August 2, 2016

CLASSROOM PEN PALS - PAIR UP UPDATE AND IDEAS FOR THE YEAR

I know.  I know.  It's been radio silence since all you alls signed up for my pen pal exchange. However, I promise that I have been working away on matching you with the best classroom possible.  

With this said, here's a little post for those of you who signed up for my Pen Pal Pair Up.  This post was also designed for teachers who maybe missed out on the sign ups. It has some ideas on finding that match.



**NOTE - just to make myself feel better . . . if you didn't make it in this year, I am sincerely sorry.  I wish I could help match everyone, but there just aren't enough hours in the day.  I will be back around next year, so watch for my call for sign ups to pop up around mid-July in 2017.  

FINDING A PEN PAL ON YOUR OWN
If you missed sign-ups this year, it's not too late to establish a connection. You can create your own match this year.  I have a few thoughts on this one. First, pull up your Facebook friends list and start scrolling for teachers. When you come across an education pal in another area or state, reach out. Don't wanna dig through your friend list?  Just toss a post up on your wall . . . someone is BOUND to know someone. 

Not feeling the Facebook thing at all?  No worries. Feel free to use my comments on my blog to post a call for a teacher who might be in the same boat -- just be sure to include your grade level and state in your shout.  Also, feel free to ambush any of my Facebook posts that are related to pen pals. Same rules apply, ask for a match in the comments and be sure to include details about your class. You never know :)    

Finally, if you didn't make it in, there is still a glimmer of hope this year. When emails bounce back or numbers don't align correctly, I will do an all-call on Facebook or Instagram for teachers who might be interested in specific matches.  

PEN PAL PAIR UP NOTES (2016)
For those of you who managed to get your name down before I pulled the link down, YOU ARE IN! Steps are already well underway in the whole mess of a matching process.  

What's next, you ask?  Well, I have a few notes on my progress as well as some tips and ideas for you. Oh . . . and . . . before I dive into it all, I want to take a moment to thank you for your interest.  Although it takes hours to do this every year, I truly love working to make successful connections.

Alright, it took a book to get into this . . . thanks for sticking with me.  Let's get down to biz. I have had a few questions tossed my way so I am going to answer them in a public forum.  Maybe you have these too.  
  • How do I know if I got into the Pair Up? - as stated above, if you were able to sign up on the Google Form, you made it.  A few emails have trickled in too . . . you are in as well.
  • When should I expect my match? - with more than 600 matches to make this year, it will take me a bit to get to you (a detailed schedule is down below). It takes so long because the process looks like this . . . 
The google form spits out this fabulous Excel sheet.
(It looks a hot mess as I blurred your emails.)
 
The sheets get cut apart.
I match each grade level as some cruddy TV show is on in the background.
They get attached to a colored sheet and filed in the correct grade bin.
(The above have been matched . . . a little sneak peek.)

Matched pairs look like this.
Emails are hand sent out.
I have help this year in the email department . . . PTL :)

  • What do I do when I get my match? - When you get your official email from me, it will introduce you to your partner and give directions.  I ask that you email your match right away so you two can connect. You don't have to make any decisions or plans . . . just make contact :)
  • My partner didn't email me back? - If they don't get back to you within a couple of days, email them again.  If you don't hear within a week, email me and I'll see what I can do.  I can't make oodles of promises to folks in this situation as most of my pool will already be gone.  However, I promise to try with all my might :)
  • What if I don't hear from you (Teacher Idea Factory)? - you will hear from me unless your email was put into the form incorrectly.  There are always a few of these every year.  Remember, it will take me a bit to get to you, but I WILL GET THROUGH THEM . . . just stick with me. However, if your grade level date (below) passes and you haven't heard anything, come after me. The schedule below is subject to change, so keep checking back (I will note when each section is complete.)
      1. Kinder - 8/8/15 (DONE)
      2. 1st - 8/20/16
      3. 2nd - 8/15/16 (DONE)
      4. 3rd - 8/15/16 (DONE)
      5. 4th - 8/15/16 (DONE)
      6. 5th - 8/5/16 (DONE)
      7. 6th & Up - 8/5/16 (DONE)
      8. All Other - 8/20/16 (DONE)
Once you and your match have connected, the rest is up to you guys.  Work together to an exchange that works for you and your needs. 

**Disclaimer - Please know that it is out of my hands once I pass off the match.  I really do my best to find you a solid partner, but there is NO way for me to know that the person on the other end of that pairing is going to follow through {giving the evil eye to those folks right now.}

GENERAL NOTES ON CLASSROOM PEN PALS
Is your head spinning yet?  Don't worry.  It is actually really easy once you get going.  PROMISE!  I have outlined a few ideas to help jump start things for you and your new partner.  
  • Set a Schedule - I suggest picking out a day or week every month that you always write. This helps hold you accountable.  
  • Parent Permission Slip - some schools will require a parent permission letter.  I made one for you (just click the picture below to snag it). There is a version for state to state connections as well as overseas matches. I also have a generic one in there for local area matches.  
  • Get It Going Early - in the past, I waited to get the ball rolling. BAD MOVE. Before you know it, the calendar will hit November and you haven't written. Trust me on this one. Jump on it within the first month of school. 
  • Think About Shared Writing - if your kids aren't solid writers yet, think about tackling pen pals shared writing style. It is a quick and easy way to introduce your classes and keep the chatter going early in the year.  
This was perfect for a crew a few years ago that just wasn't ready to write early in the year.
We were able to introduce ourselves and keep the connection going.
  • Tech Works Too - you don't always have to roll snail mail style. Your kiddos can send emails or participate in a Google Hangout/Skype. You also can create an electronic book or power point presentation to send. These are just a few ways to save on postage and mix it up from time to time.
  • Homework Options - you don't always have time to get it all done. I so feel your pain. This always seemed to come crashing down on me around the mid-year mark. Well, you can send the pen pal letter writing home as a homework task every so often. 
  • Scan 'Em - a very smart follower a few years ago asked if it was okay to scan the letters and email them.  SURE . . . it's whatever works for you and your partner. Yes, it will require a bit of ink to print out, but those letters arrive immediately.  
If you are looking for more ideas and a bunch of ready-made pen pal templates and activities to help simplify the whole process, I do have a Pen Pal/Freiendly Letter packet available if you are interested. 
Just a quick peek at this collection in action.
By no means do you have to get this packet to be matched . . . that's on the house :)  However, this 75+ page collection introduces/reviews friendly letter writing, offers up oodles of levelized templates to help streamline the process, and provides other unique ideas to connect with pen pals. CLICK HERE or on the pic below to check out the pack. 


