Saving my Sanity One Colored Pencil at a Time...A Review of the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener {Giveaway}

Maybe it is just me...but pencils are seriously the bane of my existence in the classroom. They are always on the floor, left random places, chewed on, played with, and somehow despite a million reminders, our pencil sharpener is always put into action during instruction because someone forgot to sharpen a spare in the morning. I am not going to lie...I am never sad when that loud beast of a machine breaks. Okay, maybe I am a little sad that my wallet is about to take a hit, but I also do a little internal jump for joy that for the remainder of that day I will not hear the annoying whir of yet another colored pencil being destroyed by the sharpener.

Typically, I go through 2-3 pencil sharpeners a year in my classroom, and it was about that time when I got an email from Troy at Classroom Friendly Supplies asking if I was interested in trying out his pencil sharpener. He claimed it was super quiet, and I had seen some other bloggers review it so I decided to go for it and really put it to the test. It arrived late last week in a cute little box, and we busted it out in our kitchen to test it immediately.

The first thing I noticed, besides it coming in my favorite hot pink color, was that it was a manual sharpener. I guess I hadn't been paying that close of attention when I had seen it before so it came as a little bit of a shock to me. However, if it could handle all the colored pencil sharpening craziness that goes on in my room, I was willing to cut the cord.

Now that I've had this great sharpener for a few weeks, here's what I can tell you.

The Positives:
  • It really is quiet! The first time I used it at home the baby was in the same room sleeping...and she stayed sleeping. That, in itself, is a small miracle. 
  • It is AMAZING with pencils and colored pencils. You get an awesome, super sharp, smooth-writing point every time. None of that weird half-sharpened stuff I would get with our old sharpener. 
  • Its super cute. Okay, I know that sounds silly, but it coordinates perfectly with my room. Might not be important to some...but it matters to me. I've got to look at the thing every day.
  • It is super easy to use. Once I taught my kids how to work it, every single student was able to use it quickly and easily. For many of them this was their first experience with a manual pencil I got a chance to school them on the fact that "back in my day" nearly all the pencil sharpeners in a school were "kid-powered".

The Not-So-Positives:
  • To work the best, it needs to be anchored. Overall, not an issue. However, there were a few tables in my classroom that it just didn't work well with. 
  • It has a learning curve. Again, not really a negative. I just had to specifically teach my students how to use it vs. an electric sharpener. Here's a super short and easy video to help you out with that process.

Those things being said. I definitely plan to invest in another of these sharpeners for my home. In a two teacher household sharpened pencils are like gold, and this sharpener rocked it. Throw in the fact that it is super cute, and how could I not buy one for our home office? Plus just look at the point on the colored pencil we tested it out on...

Even better? Troy has offered to give a sharpener free to a Third Wheel reader. How awesome is that, right? You even get to choose what color you'd like! 

Finding Work-Life Balance...My Burnout Prevention Plan

After heading back from maternity leave last week, I feel like time is spinning out of control. I haven't had a chance to blog or do much of anything that I really like because I have been so bogged down in getting work stuff done. After two weeks of craziness, I realized this pace is NOT going to work for me with a new baby at home. Instead I am going to try to find a better work-life balance so I don't end up burning out before the end of the year.

Original Image from Nicole_Del_Motolo | Dollar Photo Club 2015

1. Set limits. It is really easy to live your job. There is never a moment when everything that needs to be done in a classroom is finished. Even in my new coaching job, I constantly feel like there are a million things I need to do. Starting next week when we get back from spring break, I am going to have a required leave time. This will probably require me setting and alarm, but the reality is my family is just as deserving of my time as my job. Right now I am not maintaining that balance, which is not okay.

2. Separate the To Do List...and Focus In. I have always had a to do list, but it usually contains a million items and I never finish it. This is fine, but I feel like it also leads me to feel like I need to work 24/7. Instead I am going to transition to a new format that will focus me around my big 3 goals. I am hoping this will help me with setting limits, too! You can get a copy of my to do list by clicking here.

