Classroom 2017-2018

Welcome back!  Let's see what's new in the 2nd grade... (not much, honestly.)


Lookin good from the opposite side.


Barb was vigorously dusted this summer.


SWBAT = "Students will be able to" - this is where I write my lesson objectives.


On the left is my job chart.  I have a very simple job system.  Every day, I move the clip to the next person's pouch, and they get to do all the jobs that day - calendar, passing things out, etc.


My sub tub, in case of emergency... I have a 10 day/2 week no-prep emergency sub plan bundle in my store.  I printed off everything for the first two days and put each item in its own folder.  For days 3-10, I just printed off the originals (no class sets) and put them in a folder for each day.


The home of math enrichment.  I made a bundle containing a year's worth of no-prep 2nd grade math challenges that I use for enrichment.


Free time options for my students - they can write in their journals (year round bundle of make your own journals found here) or they can challenge themselves with one of Digital Divide and Conquer's project based learning packets.

Good luck this year!

Classroom 2016-2017

Welcome back to the 2nd grade!  I'm doing a fairy generic superhero theme this year because I'm basic AF.  I'm regretting the borders a little, because they look like dripping blood from afar, buuuuuut not redoing them.  The little superhero swag things in the corner alleviate the blood a bit.  Once again, I'm sticking with consistent borders, backgrounds, and decor around the room to reduce visual noise and keep the classroom looking calm.  I'm also very picky about my desks not being too close together.  I personally wouldn't want to spend the year back-to-back with another person so I don't expect the small people to be as well.

This is my word wall (student names under the white) and my big number.  Last year, I completely changed the way I did word walls and it was super successful.  The kids interacted with it more so than they have any other year.  Read about how I implemented these changes at Busy Bees Activities.  You can also download the Academic Vocabulary Brag Board here and the Big Number Chart here - both are free!

Here are my 6+1 Traits of Writing Posters (download for free here) and my reading skill posters (available for sale in my Guided Reading Mega Pack here.)  I added the chalkboard last year after a stick-on one I had kept falling off.  I just used the spray-on chalk paint stuff, which worked real well.  (I dripped the chalk paint all over the floor - surprisingly, Goo Gone got the still-tacky paint drips off the stone floor.  Who knew??)  The kids are free to write on the chalk board during their free time.  In the little bag are Kind Compliment cards, also for free time - download for free here.

These turned out super rad, in my humble opinion.  In my school/classroom, our rules and discipline are based around being hospitable, respectful, and responsible.  I bought a marquis font from Simply STEAM by Sarah Barnett, blew the letters up, printed them in rainbow order and will give them to the kids to decorate with examples of being hospitable, respectful, and responsible.  Once finished, I'll string them up and hang them in the room.

 The angel's name is Barb, just FYI

The angel's name is Barb, just FYI

Finally, I'm super pumped about my new mini-fluency passages.  I wanted short passages for fluency practice with my 2nd graders struggling with reading.  I wanted something meatier than  task card, but shorter than a traditional leveled reading passages.  I couldn't find something that fit my needs, so... I made 200 of them myself!  Each passage is in the ballpark of 50 words.  I'm going to give my kids an informal assessment right off the bat using two of the cards each.  My 200 mini fluency passages are available for sale here.

Good luck on your school year!

Revisiting the Boxcar Children, one randy grandparent at a time

I love the Boxcar Children series.  I think I read every single book published until about 1995, including the specials.  I still enjoy the these books – there’s something so satisfying about four perky orphans with moderate adult supervision and unlimited funds going on expensive vacations and solving mysteries during some permanent school holiday.  Like most teachers, I enjoy the opportunity to introduce the kids to some of my favorite books from growing up which they may not be super familiar with (“Wayside School,” anyone?)  I have two sets of “Boxcar Children” books, which my second graders read as a class– the original 1942 version, as well as “The Midnight Mystery,” which ties into a science unit on inventions.  I keep several random “Boxcar Children” adventures on hand to use as read-alouds throughout the year.  The kids love them – they’re the perfect reading level for the second/third grade crowd, and they hit that sweet spot of the Disney-esque world where kids rule and the adults are incompetent and/or nonexistent.


The author, Gertrude Chandler Warner, first wrote “The Boxcar Children” in 1924, but her 1942 updated version is the one most people are familiar with.  From the late 1940s through the mid 1970s, she wrote an additional 18 books, where the children did gradually age.  Beginning in 1991 – twelve years after Warner’s death – the series continued under ghostwriters, freezing the Aldens at their original ages for the past two and a half decades as they continue to travel the country and foil the plots of sneaky adults.


