photo Image277_1x1_zps92a4c832.gif photo Image277_1x2_zps82501ae2.gif photo Image277_1x3_zpse2f7619b.gif photo Image277_1x4_zpsbfd3d820.gif photo Image277_1x5_zps55244bd5.gif photo Image277_1x6_zpsa94012cf.gif

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!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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?

post signature

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 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!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Summer That Should Have Been

Today- with less than five days of summer to go- I looked at my To Do list from June.

The number of things not-crossed-off is STAGGERING.

photo 1 (4)

I had the whole summer, people. For the first time since I was 15, I wasn’t working a job all summer. TpT (and my husband’s job) have finally made it so that I could take a summer break, and I had such grand plans to get so much done!

If I didn’t do this stuff during the summer, when am I supposed to do it?

I’m looking around our apartment and thinking, “Summer was supposed to be my time to catch up and actually clean up this place!” annnd yet my dresser is still piled with clean clothes to be put away, my coffee table is covered in papers to file, and my bathroom counter is a disaster area. I really should have done that.

And the appointments. With my school’s hours and my commute, I leave the house around 8 and get home around 5. The summer is the perfect time to fit in every appointment with my doctor, eye doctor, dentist, accountant, etc.- and I got maybe half of them made and done. Definitely should have made that happen.

Did I mention I should have gotten my car fixed during the only extended time during the year when I don’t need to drive it every day?


And don’t get me started on all the things I should have done for school.

Even worse? There are FUN things I didn’t do!

Pool day? Totally doable- part of our apartment rent pays for pool access and I can literally walk to it- but NOPE. I didn’t go to the pool ONE time this summer.

Amusement park? There’s a nice one less than half an hour from me, and I didn’t spend even one day riding roller coasters and eating blue ice cream.

Zoo? I love living in a city with a great zoo. I thought I might get a membership and go a few times… but I never even made it there once.

There were so many things I should have done! Recipes to be tested. Crafts to try. Blog posts to write. Products to make. Places to visit. Letters to write. Workouts to do.

Seriously! June, July, and half of August, and what do I have to show for it?


I am relaxed.

I am refreshed.

I am  ready and excited to go back to work!

I can look at all those things I should have done this summer, or I can look at what I did do. I was a little productive- but I also slept in. I read books. I went on vacation. I hiked. I took naps. I spent time with friends. I took photos. I binge-watched a TV series. I wasted hours on Pinterest.  I spent full days in pajamas. I ate ice cream like it was my job.

Most importantly, I spent time with those I care about. I hung out with my husband (who works second shift, so I don’t see him much on weekdays during the school year). I spent hours every day with our newly adopted dog (who is the CUTEST thing and loved every second). I visited family , hosted friends, and met new friends, too.


Simply put? I made summer break a BREAK- and honestly, I don’t regret it much.

Teachers give, give, give through the school year. Sure, the average person doesn’t get it- but beyond the hours I spend at school (too many), I come home with a bag full of work, a mind that can’t stop brainstorming, and a heart still stuck on worrying about my kids. Never mind the stress of new standards, new teacher evaluation systems, drama with co-workers, and all of the other complications we face. I love what I do- but (probably like most teachers) loving it so much and caring so much means that  I run myself ragged sometimes. It’s hard to not pour your entire soul into teaching, and it’s as exhausting as it is fulfilling.

And by the summer, sure, it feels like I should have used that time to catch up- but what I really needed was a break, and I am so glad (for once) I took it.

So despite that To Do list nagging me about the summer that “should have” been, I can honestly say that I will be a BETTER teacher to my kids this year because I gave myself a true break this summer.

And I’ll be happier, too.

Monday, August 11, 2014

It’s SHARK WEEK! {including a freebie!}

All teachers know that kids learn more when they’re excited and engaged. Today a team of bloggers come together to help your students take a BITE out of learning with a theme your students are sure to love!


One way I help my students get excited about learning is to add their names into my lesson examples and our math problems whenever I can. It helps spark their interest and sometimes I can show something I know about them (for instance, if I know Danny plays soccer, I can do a math problem about his minutes of soccer practice).

Of course, picking topics the students are interested in always helps, too!

Slide 10.png

My Shark Week freebie is a multisyllabic word game featuring the phonics pattern "-ar." My multisyllabic word games are all about helping kids "chunk" and decode bigger words! In this game, the "ar" is underlined in the word to help kids recognize the pattern, while still giving them practice with decoding longer words. Of course, to make the card game fun, there are some "SHARK BITE!" and "DOLPHIN RESCUE!" cards thrown in!

This game makes a perfect center or Word Work game. My RTI and tutoring kids LOVED this kind of game last year!

Click HERE to try it out for FREE!

Be sure to go for a swim in the linky party below. Every blog in the jawsome Shark Week Blog Hop features a fishy freebie for you and your students- but hurry! Shark Week only lasts until Sunday, August 17th  : )

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Balancing Your Reading Instruction- and A Great Back-to-School Deal!

Last year as a reading specialist, I saw so many students who were good at PART of reading. They were fluent decoders... who couldn't understand a drop. Or they would struggle with every letter and sound, but they'd be able to recite it back to you.

