Bargain Book Boxes

It's Jen from An Adventure in Literacy here to talk about student book boxes. It is a primary teacher's dream to have those colorful, fancy book boxes from Really Good Stuff for each student to store their independent reading books. If you're not quite ready to make the costly investment, here are a few cheaper alternatives.

Ikea has a pack of 5 cardboard book boxes for $2. That's around $10 for a class set! These are white cardboard so students can decorate them with markers, stickers, etc. You can also order these online, but the shipping isn't cheap. They do get pretty rough looking by the end of the year, but they are cheap enough to buy a new set next year. (I also use these to organize my thematic classroom books that I use seasonally.)

You can usually find these bins in blue or white at Walmart, Big Lots, etc for around $1-2 each. They're not quite as sturdy as book bins, but they are a similar size and you can't beat the price!

These are from Dollar Tree a few years ago. Dollar Tree has a huge selection of bins, so check them out for something that might work for you.

If you don't have space for individual student bins, here are a few space saver options:

These give students a place to store their books that they can put in their desk, cubby or seat pocket.

I always use gallon Ziplocs for take home books but the work great for student classroom books too. Last year I found these decorative bags at Ikea. They were a little bigger than gallon size which was nice. They didn't hold up quite as well, but they were cheap enough to replace as needed. You can also order student take home book bags in many different sizes, materials, and colors.

If you're still all about the pretty plastic bins here are a few cheaper choices:

Years ago you could buy these for $1. Now they are in the in the Target dollar spot for $3 at the beginning of the year if you're lucky enough to get them before some other teacher buys them all!
You can order these bins at Steps to Literacy. They are very similar to the Really Good Stuff bins but a little cheaper ($4 each or 20 for $70). I haven't used them personally, but I've heard good things about them.

If you want super cheap book boxes, write a grant. Nothing beats free! After 12 years of teacher I finally wrote a mini grant for my local education foundation to get a class set of book boxes. It was such a happy day when those beautiful book boxes arrived.  Try donors choose or your local education foundation to see if you can get a book box grant funded.

I bought business card sticky pockets (online from Costco) to put on the front of each book box. Each student decorated a blank business card with their name and a design. This made it easy to let them personalize the book boxes while being able to reuse them each year. I also use these for my classroom book bins that change seasonally.

I hope you've found a few (cheaper) ideas for student book boxes in your classroom. Nothing beats letting each student choose and store their own books to read! Do you have other ideas for student book boxes? Leave us a comment, we'd love to hear from you!

Blueprint for STEM Night

   “Laying the Groundwork for a Fun Family Event”
Need a fantastic family evening activity that will be enthusiastically attended? Looking for an event that will be a wonderful platform for inspiring an interest in science and engineering? Ready to create a memorable evening for parents and children? Sound too good to be true for one event to fulfill all of the above? A Family STEM Night at your school is the answer. Having special Family STEM nights has become more popular across the country as schools invite parents for an evening of science, technology, engineering and math. These evenings are not only fun but educational and allow the students to explore solutions to engineering problems, solve math problems and investigate science phenomena with the most important adults in their lives – their parents. Moreover, parents are given the opportunity to actively participate in their child’s learning. It’s an exciting and memorable evening for all.

Over the past five years, our school has hosted an annual Family STEM Night that has broken school records for attendance and been used as a model for other schools. Family STEM night has connected our students and their families with professional engineers and scientists who volunteer to facilitate activities. One of the biggest benefits of the evening has been the outreach connection for the culturally diverse families in our community. This is due primarily to our emphasis that children and parents participate in activities as a family. Students are not allowed to be dropped off and left at the event without an adult. The fantastic discussions and interaction occurred as parents or grandparents and children worked to solve STEM problems. One of the most satisfying experiences is watching a student explain to their parents how to follow the Engineering Design Process in order to solve a problem. Student’s eyes brighten as they assume the role of teacher and act as leader of their family design team.
Maybe an evening STEM event is not something you want to take on at this time. Or maybe you are looking for another event with a STEM focus in addition to a Family STEM Night. What can be more exciting than the entire school engaged in STEM activities for a whole school day?  Three years ago, we added a school-wide STEM day in the spring after all standardized testing was completed. It is an event looked forward to with great anticipation.
What sets STEM Days apart from a Family STEM Night? For one thing, although parents are encouraged to volunteer to help in their child’s classroom, the teachers facilitate the activities. Engineering problems are chosen for specific grades that allow the students to draw on math and science they have been learning all year. At our school, to add a little extra excitement as well as provide a common thread, we always choose a theme for our STEM Day. One of our favorite themes has been Super Hero Engineering. Every class is given a challenge that relates to a specific Super Hero. In addition to the STEM Challenge the students work on in the classroom, they also take part in other challenges such as a school wide egg drop and building and launching a straw rocket. Don’t be afraid to ask engineering and science associations to bring activities that the students can rotate through. Local universities are a wonderful resource as they typically have student associations that do outreach.