Alright, my friends. There it is in a nutshell . . . the Pen Pal Pair Up process. If I didn't answer a burning question that you still have, please feel free to email me and ask (kelleydolling@gmail.com or penpalpairup@gmail.com). You're never a bother :) Have a great one and I'll see you soon.  




July 31, 2016

THE "WRITE" STUFF - PRIMARY WRITING TIPS VOL 1

How do you feel about teaching writing? Writing hands down is my FAVORITE subject to teach.  I love the challenge.  I love the creativity.  I love watching those babes spread their wings, come into their own, and find their voice.  The list for me is endless. 



Despite my college training (I have a journalism degree), I should come clean before I go any further. I used to be terrified of the whole process of TEACHING WRITING TO KIDS. I could write . . . and write well. However, when I realized that littles were involved, my upper lip started to sweat. My very first year in the classroom I felt like I was making countless mistakes and I would often let other core subjects cut into my writing block. It was WAY out of my comfort zone, the kids just weren't all that into it, and I was way more concerned with progressing our reading and math scores. You can guess how the outcome turned out for this crew (insert sad face). Sure . . . we were could draft a paragraph (it was second grade for goodness sakes), but these groups of sentences were STIFF and lacked serious meat. I hated that I let this crew down and I was determined to NEVER feel this way again. That's when I slapped my big girl panties on, stepped up to the plate, and made quality writing instruction an annual focus ((((fist pump)))).

My process had been fine-tuned throughout the past decade and I am proud to say that I produce pretty dang good writers each and every year. It has been a mission of mine and will continue to be as it is now my new job at my school (I am helping support/coach writing K-5 at our campus). On that note, how about if I share a few of those tips that I have picked up over the years? These have been the key to my own writing successes and I am happy to share what I have learned :) 

**This is VOLUME ONE in a two part series as I have SO much to say (and let's face it . . . I'm a talker).  

SELL THE SIZZLE
If I have learned anything over the years, it's all about "selling the sizzle" of whatever you are dishin' out to your crew.  If you love it (or at least pretend that you do) . . . the majority of your kids will dive right in and follow your lead. That's half of the battle right there. #teacherwin

I also like to chit chat about all the careers that you can snag as a writer. As we jump into sentence writing at the beginning of the year, I weave tales about script writers, magazine writers, song writers, authors, bloggers . . . I could go on for days, but you get the picture ;)  The kids always get way into it and I like to think that it helps generate a little "drive" in the writing department for a few of my babes.  

PROTECT THAT BLOCK
The pressure is on to get it all in these days. I know. I feel it too. But, for the love of PETE, don't dip into that writing block. It's sacred. PROTECT IT. Throw elbows if you have to.  I have to say that I truly believe that it's this consistency that elevates our kids in the writing department. Practice really does make perfect . . . especially when it comes to words on paper :)

UP THAT DAILY DOSE

My thought here is to write outside out the block. My classes always write multiple times a day. One rotation during my morning reading centers is typically writing . . . I'd say it gets worked in 4 out of the 5 days. A prompt gets tossed up on the board, I hit my differentiated groups with a levelized template that fits their needs and they go for it. **NOTE that direct writing instruction still happens inside that writing block. This is just extra practice. Read more about this HERE.**

My levels look something like this . . . my sweet-n-lows get a dotted topic to trace as they can't quite transfer yet. My on-level kiddos copy the prompt off of the board, give me 1-3 sentences (depending on their ability), and illustrate their work.  My hot shots get a fully-lined page and I encourage them to write their hearts out.  Here it is for my visual readers . . . 



This can be pretty easy to do on your own - especially if you have a document camera. Just switch out the expectations for each group as they rotate. However, if you want a collection of these that's ready to rock, I've started to put all of my templates together. Writing in a Pinch comes out seasonally and offers 40+ topics (all with built in differentiation). Each of these topics comes with multiple ready-made prompts that help further streamline the process. I don't know how many times I have been caught by a chatty parent in the morning while I am trying to come up with the prompt that goes with the topic I jotted in my plan book. My goal was to solve this problem while providing levelized options . . . hehehehehe.  Take a closer look at these packets and the growing bundle, CLICK HERE.  You can snag a free set of templates in the packet preview in my shop :)

Quick writing ditties can also be used as a morning warm-up or transition out of "specials," recess, or a fast-paced activity. Again, our schedules are tighter than they have ever been. Quick is key these days.  With this said, I started using a LEVELIZED sentence warm-up page as our initial daily task two years ago. My lows simply copied a highly-decodable sentence. Their focus was punctuation, capital letters, and spacing.  Now . . . this was way too easy for my mid-level littles. Therefore, these writers were handed a simple sentence and asked to add details to make it better. Adjectives and longer sentences became part of the game. Finally, my top kiddos were given a word bank and had to come up with a detailed sentence using all three of these words. It looks something like this in my classroom . . . 



