Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Giveaway Time!

We are so excited for the holiday season that we couldn't help but spread some love! Lots of your favorite TPT Teacher-Authors and I have teamed up to give YOU some TPT spending money. We love you and appreciate you (and we wish we could give all of our fabulous followers some money)!

Enter the Rafflecopter below by simply following our TPT stores, and you will have a chance to win one of five $25 TPT gift cards! Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 14, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me, and a Freebie for You!

Today's my birthday, so I thought it'd be fun to make a day long freebie of one of my products to celebrate.

For today only, I'm sharing my Gratitude Journal for free. It can be printed to make a booklet that includes 20 prompts and quotes to get kids thinking about gratitude. They say it takes 20 times to make something a habit. This would be a great activity to begin around the week of Thanksgiving. I hope you can use it, and positive feedback is always appreciated!

Also, today is the final day to go and buy the best blogging buddy bundle ever! 19 products for just $25! And just like all of my other TpT proceeds...the money goes straight into our adoption fund! 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Quick Idea for a Reader's Workshop Strategy Group

After talking with my kiddos at their reading conferences over the last few weeks I've started to notice that a good portion of them have trouble pointing out the main idea for a piece of non-fiction writing. I have to admit, this surprised me. A lot of the time I noticed they would latch on to one of the first details mentioned in the piece, and not take in the information from the entire piece to make their claim about what the main idea actually was. 

Even my strongest students needed practice with citing evidence from the text to back up why they had made their claim about what the main idea was for the piece they were reading. They could usually find one piece of evidence, but that was it. But again, they would often get hung up on one small detail that was mentioned in the piece. 

I was already aware of this Freebie my friend Jivey has in her store, and it seemed like a great resource to use to address the strategy of drawing conclusions about main idea by citing evidence. I figured I'd also be able to throw in a little "comparing information from different texts" and the idea of footnotes (text feature) while I was at it. 

One thing I liked about this freebie is that one of the passages is actually about epidemics, but begins by engaging the kids with talk about a zombie outbreak. I figured it'd be perfect to see if kids latch on to the zombies or if they get the overall ideas of epidemics and preparedness. 

I chose to copy the passages side by side, half-sized, to save paper and to make it easier for the kids to look between them. I wish I had flipped them because I wanted to do "Are You Prepared?" second! Aargh! But the size was perfect.

So, after doing a close read of the "Germs" passage, I asked my kids if they were familiar with the concept of hashtags. They were, but I reviewed briefly by showing them a picture on my phone, and asking them if different words/phrases would be appropriate hashtags for that image. Once we were all definitely on board...and the kids were thoroughly confused as to why I was showing them a beach vacation photo and talking about instagram... I asked them to hashtag the passage they had just read. It was funny to see the kids' faces go "Aaaaaah...Mr. Reitz wasn't just being off task..."

Here are the hashtags on one of my kids' "Germs" passage:

The kids came up with clever hashtags that were totally on point! After sharing a couple of their hashtags as a group, we talked about how we could boil down their hashtags to make a claim about what the main idea of any passage might be. 

I DIDN'T show them this image because I
didn't want to thoroughly confuse them.
When we moved on to the passage about epidemics, I knew that some kids would want to hashtag "zombies" or something like that. We talked about how in my original photo there was a guy in the background wearing a t-shirt, and while this is related to the idea of it being summer and me being at the beach...it's not important enough for me to say #appropriatetimetoweartshirts because that's not what the photo is about. 

In the end, the kids were able to make the exact claims that I hoped they'd make. This piece is about what epidemics are, and how you can prepare for them. Success!

The downside? For an entire afternoon my kids made this hand symbol and said things like, "Hashtag: yessity yes" when I tried to get their attention or "Hashtag: stamina" when I sent them off to Read to Self.  :) Eh...let's just call that a by-product of Whole Brain Teaching and call it a day!

I'll be revisiting the passages this week to talk about how to annotate a text, and to look at the idea of footnotes as a text feature. I plan to ask my kids to practice making a few footnotes of their own. While doing this week's activities, I wasn't surprised to find that 95% of my kids had never even heard of the word footnote! I hope that the different annotations we make will help us further understand the text and make answering the included comprehension questions a breeze.

