Thursday, July 24, 2014

Amazingly Easy Ledges

I've been really obsessed with Ana White lately...  She has a ton of building plans for household furniture & decor.  The main thing I love about her plans is how easy she makes everything look!  As I was perusing her site a few weeks ago, I discovered her plans for Ten Dollar Ledges.  When I saw them, I immediately thought of my large stack of mostly unused cook books.  I picked the perfect spot for them beside our wide kitchen window.

I went to Home Depot to buy the wood.  I needed (2) 1x4 boards & (1) 1x2 board.  Each of the boards was 8 feet long.  The 8 foot 1x4s were $4.43 each & the 8 foot 1x2 was $3.98.

The original plan was mainly for one long 8 foot ledge (which I will be making for my library asap), but I wanted 4 smaller ledges, so I cut my boards to 24 inches each.  If you don't have a saw of your own, Home Depot will do the cuts for you. 

I used wood glue to attach the 1x4 to the 1x4 in an L shape.

Once the glue dried, I used 2 inch wood screws to permanently affix the boards together since the wood glue alone wasn't sufficient.

Then I attached the 1x2 front piece with some 2 inch long finishing nails.

I filled in the holes in the front (left by the finishing nails) with some wood filler.  

Once they were all complete, I painted them with some leftover paint I had from a previous project.

Once the paint dried, I sealed them with this clear matte spray paint.

Nothin' left to do but install!  I affixed my shelves to the studs to make them as sturdy as possible.  That is definitely the way to go!

Done & so easy!  Where could you use some of these awesome ledges in your house?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Soft-Close Cabinets Made Easy

Every time I go to IKEA, I love going through the kitchen section and testing out the soft-close feature.  It's like magic, I tell ya!  I thought I was going to have to replace all my cabinet hinges to have this fancy things in my kitchen... but behold!!!

You can buy soft-close adapters by themselves!!!
I never knew this was a possibility!  I found these puppies at Home Depot for about $4 a piece.  I only bought 5 so I could try them out and see how I like them.  You can find them other places as well.  I found a ten-pack on Amazon that comes out to about $3.60 a piece--the reviews of this style seem really good!  There are also several different types.  Do some searching to find the ones that are right for you.  I went with these because they were the style available in the store at the time.

These are supposed to be installed in the top corner of the cabinet on the side with the hinges.  

Installation is simple with two parts: The adapter & the screw.

You're going to need to pre drill the hole for the screw so you don't split the wood or strip the screw.  It only needs to be predrilled 1/4 inch so I taped off my bit at the necessary depth.

Stick the adapter into the corner and pre drill your hole.

Pre drilling is super simple once your adapter is lined up properly.  These adapters are screwed in at an angle.

Switch your drill bit for a phillips head & screw in the adapter.

And you're done!
So simple!!  Happy adapting!!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Quick, Cheap, & Easy Photo Collage

I love pictures! But it has become very rare for me to actually print my pictures. They tend to live on my computer. When my husband and I got engaged (and subsequently married), we had two AMAZING photographers take pictures for us. The pictures were just too awesome to leave on my computer. I'd been hanging on to a beautiful empty 28in x 34in frame for a long time. I mean look at this thing...
I love the blueish-green patina.  Would this be categorized as a patina?  I have no idea.

So here's how to create your quick, cheap, & easy photo collage:

Step 1: Print out some of your favorite pictures.

Step 2: Find a really cool old frame. It doesn't need to have glass in it. Just the frame!  Go to the thrift store, find a cheap, ugly picture & dissect it if need be!

Step 3: Get some of this blue painter's tape.

Tip: Go with the name brand stuff (this is Duck brand).  It'll stick better.  I've learned from experience.

Step 4: Figure out how to hang your picture frame.  I just used two screws in the wall.  (ignore the pics for now-that's the next step)

Step 5: Pick your favorites and put blue painter's tape (roll-style) on the back, like so.

Step 6: Keep rearranging until you're happy.  Then it's super easy to change pictures out as desired. The painter's tape doesn't hurt the wall or the pictures but the pictures will stay up without a problem (these have been up for at least 4 years).

Here's the whole, finished product!

Happy collaging! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

EASY Document-Based Opening

Want to learn a quick & easy way to inject document-based learning into your classroom every day?  Then keep reading!

This idea goes really well with collaborative learning teams (you can read more about that here & here) but can be done in any classroom where kids are encouraged to work together.

Step 1: Find a document (political cartoon, reading passage, newspaper article, picture, graph, chart, etc.) and either project it onto the board or give students printed copies.

Step 2: Tell students to ANALYZE.  They'll know what that means.... PSYCH!  They probably won't.  So, you'll have to teach them.
Here's how I did it:
The first day you do this, write the word ANALYZE on the board & ask students to tell you what they think it means.  As they throw out their ideas, write them on the board.  If it's a lower level class, let them talk about it amongst themselves before you ask in the whole group setting.  After they have given you their answers & you have adequately explained what it means, tell them your expectation for analyzing the documents you give them.  What is my expectation?  I want them to be able to answer:
WHO-Who is the author of this document (or at least who do you think it could be-this can be general, such as what country could they have been from)?
WHAT-What is this document?
WHY-Why was this document created?
WHEN-When was this document created?
WHERE-Where was this document created?
HOW-How does/could this relate to you (your country, your life, your world, your family, etc.)