This quick daily activity proved to be a game changer in the quality sentence drafting department. In addition, it was a great way for the kids to work on their handwriting. You can put this one together easily on your own as well. All you need to do is create little half-sheets. TPT has some great lined fonts (Fonts 4 Teachers is my favorite).  You also could have your kids roll with this in a composition book. Simply, type out the levels on a sheet and stick them under a document camera. I suggest color coding them so your kids can quickly identify which level they are to tackle.

Now, if you want a collection that's ready to go, I have one to offer. Each monthly set comes with 25 sheets at each level (that's 75 templates in all). It's a quick copy and cut.  Check out these files and the bundle HERE.   



WHAT A WEB WE WEAVE
I know most of you are all over this one, but it bears repeating. Weaving writing into our core subjects is essential. Not only is it great practice, but it often taps into those higher-level thinking skills.  If you are a new teacher, think about slipping writing into your homework assignments, incorporating it into science experiments, and using it to boost your social studies lessons. 

But, WAIT!!!! I missed a critical subject . . . and it's one of my favorites to incorporate writing into . . . MATH :) Not only do I have my kiddos explain their answers in writing from time to time, but I also love to have my kids write their own word problems. Usually they get attached to a fun little art project that we complete on a Friday afternoon and they are displayed on our math board. 

Over the years, I have found that if a kid can draft a math story, they are able to solve them much easier.  Here are a few examples of how I have rolled in the past with this one.  



Since you are here today, how about a free set of generic word problem templates?  CLICK HERE to snag addition and subtraction versions.  

SET THE MOOD
Another key to creating stellar writers is to set the mood by creating the optimal atmosphere.  Learn what makes your crew tick. Do they respond well to calming background music ? Do they write better when following a break, math, or a special? Are mornings or afternoons better for your crew? There are so many factors that play into it. My thought here would be to just pay attention to how your crew responds during writing time from here on in. If a lesson doesn't play out, think critically about all of the elements that factored into this less than desirable outcome. Following a rotten writing activity in my room, I was often able to connect the dots to figure out where my missteps were with a certain crew. Maybe I put my write too close to another rigorous activity or I tried to run the dang thing in the afternoon. Maybe I didn't provide an example or frontload my expectations enough. Although every group of students is different, patterns will arise if you look closely. 

FREE SAMPLES
Okay, so I mentioned this one above, but it deserves it's own category. It's like Costco . . . EVERY ONE loves a SAMPLE!!! This pertains to writing in the primary grades too. So many of our kids these days need to know VISUALLY what we are asking for. Not only does it help them to see an end goal, they are able to evaluate their work easily and critically. Some years you will only need samples at the beginning of the year or when you change the game in writing (lucky you). Other years, you will have to post a visual all flippin' year ((((sigh)))). Although it can be a pain, providing a visual sample showing exactly what you want is one of those ingredients that you don't want to forget to put in the bowl.  

GO SLOW TO GO FAST LATER
It may seem like a turtle's pace, but I am telling you . . . go slow up front. The pressure is on to get going and reach that end goal, but the old adage comes to mind. Pay me now or pay me later. Pay now, my friends . . . PAY NOW. You will build much stronger writers if you lay a solid foundation up front. **I will get off of my soapbox now.**



TALK IT OUT

My final thought today is to reach out to the teachers that sandwich your grade level. Talk about writing and expectations. What should our kids know coming in my door and what should they know going out? Where are the holes? What are we doing right? What do we struggle with? Collaboration is key here my friends. So, offer to make a coffee run or show up with a bag of chocolates and make time to chat with your fellow teachers. It can be such an eye opening experience.   

Alright . . . so there you have it.  Volume One of a two part post highlighting thoughts on keeping it real in the primary writing department this year. Join me in a few weeks for the second installment. Looking for other primary writing ideas?  Check out my blog posts on pacing and engaging writing activities HERE. Thanks bunches, gang. I'll see you soon.  


July 25, 2016

TUNE INTO MUSIC IN THE CLASSROOM

Want to up your music game in the classroom this year? I have a handful of quick and easy ways to supplement your core curriculum with rhyme/rhythm, music, and movement.  



Let me back up for a moment and explain why music is such a powerful classroom tool. Think about how our students process information for a moment. We have visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactual/emotional learners in our rooms. As educators, we are no strangers to striving to develop well-rounded lessons that tap into all of these modalities. 

Let's now use our knowledge on human brain processing to think about how rhyme, rhythm, and music come into play. Tunes automatically tap into three of the four modalities - auditory (no-brainer here), kinesthetic (it's movement based), and tactual (it elicits an emotional response). But, wait . . . we can still take down that fourth modality with one quick move. Place the lyrics in written form in front of your kiddos and, we've incorporated the whole shebang. Um . . . #winning.    



I know what some of you are thinking right now . . . "DOLLING! My daily schedule is tapped out." I'm here to convince you otherwise. I had thoughts just like you at one time in my career (despite having very musical parents), but then I figured out how to seamlessly slip it in to what you are already dishin'. Yep. It actually takes only minutes a day and music definitely strengthens our lessons. With this said, stick with me on this post. Let's see if I can talk you into giving music more of a go this year :) 



It's facts like the one above that truly showcase the need for tunes in the classroom. Music not only unifies cognitive function, but it also imprints instructional messages in the human brain 90% faster than any other learning strategy. Um . . . hello??!! Give me some more of this in my classroom! For more fabulous facts and studies on the human brain and music, check out Daniel Levitin's book, This Is Your Brain On Music.