I realized very quickly that my kids needed a balanced approach to reading. They needed a little of everything in bite-size lessons and continued practice so they didn't lose it- plus some "real reading" to apply the mini-lessons we'd learned!

When I was teaching intervention, here's what our time looked like for my second graders:

- Come in, re-read from Book Box while I do running record or fluency (5-10 minutes)
- Phonics Mini-Lesson & Review (usually The Phonics Dance, which I love!!- 5 minutes)
- Fluency practice (Monday, cold read with our Fluency Folders, Friday- hot read with our folders, every day in between- fluency or sight words game -- 5 minutes)
- Comprehension Mini-Lesson (usually using our CRAFT board-- 10 minutes)
- Guided Reading with a book (usually from the LLI Kit), or occasionally close reading with a passage (This was a great time for my Text Detectives sets!-- 15 minutes)

Of course, not every day was like this... but in our 45 minutes, we usually tried to hit on phonics, fluency, and comprehension for sure.

It's a lot of work, and it takes time to put together a guided reading routine. I used my friend Em's plan (you can read it here at Curious Firsties) as a great place to start my planning- and then I looked at what my kids really needed... a little of everything!

When I was teaching full-group, I tried to fit in these same things. (You can read more about how I fit in my reading mini-lessons and small group instruction here.)


I sometimes use some of my products as part of our routines. 

Here's my Reach for the Stars Fluency Folder Kit! Last year, when I was a reading specialist, we were required to track our students' progress in fluency... but so often, kids see that timer come out and instantly think they have to speed-read. I really worked with my kids on seeing fluency as multi-faceted- including Pausing, Accuracy, Speed, and Expression- "not reading like a robot." This kit is the best way I've found to keep parents in the loop, let students track their own progress, and help me organize my fluency data too!

(You can read more about teaching fluency as more than just speed here!)

 My multi-syllabic word games were inspired by one of those kids who could decode like a champ... if the word was short. The minute you gave him a two or three syllable word, all of his skills were mysteriously gone! This pack focuses on reading words with common suffixes and helps "chunk" the big words by putting small spaces between each word part. My kids love playing this game, and after a few rounds, I can really tell a difference in their decoding skills!

And of course, one of my Super Text Detectives packs! I have to tell you- these are by far my best-selling type of product on TeachersPayTeachers, and one of the most popular with my students, too. With Common Core's focus on text evidence, I asked my students to cite their reasons... and quickly found out that many of them didn't really understand how to go back in the text and find the answer, even when it was stated exactly! With this product, they HAVE to go back- because the directions are to underline the answer in the text with a certain color. My kids thought this was much more fun- coloring instead of writing? Woohoo! Finding the text evidence in this FUN way really set the stage for moving the skill to writing. It was really ideal for remedial reading comprehension with my RTI kiddos!

Of course, you don't need any products to balance all the different elements of reading- but these have definitely helped me keep it all straight! How do you balance your reading instruction?

post signature

Thursday, July 17, 2014

School Is Sneaking Up On Me… and the Indiana Dollar Sale!

Is it just me, or is this summer going WAY too fast? I just got back from a trip (recap to come!) and suddenly it feels like I need to be getting ready for back-to-school already. I only have about a month until we go back- and that includes moving into my new room, going through all of the resources left in my room by the last teacher, getting a handle on my new curriculum, and our August PD and teacher work days!

Did I mention my new room currently looks like this?

photo 2 (4)photo 3 (3)

YIKES. And that’s before I move in ANY of my own stuff!

So, as I start thinking about next year and the things I’ll need, I’m checking out the Indiana Teachers’ Christmas in July sale. Yes, I know a lot of people are doing a sale right now, but this one is as easy as Dollar Tree or the Target Dollar Spot.

photo 5 (3)

C’mon teachers- you all know how easy it is to fill up your cart with back-to-school stuff when it’s all $1 : )

Some of my FAVORITE blogger/sellers have marked down over 100 resources to just ONE DOLLAR for today only. I have found some awesome things to make back-to-school a little less “omgoodness-it’s-only-a-month-away?!” scary… and I hope you do too!

Here are my items on sale:

Exclamation Mark Mini-Unitimageimage

An Exclamation Mark Mini- Unit centered around one of my FAVORITE back to school books- including a craftivity, differentiated writing prompts, two flipbooks, and a page to break down the puns in the book, too!


Nonsense Word Context Clues- a pack that uses nonsense words to teach the skill of using context clues to find the meaning of an unknown word. The “silly” words make it fun and make sure that EVERY student in your class is truly practicing the skill.

Valentine's Day Multisyllabic Word Game previewimageimage

Sweet or Sour? A Game for Reading Multisyllabic Words with Prefixes- one in my series of games to help second/ third graders transition from applying decoding rules to monosyllabic words to those “bigger” words. The words are spaced to help students practice “chunking” them into smaller pieces, and the game element makes it fun!


Turn the Question Around- One of my most popular resources on TpT! Perfect for teaching kids to write in complete sentences. I ALWAYS use this during the first week of school because it allows me to get to know my students while also giving them pressure-free practice with QUITA, or putting the question in the answer. Teaching them this strategy EARLY saves me so much frustration later!

For today only, all of these are just ONE DOLLAR… and so are the resources below!


Thanks for checking them out : )  When do you go back to school?