Plan to Win

Back to school tips.  See them, love them, adopt them.  #Winning. But, what comes after creating that awesome data binder, gorgeous word wall, or perfectly planned classroom layout?  Wait a second, let's back up.  What comes BEFORE, or should I say, what SHOULD come before?

Now don't get me wrong I love me some back to school tips.  I watch the Facebook live videos, I pin my heart out on Pinterest, and I even shared some of my favorite tips to head [Back to School in Style] just last week.  And yes, I do think having a thought out classroom layout and attractive learning space is very important.  But let's face it -  what we do, I mean what we really do - teaching kids - requires more than just tips or a beautiful classroom.  It requires intentional, well-thought planning specific to what we will actually teach these impressionable young minds.

I already know what you're thinking.  "My classroom has to be ready if students are going to learn, or I just really want to make a focus wall that looks just like..."  And I get it.  I've been there.  Heck I am there with you right now.  But, let's think about it.  Do you have your year plan ready?  I'm talking beyond your scope and sequence.  A scope and sequence is helpful for knowing WHEN and WHAT content will happen, but do you know HOW that content is going to be presented to your students?

When I first started teaching all I wanted to do was run up to my classroom and hang my alphabet, arrange my desks, and fill in the blank.  My point is that list can go on and on, and they are things that indeed have to get done (and those things are exciting!).  But had I spent a little more time pre-planning HOW I would be teaching my kids the concepts from our scope and sequence I would have been in a much better place my first year in the classroom.  In James H. Stronge's book "Qualities of Effective Teachers," Stronge states, "Teachers determine how content and skills are delivered in the classroom. School district curriculum, state standards, and national standards play a role in what students should learn (Jackson & Davis, 2000), but it falls to the teacher to structure how students should learn it."

That is powerful y'all.  You as the teacher have the power to decide how students will learn the curriculum in your classroom.

With this great and awesome responsibility in mind what will your first steps be towards creating a successful learning experience (and enjoyable teaching experience) this year?

I challenge you to start today by mapping out your year's big topics/units.  Nothing too detailed, but if you don't have a clear vision of when you are starting and ending your unit on fairy tales or weather, how will you be prepared on that first day of the unit?  How can you backwards plan without knowing when you're finishing and how long you'll have for the entire unit?

As an example, you can check out a copy of my year plan by clicking the image below.  Right now I'm only including our literacy theme, handwriting letters, sight words, blends/digraphs, word families, and science unit.  We follow the big ideas from Lucy Calkins for literacy/writing, and math jumps around as we use Everyday Math.  The template is VERY simple - but that's OK.  We just need a place to start!

Disclaimer:  We run on a 6 day rotation rather than a typical 5-day (or week) schedule, so my year plan appears to be shorter than the traditional 36 weeks.  Just keep in mind we spend an extra day throughout the year on each "week."

So get started!  Map out those big units and check back with me next week as I share how I tackle the HOW part of planning.

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Back to School in Style: Tips and Tricks with The Teaching Texan

The back to school season can get a little pretty hectic.  Inservice, prepping for the first day, setting up your classroom for the year, Meet the Teacher Night, the list goes on... My to-do list during this time of year is never ending.  Whether you're a list person or not, prioritizing what needs to happen now and what can wait is so important.  Today I'd love to share with you a few tips for prepping for the new year that will get you off to a smooth start and save you time throughout the year!

My first tip may be something that is not on your to-do list, but I highly recommend adding it if it's not.  Sending your future students a little hand-written note before you even meet them is a great way to kick start your year.  Even if you don't get your class list until right before school starts snail mail only takes a day or two to travel locally.  My team just prints some cute artwork onto cardstock and fold it in half to create our cards.

These.  Saved.  My.  Life.
But seriously, during my first two years of teaching I could never come up with an effective way of helping kids keep up with their unfinished work.  I failed pretty miserably at keeping track of who had unfinished work.  One thing my team taught me last year was to create a simple "Unfinished Work" folder for each child that he/she keep in his/her cubby.  Whenever a child finishes an activity early they are trained to go look in their green folder first.  This also works fantastic for putting differentiated activities in.