Whether you use this freebie this way, or another way, it's definitely worth a look. Jivey also has a paid set of paired texts in her store for $5 about Owls, Bats, and Spiders. I have this product as well, and am looking forward to using the passages with different groups in different ways in the future! I'd love to hear from you guys about other ideas and ways to use paired texts like this!

#funreadingplan #effective #easytodifferentiate #mainidea

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A couple ways I've motivated my kids this week.

As usual, it's been a busy week! I'm sharing a couple of the things I've done this week to help Spark Student Motivation. Check in with Joanne over at Head Over Heels for Teaching to see more! 


Recently, I ended up with one of those weird 20 minute blocks to fill due to special events being planned in the middle of my reading block. I've been noticing that some of my kids' book bins have been a little light on back-up books, and that there have been a lot of kids trying to book shop during Read-to-Self. 

I don't allow them to book shop when they're supposed to be reading, so this is a problem. I decided to take advantage of the time by having an old-fashioned Book Look a la Donalyn Miller (The Book Whisperer). If you're not familiar with the concept, it's simple! You select a set of books that you think your kids should read for one reason or another, and your kids sit in a circle passing the books to the left after looking at them for about 45 seconds. By the end of the 20 minutes every kiddo has been exposed to 20+ new book options. At the end of the Book Look I give the kids the opportunity to add the books to their bins if they found one or two that interested them. If two people want a book, we Rock, Paper, Scissors for first dibs. At the end of this Book Look 18 books (all classics that are worth reading no matter who you are!) found their way into a book bin...some with waiting lists attached! 


I've talked recently about one of the cool things going on in my math class, but I haven't talked as much about how much it really motivates my kids. 

In the past I've done Monster Math Battles to cover a lot of different math skills in class. This year I looped up with my kiddos, and even though they begged me to do another Monster Math Tournament, I wanted to do something different. Two of the biggest skills we've covered so far are multi-digit multiplication and long division. This is something the kids just need lots of practice with. 
I've never seen my kids more motivated
to practice math skills!
I knew I wanted to make it more than just boring practice, so that's why I took my Monster Math Battle approach to it, with a twist! I made it a battle between Ninjas and Samurais! My kids love it! They literally beg to see who will be "fighting" the next day. They can't WAIT to do the math problems to find out who wins each battle. They're totally clueless that I'm tricking them into doing the math. There are 5 battles in each pack, and both packs are available as a bundle for $4. If you like the idea, check out my Monster Math Battles, which come with a full 31 battle tournament in a bunch of different skills. 

In other exciting news, my wife and I finally got our printed hard copies of our Adoption profile. We used a website called Mixbook.com. I am super pleased with the results. The pages are thick, glossy, and very well bound. Honestly, they are of a better quality than the school yearbook! Considering this is probably one of the most important documents I've ever designed in my life...I was really nervous. We actually went with a local printer at first, but were very disappointed. Luckily, the local printer told us we didn't have to pay for the ones they made because that prompted me to try out Mixbook. Now...we just wait for the right birthmother to look through one of these! 

In the meantime...grab this up while you can! It'll only be available for a few more weeks! Many of the products are fall themed, so would be great to use in the coming weeks. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Made Its for October!

I chiming in with a couple things for Monday Made It again for the first time in a while! Check in with 4th Grade Frolics to see some more!

First up are these Conversation Journals! I'm super proud that I got to use my mitre saw again! I bought it for all the home renovation we've been doing to get the house ready for a baby, and once the renovation was done figured I'd never get a chance to use it again! But it was perfect for cutting these composition books in half. I made up some labels, and that was that.

The kids are going to write to me, and I'll write back to them. So, I have a confession... I made these for one kiddo who really likes to share at all the wrong times. But I didn't want just him to have one and stand out, so I'm introducing it as a new thing that we all do! I think it'll be a great way to get to know my kids better. 

Second is an upcycle, of sorts! Last year I bought myself a fancy Erin Condren Teacher Planner. It was cool, and I was definitely the envy of the faculty lounge...but I found that I never really used the planning pages that much because I plan in Google Docs, and the calendar annoyed me because I had to write in my own dates. So this year I went with a much cheaper calendar book from Target.

