Monday, October 16, 2017

DIY String Art Tutorial for the Classroom

When I started to see string art in home d├ęcor stores, I knew I wanted to create a custom piece for my classroom! I'm a novice at crafting, so bear this in mind as you read the post: if I can do it, you can do it!


I snagged most of these supplies at Walmart. Here's the list:

1. Embroidery Thread: $2.28
2. Stencils: $3.47
3. Nails: $0.97
4. Spray Paint: $1.00
5. Wooden Board (Lowe's): approx. $3.00 (I forgot to keep the receipt - oops!) 

I measured the board and placed the letters in the center. Watch out for the spacing! I had to re-do a couple letters because I didn't space them out evenly when I started. All it took was a little erasing - an easy fix.

After tracing the letters it was time to add the nails. Originally, I spaced the nails about an inch apart (see the picture above). I realized that I wanted the thread to really fill up the inside of the letters so I added more nails after the picture was taken. You can see the difference in the picture below.

I read some tutorials online that suggested painting the board before starting the project. I wanted to paint the nails, too, so I opted to spray paint the entire project at one time. It took a few coats of spray paint to cover the wood but I LOVE the end result.

Once the paint has dried, it's time to start the tedious (but gratifying!) process of attaching the string to the nails. I chose a nail on the outside corner of a letter and tied a knot. I left quite a long "tail" on the knot because I'll be tying a couple more knots to it and didn't want to be fumbling with a tiny piece of string later. We'll cut off the extra string at the end of the project.  

Next, wrap the string around the outside of the next nail. By wrapping the entirety of the outside of the letter first, you'll create a nice clean edge.

Keep the string pulled tight as you continue wrapping it around the nails on the outside edge of the letter. If you don't keep the string pulled tightly, it has a tendency to pop off the nails. It happened to me a couple times. It's a bit annoying but a great reminder to always keep a watch on that string!

Continue the process until the outside of the letter is wrapped with string. Tie a knot back at the first nail. Then fill in the center of the letter by wrapping the string around the nails! There's no particular way to wrap the string. I just kept wrapping it around the nails until I got the look I wanted. Once I was finished, I made sure to end at the nail with the knot, tying one last knot to finish up the letter.

This part of the project is my favorite - seeing everything come together so beautifully! I love how the color pops off the white background. Once all the letters are complete, take your scissors and cut off all the extra hanging strings.

Ta Da! I LOVE the finished string art project and can't wait to place it in my classroom! I'll probably attach two little hooks to the back to hang it on the wall.

If you make string art for your classroom, I'd love to see it! Share it with me via email at or on Instagram: @teachersprep. :)

Monday, October 9, 2017

5 Great Websites for Teaching About Colonial America

When planning for each unit of study in my classroom, I spend a solid amount of time searching the internet for websites and online resources that can supplement the activities I already have. I feel so excited when I find one that fits the needs of my students and I'm sure you do, too! 
If you're on the hunt for websites and online resources for your unit on the colonies, here are some that might help:

1. Colonial Williamsburg

This has to be one of my FAVORITE websites to use for finding online resources for the colonial times. The multimedia tab of the website seems to go on forever with interactive activities for a variety of subjects. I love the interactive paintings (like the portrait of George Washington and Trumball's "The Declaration of Independence") along with the cute games. Several of the games are geared towards younger kids so there's resources available for several grade levels in one website! Click HERE to visit the site.

2. PBS: Colonial House

This page on the PBS website has lots of great information and interactive tools about life in the colonies. Some of my favorite tools are the 360 Tours (it's like going on a field trip without all the paperwork!) and 1628 Across the Continent where students learn about what was going on beyond the borders of the colonies. The website has several other games and interactive content that you might find useful, too! Click HERE to visit the site.

3. Mrs. Nussbaum's 13 Colonies Interactive Map

Mr. Nussbaum's website has a fun little interactive map that students can explore to learn about this history of the colonies as well as the major cities in the New World. It's a fun resource to use for a daily warm-up or two! Click HERE to visit the site.

4. Library of Congress: Colonial America Primary Sources

While engaging students in online, interactive content can be both meaningful and fun, we can't forget about the importance of using primary sources as often as possible in the classroom. The Library of Congress is packed with primary sources that are a click away. In fact, click HERE to see what they have collected for Jamestown and Thanksgiving.

5. YouTube

It's no secret that I love to use brief videos to introduce or reinforce certain concepts. Here are some of my favorite finds from YouTube:


Monday, October 2, 2017

Reflection Connection: October

Now that it's October, we've settled into the rhythm of the school year. Classroom expectations have been established, we know all our students' names and half of our year's supply of pencils is already missing. :) The first weeks of school jitters are behind us and new challenges rise to confront us on both personal and professional levels. This month, let's reflect on those challenges we're facing and create an action plan for how we can solve those issues.

Entry 3: What challenges are your facing in school? What is your action plan for solving these issues?