Each individual “Boxcar Children” book is very much a product of its publishing year, which gives the series a distinctive charm, from making the best of Depression-era roughing it, to Kennedy-esque 60s-style summers, to clunky desktop computers of the early nineties.  As of 2016, “The Boxcar Children” are still going strong, with 139 regular series books, a prequel, graphic novels, special-editions, easy-reader companion books, as well as a low-budget, but very charming, cartoon feature film.  (As of April 2016, it’s available on Netflix.  I purchased it from iTunes as well.)


Twenty years after I read “The Boxcar Children” for the first time, I am enjoying revisiting the gentle series.  However, my cynical side keeps coming across details which went over my head as a child.  Join me as we ponder…


1#: Grandfather got laid - a lot.

James Henry Alden – aka Grandfather - presumably lost his wife at some point prior to the series.  What’s a wealthy philanthropist/businessman/legal guardian of four self-sufficient children to do during his secondary bachelorhood?  Why not fill your dance card with the company of many single, successful, fascinating women?

Don’t believe me?

…in “The Mystery Bookstore,” the Boxcar Children join Grandfather on a trip to New Orleans to visit his friend, notable mystery author Olivia Chase.  He buys her a bookstore in the French Quarter.

… in “The Midnight Mystery,” the Boxcar Children stay in the eclectic mansion of Isabel Putter, mastermind behind the Invention Convention while Grandfather crashes with Isabel in the little cottage out back (yes, it specifically says he’s staying with her.)

… in “The Pilgrim Village Mystery,” the kids stay at the full-emersion Colonial recreation town owned by Mr. Alden’s “old friend,” Linda Crawley.

…in “The Creature in Ogopogo Lake,” the gang visit Abby Harmon, owner of the lake’s namesake resort.

… and finally, we learn Grandfather is tight with legendary country singer/rodeo queen Judy Simon in “The Mystery at the Calgary Stampede.”

I could go on like this for quite some time.

Grandfather has good taste.  His lady friends are all accomplished, interesting women around his own age.  Yeah, there’s a lot of them, but why not ride out your golden years entertaining a comely, twice-divorced university professor on the deck of your yacht, during a twilight cruise around Cape Greenfield, toasting her most recent publication with a few glasses of a fine cabernet sauvignon before taking her to see your original Mondian hanging below deck? James Henry Alden is no fool.  We’re unlikely to see “The Mystery of Why Stepgrandma Brenda Won’t Date Guys Her Own Age” anytime soon.

 My local library's BCC section - nowhere large enough to contain Grandfather's sexual prowess.

My local library's BCC section - nowhere large enough to contain Grandfather's sexual prowess.


#2: Why was nobody ever suspicious of the Boxcar Children?

As the gang solves the mystery and saves the day in every book, nobody really ever questions their involvement.  Isn’t it weird the same four children continuously see something suspicious or come across some crucial piece of evidence?  All of these petty crimes seem to have four things in common, and their names are Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny.  Clever detectives, or a perfect cover?


#3: The Boxcar Children inherit a uranium mine at some point.

Courtesy of some cranky old aunt living out West. Because they weren't rich enough to begin with.  No wonder Violet was always sick.


#4: The original “Boxcar Children” book never addresses some essential bodily functions.

No one brushes their teeth, and there’s no explanation of where the bathroom was in their little setup.  Keep in mind they specifically mention hand washing, bathing, and keeping their clothes clean. Perhaps Gertrude Chandler Warner eliminated references to Henry digging a poop pit in an early draft.


#5: Time for school?

While there are the occasional references to school friends and school work, we never see the Aldens actually attend school.  Eh, they can afford experiences - getting GEDs before heading off to Grandfather's Ivy League alma mater in the future is no biggie.  Enjoy your permasummer and nontraditional education while it lasts, kids.


#6: The Boxcar Children are fairly nonchalant about the death of their parents, as is Grandfather.

In the beginning of the series, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny are flung out onto the olde-timey streets of some nonspecific corner of New England due to the unexplained death of their parents.  Although it serves as the catalyst for a series of blissful adult-free adventures, in retrospect, it’s a little alarming that they shook off the shock of their parents’ sudden and untimely deaths with only a handful of references to them throughout the series.  (SPOILER ALERT: in Patricia MacLachlan’s “The Aldens of Fair Meadow Farm,” it’s revealed that the kindly Aldens were killed in a traffic accident.)  Post traumatic stress?  Fight-or-flight survival mode?  Hopefully Grandfather is dropping some of his significant fortune on a therapist for the grandkids.


