Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Teacher Hero

I think most teachers can look back and remember at least one teacher who led them to where they are today. Can you?

my teacher hero logo

When I was in elementary school, I hated math. It was this series of random steps, it wasn’t creative, and I just plain had to work harder at it than any other subject.

Looking back, I wasn’t “bad” at math- but I thought I was.

In 7th grade, I started pre-algebra… and I was worried. To a math-hater, algebra is a scary word- and my teacher was pretty old-school.

We had timed tests to learn decimal equivalents of fractions. He taught mainly through lecture at the board. But Mr. Wall was more than that.

He pushed us to think and to see math as a puzzle. We weren’t following rote steps, but we were using what we knew and trying to problem solve. And it was okay if we weren’t getting it right so long as we were THINKING.

Maybe the best thing about Mr. Wall was that he knew us, and he made it clear he was there for us. If we were stuck or wanted help studying for a test, all we had to do was ask- and he would come early or stay late to help us study.

By the middle of the year, he had me- this previously math-shy kid who is NOT a morning person- arriving at school an hour early every Friday morning to work on math problems that felt near-impossible as part of MathCounts. I did it by CHOICE- because he’d made tackling a difficult problem and struggling through to get to an answer FUN.

The donuts (which I’m sure he bought with his own money) helped, too.  : )

He changed my view of math. I went on to learn math as high as calculus, and probably would’ve gone further if I had stayed a science major. And even better? I didn’t hate it anymore. I saw math completely differently- and I saw myself differently. I didn’t believe I was “bad at math” anymore, and learned that it was okay for something to feel difficult at first. And now when I teach math… I teach it so differently than I was taught.

And it’s all thanks to Mr. Wall.


I had MANY great teachers as a child, and I firmly believe that TEACHERS ARE HEROES. Does it mean we’re all perfect, or even all good? No. But I’ve known many, many teachers- and the vast, vast majority give so much more than they’re given in return. If you’re reading this (a teacher blog, most likely on your own time)- you are one of those heroes who goes above and beyond for kids.

my teacher hero logo 2

Thank you…

for giving hugs and encouragement and love to kids who might not otherwise get it.

for going in even when you’re sick because you don’t want to do sub plans.

for doing grading and planning on your weekends and snow days.

for thinking about your students when you’re off the clock.

for teaching so much more than academics.

for everything you do for the kids.

Someday, at least one of those students is going to remember you as their teacher hero. And even if they never write a blog post about you, you will be part of the reason they are who they are- and that, my friend, means you have absolutely made a difference.


TpT wants to thank you today- and I’m joining in. All items in my TeachersPayTeachers store Luckeyfrog  (including March’s Text Detectives Jr.) are 20% off.

You can save an extra 10% in any TpT store with the code HEROES.

It’s not enough- but I know this money usually comes out of your own pocket, and I hope this sale helps you pick out something to make your life a little easier!


For a little more inspiration, read about some of my friends’ teacher heroes- and share the inspiration with your teacher friends who need a little reminder of how awesome they are!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Spark of Inspiration Blog Hop

Happy weekend, teacher friends! If you’re new here, I’m Jenny, a 4th grade science and social studies teacher who loves integrating language arts across the curriculum. Thanks to Sarah from Sarah’s First Grade Snippets for sending you here!

Sarah's First Grade Snippets!

While I was in college, I started reading teacher blogs. I discovered a new world of learning and inspiration- and I quickly realized I wanted to be a part of this world.

Now that I’ve been blogging for a few years, I feel so fortunate to also collaborate with some of those amazing teachers from around the country.

If you’ve been a reader of our blog A Class*y Collaboration, we’ve updated the look and name to match exactly what we want to give you- A Spark of Inspiration!

A Spark of Inspriation

I know you may be thinking that reading another blog takes time- but this is a good one! To give you a taste of what you’ll find over there, here are photos from just a few recent posts:

Plus, if you live anywhere near me in Ohio, the weather is cold and snowy enough that staying in to read teaching ideas is pretty ideal! (Can you say wind chill of –20? Brr!)

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To thank you for checking out the new blog and to help ring in spring weather, each one of our authors is offering a quick freebie- and the chance to win some serious gift cards!