Ideas for other themes for STEM days can be found by studying each grade level’s curriculum and identifying commonalities. For example, one STEM day theme we like to use is Oceans, which lends itself to many different hands on investigations. Or it can be a broader theme such as water, architecture, or wind.

Whatever type STEM event or theme you choose, careful planning and communication with the staff are the keys to success. Getting input and support from the other teachers is crucial since these are the first people that you turn to for help. They need to be included early on in the planning process, which needs to begin months before the actual event. This can sound overwhelming, however beginning the planning process early leads to a stress-free event. It also allows you to register volunteers to commit to your event.

Checklist for a STEM Event

Beginning of School Year
After consulting with the principal, lead teachers and other staff, decide the type of STEM event you will be putting on this year.
Choose a date and time and put it on the school calendar. If you are planning on a winter event, be sure to have an alternate date due to inclement weather.
Five Months Out
Present the concepts to the staff and enlist volunteers to serve on a planning committee. This committee will immediately meet to choose activities, locate resources, and determine supplies needed.
Letters written to local businesses requesting supplies or donations to purchase materials.
Letters to local universities, local engineering societies, and businesses for volunteers.
Three Months Out
Send an information flyer home with students inviting parents to volunteer as well as a list of supplies needed that can be donated. Be sure that you have a collection site and plan to organize the materials as they arrive.
Send an email to the staff requesting volunteers for the event. (We have had success recruiting staff relatives, especially high school students who need community service hours for honor societies)
Six Weeks Out
Invite administrators and special guests.
Notify the local press about your event.
Send home a "Save the Date" reminder. Ask for volunteers
Make sure the event is advertised on the PTA website, school website, and school outdoor sign if there is one.
Create a schematic drawing of where each activity will be completed and inventory tables needed.
Three Weeks Out
Assign volunteers their tasks. Make sure you have people to help set up and clean up. (note: at least two people should be not assigned a specific center so they can keep an eye on everything and deal with issues if they arise)
Give staff members and other volunteers their design briefs and activities. Remind them to actually do the activities so that any problems or questions can be answered.
Begin to make activity packets for each center. 
Purchase materials still needed.
Arrange for any refreshments for volunteers- if applicable.
One Week Out
Make sure your custodial staff knows of any furniture, tables or equipment that they will need 
to move. 
Inventory trash cans needed.
Create a check-in system for volunteers.
Have a plan for utilizing volunteers to help set up activities.
Day Before Event
Decorate .
Organize materials in boxes for each area and add garbage bags to each box.
Create a central location for extra supplies such as scissors and tape.
Day of Event
Assign one person to be photographer. 
Provide information about event to school secretary so he or she can field phone calls.
Have fun!!!

To help with activity selection, there are some great resources available for ideas. The very best reference tool available is a manual published by the Family Science organization in Portland, Oregon. Their web site is at Their book called Family Engineering is filled with instructions, ready to copy lessons and everything you need to plan your own engineering night. You can order laminated center charts with directions and clips to support them. Most of the activities require simple recycled materials such as empty toilet paper rolls or empty water bottles. Generally, other needed materials are low cost and easy to obtain from popsicle sticks to foil or rubber bands and paper cups.

Other resources with great ideas include:
Children’s Engineering Educators
Engineering- Go for It
Engineering Is Elementary
Engineer Your Life
Family Science
National Engineers Week Foundation
PBS Design Squad

A few years ago we co-authored an article on STEM family events that is available to download from the National Science Teachers Association website. It includes lots of information on organizing an evening for the school community.
“Family Style Engineering” NSTA’s  Science and Children Journal

 Family STEM Night or an Engineering Day is one of the most exciting community events that a school can plan. This is a great time of year to begin organizing for your school's evening or day. Yes, it is a great deal of work and needs lots of volunteers. But with pre-planning and community support, you will not find a more fantastic hands-on learning experience of 21st century skills for students and families.