But I kept seeing my pretty EC planner sitting in my classroom, and I figured it was kind of a waste to let it just gather dust...and I didn't want to just throw it away... So I went through it page by page and salvaged all the quotes and empty note pages, etc. I put a sheet of colorful paper on the reverse side of the quotes and laminated them together with my home laminator. Now I've got a bunch of sturdy teacher-y bookmarks to share with friends. I laminated the full page quotes as well, and once trimmed I'll have a couple posters to hang in the hall outside my room. I felt much better throwing away the ravaged skeleton of my planner after turning it into some useful things!

And finally, I'm going to share a new TpT product I just added to my store. If you've seen my Monster Math Battles, then maybe you'll be interested to see these!

Now introducing Ninja vs. Samurai Math Battles! These are mini versions of my math battle concept, with 5 battles taking place in each mini-tournament. The battle's victor is determined by who wins the most rounds, with each round being decided by the answer to two math problems. Highest answer wins. 

My kids completed my Monster Math Battles last year, so when I walked to the front of the room at the beginning of math and put the big "Vs." on the board they actually started cheering! Haha. The kids LOVE doing these. They don't even realize that I'll be tricking them into doing 100 multi-digit multiplication problems and 50 long division problems by the time we're done. Each of the tournaments are available in my store for $2.50! Or, buy both tournaments together for $4.00 in a bundle!

And SPEAKING of bundles...if you haven't seen the amazing bundle my buddies put together to help support our adoption journey...check out my last post for lots of details, or head on over to my store and check out the preview! It's a great deal for a great cause!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Best Blogging Buddies Ever! - Our Adoption Bundle

I'm super excited to share about this bundle of goodies my blogging buddies have put together for me! The bundle will only be available for a limited time, and many of the products can only be found in this bundle!

You're getting an amazing deal...and doing an amazing thing by helping my family grow! It has made me feel super loved by all the friends I've made through blogging, and I can't thank them enough!

So, what's in the bundle? Well, for just $25 you get a bunch of things you can start using in your classroom right now:

Crazy, right?! What a great deal! It comes out to about $1.30 per product...you'll never be able to get these products at that price again. I hope you'll grab it up and spread the word! :)

Thanks so much to my friends who contributed! I bet you recognize these names, but if one or more of them is new to you...go check out their blogs because they are some amazing teachers!

Elementary AMC 
Ideas by Jivey 
Coffee Cups and Lesson Plans 
Fifth in the Middle 
Head Over Heels for Teaching 
Pinkadots Elementary 
I Love My Classroom 
Fourth Grade Flipper 
Collaboration Cuties 
I {heart} Recess 
Teaching with a Touch of Twang 
Teaching Tales Along the Yellow Brick Road 
Where the Wild Things Learn

Friday, October 10, 2014

Five for Friday - 10/10

I'm FINALLY chiming in with a Five for Friday!

I know this excuse is probably getting a little tired, but I've been super busy getting everything ready for our adoption home study. There was a bunch of paperwork to prepare, and of course we had to get our house in order. I have to say, one benefit of this whole process is that my house is now cleaner than it was when we moved into it! The good news is that the home visit for the home study is complete! Our caseworker stopped by last Friday and interviewed us, collected our paperwork, and toured our home. She said that we were more prepared than anyone she's worked with! Hurray! The home study has to be written up by her and submitted, but it is safe to say that we passed! We've already started to get information about some birthmothers, though I must admit the situations we've seen so far have not been a good match for us. 

But, the positive thing is that my home is finally back in order, the construction on the basement and bathroom are totally done, the paperwork is collected, and now we just have to sit and wait for the right birthmother to come along. We'll definitely be learning patience in the coming months! I think the waiting with nothing to make progress on is actually harder  than working on a to-do list of things!

On the school front, we've got a lot going on too! We're studying healthy habits in science right now. I wanted to share this cool game all about the new MyPlate stuff that the government has made to replace the Food Pyramid. It's called Blast Off and it is a great way for kids to practice making healthy food choices.

One of my favorite questions to answer is "What are we reading?" I thought I'd share my plan for our class read alouds. I use my read-alouds as part of my mini-lesson and as models for teaching the CAFE strategies.