Okay . . . so now that all that frontloading is out of the way, I can get down to the business of serving up some musical thoughts and strategies.

JUMP START A STANDARD
The best and easiest and best way to slip music into the mix is to find tunes that align with the standards you are teaching or will be teaching. There are so many talented songwriters out there who have dedicated their livelihood to supporting student learning. My thought here is to find your favorite musician who falls into this category and start browsing through his/her song offerings. Yes. I have a definite favorite. My go-to song guy is Ron Brown from Intelli-Tunes. For those of you that don't know . . . he's my dad. Sure, I am a little biased, but he produces professionally-recorded music that you can actually stomach. It's catchy.  It's trendy.  It's engaging and . . . best of all . . . it's fun! #teacherwin  

CLASS BOOKS 
Why not take those tunes that you use to introduce concepts just a step further? Did you know that you can turn almost any song into a class book? Simply assign lines of the song to your students. (If you have the lyrics, cut them apart with a paper cutter . . . quick and painless). Then, give the kids a book page template (snag free copies of some ready-made pages HERE) and invite them to copy the line and illustrate. Create and laminate a cover, bind, and stick on a shelf for your babes to read. This benefits you and your crew twofold. First, you are leveraging the power of a song to get your kiddos writing. Second, you are creating a book that your class can instantly read. Yessiree. If your students know the tune, they can definitely read/sing the words when they look at it in class book form. Tricky. Very tricky :) 



MAKE UP YOUR OWN CHANTS/SONGS TO HELP CONCEPTS STICK

Ponder this . . . the Mad Men types (or advertisers) out there have been using catchy chants and tunes to sell products for years. How is it that we still know what's on a BIG MAC after all these years or which product is the "Best Part of Waking Up?" It's because ad campaigns understand the power of rhyme, rhythm, and music in regards to rehearsal and long-term memory storage. 

So, with all this said . . . why not use these same tactics in your room this year? I have chants and stupid sing song lines for all sorts of things that I teach. Often times they come from the standards-based songs I am using. The chorus can be a great hook for kids.  However, I'd say half of the time I just make these ditties up on the fly. As I am teachin' a topic, it just comes out of my fat mouth. Some have been winners . . . others not so much. But those one-liners and rhymes that have proven to be successful, pop back up in my teachings year after year. I have silly chants and sing-song phrases for tens facts, the cumulative property, part of speech, remembering to put your name on your paper, how to spell sight words . . . the list is endless. If you don't feel comfy pulling these out of your bum as you spew out a live lesson, pre-prep a few of these as you weekend lesson plan.

Need a little inspiration . . . CLICK HERE to hear a few of mine.  Um, I am NOT liable if your ears begin to bleed :P

USE THAT iPOD
I made the jump away from CDs last year. Yes, I still have them in my classroom.  And, yes . . . I occasionally still use them.  However, I made the commitment to streamline the music playing process this year.  You may not be up for this yet, but it will change your life.  

It is so easy to overlook music or forget what you have when they are in disk form. This, in turn, leads to us leaving it out of lessons altogether.  Therefore, I spent a day during one of my weekends creating pods of songs that correlate with specific standards within subject playlists. Clear as mud with that stellar descriptor . . . sigh.  Let me explain. I created a series of playlists in my i-Tunes account - math, reading, movement, alphabet, sight words, grammar, etc. I then imported songs from my CDs, relabeled/renamed the tracks in a way that made sense to me, and sorted them within these big playlists accordingly. It took a while, but I used music with my kids more than ever before last year. Not only were the tunes front of mind as I had just gone through them, but they were organized in a way that made it easy to look them up when I was lesson planning. Again, it takes a bit of time, but it was SO worth it. I suggest importing all of the tunes one day and relabeling and dragging them into playlists on separate occasion (these MP3s will all be waiting in your recently added file . . . easy-peasy).

**Many of the classroom musicians you love offer items in downloadable MP3 form already. I know Intelli-Tunes does ;)


MUSICAL TRANSITIONS & CLASSROOM MANAGMENT
Music is the perfect way to transition in a classroom. I often put on the tunes that we have been singin' as they come in from recess, when the kids are cleaning up after an art project or free time, and when there is a small hole to fill between a "special" and the lesson we just completed. Not only are they revisiting and processing more in regards to that standard/concept they learned (think of it as an informal spiral review), but it also creates a fun atmosphere. The majority of the kids should know the words to the songs you are playing and most will sing along. Talk about fostering a classroom community!



Now, I don't always use the standards-based tunes as I like to mix things up and I just grab at things sometimes. I often put on tunes that showcase a variety of different genres of music.  Sometimes I rock tunes that the kids know. Other times I pop on instrumental-type songs. I have found that the newness of a tune (especially one without words) produces smiles, engages students, and elicits more "in check" behavior. It's a super sneaky way to up your classroom management game ;)

You can find songs like this on i-Tunes . . . especially in the electronic and classical departments. However, I like to offer up even more variety to my students. Therefore, I asked my musical daddy-o to come up with a bunch of short tunes that tap into oodles of different music platforms - rock, country, hip-hop, reggae, big band, etc. Well, after making countless versions over the years for use in my classroom and his workshops, he finally packaged all of his favorites into one stellar collection. This latest album, Keep It Movin', couldn't have come at a better time in the world of education (IMO). Our students, more than ever, need to get up and move, take brain breaks, and belly laugh. The standards and expectations are tougher than ever, high-stakes testing is a bear, and, let's face it . . . they are still kids after all :)


video

The above is what musical transitions often look like in my classroom (please excuse the gaping white hole in my decor . . . I was waiting for my TV to be installed). They are boppin', smilin', and in-check while tackling the assigned task :)  In this case I was using one of my dad's tunes to break up an activity. I asked my students to trade markers halfway through the spelling task. Why not do it with a tune playing and our best manners flowing??  The possibilities with these sorts of tunes are absolutely endless. 