I’m sharing a sample of my newest resource that’s juuuust about ready for TpT- Text Detectives Jr.! Like my original Super Text Detectives series, your students color-code text evidence to answer comprehension questions… but the original set is written at about 3rd grade level (independent) , and the new Text Detectives Jr. sets are about a 2nd grade level! March’s full Super Text Detectives Jr. pack should be posted in my store by early next week- but you get a sneak preview!

Luckeyfrog's Lilypad- Text Detectives JR- March Sampler

The passages in TD and TD Jr. have similar content and similar questions so that you can use the two packs together for differentiation in your 2nd or 3rd grade class, too! Click on the picture to download your free sample passages!

You can read more about how I use them to teach my kids how to find text evidence here. When I was a reading specialist last year, my students LOVED these- and they really helped them learn, too!

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Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the Internet  : ) Be sure to check out each blog to grab some freebies and enter our giveaway… starting with Megan from Mrs. Wheeler’s First Grade!

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Valentine’s Party K.I.S.S. -Keep the Party Sweet & Simple!

For our Valentine’s party, one of the other teachers on my team begged us. “Please,” she said, “ALL THEY WANT is to open their Valentines and look through them. Can we keep this one simple?”

As someone who doesn’t have a room mom (like a lot of teachers- but somewhat unusual for my school) and generally plans a craft, snack, and game for each party myself, I agreed immediately.

Here’s what we did!

For years, my team has done this. Send home a letter with student names, and a white bag. Ask each child to decorate their bag as much or as little as they want, but make sure their name is on it.

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As kids bring them in, hang the bags on the tray beneath the board. (Next year, I’ll do this in some kind of order, but this year we just randomly put them up with masking tape.)

After they’ve had about a week and a half to bring bags back, let kids start bringing in Valentines. The only rule is that they bring one for everyone. We also gave them the option of only filling out the “from” side to make them quicker to pass out : )

During the morning work time or when kids have finished work, they pass out their Valentines for the week or so until the party.

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Flash forward to the Valentine’s Party- when the valentines are already passed out. I sent one group at a time to go get their bag, and one group at a time to get snacks (a couple of kinds of fruit sent in by parents- because they’d have plenty of sweets!).

Once everyone had both, we put on Charlie Brown’s Valentine’s Day on the 3M board and let them eat and open their Valentine’s bags.

We ended the party by playing a little GoNoodle (our first time, and the kids LOVED it!) and then playing the old school hand-clap game “Down By The Banks,” which a lot of my kids had never played. They did a great job, even when they got “out”- and they roared with laughter when they got ME out of the game!

This party was less work, less chaos… and my kids had a lot of fun anyway. I think they really enjoyed just hanging out together. There isn’t a lot of downtime or “just because” fun in 4th grade- especially when we’re departmentalized- and it was a good reminder to me to let that unstructured time happen once in awhile. I really do think it helps with classroom community- and lets you get more learning in later!

What about you- hyper-organized party planner, or keep-it-simple planner?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reading Skills in Science Class

So, I may teach mostly science now- but I also look for ways to squeeze in a little language arts. I’m excited to be starting a new series about “The Language of Science.”


Now, a disclaimer- I don’t mean just reading in science class. It’s okay to do that sometimes, and I am as big a fan of integration as just about anyone- but I am strongly against “reading about science” as students’ only exposure to science. (And no, making Oobleck once a year doesn’t count.)

Science still needs to involve DOING science- demonstrations, experimentation, modeling, etc. But you can still include language arts skills.

When we learn vocabulary, I rarely just tell students what a word means. I love to let them try to figure out the meaning themselves, often through context clues or known word parts.

For example- as we learned the word biotic, I wrote it on the board and underlined “bio.” I asked the kids what other words they knew with “bio”- and the kids were amazed that Bioshock (a video game) and Bionicles (a show) actually had something to do with our science vocabulary. After we made a list of other words, we talked about what they meant and looked for a common thread in the meanings. It wasn’t long before they were able to point out that “bio” must mean life or living.

Language of Science- Vocab Strategies- bio

From there, they were able to make the jump to what “biotic” meant. And abiotic? Well, now we’re talking prefixes- as well as strategies for figuring out an unknown word.

Root words and prefixes/ suffixes are also great for talking abut different areas of science- geology, biology, thermodynamics, etc.

Whenever we are learning new vocabulary in science class, we talk about the word parts in part to help us remember meaning. I also love to use vocabulary cards, and sometimes I add visuals to them (like in the graphic above) to help the meaning stick.