3. Make Time for Me. These past two weeks have been so busy with work that all I get to do when I come home is to take care of my family and fall asleep. Throw in the baby being sick and getting up 4-5 times a night, and I am a hot mess! When I take time for myself, I am so much better able to take care of both my work and home obligations so I need to make time for that...even if it is just a shower by myself.

4. Say "No"...but nicely. It can be really tempting to say yes to every extra thing that comes up. I have been guilty of it for the last couple weeks. The result has been meetings that don't get me home until after my kids are in bed. However, I also realize that saying "no" has consequences. Instead, I am going to try out, "I can't right now, but I'll keep you posted if that changes." The reality is it gets me out of the extra obligation, but it doesn't seem like I am trying to brush off work.

5. Delegate. I am way to guilty of taking on so many things because I cannot tell people no (see above). Part of the problem is I like things done a certain way...or in accordance with how I envisioned the end result. The reality is that sometimes my vision isn't the only way to do something, which was really hard to admit. I really want to find more balance in what I take on myself and what I delegate to others. Who knows...they might even find a better way to do it!

There you have it! My plan to save my sanity, reduce my stress, and spend more time on the things I really love outside of work. How are you at maintaining work-life balance? Leave your tips and tricks in the comments.

Big Kid Book Clubs for March

Time seems to fly with testing approaching for the upper grades. There are so many skills to review in preparation for the state tests that it can feel overwhelming to tackle it all. While this often seems like a time to revert to practice passages and the basal, I encourage you to consider book clubs or novel studies as a way to keep kids engaged with those essential (testable) skills. Sure, you can still pick one day a week to do a practice passage, but the other four days can be so much more enjoyable if you practice with authentic literature.

Below is a collection of books I've put together for March book clubs. I've pulled texts from a variety of genres and topics.

Dear Mr. Henshaw- This book is written partially through letters and is a great book for looking at author's craft. This book, by Beverly Clearly, covers so many topics that are really applicable to so many students but she did it in a really unique way. I definitely recommend this book to help push your readers toward out-of-the box thinking. I actually loved it so much that I wrote some trifolds to accompany it. Get the no prep trifold novel study here.

Who was Susan B. Anthony?- March is Women's History Month! This biography is a perfect book club choice for March because it focuses on an important woman in American history. Students will learn so much about this important American icon while being able to practice their critical comprehension skills on a literary nonfiction text.

Who was Dr. Seuss?- In addition to St. Patrick's Day and Women's History Month, March is also the month of the very well loved Dr. Seuss with Read Across America Day on March 2nd. Get into the spirit by reading this fabulous biography. I learned a TON about Dr. Seuss when I was working on a trifold for this book. His life was very interesting and is guaranteed to draw readers in!

Charlotte's Web- Spring is coming! This story is one of my favorites to read because it goes through an entire year of Wilbur's life starting with his birth as a spring pig. I read this text yearly because it is so rich in opportunities to discuss vocabulary and comprehension. The kids LOVE this story despite having seen the movie and already being familiar with it. Want to use Charlotte's Web with your class? Save yourself time by picking up this no prep trifold!

Magic Tree House: Leprechaun in Late Winter- A great, easy read that brings in the fun of St. Patrick's Day. Students love the Magic Tree House series, and there are great opportunities to talk about real world topics and the fantasy genre in these books. This is the perfect pick for a fun themed book club in March. You can even partner it with the nonfiction companion book, Leprechauns and Irish Folklore.

Bridge to Terabithia- A classic tale of friendship and imagination that will draw your readers in. This story is such a great one for encouraging some great conversations about friendship, but like so many great pieces of literature, the ending isn't quite picture perfect. I've saved you some time by creating a set of trifolds that cover a broad range of tested comprehension skills. You can check it out here.

Wonder- Okay, so I know I recommended this book last month. However, I really feel like it is a great one, and this is the time of year that kids really need the reminder to be kind to one another. Even in the most well-managed class, these weeks leading up to spring break are when the wheels start to fall off and the friendships start to get strained. This book is a great reminder about choosing kindness. Get the no prep trifolds here.