Check out Ron's awesome new album HERE.  Click on the previews to hear a few song samples. A HUGE thank you to the amazing Nikki over at Melonheadz Illustrating for the use of her cuter than cute dancing kiddie. (She makes us look so good!) 

Alright, so there you have it. A post dedicated to the power of music and a few tips and tricks to pull out of your sleeve this year. Thanks for visiting and I'll see you again soon!

**Be sure to pop in on Mondays as this is the first post in a new series called, MUSICAL MONDAYS.      



July 21, 2016

PEN PAL PAIR UP -- SIGN UP NOW!

Well, my friends . . . today is the day. The day you have been waiting for. PEN PAL PAIR UP sign ups officially begin right NOW . . . the event is now closed. We reached capacity and I have to shut 'er down. Please check back in 2017 for the 5th Annual Pen Pal Pair Up :)



You may have seen my random notes popping up on Insa, Facebook, and my blog thought the past weeks and thought, "What is she rambling on about?" I don't blame you as I have been a bit vague. I promise to take a moment and fully explain. And, whatever I leave out or fail to cover . . . come after me and ask. No question is too small or silly.  

I started hosting this fun event back in 2013. Why do you ask? Well, I wanted to start up pen pals in my own classroom for years. Not only is it the most authentic friendly letter practice a teacher could ask for, but it open the door to SO many different content areas. I had one BIG problem though.  I didn't know where to begin and finding a partner seemed so daunting. All this changed in the summer of 2013! A friend approached me about pairing up our classrooms. (Um . . . chalk one up to the stars aligning.) Once I had the match, everything else seemed easy.  Oh, and my kids always L-O-V-E-D hearing from our East Coast pen pals. After experiencing such good fortune, I just had to pay it forward. Thus, the Pair Up was born.

Now that you have a better picture of the history of this program and what I am offering up, you can make the choice to keep reading or bail on me now. However, if you are ready to take the plunge and become a COMMITTED pen pal for the upcoming school year, simply click on the Pair Up link below and fill out my Google Doc form ASAP.  I guarantee matches for the first 500 to get on my list. However, I am shooting for 800+ matches this year. I wish I could take on everyone who wanted in, but the process of matching is done by hand. Don't get me wrong here. I am happy to take this on, but know that it takes HOURS and HOURS to complete this task.   

Once the submission period closes (when I hit that magic number), I will work hard to provide you with the best possible pen pal match.  It takes me a few weeks to go through the LONG list and then send all of those initial Meet Your Partner emails. Yes, I will contact you directly with your pen pal's info as soon as I get a grade level completed.  Check back on the blog and/or social media to get progress updates.  I will note when each group is slated to be completed and when the task is officially crossed off of the list.  

ONE DISCLAIMER before I hit you with the link to the form. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that the teacher I match you with is going to follow through ((SIGH)). If I had to guess, about 5-10% of the matches end up imploding due to lack of interest when it comes down to actually connecting after my email. This makes me sad and frustrated as the "stood up" educator is always so disappointed. I will be crossing my fingers (and toes) that I make a perfect match when I reach your name on the list :)


SORRY > > > Sign Ups are now closed :(

Before I jet, I have had a few questions over the years.  Here are a few that come to mind as I am typing.  Figured I might as well toss 'em out and save you the step of having to email me.  
  • How does it work with Kinders?  I suggest doing this shared writing style. Write letters as a class on large chart paper and send them this way. You can switch to individual letters later in the year if your babes are up for the challenge. TK seems a little young to me . . . but it's ok  
  • Which grades do you pair?  I mostly pair grades K-5. However, I have paired up some middle school classes in the past.  My thought here is sign up.  I am not promising anything outside of 5th grade, but I sure as heck will try for you :)
  • Do you pair overseas classrooms?  Yes. If you want an overseas pen pal, there is a place to note this on the Google Form. 
  • Do you pair special education classes?  Yes. I always get a handful of SPED classes and it usually works out. No promises here either, but these pairing have great odds.  
  • When will we get our match?  I have to match everyone and that takes me at least a couple of 4-5 hour sessions.  I will start rolling out the match emails within a week or so and will be done by mid to late-August.
  • I have multiple classrooms . . . what do I do?  Just note this on the form in the final question.  I don't always get all of your classes matched, but I will try my best.
  • Do you match duel language classes? Yes. These are tricky though . . . I won't lie here. I have about a 50% success rate on these.  However, what does it hurt to toss your name in there? Sign up, note it in the last question and I will see what I can do for you.  
  • Do I have to do snail mail every time? No, there are lots of different ways you can roll with communicating. The internet, google classroom, and scanners are your friends. Ultimately, it is up to you and your partner how you with to roll this year.  
If you are wondering how you will fit in pen pals and manage it all, I will be tossing up a post next week filled with ideas.  I also made a Pen Pal Packet for my partner and I to use quite a few years ago.  By no means do you need this to pen pal! However, it makes things a tad easier as it contains everything you need to start and maintain a successful long distance classroom connection. It also helps introduce/review the whole friendly letter concept.