Speaking of Grandfather, he harbors a long term grudge against his son and daughter-in-law, to the point where he has no relationship with his four grandchildren (and considering that Henry is fourteen throughout most of the books, that degree of silent treatment is impressive indeed.)  Of course, Mr. Alden turns out to be lovely (and stinking rich,) and the Boxcar Children live happily ever after, but Grandfather’s well-hidden vindictive streak is eyebrow-raising.  Is Mr. Alden capable of snapping in the future, unleashing a wave of passive-agressive fury upon the issues of his deceased son and his not-so-well healed wife?  Stay tuned, and keep reading!


Feeling nostalgic for the Boxcar Children?  Want to share their inoffensive adventures with your own class?  Check out these four free character posters on my Teachers Pay Teachers page!


Google Expeditions

My school had the chance to try out Google Expeditions this week.  It was super rad.  The kids were very into the expeditions (my class did Spirit the Mars Rover.)  The technology was very user friendly and surprisingly accessible.  Who knew so much could be done with a few smartphones, cardboard binoculars, and a tablet?  From the teacher viewpoint, I like the amount of control I had over when/where to access the content.  The kids were delighted with the ability to "look around" the space, and kept exclaiming over things they saw.  (Seeing the little smiley faces that represented the users rush over to pertinent objects made my life.)  I would love to do this again - next time, we're going to Venice!  Thank you Google!

Dia de los Muertos Craft Ideas

Halloween Halloween/Dia de los Muertos, amigos.  Here are some crafts I have for my second graders' upcoming Halloween party.  They're pretty quick, cheap and relatively easy to set up and execute.

Michael's had some great paper mache skeletons and skull masks.  I spray painted them white with matte paint, and the kids decorated them to be sugar skulls.  They were $2-3 full price, but with a 50% discount shortly before Halloween, as well as Michael's 15% teacher discount, they were pretty cheap.  (There's Marlie Rose lurking in the background!)


Tissue paper and baker's twine from Dollar Tree made great papel picado garlands!  Dollar Tree had tons of colors of both.

Cempazuchitl paper flowers are great for flower crowns, or just in their own decoratively.  Once again, just baker's twine and tissue paper from the Dollar Store.

Narrower pond, deeper pond

I am a fan of Common Core math standards, I must say.  I feel the cringe-inducing viral pictures of parents going to town on their first grader's math homework are the perfect illustration of why we're desperately in need of improved number sense in this country.  (Did anyone else notice that the guy who wrote the check in "common core" wrote two different numbers?  I assume he was trying to make a ten frame, but he only had eight boxes on the numeral box...)  By and large, it's not the kids having a hard time with the concepts.  

One big benefit of the Common Core standards, in my opinion, is the view that grade-level math should be a narrower field that goes deeper.  I feel like it forces us as teachers to take precious fewer concepts and push our students to the limit.  Gone is the over reliance on strictly using algorithms.  The standard problem solving techniques are definitely there - they are, after all, the fastest ways to get accurate answers - but students swimming in the concept's "deep pond" gain a much better understanding of the "why" of a math concept, not just the "how."

The big question for a classroom teacher is "How DO I go deeper with this?"  I've been asking myself lately, "What constitutes challenging work?  How do I best serve my students who are already excelling at math, and need enrichment?"  I'm lucky to work in a school with a high-achieving, high-readiness population, and every year I have students who aren't the least bit fazed by grade level math.  My goal this year has been to develop high-quality enrichment activities that push grade-level math to higher-levels of thinking and practice - or at least, give students an opportunity to practice a concept in a way that isn't the same-old stuff.

My recommendations for preparing and/or seeking out enrichment materials are as follows...

  • Get wordy: Rely on reading and writing with math.  Let students read their way through interactions and/or information, to determine its importance.  Find the relevant information in the problem at hand, and determine the operation needed to solve the problem.  Have students write out explanations for how they came to their conclusions as well.  Expository writing to "prove" their process is invaluable, and a great tool for understanding your students' thought processes.
  • Incorporate other concepts into whatever you're working on.  For example, today my second graders focused on quickly recalling addition facts, as well as using expanded form to build three digit numbers.  For both concepts, we incorporated least and greatest numbers to add an additional step for students to look out for and incorporate into their finished products.
  • Rethink how the end product looks.  Take Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, for example.  Some kids will succeed by involving a process in their math that isn't strictly logical/mathematical.  Look for opportunities for kids to move around and build models.  Draw pictures.  Talk it out with a neighbor, or write the results down in a paragraph format.  If the end goal isn't necessarily a math problem, then there are many opportunities to draw a conclusion that will appeal to a variety of kids with diverse interests and strengths.