Once we know the meanings, I love to add motions and do some Whole Brain Teaching-style mirroring and teaching to really cement the words and meanings in our memory.

And that doesn’t even get into all of the speaking and writing we do in science class!  Language is SUCH a big part of what we do- and I can’t wait to share it with you!  : )

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Winter Wonders Freebie Blog Hop

Whew! Today was my first day back, and I have to say that I was not ready for an alarm before 7:00… but I got up, got ready, and after enduring some sad faces from my dog and a frozen-shut car door, I got to school.

I was having a hard time getting in the groove, and then the kids came in… and I remembered why I do this!

The winter blahs are tough sometimes, but my friends from the Adventures in Literacy Land blog are here to cheer you up with some Winter Wonders freebies to celebrate our one year blogiversary together!

Today our group of reading specialists, literacy coaches, and Title I teachers are sharing some short posts and free literacy resources for you- so be sure to follow the link at the end of my post to the next one! At the end of our “hop,” you can enter to win a Barnes and Noble gift card!

When a struggling reader is told to go back in the text, you can see their face fall. They JUST pushed themselves, and maybe embarrassed themselves, to make it through the text- and you are asking them to go BACK? Are you kidding?


Telling kids to go back in the text with no extra guidance is a surefire way to make sure that they ONLY do it when you’re watching. Struggling readers need a method to the madness!

Last year as a reading specialist, I worked with so many kids who didn’t want to stop in the middle of the reading, because it slowed them down even more- but without me slowing them down, they were thinking about the next word, and not about how that word fit into a sentence, how that sentence fit into a paragraph, and so on. They couldn’t build meaning as they read.

We practiced stopping after each paragraph to write the topic off to the side. It wasn’t even a summary, really- just a few words to answer, “What was this paragraph about?” By jotting it down, my students had an easy reference- almost like a table of contents for their passage.


Then, when we finished it, we glanced back at the topics. It’s a quick way to recap the text’s main ideas.

By the time we get to the questions, we know what each PART of the text is about- which makes it so much easier for kids to predict where to look for the answers to the questions. Oh, it's talking about where George Washington was born? That's probably in the paragraph about his childhood- and now I know where to look first.

Of course, our predictions aren’t always right- and it’s important to model that for kids- but stopping as students read to really get them thinking about the big ideas of the text helps give them somewhere to start.

When you’re not a strong enough reader to scan and quickly find the answer in a large piece of text, a strategy that gives you somewhere to start drastically increases the likelihood that you’ll even try looking back in the text.

And while this is a great test prep strategy, it’s also fantastic for real-life applications like research that require looking up specific pieces of information and even deciding which Google result to click on in a search.

Want to try it out? I’m sharing a free snow-themed sampler of my Text Detectives series for finding text evidence!


download here }


It’s my students’ favorite way to practice finding answers for “right there” questions in text, because they get to color! I aim for about 3rd grade reading level, although it works well in 2nd –4th. You can read more about how I use them in my classroom here.

Next, hop over to Deniece at This Little Piggy Reads for the next Winter Wonder!

Thanks for stopping by!  Don't forget to hop all the way to Adventures in Literacy Land to enter our giveaway and welcome our new members! Happy Winter!

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Helloooo, 2015!

Somehow, every year,  Back-To-School Rush turns to Conference-And-Report-Card Madness and then just when Thanksgiving Break gives you time to breathe, it’s the Go-Go-Go-Crazy of December. And suddenly, thank goodness it’s winter break!

This year, I had such grand plans for catching up on schoolwork, cleaning up my classroom, and getting ahead on planning…

And instead I’m getting REALLY close to finishing up watching Gilmore Girls and Better Off Ted on Netflix, I’ve shopped a little too much for fun new clothes, and I’ve spent a ton of time just hanging out on the couch with my husband.

It’s been a good break, even if it hasn’t been crazy productive. So, to link up with Farley at Oh Boy Fourth Grade, here’s what I’m currently up to:

Currently January 14

Really, the best thing about break has been time with my husband. He works second shift, so it’s been such a blessing to actually see him every day. All in all, 2014 has been good- and I’m ready to start another year!


I’m not really one for resolutions, but I do like to set goals- and January seems as good a time as any to set some, so I’m also linking up with Erica Bohrer at Erica’s Edventures.