My Response: One challenge that I'm currently facing is finding effective strategies to keep students' work organized - primarily for those who seem to lose everything! I've developed a binder organizational system, post homework and assignments in my classroom and online as well as work with those students on an individual basis. Somehow, though, a few students still seem to lose work despite all my efforts! Does this happen to you? What is your strategy for helping those students?

One policy I'm going to try this year is binder checks. I'm hoping it provides an extra incentive for my kiddos to stay organized while at the same time setting up a system that keeps me routinely checking on their organizational skills and offering assistance when necessary.

Your turn! What challenges are you facing and what is your plan of action?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Best Fitness Trackers for Teachers

There are no affiliate links in this post. :)

As a teacher, I always thought I did a pretty good job at staying active in my classroom. After all, I walk around constantly! When I started counting my steps using my Fitbit Charge HR, I quickly realized that I wasn't doing quite as well as I anticipated. On average I was getting only 5,000 - 6,000 steps during the school day. Studies say we should be getting around 10,000 steps a day!
I started tracking my health and fitness more consciously using my watch. Just wearing the watch and checking the stats encouraged me to get those 10,000 steps each day and I even started to monitor my nutrition using the app! Several of my teacher friends have different types of fitness trackers. We compared notes and came up with a list of the best fitness trackers for teachers, in our humble opinions. :)

Fitbit Charge 2 Heart Rate +
Product Details
I have the first version of the Fitbit Charge and I love that this watch tracks my heart rate and monitors my cardio workouts and calories burned. It's so gratifying to watch the app track my caloric intake vs. calories burned so that I can better monitor my nutrition. The Fitbit Charge 2 adds guided breathing sessions (definitely need those some days...right, my friends?) and call, text and calendar alerts. I think I'll definitely be upgrading soon - there are so many beautiful colors! I especially love the teal one. (Unless one of these other trackers catch my eye!)

Apple Smart Watch
The sleek design of the Apple Watches are sooooo pretty. Several of my teacher friends can't imagine living without their watch now that they own one. It's a little pricier than the Fitbit smart watch, but if you're looking for a device that can do double-duty as a sport watch and all-in-one wearable tech, this is for you. It's even water-resistant up to 50 meters! One teacher said she is obsessed with the daily activity tracker which uses sleek, multi-colored rings to help you monitor your daily progress. Click here to learn more from Apple!

Garmin Vivosmart HR+
Product DetailsOne of my friends runs several times a week and swears by the Garmin products. She loves the app interface that tracks steps, sleep, "active calories" (calories burned) along with a wide range of ways to monitor nutrition (calories consumed, remaining, etc). There's also a GPS within the watch which allows the wearer to measure distance and pace easily. Click here to learn more about the Garmin Vivosmart HR+.

Fitbit Blaze
Product DetailsThe Fitbit Blaze has a very Apple Watch-type feel with a focus on tracking fitness over other apps. It's been described as a "powerhouse" for tracking activities and getting notifications from smartphones. The screen has a beautiful, clear display with touchscreen functionality and (much to my friend's delight!) the battery usually lasts here 4-5 days! Having one last thing to remember during the school week is a lifesaver. The watch keeps careful track of steps, calories burned, etc. so you can just live your life. Click here to check it out for yourself!

While this certainly isn't a comprehensive list of all smart watches available, these represent options that are both affordable and well-recommended! Having a fitness watch has made me more aware about the decisions I make on a day-to-day basis regarding food and exercise. Some of my students love to ask me how many steps I've taken at different times of the day and we can compare our mileage if they happen to be wearing one, too!
If you own a fitness watch that's not on this list and love it, please share it in the comments below! :)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Elementary Classroom Management Strategies That Still Work in Middle School

Developing a classroom management plan in middle school can be challenging, to say the least. Kids are growing and changing so fast at that age and it's difficult to judge which strategies will work best for kids in 6th, 7th and 8th grade.

You might be surprised to hear that middle school teachers can still use some of the same strategies seen in elementary classrooms, with a twist, of course. Here are a few ideas that my colleagues and I have used to create a positive, safe learning environment for our students:

Hand Signals

If you've ever been near an elementary classroom, I'm positive you've seen a teacher use hand signals to refocus students. Kids can use them to let the teacher know what they need. The same idea works well in a middle school setting as well. I've used hand signals to ask the students to be quiet and my students use them to signal a bathroom break. These nonverbal cues are efficient in saving time. How often have we walked across a room to answers a student's question only to find out that they wanted to use the restroom? A hand signal saves me time and I can nod my head to grant their request across the room while working with another student. 