For my kids who benefit from enrichment, I usually have them start by signing a contract agreeing to their responsibilities, including but not limited to working independently, being responsible for their own materials, and being self-motivated.  I fill a file folder with additional challenges that they can work on at their own pace.  The challenge activities are related to what the class in general is concentrating on.  Enrichment students are free to work on their own, or are free to stay with the rest of the class at their choosing.  They are also free to develop their "own" materials - last year, a bunch of kids made a terrific math board game that I copied off.  The kids who made the game led groups and taught the rest of the class how to play!  I've purchased some great materials from Teachers Pay Teachers which I've used as enrichment.  Jillian Starr's Math Journal Prompts (2nd and 3rd grade) are great, because they're very open-ended and require a lot of problem solving on behalf of the user.  Digital Divide and Conquer has some great no-prep enrichment mini units.  Core Inspirations by Laura Santos has great 2nd grade math enrichment activities that are perfect when you're looking for something that isn't typical problem solving.

What about MY 2nd grade math enrichment materials?  Why, I never thought you'd ask!  Check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store!  Currently, I have challenge activities for 2 and 3 digit addition and subtraction with regrouping, place value and number sense for 2 and 3 digit numbers, and addition and subtraction facts within 20.  All of the packets have 20 no-prep, totally printable math activities for enrichment on the go!  Currently, I'm working on a money packet as well.  My goal is to have a packet for every second grade math standard within the next few months, for a year's worth of just-hit-print math challenges!  Happy enriching!

Welcome to the jungle...

...aaaand we're back.  We've been back for awhile - it's been a crazy few weeks/months here the in the meat sphere, but as it is every year, there's a fresh new crop of second graders to school.  Let's get started!

I'm determined to have bathroom/hall passes that survive a whole school year, come hell or high water.  The extra strength dog chewy toys are are proving capable so far.

I updated my emergency "sub tub" over the summer with some slightly less moldy activities.  I've had the flu twice in my life - one as a young kid, and once my first year of teaching.  I think I missed eight total days of work - and had a different sub each day.  Oy vey.  I was very fortunate that, at the time, I taught on a team with seven other grade level teachers who were able to scramble and put stuff together for me each morning so I didn't actually have to get out of bed.  For the next time, I now have a 2 Week/10 Days Emergency Sub Plans for 2nd Grade or 3rd Grade set available at my TpT store.  They're 100% no prep printables, so you can email them to whoever's manning the copy machine, take another swig of NiQuil, and go back to bed.  Each day has reading, math, writing, science, social studies, geography, spelling, grammar, art projects, as well as review homework.

I feel I have mastered the art of not bringing grading home over the past couple of years.  I now have the kids come to me so I can check their assignment as soon as they finish.  I find it helpful for a number of reasons - 

-you can give immediate feedback

-you can catch any errors right away

-it helps to keep the kids accountable

-grading in the moment = not grading later.

When the kids finish, they come up to me.  I check their work, and make marks on anything that needs fixing.  They make corrections independently and come see me again.  If I find a kid is really struggling with a concept, I pull them aside at my work table and give them some one-on-one help.  I keep an attendance sheet on my desk that I use to make quick notes about whose work I've seen and how well they did (met the standard, approaching the standard, needed intervention.)  I do this with the majority of classwork, excluding tests. 

Once I've put a star on a student's totally completed assignment, they find their "finished" hand-in folder in the bin and put their assignment inside.  I use my note sheet to fill their grade in my online grade book.  Each week, I have the students empty the contents of their finished folders into their backpacks to take home.  No time consuming paper pass-backs, no lugging around papers for me, and best of all... no grading papers at home!

Granted, I do teach second grade, so this method may not be so helpful for upper grades with longer, more complicated assignments.  I'm lucky that I'm able to know what the reading or science responses will be, since we do everything very guided and together in class, as well as being able to check the math mentally without needing to use reference materials.  

Is there anything better than log gin onto Teachers Pay Teachers and seeing your store on the front page?? I THINK NOT!! (Although admittedly, I've only seen myself twice since starting about a year and a half ago... it's still awesome, though!)