Financially, this year has been so much better for me. My husband spent a looong time in college- and started out out-of-state as well, so we have mountains of student loans. (We’re talking 6 digits, people.) He’s only been out of college for a year and a half now, so we’re still at the bottom of Loan Mountain… but thanks to TeachersPayTeachers, we’re climbing it!

It takes hard work, but if you’ve ever thought about opening a store… I think it’s worth considering!  Finally having significant savings has given us stability and progress on our debt that we wouldn’t have otherwise. You can sign up  here through my referral link if you’re interested in selling on TpT!

For my next year, I want to reach my next TpT milestone, build up our savings, and pay off one of our student loans completely- but I also want to get better at spending some of our money on the things we truly enjoy! We are so hesitant to spend, which is a good thing- but I don’t want to put off everything in the name of savings, either!


Professionally, I need to give myself a BREAK. At least until I get to be in the same position for another year!  My goal is to spend LESS time at school by prioritizing and being better organized… oh, and to get my plans in by Sunday afternoon!


This one’s tough. The first half of 2014 was so good for me health-wise! Thanks to MyFitnessPal and FitBit, I started taking small steps towards being healthier. And because I didn’t try to change everything all at once, I built up a lot of momentum and lost about 25 pounds. More importantly… I felt GOOD about how I looked for the first time in forever!

Then, cue a new teaching position and lots of stress this fall… and I’ve gained it all back. It bums me out, because I KNOW what I need to do- it’s just hard to DO it!

My goals for 2015 are to get back to good habits. Little soda, lots of water, better food, more movement! I know a healthy weight and better body image follows better choices- so that’s where I want to put my energy!


Sometimes I make a lot of excuses as to why I shouldn’t do things- but I want to make less excuses and just DO it already!

Examples? Travel more, read more books, take a photography class!

As always, I want to be better organized, too- and I want to get rid of some of my stuff to make that happen!

Last personal goal? I want to find a cool way to donate and/or volunteer. I’m thinking about finding a shelter or rescue I could take animal photos for. I’m no expert, but it’s something I enjoy and I think it could help some of them get homes. The tricky thing for me would be taking photos without also taking the animals home!

Alrighty- well, that’s certainly plenty to do. But I have a whole year, and I’m aiming high!

Garwood  Couples-057

In the meantime… Happy New Year from my little family!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Interactive Learning with Ellison- And a Giveaway!

Interactive notebooks are all the rage right now- and I’m trying one out for the first time this year, too! Ellison Education gave me a chance to try out their All-Star machine, and it is PERFECT for truly making those notebooks interactive.

Every school I have EVER worked at has had an Ellison machine in the workroom- and most have had them for years. It’s clear to me that they’re the best in the business and that their machines and dies are high quality- but I have to admit, when I thought of Ellison, I thought of bulletin boards… and that’s about it. Imagine my surprise when I looked through their dies and saw that I could create things like this:


I mean, a 3-D T-Rex skeleton model? CRAZYTOWN.

So Ellison sent me this incredible All-Star SuperStar machine. It’s a lot like the die cut machines you’ve probably used before, but it’s smaller, lighter, and more portable. I’m keeping ours in our grade level storage (much to the happiness of my team!)- easy access for any of us or our parent volunteers, but it doesn’t have to sit out in the hallway. This machine would be great at home, too, because it really doesn’t take up much space… and I can move it to somewhere comfortable instead of standing in the work room at the end of the day.


One of the dies I had to get was this tiny envelope. It cuts out one piece, and it’s simple to fold and glue the sides to make an envelope. It was smaller than I imagined at first, but it would be perfect for holding vocabulary cards in an interactive notebook. The tiny envelopes could also be great for adding a little excitement to the classroom. Just imagine if the Elf on the Shelf, the Desk Fairy, or leprechauns left tiny notes for the class!


With washi tape and a Sharpie, I made some cute tooth envelopes, too. These are easy to make, and it would take no time at all to make a batch of these in the summer to have for all year.


Now that I have one of these, I’m also planning on using some scrapbook paper or even wrapping paper to make the cutest gift tags ever.


I mean… tiny envelopes!

So what else can an Ellison AllStar do?

I am in LOVE with this wheel. The two openings are offset so that the things you write or draw in the window never overlap with the outside edge words. And the “window” is perforated to fold or to be torn off. With one cut and a brad, you are all set!