Bubbles- A Scientific Investigation

The first Science Unit I teach is the unit on Scientific Investigations (SOL 3.1). I love to walk my students through the Scientific Method by having them conduct an investigation on bubble shapes.
Click Here for Link
Day 1: I activate their schema by asking them if they've ever blown a bubble? Then I read Bubble, Bubble to my students. I follow up with- What were some of the bubble shapes in the book? I then have students write a question they have about Bubbles on a post-it note.
Bubble Questions
Day 2: By now I have read through the post-it notes and written down some of the "testable questions" versus "researchable questions" on chart paper. We discuss why the questions fall into each category. I pass out a Bubble Investigation Booklet to each child. I guide students into choosing a question we can test... "Can bubbles be blown in different shapes?" and we record it in our booklet.

Bubble Investigation Booklet (inside)
Day 3: I read pages 1-8 in Pop! A Book About Bubbles. Then we write down three facts about bubbles in our Bubble Investigation Booklet. Then we write our hypothesis together. If I use a triangle, square and circle wand, then I will blow a triangle, square and round bubble.
Click Here for Link
Day 4: Have students fill in the materials list: bubble solution, bubble wands, recording sheet. Then talk about the procedure and have the students record it in their Bubble Investigation Booklet. Procedure: Use triangle wand to blow bubble. Record bubble shape. Use circle wand to blow bubble. Record bubble shape. Use triangle wand to blow bubble. Record bubble shape.

Day 5: Put students into groups. Give each group a cup of bubble solution, three wands (pipe cleaners with the ends shaped into a triangle, square and circle) and give each person a Data Analysis and Conclusion Recording Sheet. Have the students follow the procedure for the investigation. (I go outside for this). Afterwards have students sit with their groups and fill out the conclusion. (side note- when it asks how many times the experiment was conducted, each child in the group counts so 4 students in the group, 4 times conducting the experiment).

Day 6:(can be done on Day 5) Finish reading Pop! A Book About Bubbles. It explains why bubbles are round.

Hopefully all that made sense, my brain is scrambled... I just finished hosting my friend's baby shower yesterday and I need to prepare for Back to School Night on Tuesday!

Links to Documents in this Post:
Bubble Investigation Booklet
Data Analysis and Conclusion Recording Sheet

Links to Free Scientific Method Resources:
Scientific Method Foldable
Scientific Method Posters
Scientific Method Order Activity

B is for Brains!

Hi there! Stacy from Tidbits from the TAG Teacher here! I'm so excited to be with you on the 26th of every month to share a bit of everything gifted with you all. This month I'm talking about one of the buzzwords surrounding gifted ed, Mindset.

Cultivating a growth mindset with your students is important. It not only positively benefits our high ability learners, but all students. The research behind mindset comes from Carol Dweck. If you haven't checked out her book Mindset, you should!

Not so long ago researchers believed that everyone was born with a fixed amount of intelligence. However, over time they have realized that they were wrong... thank goodness!  This is where mindset comes in. When we teach students about growth vs. fixed mindsets, we teach them important beliefs and skills that will help them to succeed. 

When one thinks with a growth mindset they embrace challenges, see learning as journey, persist in the face of setbacks, and feel accomplished by putting in hard work. This leads to high levels of achievement. 

Thinking with a growth mindset is important for all students, but especially for our high-ability students. These students get used to things coming easy to them, but eventually things will get difficult. When this happens, often times students consider themselves "dumb" or "stupid" because they can't figure something out instantly. By cultivating a growth mindset in your classroom, we prepare students for challenges in the future. 

If you want more information on growth mindset or how to incorporate this into your classroom, go to my website Teaching with Growth in Mind.

See you next month!

Best Books to Get Boys Reading!

Hello, everyone!  It's Andrea from Reading Toward the Stars with some great books to get boys reading!

I hope everyone is enjoying this fall like weather that we have had.  Now is the time when we start really curling up with some good books to read in my family.  But what do you do when you have a young boy who just doesn't want to read?!

You find something that reels them in!

Though there really is no perfect list of books for boys to read, I have two lists of books that are perfect for boys who are reluctant to read~one for younger boys and one for older boys.  These are some my own son has enjoyed over the years that inspired him to read ~ something I never thought would happen!

The picture books!

What boy doesn't love aliens and underpants!  This book will have them laughing all along.  My daughter even loves this book!  There is an entire series of underpants books!

This classic is every boy's dream ~ to run away to another land.  Boys love adventure, and this one is full of it.  In the end, we always realize that home is the best place to be.

My son loved pirates, and this was one of his favorites!  Many boys enjoy pirates, and this is another great book to remind us that home is where it's at!

This was one of my favorites to read with my third graders! Mixing monsters and dogs will have boys roaring out loud and laughing.  Girls love this book too!