CLICK HERE to check it out :)
Thanks for your interest my friends.  Continue to check this page to see when I shut down the event.  I also will occasionally post updates on when to expect your pairing . . . a progress report if you well.  

**If you have additional questions about the Pen Pal Pair Up 2016, please feel free to contact me at my special email (penpalpairup@gmail.com).  

**NOTE: The response these past few years has been OVERWHELMING.  I received over 800 entries within a few hours last year.  So, if you want in, get in right now! 
Here's a picture of my process.
It's probably not the most efficient system, but it works for me.
I cut the spreadsheet apart and group by grade and sort by class size.
Numbers that are semi close and in different states get connected :)

July 14, 2016

PEN PAL PAIR UP 2016 - COMING SOON

The emails have started coming in asking if I am hosting the Pen Pal Pair Up again this year.  My answer was automatic . . . OF COURSE!  I just couldn't let a summer slip by without offering up my matching services. Bring on the 4th Annual Pen Pal Pair Up.  



Look for sign ups to open after the big SDE conference in Vegas (Thursday, July 21st to be exact). I am starting the process early again this year to keep it as separate as possible from the back to school chaos that will hit in early-August. 

The slots fill quickly (within a few hours), so be ready to jump on board quickly if you want in on the action. In years past, I have taken on the first 500-600 teachers to fill out my online form. This year I am going to take on a few more as I don't have to ready a classroom in the fall. Who knew that transitioning into a coaching/curriculum role would be so beneficial to the generation of classroom connections? With this said, I will attempt to take on the first 800 teachers. I know 200 more teachers doesn't really sound like a ton, but it translates into hours and hours of additional work as I match by hand and shoot out emails. I am not trying to be the martyr (promise) . . . I just want you to know why there is a limit on how many educators I can take on each year.  

I WILL give you a heads up on the EXACT TIME (It's 4PM TODAY - Pacific) I on my social media sites. So, be sure you follow my Instagram and/or Facebook pages so you don't miss the sign up window.  Again, it seems to open and close in a hot minute.

For those of you who don't know what the Pen Pal Pair Up is all about, let me back up and explain a tad before I jet today. During this event, I will do my VERY best to find another classroom/teacher for you to match up with for the year that fits your grade level and class size needs. In essence, I take the "finding" and "connecting" parts out of the whole process for you . . . your crew just has to take the time to follow through and actually write :)  Pen Pals are a stellar way to work in a little geography and a WHOLE BUNCH of friendly letter writing. Oh, and you don't have to blog to participate.  I'm sure most of you probably were on to this one, but I always seem to get at least one question a year about it. I mostly pair teachers K-6 (although I have found matches for a handful of 7th and 8th grade groups in previous matching rounds).

The best part of pen pals is that the kids absolutely love being a part of the whole thing. Last year's class would cheer the moment I uttered . . . "We received a package!"  In addition to their never-ending excitement, the quality work went through the roof each and every time we sat down to draft a new set of letters. 


This was the reaction we still had rollin' at the very END of the year.
#heykidswegotapackage
Alright, so there you have it.  If you are interested in signing up, be sure to pay attention to The Factory's social media sites for the exact time the sign ups will go live. Until then, be sure you mark Thursday, July 21st on your calendar :)

Big hugs and I'll talk to all you alls soon.    


July 8, 2016

BEAT THOSE DREADED BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHTMARES

Alright, so this issue hits especially close to home today. Why you ask? Well, I just experienced my first back to school nightmare of the season. This blows my mind as it hit earlier than EVER this year.  (SIDE NOTE . . . this is ironic as all get out since I will have a new role in the fall that doesn't require me to ready a classroom.)  

It started out as a normal night (very tricky if you ask me). I hit the gym, ate dinner, watched some junky summer TV, and crashed into a sweet slumber by 9:30 pm.  Well, in a mere two hours, I managed to get myself into REM sleep and tangle my brain into a full on BACK TO SCHOOL nightmare by 11:30 pm. What the "H-E-Double Hockey," people?? This is absolutely mind-blowing to me as it's not even mid-July (the usual onset of such nighttime chaos) ;/ Needless to say, the dream turned into a night of ungodly sleeplessness for little old me. I just couldn't turn "it" back off.  


This whole late night ordeal got me thinking . . . obviously I am wound a bit tight this year if this sort of junk is already hitting. With this said, I decided to share a handful strategies that have helped me keep the nightmares and back to school stress at bay. I am posting not only to possibly help others, but to also walk my own talk.

ONE - JOT IT DOWN
Many of you probably know this one, but when the going starts to get hectic, it often helps to break out the lists and get it on a calendar. As a very visual person, seeing the "big picture" helps me. A calendar is a no-brainer and just good life practice.  However, when it comes to the lists, I have a new tactic. I still write down the BIG things in advance, but the rest gets charted as I sit down to begin my day. My goal is to pick a manageable line-up that lends itself to calm productivity. I write even the littlest of things on my list. Things like GYM, CALL KATE, and BRING TRAVIS LUNCH now wind up on my lists. And, you can bet your bottom dollar that I enthusiastically cross all of these off my TO-DO page. What can I say? Seeing all of those colorful marks and DONE checks results in some serious motivation.   

My messy planner filled with lists . . .
I need to get going today :P
TWO - GET VERBAL
I have found it very helpful to talk my school worries out with a spouse, parent, or teacher friend. I have even been known to chat with myself when no one is available. Writing it down sometimes just doesn't cut it. Find a good listener and prioritize orally. It's pretty refreshing.  

