Saturday, March 29, 2014

Inspiration for Educators: Just Call It Good Teaching

What do you think?  What quotes really stood out to you or challenged you?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Tools for Building Vocabulary

Are you looking for simple, fun ways to build your students' vocabulary? 
We have collected a few suggestions to help you out!

As a classroom teacher, one of my favorite vocabulary building tools was the Vocabulary Anchor.  We used a large laminated poster of a sail boat and anchor, set up as the illustration below, without the words on it.  Each day the class would work together to fill in the chart using the new word of the day.  As a quick way to review, during short transition times, I would call out past vocabulary words and they would respond with the anchor words.
With young students it is fun to build basic vocabulary with a game we called "Name It."  On small slips of paper create Name It cards with simple prompts such as: an article of clothing, a body part, a state, a fruit, etc.  With the children in a line or a row have the first child pick a card.  The teacher says, "A fruit, name it!"  The first 3-5 children each think of one word that fits the category.  Each word must be different from the person before them.  After 3-5 students, have someone pick a new category and continue listing new words.
What's My Word, from Classroom Game Nook, is an interactive way for students to really get to know a new vocabulary word while recording their new learning.

On our Pinterest board, titled Vocabulary Building, we have collected links to several other favorite Vocabulary Building Games you may be interested in trying with your students.

Multimedia Vocabulary Tools
To encourage interaction with technology while studying vocabulary, the following sites are fantastic.

EGlossary provides interactive definitions that are read aloud to students and provide animated graphics.

VocabAhead offers an email subscription for a Word a Day as well as a great vocabulary guessing app that is available online.


Science Glossary, Geography Glossary, and Math Glossary offer online alternatives to practicing content vocabulary.

Listing synonyms and antonyms for a new vocabulary term becomes a creative outlet if you use Tagul or Tagxedo.

What are your tips and tricks for making vocabulary instruction entertaining and effective?

Disclosure: None of the links above are sponsored.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Throwing a #Frozen Olaf Party

Disney has once again become the inspiration for our family's winter birthday girl.  The huge success of Frozen, as well as our ridiculously frozen winter here in Michigan, made an Olaf party on obvious choice this year. Not sure if I was thinking clearly when I agreed to letting my 8 year old invite her class to a pool party at our local aquatic center, but it made for the perfect setting for her friends to do "what frozen things do in summer!"


 frozen ice cap jello

 Olaf donut faces, Rice Krispie treat ice chunks, and snowman string cheese

Snowman accessories: buttons, noses, and arms
The kids used these to turn their donuts into snowmen

 thank you notes


We created this game board as a variation on one of our silly family favorites, Don't Eat Pete. Put one marshmallow on each square of the game board.  One child is sent from the room while the other children choose which Olaf must not be eaten.  The first child returns and beings eating the marshmallows one at a time.  If/When the child tries to eat the piece on the chosen Olaf, the rest of the kids yell, "Don't Eat Olaf!"  The kids count how many they were able to eat before they tried to eat the Olaf, then refill the board for the next player.

                                 a game board and pieces for each child to take home

snowman stacks

Set the timer for 1 minute.  Everyone works by themselves to build as many snowman stacks on their mat before the timer rings.  Each stack must have at least 3 marshmallow.


 snow dough packaged with button beads, clay noses, and twigs

fleece scarves rolled and wrapped with a note

My daughter spent many hours of a snow day happily cutting and knotting these for her guests.  The scarves were a perfect way to cozy up after chillin' in the pool, changing out of suits, and heading home.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Classroom Valentines

disclosure: affiliate links included below

As a child, and now as a mom and educator, my favorite holiday has always been Valentine's Day.  I love all things friendship, hearts, frilly, flowers, pink, red, purple, chocolate and more.  All the things Valentine's Day brings. In our house we begin putting together classroom Valentines early in January in anticipation.  Here are a few ideas we tried last year and those in the top running for this year.  It sure is fun to collect clever ideas from other bloggers and we would love to see what you have in the works for February 14th!

original idea from Design Mom
original idea from Paging Supermom
original idea from Living Locutro
Although we used candy hearts last year we especially love the options that include a treat that isn't sweet.  This year our oldest wants to pass out toy soldiers, my daughter has made piles of freindship bracelets to attach to her notes, and our preschooler is handing out adorable Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Bag of Bugs.  Our inspiration for this year's, yet to be assembled, Valentines comes from these clever bloggers:

What are you creating for classroom Valentine's this year?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Planning for Life Outside of the Classroom

Putting together amazing activities,  planning detailed themes, writing curriculum, and implementing it all with students of many different ages is a joy and a pleasure.  However, it leaves us lacking in time and energy for the necessary tasks of meal planning, ingredient list making, and grocery shopping.
eMeals is an online service committed to giving teachers and moms a break by creating weekly menus and assembling the ingredient lists.  In addition, eMeals promises to keep meals affordable without the need for stock piling or couponing, while still keeping their valuable service incredibly affordable.
My family has been experimenting with eMeals for several months.  To begin, choose your perfect plan from a variety of options. Menu plan options are available for large families or couples. They consider your favorite grocery store, as well as specialty needs such as: gluten free, low carb, low fat, vegetarian, and portion control diets.

After choosing your menu plan print off one or two weeks worth of menus (the site displays two weeks - current week & previous).  I put the meal plans in plastic sleeves, one side showing the menu and the other side showing the pre-planned shopping list.

Shop, Unload, Cook, Serve, Smile!
(Let someone else in your family do the clean up so you can head back to your lesson planning, grading, and crafting)
Easy, right?
Before trying eMeals I was a bit worriedour grocery bill would increase based on unusual ingredient lists sometimes found on meal planning services.  I also wondered if the weekly menus would include main dishes our family would actually enjoy.

The plan my family is currently enjoying is the Slow Cooker Meal Plan and it is not grocery store specific plan. The recipes all have fairly short ingredient lists and all of the instructions for each meal fit in a small grid box (which means they aren't very complicated!). Having dinner cooking in the Crock Pot as we all roll in after school is a life saver.

During our first month with eMeals our grocery bill actually went down because I am shopping with more of a plan in mind.  I am excited about the fantastic line up of new recipe ideas I've collected. The plans have encouraged me to try some new flavors we typically don't include in our menu.  After a couple nights of rave reviews from our kids my husband wanted in on the new secret. I'm more motivated to make dinner and I am spending less time in the grocery store. 
The cost of the service is a very reasonable $1.25 a week and worth every penny to me!  As an added bonus, members get a FREE holiday menu when they sign up for eMeals. They can choose between our Classic, Paleo, or Clean Eating Holiday Plans. See the recipes and images you can use below to promote it. You have access to the full menus in your members’ area on our website. You can also offer your readers the discount code HOLIDAY for 15% off.

Disclosure: E-Meals is currently providing our family with a 1 year subscription while I participate in their blogger outreach network. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Family Meal Time Pasta-billities

Disclosure: The following post is sponsored by The Pasta Shoppe in conjunction with one of our advertising networks Business 2 Blogger.

There are many convicting statistics about the importance of eating dinner together as a family.  As you put away the days materials, grade the papers you have collected, clean up the class, prep the white board with the next morning's agenda, and cram your take home bag with lesson planning to work on after your own children are in bed it can be difficult to come up with a dinner plan other than take out. One of our go-to meals on the nights I can't carve out time to make the dish planned in our weekly menu, or when I have forgotten to turn on the crock pot before heading out in the morning, is pasta!

The Pasta Shoppe adds pastabilities to family dinner plans.  Their product line includes meal mixes, pasta nests, shaped pasta to use in your favorite recipes, and delicious low fat Meringues.

On a chilly night last week, it was a treat to be able to quickly put together Pasta Shoppe's Chicken Noodle Soup in just about 15 minutes.  We added sliver cut carrots and strips of cooked chicken to the noodles and broth spices provided in the package.  It was hearty & delicious and the kids enjoyed spooning the chicken shaped noodles out of their bowls.  When it gets even cooler yet we are looking forward to trying the Wintertime Chili with snowflaks pasta.

One of our favorite summer picnic recipes is Crab Pasta Salad.  It will be much more fun to assemble and serve with thematic crab noodles.

When one of our family friends has a new addition, our favorite meal to deliver is a pasta dish called Bowtie Bambino.  I am looking forward to the next due date so we can prepare it with "bambino" themed noodles instead of bowties.  

Bowtie Bambino

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 small bunch of sliced scallions
26 oz. 4 Cheese Spaghetti Sauce
1/2 cup fresh, chopped parsley
1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup heavy cream (I always substitute with skim milk)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 lb. My First Pasta

Stir fry chicken in oil.  Add cream, tomato sauce, parsley, scallions, and cheese.  Reduce heat and toss with cooked pasta.

