and cut a square of scrapbook paper to fit each frame. I noted the days of the week, and a title "this week", with stickers. I write out anything and everything that is happening that week on this calendar, and I use the title frame as a to-do list. I also attached a pen holder to the bottom to keep a dry erase marker handy at all times!

If you want to know more about how I use these two frames, check out my post on my command center.

I also made a home organizer for my sister who is just out of college, working, and living in an apartment with a few roommates.

I experimented with a white frame and I was pretty happy with the way it came out! She doesn't have as much space to hang things, and she doesn't have as much to organize and keep track of, so I made her organizer a a little differently. She still has space to write down important information for each day of the week, but in a smaller area. I also put a space for just "meals" because she loves to cook, but she doesn't usually plan out when she is going to cook what, and she often cooks a big batch of a recipe and eats it for several days anyway. There is space for a to-do list, and a small space for prayer requests she wants to remember. She has a lot of friends that she likes to stay in touch with, especially from college, and while I knew she wouldn't want to write down much on something that is hanging on a wall in a shared apartment, I thought it would be good to have a place to jot a quick note when she thinks of it or has a conversation with someone.

The next two are for work- the first one is for another friend who is an architect and needed something in his office to keep up with all the projects he is managing.

He needs to keep track of what time he is spending on each project, so this is a way for him to write down the date, time spent, and project name so he can have that information in one place. He also has a big to-do spot so that he can keep track of all the different balls he juggles at work. I picked striped paper for the time sheet portion so that he could look across each column more easily, and I tried to use a more "masculine" color scheme so as not to embarrass him in the office ;)

The next work organizer is in my own classroom:

I use these to post my learning objectives for each grade level. I bought frames at the dollar store, and found some glittery paper on clearance too. I hung them on a pillar next to my teacher's desk, added a title poster and pen holder, and now I have an easy way to keep my learning objectives posted and up-to-date! I have also used the same colors from these frames to color-code anything that I use for all the grade levels (like the classes in my printed schedule). I never even explained these to my students, but they caught on right away. My super-engaged students like to come in and look at the frames to see what we are working on that day. It has definitely prevented some of those, "what are we doing today?" questions that I used to get all the time!

So there you have it- 5 different ways to use a photo frame, scrapbook paper, and stickers to create your own dry erase organizer! I hope this gives you some inspiration to create your own organizer to fit your home or work needs! Have you made something like this before? I'd love to hear about it in the comments, or head on over to my Facebook page and show off a photo!

Happy organizing and enjoy another week :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: hand drum storage

Getting this set up has been a simple but life-changing solution for me (and for my students)! Does anyone else deal with cascading hand drums? I know I did. You know, you stack them up with the smaller ones inside the bigger ones, but when the students go to put them back they have a really difficult time figuring out how to fit them inside each other, it takes too long, you end up just stacking them higher, and then the mountain falls apart 2 minutes after you walk away and move on with the lesson. And then all the students want to spend the next 10 minutes fixing them for you...

I finally came up with this solution from Bed Bath and Beyond, of all places:

It makes my heart happy just looking at that shelf! The smaller drums are stored in pot lid storage racks like this one: 

The larger ones are separated with a shelf like this:

I have used the hand drums with my students several times already this year, and we all love the new system! So much easier to take and put away the drums quickly. How do you store your hand drums? Share your ideas in a comment below!

P.S. Are you following my TpT store yet? Exclusive freebie for my followers coming this weekend!!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mommy Monday: reading nook and a freebie!

It's Mommy Monday again, and today I'm excited to show you my girls' reading nook in their bedroom! My girls love to read. No big surprise- my sisters and I have always been big readers too- and I'm happy that they are continuing the family legacy :) When I was going to be moving into our current apartment, I knew I wanted a reading area to encourage their love of reading. My main problem was that I had a lot of books and not a lot of space. And since I am renting, I couldn't build anything or go crazy drilling holes in the walls. What I have ended up with is a combination of several storage systems for the books, and the girls and I love it!

Their reading area is in one corner of their 10x10 bedroom (the rest of their room is taken up with their 2 beds). I was extremely fortunate to have a group of mothers give us 2 monogrammed oversized Anywhere Chairs from Pottery Barn. They remembered me saying that I was drooling over them but could never afford them, and sent them as a surprise! My fellow mommy friends are truly amazing and I am continually amazed at the bond that we have and the commitment we have to supporting each other. The girls absolutely love the chairs, and they are big enough for us to sit together in one to read together too!