Happy reading!

Master Management Challenge #10: Grow On!

There are so many important ways to continue growing as a teacher. Classroom management is often overlooked. It is assumed there are those who excel and those who don't. However, there are just as many ways to improve as a classroom manager as there are as an instructor. We, as teachers, are just far more hesitant to seek them out or all the other training and professional development we must do ends up coming first. Today I am going to focus on a few ways to continue growing and managing your classroom.

  • Find a Friend. We all know there is that one teacher on campus who rocks at management. Her kids are perfect in the hallways... his class can have fun during lessons but still keep it together...People talk about how she always gets the "good" class. Time to buddy up. That person might just hold the secret to making your class run more smoothly. All too often we are scared to ask our colleagues what they are doing to make the magic happen because we worry about making ourselves look like we don't know what is happening. However, if you don't have good classroom management, everyone already knows it. Why not ask for help? The only thing that can happen is you can get better. Even if you do have great management, there are always new things to learn. Plus you never know when you are going to get that one kid who is impervious to all the tricks in your toolbox. 
  • Go Digital. There are some great resources online for teachers who want to improve their management and/or have behavior challenges in their classroom. One great one is Intervention Central because all the interventions are based on actual research...but they aren't expensive programs (that don't usually end up working without extensive time and training). 
  • Call in the Experts. Having one of those years where it feels like no matter how hard you are trying you can't get the rhythm? Find out if your district has any behavior specialists or instructional coaches with a behavior expertise. Most administrators would rather know you are seeking out support than to have to have the conversation about MAKING you get extra help. If you are worried about it, bring it up as your personal area for growth and frame it in that light. 

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

One thing I have noticed about my students is many of them struggle with content vocabulary. It totally makes sense when I think about it. Yes, we cover it in science, but how often are they interacting with these words beyond that? Not a ton. I decided to solve that problem by building in more exposure to the science vocabulary that my students will be tested on.

First off, I wanted to solve the problem of repeated exposure so I thought about how to maximize the time my students spent reading and interacting with our vocabulary in science. With our science time being limited to 30-40 minutes a day, there just isn't time to teach, do experiments, and spend a lot of time doing science vocabulary. Therefore, I went for strategic placement of science into the word work section of reading. I mean why not go for double duty and cover my word analysis and decoding standards while I cover the science vocabulary, right?

So I stared by picking the 10 most important words for each unit. These were the words my kiddos have to know...and that my students learning English often struggle with. I decided to have the kids cut and sort these words.

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

Sometimes the kids sort the words by length. Other times they put them in ABC order. I can also differentiate so my kiddos who need lots of support with ABC order might put them in order by length independently and alphabetize them with me.

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

Once the words are all sorted. The students do one of three activities. They might count the syllables, count the vowels, or write a fraction to show what part of the word is consonants. Again, the activities are great for differentiation because the biggest idea is just making the kids familiar with the words.

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

When they are all finished with the activity, I have the kids glue the strips into the vocabulary section of their science journal to create their own glossary. As you can see below, I have them glue the words in alphabetical order and write a definition in their own words. Then they can draw (and label) an illustration to represent the word. I love this part because it really tells me if they understand the vocabulary at the end of our science unit.

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

I purposefully made three activities for each item in the packet. The goal was to have one to use as word work when we start the unit in science. The second can be used when we are finishing the unit, and the final one is a refresher that rotates into our word work later in the year to help students continue their practice of the words. (The kids glue the words in after the second activity as a review tool before the assessment...and to be used as a later reference. You can also have them glue the activity sheet into their journal, too!)

Building Science Vocabulary through Word Work

Want to try these out? Just download the preview from here to try out the matter vocabulary in your word work for free.

And there you have it, another easy-peasy way to bring content vocabulary into your language arts instruction while still covering those standards. How do you give your students extra opportunities to interact with new content vocabulary?

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