These would be amazing in interactive notebooks, especially because they’re fast to make- I could probably get a class set ready during one of my DVR’ed shows, easily! The little window is great for self-checking, too. If your kids had a multiplication notebook, they could use a wheel for each fact, like the 5’s… and then they can spin the wheel to study! And decoding using word families works well, too. A picture will help even kindergartners check to see if they decoded correctly.


And they have SO many uses, especially for me as a science teacher. Think of all the cycles!


I would love to use cardstock on some of these, attach them to cardboard, and create centers. The kids would enjoy them because they’re interactive- and being able to check their answers means that it’s hard for your students to practice it wrong.


But none of these prepared my students for THIS.


Using 3 separate dies (and punching one of them out a second time), I had a dinosaur model.

This was my sample, made with just regular paper. I made another on bright cardstock (which worked better for construction) and let my kids “find” the bones in dirt. Then my early finishers got a chance to work on building it. Even with the directions, it’s a little tricky at first- but having a sample nearby really helped. It was a great culminating activity to our fossils unit and I loved seeing my kids problem solving together. These would be so great in a diorama!


And I just read that I can use the Ellison machine to cut anything from thin sheets of balsa wood, to an aluminum can or compressed sponge! So… maybe a thin craft foam or balsa wood could make this model even more resilient to be used over and over again. (And if a piece breaks, you’d just need to cut a new one!) The only trouble you’ll have is that if you don’t make one for every student, they will BEG you to let them take it home!

Even my husband (whose college nickname was T Rex) loved it! He insisted that my sample T-Rex stay at home to “guard” the Christmas cards.


The best part of this is that the machine and dies are a LOT more reasonable than I expected. It would make a great holiday gift or a PTA request, too. And even better? Ellison is letting me give away an AllStar SuperStar cutting machine to one lucky reader- AND these dies, too! That’s a $200 value!


Do you want to win? Enter below and Rafflecopter will help me randomly choose a winner. Happy holidays from Luckeyfrog Learning & Ellison Education!

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

That New Teacher Feeling

Four years ago, I started my first teaching job. I had co-taught for two years... but I was considered the interventionist, and not the "lead teacher." Four years ago, I felt like I was finally a real teacher.

I remember feeling absolutely exhilarated for about 3 seconds, and then absolutely terrified.

There are so many decisions!

Why did no one ever tell me that about teaching?

Sure, someone tells me what to teach, and they may give you resources to use, but ultimately- you, the teacher, has to decide SO many things about how your classroom works.

And for that whole year, it was a matter of slowly figuring things out and getting more and more comfortable with the decisions that were solely mine to make. It was stressful not knowing if they'd be the right decisions, and knowing that no one could tell me for sure what was right for ME as a teacher and for MY KIDS as students.

But the good news?

I had support around me. I had teachers down the hall teaching the same thing who I could bounce ideas off of. I had textbooks and workbooks, and even if I didn't use them for everything, they served as a starting place. I had blogs- and oh, were those blogs valuable for new ideas!

And even better? I was expecting it!

Everyone had told me that the first year would feel like this, but that it would get better as time went on- and by the second year, I would feel so much more at ease.

They were SO right!

It was worse than I expected- but it DID get better, and by that second year in the classroom, even though I switched grade levels, I felt like I was lightyears ahead of that new teacher from the fall before. Sure, I still had a million decisions to make, a thousand things to tweak, and about a billion ways I could improve as a teacher... but I knew so much more about myself as a teacher and what worked for me, and I was so much more confident that I could DO this!

When I moved to follow my husband's job, I ended up with a half-time reading specialist position. By the end of the year, I was teaching Title I kindergarten intervention the other half of the day. My small groups were enjoyable, but I missed having a class of "my" kids and getting to really flex my planning and teaching creativity. I wasn't passionate about my job anymore, and especially with a husband teaching 2nd shift and spending hours home alone each night, it wasn't working for me.

It was less work- by far- but I MISSED loving my job.

This summer, I was so thankful that my principal hired me as a 4th grade science teacher (and I teach one section of social studies too). I was nervous because I didn't think I'd like being departmentalized, but I wanted to be back in the classroom and I didn't want to start over in a new district or new school. (4 schools in 6 years- I'm over moving!)