We just finished The Year of Billy Miller, and the kids loved it! We'll be finishing up Dear Mr. Henshaw next week, and the kids can't wait to find out what happens. I'll be going a different route with Lulu and the Brontosaurus next. It's a fun book with a unique structure that I hope will serve as a little break after a more serious book. Finally, I'm really anxious to begin our novel study of The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I've also been working on several new things for my Math Workshop that I thought I'd share. The first is our current project based learning project. It's all about making a lemonade stand. The kids have been really enjoying it. The kids have taken the profits from their original stands and built new stands to make Lemonade Empires! We're finishing up the project this week. 

I also made this fun version of the popular game Battleship. The kids play the game just like normal, only the grid where they place their boats is a multiplication table! It has been a great way for them to practice their multiplication facts...something they always seem to need a lot of work on! This game is available in my store for just a buck! Go grab it up!

My PTO has started a new tradition that I'm in love with! Free Coffee Friday! Every Friday morning the PTO sets up a big carafe of coffee with a selection of flavored creamers. It saves me the time of making my own coffee that morning, and the different flavors of creamer are great too. This led to the discovery that most of the people in line before me were mixing their creamer in inefficiently. When I showed them my simple method, they loved it...so I figured I'd share it with you as my latest Lifehack for Teachers!

This year I've been honored with (and I'm not being sarcastic, I really DO see it as an honor) the task of mentoring two first year teachers in my building. It has been great working with them and my yearlong intern from Penn State. I feel like mentoring is a great way to push yourself to stay on top of your game and to push yourself further. I mostly just get to answer a lot of their questions, help them set up their workshops, and I share my lesson plans with them to serve as a guide/starting point. I'll also be doing some Peer Coaching and observing in their classrooms, which I'm really looking forward to. We talked a lot lately about whether our "espoused teaching platform" matches our actual "platform in action." For those that are unfamiliar with that lingo, you probably know it as your "philosophy of education." 

These discussions have made me think a lot about what my espoused platform is (what I SAY I believe about teaching) and what my platform in action is (what I am actually DOING in the classroom). The goal of course is for those two things to match. I think I'm doing a pretty good job with that, but I have definitely had some things to reflect on. Most of my reflections have all gone back to something to do with time. Mainly, could I use my time in better ways? I spend a lot of time making fun math games, making projects for my kids, spicing up our bland science and social studies units, devising interesting writing lessons, and making individualized strategy group plans for reading groups. I believe all of those things are important, but I've started to realize more and more that the work hours I've been imposing on myself for the first 14 years of my career are not reasonable, and will not be realistic once I have a child. 

A professor I know made the point that no other professional
sees more than one client at a time. Doctors see one patient,
and Lawyers see one client, an hour or so at a time. Teachers
see 20-30 at once, all day...and are meeting all of their needs.
So, what's going to give? Will I allow myself to let something give? I've reached that point in my career where I feel relatively confident in my ability to teach well...but I am always trying to be better. It goes against my instinct, but I guess I need to give myself permission sometimes to let something be "good enough" so that I can be sure to take care of the rest of the things in my life! I'm sure this is something all teachers have dealt with. What are your experiences with this? How do you decide when something has to give, or is "good enough?"

Be sure to stop by Doodlebug Teaching to check out the other Five for Fridays!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Quick Update!

I feel so bad for my long neglected blog. Hard to believe that it has been two weeks since I last posted! These first few weeks of school have been completely crazy. Crazier than normal for me because I've been working my usual long teaching days, and then coming home and working for another 4 hours or so on finishing up construction and cleaning so that we will have the house ready for our home study. The home study is on October 3rd! It seems like there is so much to do in so little time! 

We've been up to a whole lot at school too!

We started the year off again with a variation on the Me Bag. I kind of hate the Me Bag... Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVE learning about my kiddos. What I don't love is the time it takes for 20+ kids to share their artifacts one at a time. So when I learned about the Me Museum idea a few years ago I was sold. The kids set up their artifacts on their desks with note cards explaining them. You set a timer and the kids rotate around looking at the exhibits. Love it! In 20 minutes everyone has happily shared their things, and we can move on with our lives!