If you use anchor charts that are very similar to each other (letter bubble maps, word families, etc) make them ahead of time.  I have all of my letter bubble maps and word family charts ready to go for the whole year!  Whenever we start a new family I just have to flip to the next anchor chart and we add the pictures together!

I mentioned that this is one of my tips to do at the end of the school year for the next year, and if you haven't already preprinted your BOY assessments and copies for F&P/DRA you should definitely consider doing so before the year starts!  Nothing is worse than sitting down to do a running record and realize you don't have any copies of the Level A fiction book form.

Create a binder with a tab for each child to house notes on math, literacy, and social emotional development.  If I notice a child struggling with a concept/skill or a child who is especially proficient at a skill already, I jot a note down in his/her section.  This helps tremendously when I sit down to do small group plans or pick differentiated activities.  It's also a great tool when conference/report card time comes and you need to write comments!

This is also a great place to keep running records/F&P/DRA assessments.  Anytime I call a parent I also put a note on the coordinating page (math/literacy/social emotional) to keep track of parent contact.  This record is so nice to  have whenever something not so positive happens.

I make a folder in my e-mail titled "Parent Communication," then create a folder within this folder for each child in my class.  This is a great way to keep your e-mail organized throughout the school year and it gives you a place to keep track of parent communication.

This one I'm still working on, but I'm getting better!  For anyone who is new to the classroom (or maybe even if you aren't), being indecisive is a surefire way to kill your momentum when getting ready for the school year.  Let's make a pact together that we will all make a decision and take action without pondering every single detail or outcome.

If you're looking for even more tips and tricks for back to school check out this Pinterest board!

Here's are a few more great tips from friends of The Teaching Texan!

Cat H.:  My favorite tip is to have my room set up before the pre-service week. My principal always has tons of meetings that week and I never have time to finish.
Chrissy S.: Make a few extra new student folders at the beginning of the year when you are making them so that you have them pre-made if you get a new student later in the year.
Karen C. from Planet Happy Smiles: My tip is keep your take home bag out and ready during those I service days so you can put anything inside that you can do at home watching Netflix. Focus on the things you can only do at school first.

Stephanie T.:   have a 1-31 folder to place papers/items that I am going to teach on that day. So when Sept 2 rolls around, for example, I go to folder 2 and pull all my materials for that day. Easy to organize and helps me store materials I have ready ahead of time.

Bess G:  I mark the spines of our journals with different duct tape (color coded by subject) so they are easier to identify in student cubbies.
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Elephant Toothpaste: Bringing Social Emotional Development and Science Together

Y'all that back to school crazy time of year is approaching.  Let me help you check one thing off your list by sharing a new twist on a science favorite.  Just think social emotional, science, and bubbly, messy fun all rolled together in this hands-on experiment.

Many of us know about the elephant toothpaste science experiment (if you don't, you will by the end of this post).  But, how can we tie this into more meaningful instruction in primary grades?  Well, this summer at the KOSMOS Stem Teacher Institute it HIT me!

As educators we realize the importance of developing the whole child, which means focusing on social-emotional development.  Now, raise your hand if you read "Chrysanthemum" by Kevin  Henkes to discuss how words can hurt.  Great!  Many of us use this, or another read aloud, especially at the beginning of the year to discuss how our words can affect others.  We've done all sorts of activities over the years to illustrate this, but why not illustrate it with science?!  This is where elephant toothpaste comes in. 

 For anyone unfamiliar with this experiment, here is a quick visual.

Alright, so after reading "Chrysanthemum" (or other book of choice) we can discuss how each of the ingredients listed below represents a negative comment or action from a friend/classmate.

Challenge your kids to predict or hypothesize what will happen if you mix all of the ingredients together.  What will happen when negative actions (ingredients) build?

After predicting, it's time to have some science fun!  Here's how to make elephant toothpaste!