*This year, I plan on giving all students a handout with my expectations & asking them to keep it in their binder all-year for easy access.

Step 3: Set a timer for student discussion.  I usually do 5 minutes, but some documents might take a little more/less time.  Adjust as needed.

Step 4: Walk around while the students are discussing. This will accomplish three things: 1) You can "encourage" them to discuss if they are off-task.  2) You can ask questions to create deeper understanding. 3) You can help guide students who are veering off-track content-wise.

Step 5: Once timer goes off, grab your stick cup (it's a cup with all the student's names on popsicle sticks) & pick a kid to explain their analysis.  After that kid is done, pick a few other eager students (or use the stick cup again & again & again) to explain OR you could ask some open-ended questions to discuss a little longer.  Try to keep it under 10 minutes, unless the discussion gets really good.

Step 6: After doing this for a few days, you will not need to remind students what ANALYZE means. They will see the word ANALYZE on the board & they'll know just what to do!

Step 7: Pick a random document (that you went over) & include it on a future test or quiz.  You'll be reinforcing what they learned & also making the original analysis more meaningful.

That's it!  Happy document-based questioning!!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Closing Cup

Our school district has been encouraging teachers to use the three-part lesson as often as possible. In case you haven't heard of it, the basic idea is to break the class period into three parts.

Part 1-The Opening: The time to get kids thinking about the objective for the day, often done using a warm-up or hook of some kind.  This can also be the time when teachers introduce a new concept via mini-lesson.  

Part 2-The Work Session: When the learning/practice/student work takes place.

Part 3-The Closing: When what we've done for the day is summarized, hopefully by the students.

All of this sounds great until you realize you've got minutes left on the clock & it's closing time!!!  My solution?  The Closing Cup!!!

Step 1 
Get yourself a cup.  One of these will do just fine:
Unless you have something more fancy, of course!!
Step 2
Find some popsicle sticks!  I like the rainbow colored ones from my local Dollar Tree, but any kind will do.
Like I said, Dollar Tree baby!

Step 3
Write the names of different "closing" activities on each stick.  If you do a quick google search on closing activities you'll find tons of 'em! Here are a few of my favorites to get your started:

>Quiz Each Other or Pair/Share
This one is easy.  Have students pull out their notes/assignment from the day & quiz each other on the material.

>Test Question
Have students write down 1 potential test question from today's lesson.

Ask the kids an open ended question about today's lesson.  It may pertain to the content directly or it might have to do with them as a student (such as "What part of today's lesson was easiest/hardest for you?")

Have students write down (or verbally discuss) 3 things they learned, 2 questions they have, & 1 way it connects to real life.

>Pretend To Be An Adult
The students are suddenly transformed into adults.  Why might they need to know the information from today?

Draw a quick picture illustrating something you learned today.

>Your Parents Are Gonna Ask...
Have students write a quick 3-4 sentence summary answering every parents favorite question "So, what'd you learn today?"

Step 4
In the last 5-10 minutes of class (set a timer to remind you of the closing if you keep forgetting, or better yet, put a responsible student in charge of reminding you), give your students one minute to pack up.  As soon as they're settled (again, I use a timer) find your CLOSING CUP, pick a stick & let the summarizing begin! If you happen to pick a closing requiring writing, it will help to have little slips of paper ready for students to use since you've usually already packed up. I will typically take up any written closings as a ticket-out-the-door.

Easy, simple, & you'll always be prepared to end your lesson the three-part way! 

Happy closing!

The Middle School Teacher's Ten Least Favorite Student Phrases

The end of the school year is a very bittersweet time for teachers.  

We are excited for obvious reasons... Did you know we get "three-months off"?  Actually, no, we don't get three-months off, Mr. Grocery Store Man. 

Granted, we do get a wonderful amount of time off... This year it's about 7 weeks of pure, blissful summer.   

We have just spent about ten months bonding with our students.  It is really weird seeing them EVERY DAY & then barely seeing them ever... If at all.  Even though I'm looking forward to summer relaxation, this is always hard.  The first year that I really started enjoying my job (my third year), I sat on the floor behind my desk on the last day of school, crying into a cute pink beach towel a student had given me as an end-of-year gift.  

This is the one!

This year, I nearly broke into tears while I was calling names during awards day in front of 500+ people.  I was so full of pride, love, happiness, and nostalgia.  Then my homeroom had to go and make me this amazing card:

Oh, the feels.

We have just spent ten months TRAINING these wonderful children how to behave in our classroom, how to collaborate, how to meet our expectations... And just when they start to really get it... ADIOS!  They're gone and we have get to do it all again with next year's kids.  Oh boy.  Talk about deja vu.  I'm constantly asking my students "Have I already said this to you guys before?"  