Sticker Chart

Bear with me, here. I know what you're thinking..."Sticker charts in middle school? No way." I'll partly agree with you. While some groups of students would find it juvenile, it may be just what you need to inspire your unmotivated kiddos. I've worked with small groups of students that were failing school. They were unmotivated, lacked support outside of school and were often removed from the classrooms due to behavior concerns. When they came to my classroom, it was my job to motivate them to complete their work. Challenging? Y.E.S. So I brought out a simple little chart with 4 rows, 5 boxes per row - one for each day of the week for about a month. Each day a student was positive and productive, I put a sticker in the box. At first they scoffed at the idea. When their peers started earning small treats and prizes (a bag of chips, a small candy, etc) after getting 5 stickers, suddenly it became very important to earn a sticker each day. I couldn't believe it! These kids transformed in front of my eyes after a few weeks all because of a daily middle school. Miracles happen, people, and we all ended up having a pretty good year!

Voice Levels

In elementary school, you'll see teachers with a chart of voice levels and colored dots to indicate what volume the kids should use when completing different activities. I've used this with much success in the classroom. The most common voice level charts I have seen have 4 levels: silence, whisper, normal voices and presentation voices. If you write your daily agenda on the board, it's super easy to stick a colored dot next to an activity so that the students understand what's expected of them during that time. This behavior management strategy is a keeper for me.

Marble Jar

The marble jar is an age-old strategy that allows your class to work as a team to fill the jar. Whenever someone does a good deed, goes above and beyond to help a fellow classmate or the class as a whole has a particularly good day, I add a marble to the jar. When the jar is full we have a little celebration! I fully believe in creating a positive atmosphere in the classroom so I never take away marbles. Those were hard-earned and they should be proud of every single one. 

Table Points

If your students thrive on a little friendly competition, starting a system of table points is a fun way to keep groups on task and accountable for their behavior. This is a fun strategy to use at the end of the year when they're getting a little (ok, a lot) excited for summer and have trouble remembering your classroom expectations. It works similar to the marble jar idea. Each group is awarded points based on individual and group behavior. As they reach certain point milestones, they receive little rewards! The rewards can start off simple (first group to leave the classroom) to more complex (homework pass) as they earn more points. You can even go to the dollar store and pick up little prizes or treats. Middle school kiddos love those little surprises! 

I hope you find some of these strategies useful in your classroom. Middle school is such a fun age to teach and your classroom can have a positive and uplifting atmosphere for your kids to express their ideas while they learn and grow together.
Happy Teaching!

Monday, September 11, 2017

My Favorite Resources for Teaching Map Skills

Learning the basics of mapping skills is an important concept to teach and reinforce throughout late elementary and early middle school. Despite the fact that we live in a digital world where handheld GPS devices can pinpoint our exact location on Earth, knowing how to read a map and the basics of latitude and longitude is crucial.
That being said, teaching about those concepts can be challenging, sometimes. (Especially latitude and longitude for some reason!) Here are my favorite resources for teaching map skills:
These videos are adorable and clever parodies of popular songs made by some history teachers. I wish I was musically inclined and could organize a video like this, too!

Print and Digital Resources
A few years ago, I uploaded two of my favorite resources for teaching latitude, longitude and geography. I also recently uploaded digital versions as well for those teachers using Google Classroom!
One of my favorite activities in the Latitude and Longitude Activities resource is the "Exploring Earth" activity. Students use Google Earth to navigate the globe using coordinates. They get to see 360 degree views of famous locations! I've been so pleased to hear that the activity is a hit in other classrooms as well! If you have a 1:1 classroom for your Google Classroom account, there's also a digital version.
If you're feeling a little adventurous, you can also make your own virtual field trip using Google Earth. I have directions on how to create one in this blog post.
Another one of my go-to resources is the Geography Skills Activities. In the resource, students learn the basic skills of reading a map, measuring scale and are even challenged to create Mega City using all the skills they learned throughout the activities. I updated the resource recently and you can check it out HERE. There's also a digital version for Google Drive.
Other Online Resources
The University of California San Diego has a great interactive activity where students mark coordinates on an online map to check their skill in finding latitude and longitude. Click HERE to visit the site.
National Geographic has a fun game for younger kids or students who need a basic introduction to understand how to read a map. The game covers map symbols and the map key. Click HERE to visit the site.
The National Park Service has a brief interactive activity that covers topographic maps and asks students a few questions to check their understanding. It's a fun and simple way to introduce the concept of topographic maps! Click HERE to visit the site.

Do you use any other resources when teaching about map skills? If so, let me know in the comments! I'm always looking for great ideas. :)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Reflection Connection: September

The start of the new school year is the perfect time to consider which new skills you want to learn over the course of the school year and make a game plan for how to achieve them. No matter how many years you've been teaching, there are always concepts to learn and master.

Entry 2: What new skills do you hope to develop this year? What will you do to obtain those skills?

My Response: This year, I want to continue developing my organizational skills. I've come a long way in the past couple years but I still see areas where I can improve so that I can better help my students stay organized. I think some more organized binders await me this year: one for parent/student contact information and one for substitutes (or maybe a sub tub...hmm....). I'd also like to come up with a new and improved plan for creating and maintaining meaningful student portfolios.

What skills do you hope to learn?