What you need:
Clean 1 liter soda bottle or large plastic graduated cylinder
Plastic tray or tarp
Dish soap
40-volume hydrogen peroxide (can be found at beauty supply stores)
Food coloring
Dry yeast (one of the paper packages is sufficient)
Warm water in a plastic cup or bowl
Measuring spoons
Googles (optional)
Gloves (optional)

After gathering the materials, place the soda bottle or cylinder on the tray or tarp.  This experiment WILL create a foamy mess and you want clean up to be a breeze.

Then, squirt enough dish soap into the bottle to roughly cover the bottom of the bottle.

Add about 120 mL, or 1/2 cup, of hydrogen peroxide to the bottle and gently swirl to mix.

This is a great place to stop and observe what has happened.  Link this back to the read aloud by asking if these two ingredients together (negative actions) have caused any kind of reaction.

Next, add some food coloring to make the reaction more colorful.  To achieve more of a striped result you can drip the food coloring down the edge of the bottle/cylinder as seen below.

Remember to continue linking these ingredients to what they represent from the story (children making fun of Chrysanthemum's name, etc).

Now it's time for the catalyst.  Pour the contents of the dry yeast packet into a cup or bowl and add warm water.  Gently stir to activate the yeast.

When you're ready, have the children pour the yeast mixture directly into the bottle/cylinder.  Be ready for foam!

 This experiment is super fun and visual.  I think that linking this visual science experiment to something the children understand (friends not being kind to each other) is a great way to begin expose the children to reactions in chemistry/physical science while also touching on social-emotional development.

A fun extra might be trying to have the children think about ways to "reverse" what has happened.  After brainstorming children should come to realize that there isn't a way to reverse the reaction, similar to the lasting impression that words can leave on a friend.

I hope that you and your kiddos will enjoy this experiment!  If you try it, let me know how it goes!

Want more ideas for introducing young children to chemistry/physical science - [check out this blog post.]
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My Week at the KOSMOS Energy Stem Teacher Institute

Sweet summertime... Time for relaxation, regeneration for the beginning of the school year, and... professional development!

This summer I was fortunate enough to attend the KOSMOS Energy Stem Teacher Institute at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science for a second year.  For anyone who was not able to attend, or just wants more knowledge on STEM education, I'd love to share some of the key take aways from my time at the institute.

Last year the theme of the summer institute was Earth/Space science.  This lends so well to many of the concepts we traditionally teach in the primary grades.  Suffice it to say that I was a little shocked when I found out the theme of this summer's institute was chemistry.

My initial thought was, "how on Earth does chemistry apply to teaching science in Kindergarten?!"  I don't know about you, but I'm no chemistry whizz.

While as teachers in the primary grades we generally may not approach a science unit or lesson as "chemistry" per se, we should approach these experiences and physical science as the building blocks of future chemistry knowledge for our kiddos.

While this is not an exhaustive list of concepts or ideas, here's what I learned that we should focus on in the primary grades.

States of Matter

Describing properties of the various states of a matter is a huge way to start building science vocabulary and exposure to solids, liquids, and gases.

Whether you can take a field trip to a local museum (like the Perot Museum), or just have a handful of interesting rocks, minerals, etc. in the classroom you could easily have children group them by like characteristics (size, luster, hardness).  I think the power of having kids verbalize their reasoning for sorting by a specific characteristic is so powerful!

One of our challenges was to determine what type of material was in the 3 petri dishes above and give a claim/evidence/reason.  My mind immediately went to how this could be done in a primary aged classroom.  Could you imagine kids hypothesizing whether a material will float or not?  Or maybe hypothesizing if a material will leave marks on paper or not?  I so can!  Then the kiddos can test out their hypothesis and give a claim/evidence/reasoning.  I could see this activity being used with so many types of objects!

Talking about combining states of matter can be hands on, too!  Think bouncy balls!  Who doesn't like bouncy balls people?!  One way we explored making the states of matter hands-on for young learners was by making our own bouncy balls.   It's also great for tying in math because of the measurement involved.

Seriously, look how much fun I had!


The materials used to make these bouncy balls are very common (can be purchased at a grocery store) and they're cheap!  This activity also lends the perfect chance to be a bit messy!  You can find a step-by-step tutorial for making bouncy balls [here].  Disclaimer:  This bouncy ball recipe actually works!