We've started strong with our Math Workshop this year. I've been really excited about our latest Project Based Learning project in math, and I think the kids are too. I'll share more once we've made some more progress. We've been playing lots of math games too of course! The kids have loved all of the card games that I found in Jivey's Math Aces product. I laminated the instructions, and put out a bin full of decks of cards, and it has kept my game center going for a couple weeks! I teach the gifted/fast paced math group...and it can be really hard to keep my math games relevant because they learn things so quickly. 

In science we've been doing a ton of hands-on experiments with our first unit of study...Healthy Habits! I had the kids test whether different foods were healthy choices by having them rub the food onto a paper bag. If the food contained fat, then it made the brown paper translucent. my favorite thing was when a kid said, "Yuck! I'm never eating mayo again, it's pure fat!" 

Of course, I did find myself stuffing the rest of my donut down the other morning when I realized I hadn't finished eating it and the kids were about to come in. I already feel like the world's biggest hypocrite after skipping lunch, then sitting there drinking my third cup of coffee while talking to them about healthy eating and healthy vs. non-healthy drugs. Haha.

Now that we're into the year about a month I think it's safe to say that we're off to a good start. It's great to have my workshops launched, and the routine in place. I have a feeling this year is going to fly by!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Our Adoption Journey Update - September

I thought I'd give an update on our adoption journey progress for those interested (and as a record for ourselves)!

We've been diligently working on the amazing mound of paperwork that is needed to prove to the caseworkers that we are capable of being parents, aren't axe-murderers, and prove that we aren't dirt broke. I was really lucky to get a bunch of the work done before school started back, but once pre-planning started I've been so swamped that our progress came to a screeching halt. 

It's amazing how even with all of the excitement of a new school year, mentoring an intern and two new teachers in our school, and of course meeting a bunch of new kids and seeing my old kids...the adoption paperwork has been hanging over my head the whole time. The good news? After almost a month, we're finally getting a glimpse of light at the end of THIS tunnel. We're finally at the point where we were able to set up our home visit. This is where the caseworker comes to our home and checks it out for safety and space purposes, and also interviews us. The big date for that is October 3rd, so that gives us about a month to finish gathering the paperwork and to get our house in order and clean!

Here's one of the completed pages of
our profile. PLEASE tell me if you
think it looks bad...
All of the legal paperwork aside, there's a much bigger project on our plate right now...the adoption profile. This is the book (or pdf) that birth mothers will look at to help them choose a family to entrust with their child. I have to say that making this profile feels like the biggest and most important homework assignment of my life. We've scoured the internet, and I've done more "how to write a great adoption profile" google searches than is reasonably sane...and still I find myself sitting here at my computer stressing out about it. 

Anything you think we could do to
improve the look of the pages? 
It's pretty obvious that I'm no professional at this, but we really can't afford to hire someone to do it. Luckily, I have some practice with making things for TpT, otherwise I wouldn't even know where to start. 

We want our profile to be reflective of who we are, but we only have about 15 pages to do that. There are so many great things we'd love to share, but we've read over and over again that it's best to include lots of photos. Choosing those photos has been the really hard part. Oh, how I wish that we had taken more photos over the past 7 years! We've managed to get a few from family, but we're starting to hit the point where we just don't have great photos for certain things...

Of course I'm at the point now where I have been staring at it for so long that I can't even tell if I'm doing a good job or not anymore! And of course there's a fine line between taking my time with it and being a perfectionist. After all, this has to be done before we can make a match! 

Unfortunately, most of the pages look
like this right now...missing photos.
We need to come up with about 15 more photos and then I think our first draft will be ready to go! I'm looking forward, but nervous, to share it with friends and family so they can edit and critique it for us. And somehow I need to find the balance between being a 24/7 teacher, obsessively working on this profile, making things for my class and TpT(which is helping to pay for all this), being a good husband, blogging, and taking a little time for myself now and then! Have you ever wanted to flash forward a couple months?!

So yeah, that's it for now...home visit on 10/3, hopefully a completed home study and profile shortly after, and then everyone cross your fingers for a quick match with a birth mother and baby after that! Thanks for letting me vent! 

09 10 11 12
Blogging tips