As I got ready for the year, I knew it wouldn't be easy. I knew that I'd be basically starting over in a new position again- but how hard could it be? I'd taught in the classroom before, and it would be a challenge, but I could handle it.

The good news?

I'm happy to be back in the classroom. Even though it's tons more work- I am much more fulfilled in my job. And teaching mostly science? LOVE. Yes, I miss reading, but I love science and it's fun to have so much time to devote to it (and I still get to incorporate lots of ELA and teach a reading class during our RTI block). Fourth grade has been a great age group, too!

The bad news?

That new teacher feeling.

It's back in a way I never expected, because everything I had figured out when I was first in the classroom... well, most of it doesn't really apply anymore.

I'm departmentalized now. I'm not organizing one class- I'm organizing SIX classes, a total of ~135 kids. I'm not differentiating for a couple of kids in my room- I'm differentiating for somewhere around 25 kids (and I would love to do more). And the number of kids to know, parents to keep in touch with- it's a BIG difference!

I'm not starting with a textbook series and building curriculum around it- I'm starting with standards, a vague district curriculum guide, and lots of links to resources that I still have to dig through and create around.

I'm not surrounded by other teachers that are teaching the same thing as me. While I have an incredibly supportive team, NONE of them are teaching 4th grade science. I'm the only person doing that in my entire school. I'm an island- and even though I've finally found some of the other 4th grade science teachers in the district, it's just not the same as having someone down the hall to take you under their wing.

I knew it would take me some time to get my feet under me this year- but I expected the first month, maybe, to feel like this. Instead, we're past the end of the first quarter and I still kind of feel like I'm drowning.

The last two weeks- once I made it through conferences, my first evaluation, and report cards- have started to feel better... but I'm still totally overwhelmed.

And it feels almost embarrassing to admit this- but at the same time, when I look around my school, EVERYONE seems to feel this overwhelmed. Even the teachers who've been in the game for three times as long as me, even the teachers who've been in the same position for a decade, even teachers who I feel are absolutely PHENOMENAL educators-- they feel like they can't possibly do everything we're being asked to do.

So I'm telling myself it's got to be okay. If they are this overwhelmed too... then maybe it's okay.

That does mean I'm not really blogging. I'm not creating for TpT. My hobbies are taking a backseat.

I'm treading water, and that's about it right now.

And hopefully soon, I can do more than that- because I've got about a million ideas and I really, really love blogging and creating- but in the meantime, I've got to get my feet under me so I can spend more of my weekends with these two:

So... if you've got that new teacher feeling, don't feel bad. You're not alone- even if you're not really a new teacher anymore.

We'll get there eventually... right?

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Morning Letters

Whew! Note to self: don’t get sick on the first week back to school!

This week we had 3 teacher days (meetings, more meetings, and working in our rooms) 1 open house, and 2 days with students- and boy, am I exhausted!

I’m linking up with BigTime Literacy for Sunday Morning Letters- a fun way to give you a window into my thoughts and feelings about this week!


Dear 4th Grade Team,

Thank you for being incredible to me this week. You have checked in on me, fed me, lent me things, shared ideas, and even offered to let me take a quick nap at your house on a day I was feeling very sick (since I live almost 30 minutes from school). You are organized, flexible, understanding, and helpful- and I find myself feeling so blessed and excited for this year with YOU as my team!


Your Very Grateful Newest Member


Dear Hairstylist,

You somehow did everything I asked you to, and yet I wasn’t thrilled with the result. I’m not blaming you, but I’m not loving it. That said, you adding in an extra mini-facial and short scalp/shoulder massage because it was my first time at the Aveda Institute was JUST what I needed after a tiring first day of school.

See you next time (I think),

The Girl with the Bangs That Make Her Look Like a Tween


Dear Principal,

With our new contract, I know you’re working to be very strict about start/ end times. I know it’s not your fault, but that’s how you need to be. I get it- and that made me appreciate it even more when you came to me on a teacher work day and told me to go home and take a nap because you could tell I was sick. You are a principal who wants to follow the rules, but even above that, you want to do what is right for your people- and that is commendable. (Even better? You did this on the day before Open House, when I’m sure you had a billion other things to do yourself.)


Your Newest Fourth Grade Teacher

P.S.—Thanks for not stressing me out too much about having your daughter in my class!