Another hands-on (and very visual) representation of combining liquids and solids is the elephant toothpaste science experiment.


I love this idea for introducing how different things can react with each other.  My mind is also spinning at turning this into a beginning of the year activity for talking about how words and actions can hurt others and how we can't take them back.  (Think each ingredient being a negative thing said or done, then when the reaction happens discussing how we can't change what happened and no matter how hard we might try it would not go back into the tube).  Social emotional PLUS science in one lesson?!  Winning!

Want to make elephant toothpaste?  Click [here] for a step by step guide.

You may be thinking, but what about gases?  This is something I've really struggled with illustrating for young learners - when things aren't easily seen or touched many kiddos can't really form meaning.  Well we did a great little demonstration to show that gases are around us even if we can't see them.  

All you need for this one is vinegar, baking soda, a container, a lighter/matches, and a candle!  BTW please check with your admin before trying this demo and definitely do NOT let the kiddos use matches/lighter or get too close to the candle.

Here's a quick break down of the "Pour without Pouring" experiment/demo!

Pour some baking soda into a clear beaker or glass.
Add some vinegar into the mix by pouring white vinegar into the same container (foam time!)
Wait a few moments to let the reaction occur.
A teacher will use a lighter or matches to light the candle.
Take the container with the baking soda and vinegar and carefully act like you are pouring it onto the candle - do not actually pour the liquid out.
The flame extinguishes!  

Energy/Static Electricity (Positive and Negative Charges)

Teaching Kindergarten students protons, electrons, and neutrons?  Yah, probably not...

But, teaching them that things can be attracted to each other or repelled is a big YES!  (Think magnets attracting and repelling - we all know we do magnet experiments in the younger grades)!

Well here is another hands-on idea for illustrating how things can be attracted to each other based on their charge.  All you need is a balloon (and hair helps)!

This goes back to kids wondering why they get shocked when they touch something metal, or why their clothes stick together when they come out of the dryer.  All you need to do is rub a balloon on your hair and witness how the balloon then attracts the hair towards it when pulled away.  For a bonus, hold the balloon over an empty can after rubbing the balloon on your hair.  Move the balloon side to side and see what happens!

How does all of this fit into the standards?  My school uses the [Next Generation Science Standards] (NCSS) as a starting point for what we will teach, but definitely do not let it limit us.  You can check out the "Physical Science" strand for information related to Chemistry and what we should be doing in primary grades to build strong science minds.  If you're looking for a place to start I highly recommend these standards (along with whatever state standards your state has).

My big take away after using the TEKS and NGSS?  Let the standards be a guide, but go beyond the standards!  We are creating the future and no set of standards can encompass everything that children should learn.

If you want more ideas for science check back throughout the year!  I'll be sharing tips, tricks, and ideas from our Saturday workshops!  You can also visit my favorite Pinterest board all about hands-on science!

Interested in attending the KOSMOS Stem Teacher Institute at the Perot Museum of Nature & Science?  If you live in the DFW area, I highly recommend you applying for next year!  [Click here] for more information and the website with application.
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Bouncy Balls and Chemistry in the Primary Grades? A Step by Step How-to Guide

Who doesn't love bouncy balls?  Especially bouncy balls that are a DIY and fit into science, math, and writing?!  This is so perfect for talking about states of matter and what happens when you mix solids and liquids.  Build that foundation for chemistry people!  This idea came straight from the KOSMOS Stem Teacher Institute that I attended this summer (but I know it's also floating around on Pinterest)!

Here's a simple run down of how you can make bouncy balls with your class or child!

Roll up those sleeves y'all, this one can be a bit messy!

First, you'll want to gather these ingredients and supplies.   I found them all at a local grocery store for about $10, but you might be able to find them cheaper elsewhere (don't bother looking at Dollar General for Borax - they don't carry it).   The amount listed below will make ONE bouncy ball.

1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon Borax
2 tablespoons white liquid glue
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Liquid food coloring (I've heard liquid watercolors work well, too)
2 bowls or cups
Measuring cups/spoons

Start by adding the warm water to a bowl.  Be sure the water is quite warm or the borax will not dissolve properly.