As we start to think about our upcoming middle school babies, I thought it might be fun to ask my colleagues about their least favorite student phrases... And BOY did they respond!  So here ya go!

For this super scientific poll, I went to Facebook & asked a question:

"What are your least-favorite phrases to hear from students?"

Here are the top ten responses:

10) Talking negatively about another teacher (or trying to turn teachers against each other)
As soon as a kid opens their mouth with the words, "Mrs. _________ is so...." I give them my teacher-laser-look & cut them off.  Why do they think it's okay to do this?  
And you gotta love the claim, "Well, Mr. _________ always lets us do (something they shouldn't do). Why don't you?"  Usually, whatever they're claiming is not true, but that doesn't stop them from trying the school version of turning parents against each other. Several teachers came to me this year asking, "Do you let the students use their cell phones to text in class?"  I look at the other teacher like they are crazy and reply with "Absolutely not!"  It makes me look bad when students do this. I'm definitely not a fan of this phrase.

9) "You never told us/me about that."
Uhm, yes I did.  It was on the board for two weeks, I talked about it almost every day, it was on my webpage in three different places, and I sent your parents an email about it.  Why would I set you up for failure like that when I am under pressure to help my students as much as humanly possible?

8) "When can I come in to retake/redo the test?"
Unfortunately I have had students ask me this as I pass out the test for the first time! Before they've even taken it once!  Sorry kid, but that ain't happening.

7) "Are we going to do anything after the CRCT (state end-of-year test that is given over a month before school is out)?"
Have you been in a middle school classroom of 34 kids when there is no plan, purpose, or structure? Of course we are doing things the last six weeks of school!!  Do I look like a crazy person?? [said as I stare at them with frazzled hair and a wild look in my eyes]

6) "What are we supposed to be doing?"after it has been explained and written on the board
Luckily my other students are there to save me & reiterate the instructions since I am busy scraping myself off the floor after I've fainted in disbelief.

5) "You just don't like me!"
Sweetie, I don't have time to "not like" you.  Does that phrase work on your parents, too?  I did not get into education to dislike my students.  If it seems like I'm asking too much from you, it's because I expect more from you.  That is a good thing!

4) "Are we doing anything today?"/"What are we doing today?"
The first of these two phrases is super frustrating because it implies they think there is a possibility that we will be doing nothing.  And the second phrase is usually asked while students have full access to our daily agenda, written on the board in almost every classroom.  Oh, boy!

3) "I left my project/homework at home."
I want to believe you, but that's exactly what someone who didn't do their project/homework would say.  Now, most teachers will understand if they get this phrase from a kid once or especially if it's said by a student who is usually very prepared... But some kids use this phrase every time something is due. Red flag!

2) "Did you do anything yesterday when I was absent?"
This one is similar to #4.  When I get this question, I answer with a simple and drawn-out "Yeeeeesssssssss" with my eyes as wide open as can be.  They usually don't know how to respond. If they then ask "What?" I ask, "How many of your peers have you asked about this?" or "Did you check my webpage?" I'm not trying to be cruel, but instead I'm hoping they learn problem solving & self-sufficiency.

1) "Is this for a grade?"
This one drives me bonkers!  I tell my students that when they ask me this question, they are implying they will not do their best unless it's for a grade.  Therefore, my constant comeback is "Everything is for a grade."  It may be for an official grade, or it may come back up on a test/quiz down the road, which is also an official grade.  

It's true these phrases can be super frustrating.... But if students are good & hardworking, I can easily overlook these things.  We all say things we shouldn't from time to time, and this is especially true for kids!  It's funny actually... Once students know how I feel about certain phrases, they will catch themselves saying them & cut themselves off before they can finish.  Then, they look at me with wide eyes & say "Nevermind, nevermind!"  We just laugh.  A great classroom is all about community & patience.  If you've got those things, everything else will fall into place.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Retro Desk Update

We had a winter break from school this week & Pinterest was my boredom preventer.  My latest project: Operation Retro Desk Update!

I've had this great desk for some time now...

I love the modern lines, but it needed an update.  I bought a great green/blue paint color a few months ago & decided it would be perfect for my desk!

I spray painted the legs with an off-white paint & primer spray paint.  I sealed it with a poly spray as well.

I got these knobs for a great price at IKEA during my last trip.  I love the retro look!

side view
Finished!  But I realized I didn't have a chair for the desk...
... And then I remembered I had a modge-podged monstrosity in the basement... A project gone bad. 

After lots of water and elbow grease...
... I got most of the modge-podged fabric (what was I thinking?!) off and chopped the legs down a bit...

Woo hoo!  Now I had a seat for my desk!  
Of course I spray painted it to match the desk legs first.

Then I decided I needed to replace our doorbell... 
... So I did that, too.

Tah-dah!!!  Don't you just love it?!?

The stool fits perfectly!

And here's what it looks like during the day.  The color is awesome!!

Now this is my special spot when Ben is playing video games or watching a sport that I don't want to watch... Which is pretty frequently.  In the summer, I'll get a great view of the green grass and bushes in my front yard.  Can't wait!

Have a great day!!!!