THREE - JUST SAY NO
It's okay to say no to people and plans. I am a big pleaser, but I am learning to take care of myself more and not immediately reply to everything with a loud, "YES." This simple notion carries itself into so many aspects of our lives, but it can be especially helpful during your teacher summer. If teammates ask you to meet or work on items and you just aren't ready, it's okay to respectfully decline. You will have time in a few weeks to get 'er done . . . PROMISE.  

FOUR - COMPARISON KILLER
While perusing Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets, don't get pulled into the comparison trap.  Some of your teacher pals may be ready to dive into the back to school push.  Maybe you aren't in full on education mode yet.  Maybe your prep is looking different. Maybe you're just enjoying your summer break (heaven forbid). I often avoid social media during the first few weeks of summer to stave off this feeling. While I am working in the summer, I limit my time scrolling through videos and pictures online. It's easy to get yourself by the tail and start feeling like you should be doing more.  Well, I am here to give you permission to just be YOU and roll the way YOU want to in your classroom this year.   

FIVE - DITCH THE GUILT
I have been working on this one since I jumped into the education biz. I'm pretty sure quite a few of you continue to ride the struggle bus with me here. There is always something we can be doing to ready/better/prep our classrooms and lessons. It's never ending. One of my consistent teacher goals is to find balance between work and home . . . and to not feel guilty when I actually take a break to enjoy life.   


SIX - IF ALL ELSE FAILS . . .
This brings me to my final thought of the day . . . sometimes you just can't get out of teacher mode and the sleepless nights and/or nightmares creep into your summer. My thought here is to just go with it. Case in point. I laid in bed for two hours last night.  I moved into the spare room for a chunk of time and then transitioned again to the couch.  I kept fighting it until I had a little mental talk with myself.  I realized what was bothering me - one of those unfinished tasks on my TO-DO list just didn't settle right with me. SO . . . I got up and tackled it. I worked from 1:00-3:30 and crossed that pesky line off of my list. When I did, I crawled back into bed and was out until the cat decided to try and eat my hair at 5:20 . . . kids (((sigh))).


Alright, so there you have it. My real post about beating those back to school nightmares and sleepless nights (at least this early in the game). Here's to enjoying what's left of summer and being proactive in the "keeping calm" department as we roll further into July. 

On that note, I am crossing this post off of today's list of desired accomplishments and I'm off to take a much needed nap.  Big hugs and thanks for visiting.  I'll be back soon with a fun post and a new web site reveal :)


June 27, 2016

TIPS, TRICKS, AND PITFALLS WHEN PACKIN' UP A CLASSROOM

For the first time in my career, I had to pack up my classroom. I have been lucky enough to work for schools that didn't require me to box up all of my goods every year.  My end of the year duties encompassed shoving the desks to the side, turning out the lights, and locking the door. ((((FIST PUMP)))) This always seemed pretty lucky as I have heard the horror stories from all the educators out there who have to basically strip their rooms down to the studs each and every year. 

Well, it's finally payback time for all of my good fortune in this EOY duty department. I am moving out of a classroom teacher roll and into a contract coaching/curriculum position. This, in turn, means that I will no longer have a large space on campus to call my own (cue the sweaty upper lip). I have spent the last two weeks popping in and out of good old Room 18. Countless decisions have been made. Well, I'm finished.  I carted off those precious items, willed my favorite treasures, trashed cruddy items, and left the rest to the sweet teacher who is taking my place in the fall.  



I learned a ton while submerged in this tedious process as I had 10 years worth of amazing educator activities, games, manipulatives, toys, files, furniture, and books that I have purchased and/or accumulated over the years. I am going to share my TOP SEVEN TIPS for those teachers out there who are facing a similar situations. If you are taking a leave of absence from your district to head back to school, to focus on being a parent, and/or to change roles/careers like I am, this post is for you. So, without wasting a moment more (heaven knows you will need these precious seconds to spend cleaning and weeding), I give you my PACKIN' UP CHEAT SHEET.

GET YOUR EMOTIONS IN CHECK
I expected to be a little emotional when I started packing up my precious teaching things. What I DID NOT expect was to be an absolute blubbering mess. Seriously :( I was on the verge of tears the moment I stepped foot on campus. It became progressively worse as I began opening drawers, bins, and cabinets. So many wonderful memories were drudged up.  The cake though was crying in my Super's face when I hugged him goodbye for the summer. Um . . . GOOD HEAVENS, GIRL . . . pull yourself together.

I know that everyone's circumstances are different when packing up and moving on from the classroom - a leave for various reasons, returning to school, retirement, becoming a mommy, transitioning into administration . . . the list is endless. However, each one of these will bring a different bag of emotions with it.  I wasn't ready.  My suggestion . . . be ready.  

If I've learned anything over the years, it's okay to sit with sadness. Don't dwell here, but definitely sit with it for a day or two. Let those feelings hang, soak them up, and process them. It's definitely a solid way to move past a tough situation faster.  With this said, I ended up leaving on that emotional first day. It was the best decision I made during this process. I went home and took a long nap, played a few holes of golf, cried some more, and binged on Boardwalk Empire (Season 3). The next day as I opened that door, I was ready. Sure, I was still a little sad to be saying goodbye, but I was in check.  
  
BRING A SURVIVAL KIT
I learned the hard way that NOT packing snacks and other basic survival items was a really DUMB idea.  That second day I was rollin' . . . I was an absolute packing and sorting machine.  However, about 12:30 my tummy started talkin'. By 1:30 my hands were shaking like a baby Chihuahua on a cold as all get out day. This forced me to cut my workday short. This brings me to TIP #2. Pack a lunch and/or  things to much on. It seems like a no-brainer, but I spaced this one.  Oh, and FRESH water is a must.  I forgot that too. (Notice that I said FRESH . . . there is just something about drinking out of the classroom faucets that frightens me to my core.) 