Next, add 1 tablespoon of Borax to the water and gently stir until it dissolves.

In the other bowl add 2 tablespoons of white liquid glue, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, and food coloring.  This is such a fantastic time to bring in art and talk about mixing colors to achieve desired results!

Gently mix the glue, cornstarch, and coloring together until you have a smooth mixture.

Poor the contents of the first bowl (water and Borax) into the bowl with the glue mixture.  

Quickly stir as the mixture will harden very quickly.

When you've got a clump in the liquid, go ahead and use your hands to pull it from the spoon.

Rub the clump between your hands until it begins to form a ball.

There will be a period where the ball becomes very sticky - this is normal!

When the ball is no longer sticky you are ready to give it a bounce!

I absolutely adore this activity for talking about states of matter (solids and liquids) in the primary grades.  It's also just plain fun!

You can read more about my inspiration for this post by reading about my experience at the KOSMOS Stem Teacher Institute by clicking [here]!

If you want more ideas for hands-on science activities, check out one of my FAVORITE Pinterest board below.

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The TOP Teacher Planner

Who doesn't adore a personalized, super cute, teacher planner?!  I'm all about ideas for tools that keep me organized and stylish at the same time.

Today I'd love to introduce you to my brand new [2016-2017 TOP Teacher Planner]!

Why the name "TOP" Teacher Planner?  Well that has everything to do with the sections included in this amazing planner.

T:  Teaching
This section holds everything you need to keep your day-to-day classroom routine in check.  Lesson planning pages that can be customized for you, birthday spread, year at a glance spread, important dates and holidays, checklist pages to keep track of field trip forms/grades/more, and a notes section.

O:  Organization
This could be is my favorite part of this planner!  This section is for all of the teacher-blogger/teacherpreneurs out there!  Included are pages for planning blog posts, keeping track of social media growth, tracking income/expenses for your small business, and monthly TeachersPayTeachers statistics tracking plus product planning.  Not a teacherpreneur or teacher-blogger?  Check out my [Nautical Teacher Planner] which has everything this planner does except the  "organization" section.

P:  Personal
Who wants to have a separate planner for their personal life?  If you enjoy carrying around 2 planners plus a notebook, by all means continue to do so - but I prefer having it all in one place.  This section features double-spread monthly calendars plus two note-taking pages per month.

Ok I can't wait any longer!  Let's take a look inside!

TOP Teacher Planners come with a durable 10 mil laminated front and back cover and sturdy PVC coil binding.  You can even select your personalized cover from 9 different options!

You can also select from a bright color scheme of the interior pages or a neutral color scheme.  The pictures below all feature my personal TOP Teacher Planner in the neutral scheme.

Each of the 3 main sections of the TOP Teacher Planner is separated with a divider (all pages are printed on study 67 lb card stock).

I don't know about y'all but pages and pages of lesson plans never helped me.  I've always found that jotting down the big ideas and key notes so that I can easily glance at them is much more effective.  That's why I love these lesson planning pages!  There is plenty of space to write the lesson objective and notes to remember.  Plus you have a space for to-do and prep work.  These can also be customized to feature any labels you'd like running vertically and horizontally.

Also included in the teaching section are holidays/important dates, year at a glance planning, birthdays, and note pages.

And lets not forget about checklist pages!  I love using these to keep track of guided reading levels, who has brought back permission slips, positive phone calls home, and more!

Teacherpreneurs are going to love the organization section!  Keep track of blog post ideas, social media, income/expenses, and your TpT business.

Last, but not least, is the personal section.  This is where I keep track of doctor appointments, travel, haircuts, and more.

And how will you navigate all of the awesomeness that is the TOP Teacher Planner?  With the included tabs - of course!

I am just beyond excited for this new planner, and if you've stuck with me to the end you're in for a treat.

I'm giving one personalized [TOP Teacher Planner] away for FREE!  Entry is easy using the Rafflecopter widget below.  The giveaway ends on Monday, June 27th at 3:00 PM CST.  Winner will be contacted to select personalization for his/her planner.

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