Now for the older crowd who are into chapter books:

The Adventures of Captain Underpants (Captain Underpants, #1)

Here is the book that started it all for my son.  If it weren't for Captain Underpants, I don't know if he would be the reader he is.  Notice that underpants are still popular with older boys too!

I found this gem today when one of the kids in the fourth grade class was reading it.  I had to see what it was about, and it so reminded me of my middle school son.  Now I just need to finish it!

The Origami Yoda series is amazing and by a Virginia author!  Tom Angleberger has been to our school twice and is so inspiring.  He overcame dyslexia to begin writing his own books about a popular movie series with children in middle school.

Graphic novels are awesome for boys to enjoy too!  Many of my son's friends were reading the Percy Jackson series, but he wasn't ready for it yet.  He read the graphic novel and had a complete understanding.  How many of your husbands (or you) enjoyed comic books?  Many of us did, and graphic novels still get them reading!  

What can you do to get boys reading?!  Find something they love and let them read it!  It won't hurt them to read comic books or graphic novels or newspapers or magazines.  Just let them read and enjoy every minute of it!  This list is just the beginning.  There are so many more books that boys will love to read!

Brain Breaks!

Our students are sitting a LOT these days! Between shortened recess, a reduced number of PE classes, and an increase in time spent taking standardized tests, our students are becoming more sedentary. As teachers, we see the negative toll this takes on our students, such as fidgeting and a lack of focus. Research has even shown that a lack of physical activity can make it harder for our students to pay attention and retain information. 

So what do we do as teachers?

Insert -> Brain Break!

Brain Breaks are short, energizing burst of activity to boost blood flow, send oxygen to the brain, and help our students concentrate, resulting in better retention of information. A Brain Break can be as simple as a five minute stretch break or a run next to their desk. HOWEVER, this can get a bit repetitive, so our class has discovered GoNoodle

GoNoodle is a wonderful site that houses TONS of physical activities students can do depending on your students interests and that amount of time you have to spend during each Brain Break. There are videos from singing, to dancing, to running. Zumba and yoga are also included. It is a FREE site to join, yes I said FREE! I know every teacher loves something free! There are also different "Champs" your class can pick to help them track their progress. The Champs grow and change the more Brain Breaks your class does. My students LOVE seeing the Champs grow and the Champs transformation often leads to some fun chants and excitement in the classroom. 

Here is a sneak peak of some of the great Brain Break videos you can find on GoNoodle:

Brain Breaks are refreshing, but some teachers worry that they might cause their class to become too rowdy. To avoid Brain Breaks becoming more of a distraction rather than a useful tool there are a few things to keep in mind:
  1. Explain the purpose of a Brain Break
    • to increase oxygen to our brains helping us concentrate and learn while extending physical activity time
  2. Set behavior expectations 
    • everyone must participate and put forth their best effort 
  3. Develop a class signal or technique for getting students to resume work immediately after 
    • quiet count down from ten or a short musical cue or chime
  4. Model, model, model! 
    • demonstrate behavior expectations as well as the brain break activity
Brain Breaks can be a quick and effective way to bring physical activity back into our students school day. They are a useful tool to helping students activate and simulate their brains leading to increased concentration. I hope you are able to find a way to incorporate Brain Breaks into your daily routine!


Bubblegum in the classroom?!? Yes!!!

Bubble gum.... oh how I despise when my children chew you and I find you stuck my new carpet, but that is at my house.  At school, it is a different story!

Do you have any kids who have shirts that are soaked at the collar or sleeve because they are chewing on them?  (I am raising both hands and possibly my legs) Did you know that this type of behavior could be a sensory need?

At least 1 in 20 people in the general population could be impacted by a sensory disorder.  This can manifest in a many ways. These children may demonstrate hyperactivity, constant movement, touch others to often or to hard, and enjoy sounds that are loud or hate loud sounds, They may also have difficulty with motor movements such as imitation or balance and enjoy sedentary activities.  These children could become easily frustrated, prefer fantasy games over real life, be considered the "class clown" or avoid new group activities.

So, what can you do about this?  Well as educators we can provide simple accommodations that will benefit every student in your classroom and fit into a sensory diet.