In addition to the survival items above, I strongly suggest rockin' the tunes while you're working.  Upbeat Pandora stations were dang near shaking the walls of my old portable and it helped lighten the mood. I may or may not have danced around a bit on a few killer songs, but we will leave this secret tightly locked in Room 18 :) 

TALKIN' TRASH
Most of you probably think this is a rather simple notion, but I felt the need to reiterate as it was difficult for me at first. The trash bin is your friend. However, it can be tough to toss things. We've all been here . . . the hours we slaved away while creating/cutting/laminating, the endless stream of dollars we've spent on various goods, and the classroom memories attached to so many of these items . . . all of these join and drive us to hold on to senseless items. Break the dam.  Toss something . . . it's liberating. Once those first few items get trashed, the decisions get much easier and you'll need to sweet talk the custodian into a handful of those HUGE bags ;)


A little inspiration . . . 
KINESTHETIC APPROACH
When moving out for an extended or indefinite period of time, my recommendation is to touch EVERYTHING. It takes a bit longer, but this tactic helps in three big ways. First, you don't forget to take anything that you love. Second, you don't leave a mess for that sweet educator rollin' in behind you (we've all been here . . . sigh . . . again, it's okay to use the trash can). Finally, when you touch everything, you're able to dish out the goods amongst your best pals (more on that in a minute).  


Here's the start of the process ((GULP)).
Cleaning always is SO messy!
One word of caution here. If at all possible, touch each item only ONE TIME. I made the mistake of going back into a cabinet for a second look-see. FOR THE LOVE OF PETE . . . DO NOT DO THIS TO YOURSELF! Not only did I double my gosh dang time in this particular area, but I also ended up getting in a mental struggle over what should come with me (((eye roll))).  In the end, I ended up putting back most of the stuff I pulled out. Your first instinct is typically right on target. Lesson learned.  

SPREAD THE LOVE
When deciding what to keep, what to toss, and what to leave, think about all of those grand friends of yours who are still in the trenches. Don't just focus on the district you are in now . . . this is a great time to reflect on all of those stellar teacher friends that have crossed your path over the years. I'm not saying to strip your room (obviously some stuff belongs to the school). However, I am saying that it's a good idea to will those items that you used successfully. With this said, I left a TON for the gal coming in behind me. However, I also shared some of my favorite resources with my old co-workers from a previous district. I knew that these items would be used immediately. I also liked the idea of keeping some of my best treasures in the "family," so to speak.

BAGGIES, BOXES, AND ENDLESS CONTAINERS . . . OH MY
When I began deciding what to take with me, I just started randomly piling it on a table. It soon reached the size of a small hill and began tipping over. I won't tell you what I uttered at this point. But, word to the wise here . . . don't do this to yourself.  My advice is to organize it from the get go. This helps you not over think things and it will make your move "home" much easier.  

I set out a series of long flat bins and slapped labels on the sides - math, reading, writing, office, presenting, and random. As I set aside items I wanted to hold on to, I placed them in the bins. When one was full, I closed the lid and it was all ready to cart home.  Boom.  Easy peasy.  


Large bins are for the main core areas.
Smaller bins house all of the math manips that are mine.
I also suggest further organizing goods into plastic bags. Although many of my items were already packaged in such a way, I combined and cleaned as I sorted.  All of my double dice were tossed in a bag.  All of my playing cards went into a bag.  All of my . . . uh . . . you get the picture here.  It is just a nice way to keep all of the small items together and easy to grab.   

Finally, I had two boxes going for a couple of my favorite buddies (remember back to all that "family" talk above).  Just like the bins that I would bring home, boxes made it quick and easy to sort out and deliver treats to my friends.  

CLEAN BEFORE YOU BRING
My last tip of the day is a BIG ONE.  I strongly suggest that you clean out a space (or two) for your classroom treasures before you tote it all home. Usually getting out of your room is a huge time crunch. It needed to happen yesterday and the deep clean is already scheduled and the educator taking your place is beggin' for the key. In addition, you are usually running so much at the end of the year that your home space may look like a bomb went off (well, it did in my house . . . sorry, Dear). 

I, personally, felt so pressured for time during this process, but I forced myself to take a time out and clean out my office before I quit.  Not only did I make room for the crap amazing items that needed to find a home, but I also found items that needed to be returned to school (whoopsie . . . my bad).  


One last look . . . before I go.
This is also the step that will appease your spouse. I don't know about all you alls, but my man has a thing for his garage.  It's so orderly and clean. This, in turn, absolutely blows my mind as he is like a tornado in the actual house . . . but, I digress. Anyway, I was able to limit the time that the items hung out in the garage because I already had a space ready to take on more goods. The process of moving part of my "classroom" in was pretty seamless and the boy's griping was kept to a minimum. #wifewin

The hubby was happy to help.
He was extra pleased when the load was easy to pack.

Oh . . . and isn't that red chair super dreamy?
Yep. One of my treasures that I treated myself to last year.
Alright, there you have it.  My suggestions for packing up your classroom for an extended leave.  I know there are many of you out there who have way more practice at this than I do as you pack your room up yearly.  If I missed something, feel free to write it in the comments below. 

Thanks for taking the time to visit me today.  I will be back again soon with an idea for incorporating music into reading instruction :)   


 

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