Between one of the chairs and the door I have a small shelf that holds a lamp (the only lighting in the room), white noise machine, and some books. I tend to put the thicker books, and box sets (like the Dr Seuss one in the picture) on this shelf.

In the corner, I have 4 shelves hanging on the walls. These hold the most books, and get the most use, so I rotate books in and out of these shelves. I found the idea on Pinterest to use shelves like this from IKEA to hold books, but apparently IKEA stopped making them. Not to worry, I found similar ones on Etsy. They really are wonderful for toddlers- it is so much easier for them to take books on and off the shelves, and they can find a book they want more quickly because they can see the front cover instead of the spine.

A few books sit on the floor under the wall shelving. We have two big books that have a recording of my parents reading it (SO awesome) that stay there because of their size, and I try to keep books we have checked out of the library there too so I don't lose track of them. We definitely add books to the floor during the week, but I try to pick them up at least once a week so that we can find all of the books without tripping over anything :)

The rest of the books are in one of two baskets like this. We keep the awkwardly-shaped and soft cover books in these since they are hard to put on a shelf. The girls also like to use these to take a whole bunch of books to the couch or their bed. And then dump them out. It is nice to have an easy-access way for them to take a bunch of books somewhere when the mood strikes though :)

And there you have it: our reading nook and book storage solution for my 2-year-old's! It is an ever-evolving system based on what furniture we have and what kind of books we have, but I think it actually works nicely to have multiple systems to accommodate different situations and different kinds of books. How do you store your kids' books? Do you have a reading area for your kids? I'd love to see your pictures too!

As an extra bonus, today I am also sharing an insider secret!

I just recently passed 50 followers on my store at TeachersPayTeachers, and to celebrate, I'm going to be sending all of my TpT followers a free product this coming weekend! If you haven't yet, head on over to my store and click on the green star to make sure you get the freebie. If you don't have an account with TpT, it's quick and free to create one.

I don't know about you, but in my area the holidays are already upon us everywhere I turn. I've seen stores selling tons of Thanksgiving decorations, and even some Christmas things are starting to pop up! Even Starbucks has started selling their pumpkin spice latte... Yep, the season of preparation is definitely approaching. Have you started thinking about the gifts you will be giving this year? I am trying to be more proactive and buy gifts gradually, and it makes me feel so much more relaxed about getting ready for fall and the holidays that follow. But I find myself going through a mental checklist trying to keep track of what I already bought for whom, what gift ideas I had thought of for others, and who I still need to think about. This exclusive follower freebie is ready to help with that! More details to come later this week, but for now head on over to my store and make sure you're ready, and if you know others who would benefit from a more organized, low-stress holiday season, send them the link too!

Happy Monday!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: DIY interactive whiteboard

Welcome back to Teacher Tuesday! Today I'm sharing a tutorial on my biggest school project last year: my DIY interactive whiteboard (aka SmartBoard, Promethean Board etc). I know it sounds crazy to make your own interactive whiteboard, but trust me, it's not nearly as techy and complicated as it sounds, and get this: if you have a projector, this thing will only cost you $50!! That's a lot less than the astronomical amount it would cost you to get a name-brand SmartBoard or other pre-made interactive whiteboard. So it's definitely worth the sweat equity to get it going.

1 Wii Remote (like this one)- around $20
1 Infrared Pen (like this one)- $20-$30 depending on the type you choose
Wiimote Whiteboard software (like this one)- free
Computer with bluetooth capability (or you can get a bluetooth dongle here)
Projector (preferably mounted, but not required)

1. Make sure you have a projector and a space on which to project an image. It can be a regular whiteboard, a projector screen, or even a wall (which is what I used- and actually prefer).

Because my walls are pretty old and yucky, I bought some white contact paper and black painter's tape at Home Depot and put it up on the wall where the projected image goes. It is a nice touch that helps define the space for the students, and it makes it easier to see because you can't see the chipped paint on the wall, but it is definitely not necessary.

If possible, make sure the projector is mounted- and if you can't do that, get it as stable and immovable as possible. The less it moves the better. Connect your computer to your projector.

2. Buy a Wii remote and IR (infrared) pen. Use the links above or you can shop around for your favorite type. There are tons of different pens you can get here, as well as several other online options. You could even make your own pen if you wanted, but no need to dive into that unless you are really up for an adventure! :)

3. Download the correct version of the free software onto your computer to match your operating system (Windows here, Mac here). If you want to explore all the software versions available, you can check out this site, but I recommend sticking with the one already mentioned.

4. Open bluetooth on your computer. Open the back of the Wii remote (where you put in the batteries) and push the red button until you see the Wii remote appear under the list of bluetooth items on your computer. Your remote is now connected to your computer.