Any of the seasonal noodles from The Pasta Shoppe would make for a rockin' thematic sensory and sorting play station. There are 13 Halloween Sensory play ideas shared on Creative Playhouse, which one of these ideas would be more fun with shaped noodles?

We are especially excited to fill our sensory play bin with Halloween pasta, plastic spiders, dry corn kernels, mini pumpkins, and googly eyes.

In addition to adding something special to our nightly dinner inspiration, Pasta Shoppe offers a solution for the "been there, done that" school fundraisers.  Request detailed information regarding the Fun Pasta Fundraiser here.

After sampling many of the pastas included in the Fun Pasta brochure, and reflecting on our recent experience with our school's fundraising choice, I am convinced this would be a great option. Fun Pasta Fundraiser allows for simple, online ordering.  The food does not require refrigeration in the time before it is delivered.  There are reasonable price points for all budgets.  Pasta is more practical than $12 rolls of wrapping paper and more healthy than cookie dough.  The profits and rewards programs are definitely worth looking in to.

The Pasta Shoppe will be gifting one of our readers with a box of seasonal shapes and your favorite team pasta.  Enter to win using the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Back to School with Balefire Labs, Inc. {Giveaway}

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Balefire Labs, Inc. in conjunctions with Mom It Forward Blogger Network. The opinions, stories, and homework drama included in the following post are my own. 

There isn't an hour that goes by that one of our four children doesn't ask, "May I use your phone?  May I play the iPad?"  We have always had what may be considered strict technology limits for our children. On school days they are not given any time on the computer, watching TV, or playing electronic games of any kind unless it is required for academic extension.  On the weekends and over summer vacation we are a bit more laid back about the iPhone and quickly hand it over while we sit at appointments, ride in the car, or wait in long lines.  However, the more time I spend myself examining the amazing educational apps and opportunities offered by smart phones and electronic readers I recognize their function in developing usable skills.  I realize our family needs to balance our technology limits accordingly.  It has also become very evident that having a system for deciphering which apps are indeed high quality and instructional is necessary to avoid mommy guilt technology time off task.

As part of this year's daily homework, my oldest son is required to practice multiplication facts for 10 minutes a day. His teacher copied a set of paper flashcards for each student, but highly encouraged the fourth graders to research online games for quick multiplication practice. Without exaggeration...the first night my son spent and hour and a half trying to find one game intended to develop fact chart confidence, with minimal pop up ads, and age appropriate graphics.  Needless to say we were both frustrated with the "10 minute assignment."   Offering him my phone for a search of the app store might have seemed like the next best answer, but again there are over 100,000 options considered educational. many times have we paid the small amount to try an app that turns out to be a total dud?!

I wish I would have known then about the online service offered by Balefire Labs, Inc.  Balefire offers objective reviews of educational apps to make searching for the right app quick and easy.  Evaluations, including a letter grade and a quick reference features chart, are available for apps intended for students from PreK to 12th Grade.

After familiarizing myself with this tool, Gavin and I worked together to create a great list of possible apps for him to use when practicing his multiplication facts. Balefire Labs features an easy search by topic, grade, and subject area.

Once you have reviewed the easy to understand feature chart, it is helpful to click through and read the detailed reviews which have been compiled using a strict criteria.

Many of the apps Gavin and I discovered to help with his times tables actually ended up being free.  Bonus! {Thought: the small amount you might invest in subscribing to Balefire will save you a load in app fees for activities that might not teach just what you were hoping to teach}

As a family we are appreciative of the option to search apps for the 0-4 year olds in our home as well.  We have found a few favorites and have organized them in a separate bookshelf just for our toddlers.  They are able to build their confidence in navigating age appropriate apps and don't end up distracted by Minion Rush or Temple Run, which teach very little and cause a lot of frustration for their age.

It seems, as more and more classrooms integrate technology, using Balefire Labs when planning for a new year of subject area lessons will save teachers time and hassle while ensuring they are giving their students the best possible opportunities within the limited time.

If you are interested in getting to know more about this product consider finding Balefire Labs on Twitter, Facebookor Google+.  Then, give it a try for yourself!

3 Readers of ABC & 123: A Learning Cooperative will receive a FREE 1-year subscription to Balefire Labs! Use the rafflecopter below to enter before the giveaway closes at 12:00 AM EST on October 4, 2013.