Dear Classroom Library,

You know I love you. I do. But when I’m labeling every one of your books, it would be really nice if you weren’t QUITE so huge. Same goes for when I’m moving those same books back to school. And organizing them. And labeling the baskets. So… maybe just don’t grow TOO much for awhile, okay?

Your faithful labeler,

Mrs. G


Dear Cough,

You can go away any time now. It’s only been a little more than a week…




Dear Rosie (my dog),

I’m sorry Back to School Time has been such a hard transition. I know you got really used to having me home all the time this summer, and me being at school so much this week and ALSO taking you for shorter walks because I didn’t feel well… you made it clear you were NOT happy, and I’m sorry! We’re planning some trips to the park and dog park next week to make up for it  : )

Love and Milkbones,



Dear Husband,

Despite working second shift and hardly seeing me this week, you did an amazing job of checking on me, picking things up for me, offering to help, and basically just being super supportive when I needed it most.




Dear New Class,

I love you already. I missed having a class, and I can tell you are going to be fun. Now, we still have a LOT of work to do when it comes to listening, following directions, meeting the expectations, following procedures, etc… but you are a very sweet class, and I am loving your creativity and excitement for school!


Mrs. Garwood


I really enjoyed linking up for this fun way to recap my week! How was your week?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bright Ideas: Photo Puzzles to Introduce New Topics

Last week at a PD training, a presenter showed us the most simple but totally engaging way I’ve ever seen to introduce a new topic in the classroom.

Absolutely one of those, “how have I never thought of this before?” ideas- which is why I had to share it with you during this month’s Bright Ideas hop!


Imagine you’re in my class and you walk in to see this on the board:


Ask the students what this is, and what evidence they have to support it. Kids might say a mountain, a canyon, etc. based on the creasing and shape.

Next, show them this one.


Hmm. What do they think it is now? Do they notice the dark spot, and what do they predict that might be? Do they see the little bit of white in the corner?


Ooh- now THIS one should change some minds. Now they might not think it’s some sort of landform. Maybe someone will guess that it’s an alligator?


Now, with this photo, will they still think alligator? Someone might explain that the teeth look different, or that the snout is rounded. Maybe they’ll notice the missing teeth, and wonder why teeth might be missing.


Did you guess the photo puzzle right? Today we’re learning about DINOSAURS!

There’s also a popular game app called 4 Pics 1 Word, where players are given four seemingly unrelated pictures and have to find the word that ties them all together. For older kids, introducing a new unit or novel with a puzzle in this format would be a lot of fun.


Can you tell what this one would be?

While photo puzzles might just seem like a fun fluff activity, if it’s done right, it’s not! With the right guidance from you, kids will be brainstorming, thinking creatively, discussing, justifying their opinions with evidence, and evaluating the validity of others’ ideas. (Helloooo Common Core speaking and listening skills, right?)

And could you picture having students create their own for books they read, or concepts they’ve learned about? What a thought-provoking hallway display and fascinating assessment it would be to have them create and explain these!

 photo puzzles logo

How to Create a Photo Puzzle

1)  Find a high-definition image. (I suggest Morguefile.com or even a Google image search if you’re just using it for educational use in your own classroom.)

2)  Open the photo as big as you can.. (You may want to download it.)

3)  Zoom in and crop sections of the picture.

You can use a photo editing program, or just take a screenshot. On Windows, you can press your keyboard’s PrintScreen button to “copy” a screenshot to your clipboard, or even easier- use the program Snipping Tool (which probably came on your computer but you didn’t know it!) to save just part of what’s on your screen with no cropping needed. On a Mac, look for the program Grab (also already there!) or click Command-Shift-4 and then check your desktop.

Of course, you could also put your images into a PowerPoint for easy display, or use a program like Picasa to easily create a collage for a “4 Pics 1 Word” style image.
I am so excited to use these photo puzzles with my class this year! Do you have any more ideas for me?  : )


If you enjoyed this Bright Idea, I’d love for you to join me on Bloglovin, Facebook, or Instagram for more teaching ideas and resources! (And some cute dog pictures, because... I'm kind of obsessed with my dog, haha.)

Be sure to visit some other entries in the Bright Ideas Blog Hop, too! If you’ve never browsed through one of these before, I highly recommend it- there are over 200 high-quality, 100% ad-free ideas from some of the best teacher bloggers out there!