5. Open the Wiimote software you downloaded. Hold down the 1 and 2 buttons on the front of the Wii remote at the same time. You may see some text scrolling in a new window- this is good. Keep holding the buttons. When you see a blue bar appear towards the top of the Wiimote software window showing the battery level, you are successfully connected and can stop holding the buttons.

6. Turn on your projector. Set your Wii remote up somewhere where the black end can "see" the whole projected image- this is the tricky part. You can tape it to the projector, set it on a table, or use a mic stand to point it towards the image. It needs to be far enough away to get the whole screen but close enough to be able to "see" the IR pen. I used a mic stand for several months and ended up mounting it to the ceiling like this:

If you want to use this setup you will need to buy a mount like this. For me it was worth it because of the way my room is set up (sky lights: great for natural lighting, not so great for projector installation), but most people will probably find it easiest to stick it on to the projector itself. Keep in mind that the Wii remote can "see" about 45 degrees on either side.

*You can check to see how much of the screen the Wii remote is "seeing" by clicking on the IR camera monitor and then making the window full screen. Click around in all corners of the screen to see if a dot shows up when you click.

7. Click "calibrate" in the Wiimote software. You will see a bulls-eye on the left top corner of the screen. Click on the center of the bulls-eye with your IR pen. If your remote is positioned correctly, you will see a green check mark. Yay! Now do the same thing in the new bulls-eye that has now appeared on the top right side. You will then do the two bottom corners. If you get green checks in all 4 corners, you are all set to use your board! It is very important that you are careful to click as close to the center of each bulls-eye as possible. The further off your points are here, the more your calibration will be off when you try to do something on your new interactive whiteboard. Take your time! If it's not working, play around some more with the Wii remote positioning. You also need to make sure you aren't blocking the Wii remote from seeing the IR pen with your body. Make sure you stand to the side while you click.

Extras (I use but aren't necessary):
Contact paper/ painter's tape
Gator mount for ceiling or desktops for Wii remote (like this one)
Rechargeable battery pack for Wii remote (available here for $12.99)
Smart Notebook (available here- they have free trials) or other interactive whiteboard software

Getting your own interactive whiteboard definitely takes some trial and error but it is SO WORTH IT. There are so many benefits to having an interactive system in the elementary music classroom, but so few schools that provide their music rooms with the funds to buy a pre-made one. I hope that I can help inspire more music teachers to give it a shot- please let me know if you need any help along the way!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mommy Monday: toddler dishes storage and organization

Today I want to talk about how I store and organize my children's dishes. Because let's be honest- I'm outnumbered. Their dishes are the ones that get used more often than my "adult versions" right now. So for starters, if you don't know about them yet, I am completely in love with these dishes from IKEA. They have plates, bowls, cups, and utensils. They are the holy grail of dishes for toddlers: they are microwave and dishwasher safe, they are pretty much indestructible, they are good sizes, they come in lots of colors, and they are CHEAP. 

I have two main goals when I am thinking about organizing something for my kids: giving them independence and giving them choices. The many colors of dishes take care of the choices for me already- they love picking out their plate, cup, and utensils each time. 

To allow them more independence in getting out and putting away their dishes, I put all of the main ones they use regularly in a low cabinet. It is the only one in the entire kitchen with no child lock on the door, and they pretty much have free reign over the contents (sidenote: these dishes are also great toys...). Any time we have a meal, they are responsible for getting out the appropriate dishes for themselves. Because the dishes are all within reach, they can easily see and pick out their own things. They are also responsible for putting clean dishes away, and they have naturally kept all of the similar items grouped together:

Yes, I promise you, this is how I looked when I opened the door to take a picture! I keep all of the utensils in an old coffee container with the label pulled off:

It is the perfect size! 

I keep all of the other feeding/eating supplies for the kids that I don't want them to have access to and/or don't use very often in a higher cabinet that they can't reach (yet). It is pretty crammed full but I have a small kitchen and I don't use these things (especially the ones on the higher shelves) very often, so it works.

The things on the bottom shelf of this cabinet are things I pull out quite a bit but don't want to the kids to see and be able to reach. See the pouches? I am so happy about the way they are organized. I wrote an entire post about them here. I use a number of reusable sandwich and snack bags, and I take my lunch to work in a lunch bag almost every day as well. Those are kept organized with a pot lid holder. 

As they get older and eating habits change, I am constantly adapting my storage system as well. For now (the girls are 2.5 years old), this system works quite well for all of us! How do you keep up with all the bits and pieces for your children's eating? Leave a comment below!