One thing I have in my classroom that has made a huge difference in my kids attention and focus is light filters  These filters go right over the florescent lights (magnets help them stay up) in my classroom and give the room a blue dim glow.  My classroom seems so much more relaxed and at ease once I added the filters.  I use the ones from Educational Insights, but other companies make them also.

move & sit cushion
Another common occurrence in our classrooms is those kids who need to constant movement. Of course, the first thing I say is more recess, but I know that is not a possibility and we can't spend all day outside running around.  So when my students need to be at their desk, I give them options.  I don't care how they sit (or stand) as long as they are safe and doing their work.  Some of my students use exercise balls to sit, move & sit cushions (AKA wiggle seats), or theraband wrapped around the legs of a chair.

For those kids I was taking about earlier that chew.... bubble gum is one of my best friends.  My son, A, started chewing gum in first grade and it has made a huge difference.  He doesn't come home with holes in his shirts and he is more focused on his work.  As stress increases at school (closer to SOL time) he starts chewing more and more gum.   If you are not ready to make the leap into trying gum, you can also try other edibles such as pretzel rods or licorice.   You can also try chewable pencil toppers and chewlery.  Chewlery is jewelry that is made to look like pendents or dog tags that kids can chew on safely.

This is just the tip of the iceberg! There is a lot of research and information out there about sensory needs and lots of ideas on how you can address yours students' needs in your classroom.  Below are some links to different blog posts and websites that you may find useful.

Learning Ahoy!: Sensory Ideas Pinterest board
Learning Ahoy!: Sensory Sight Words
Lemon Lime Adventures: What is Sensory Processing?
Teach. Love. Autism: Sensory Room
The Autism Adventures of Room 83
The Lower Elementary Cottage

Be Positive with Behavior Beads

Hello teaching friends! I'm Courtney from Polka Dot Lesson Plans

Are you looking to try something new for your behavior management system? Don't have a lot of time or money to spend on yet another system to manage and maintain? I might have just what you're looking for! 

This year I started using Behavior Beads in my first grade classroom and it has been wonderful! I love how it helps me create a positive atmosphere! 

I tried a few behavior management systems and nothing seemed to really work with my style of teaching. I like to keep my focus on the positive behaviors and I like something simple and easy to maintain. This summer I came across the behavior bead idea while I was rereading The Cornerstone for Teachers by Angela Watson. If you'd like to read about her original idea you can click here

Here is a quick run down of how it works in my room. Each student has a pipe cleaner they keep in the tray on their desk. Whenever a student makes a good choice, follows directions, helps out a friend, or gives an amazing answer I give them a bead. They are responsible for keeping up with the beads. They know I will not replace a bead they have lost, so no one in messing with them during class. 

On Friday afternoons the students trade in their beads for Fun Friday. Students need to have at least 6 beads to participate. Anything over six beads is icing on the cake because the kid with the most beads at the end of the week picks their Fun Friday station first! 

Click the picture if you'd like a free copy of these station cards! 

So what is Fun Friday? I have eight different stations the students can pick from. Only three students can go to a station and the student with the most beads picks his or her station first, so that makes for some great motivation to earn as many beads a possible. 

Students turn in their beads and take a clothespin from the station they want that day. They are responsible for getting the materials out, cleaning up, and putting them away properly. If the rules aren't followed at a station or things are left messy, I close it the following week to let students know they have to earn these privileges. 

This behavior management system is fantastic because it focuses on the positive! It is a reward for those who follow the rules and do as I'm asking. Not to mention the fact that it is basically free. I paid $3 for the beads, pipe cleaners, and clothespins at the Dollar Tree and that'll last me through the entire year. I set up the stations using things I already had. The students are just as happy with this reward as they are with a toy or candy at the end of the week. 

B is for Bins... Sensory Bins!

Hello! I'm Tiffany from KTeacherTiff. Today I'm going to talk to you about using sensory bins in your classroom. I love using sensory bins with my students. Sensory play is great for language development, fine motor skills, and even for calming anxiety in certain students. We learn through our senses! There are so many possibilities with sensory bins. You can have them purely for sensory play, or you can make them academic. All you need is a filler and some "extras", though the extras are optional!
What do I use as filler?
In the classroom setting, I tend to shy away from things that could be extra messy, such as sand and flour. Here are some of my favorite sensory bin fillers.
I love to bring a seasonal flair by filling my bins with seasonal objects or by dying rice seasonal colors.
What extras do I add?
You can make sensory bins more than just a sensory play experience (although sensory play in itself is beneficial!) All you need to do is add some extras.

  • Objects to sort by size
  • Magnetic letters to match to a letter chart
  • Picture cards of rhyming words to match
  • Craft sticks with numbers on them to put in order
  • Objects from nature to observe
Do you have sensory bins in your classroom? What are your favorite sensory bin activities?

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