Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to School Night Brochure Template (Freebie)

I know lots of people have already gone back to school.  We start on September 2nd.  Our Back to School Night is this Thursday, the 21st.  Last night I was at Staples having quotes for my classroom walls printed as posters at 8:30pm.  The only other people there getting last minute things printed were also teachers. Anybody else do last minute printing runs?

I have been working all day with my summer school students and then trying to squeeze in getting my classroom ready for back to school. My evenings and weekend have been full too running errands and doing projects.

I was looking over Pinterest tonight trying to decide what I wanted to do for Back to School night. I saw some cute templates for Powerpoint presentations, parent and student gift ideas, and ideas for how to present the information to parents.  I saw some cute ideas on making flipbooks with all your classroom information.  They look super cute, but it seemed like a lot of paper.  I also saw some ideas to make brochures, so I decided to make a brochure for my parent handout instead of the traditional packet. You can see my Back To School Pinterest Board HERE for lots of cute inspiration.

You can get a copy of the brochure template HERE.  I made it in PowerPoint.  You just need to edit the text boxes.  I used Hello Literacy's fonts.

How do you like to organize your handout for back to school night?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suggestions for Communicating with Parents

Now that my summer class is over, I should be able to get back in my blogging routine.  On our very last night of class, we had a really interesting discussion. As many of those in class were teachers, the topic of helicopter parents came up.  Some were expressing frustration about dealing with parents that do not hold their kids accountable and don't allow them to experience failure. I think a lot of teachers have experienced situations like the cartoon below where you feel attacked by a parent because a student got a less than perfect grade.

Source: Pinterest

After the class conversation continued a bit, my professor stopped the conversation and made some really great points. She got us to stop and think about what we know about parents and our education system today.

  • Parents really are powerless in many ways over their student's public education.  They do not have control over what is taught, the testing, etc.  
  • As an education system, we have taught parents that numbers matter.  Grades, test scores, and class rankings are what determine college entrance most of the time.  Parents just know those numbers matter in the long run, so seeing bad scores scares them.
  • Parents love their children and do not want to see them fail.  Sometimes you have to find a way to remind them that failure is part of the learning process. 
It is very easy to get frustrated with parents and feel defensive when angry parents confront you, but as professionals we have to step back and find the best way to communicate with parents. 

Here are some suggestions we discussed that night about dealing with parents, which are perfect to keep in mind as we get ready for back to school.

Suggestions for Communicating with Parents

  1. Always remember that everyone wants what is best for the student and remind parents of that.
  2. Whenever possible, involve the student in the conversation.  If parents are concerned about a grade or missing assignment, have the student explain their thinking to both you and the parent. Sometimes the parents have not really taken the time to listen to the child.
  3. If parents are upset over one grade, put things in perspective by explaining that it is one grade of many in a lifetime of grades. 
  4. Try to be empathetic and express understanding for their point of view, while still holding to your classroom policies.
  5. Have clearly outlined policies for late work, missing work, absences, etc.  Make sure those policies are clear to students and parents. 
  6. Try to give students rubrics when possible and clear directions.
  7. When creating assignments, ask yourself what the real purpose and value of the assignment is. This seems simple, but sometimes we get so busy trying to cover all the material that we include more busy work than we mean to. If something feels meaningless and unimportant, students are less likely to do it.
  8. Sometimes it is important to remind parents that often grades reflect a student's effort and not their ability or even understanding.  Often students have learned the concepts and material, but have chosen not to show everything they learned.  As a teacher, you can't see in the student's head.  You can only see what they show you.
  9. Turn the conversation from the past to the future.  Instead of focusing on one grade, try to work together to discover the real root of why the student made a bad grade and make a plan to improve it in the future.
  10. Help students and parents both understand that failure is part of the learning process.  It is okay to fail and make mistakes. You just have to keep trying.

What are your favorite strategies for dealing with parents?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Review of Online Lesson Planners and Grade books

For today's post, I am going to do a Throwback Thursday.  Two years ago, I got started ay my current school.  I was teaching in a self-contained classroom for the first time to a multi-age classroom.  I was also going to really be using technology in the classroom on a regular basis for the first time.

Two of the things I knew I needed was a good grade book and a good lesson planner.  I had never been very successful at using paper versions, so I decided to review all of the free online lesson planners and grade books out there.  You can view my original post here.

Today I still use Engrade for recording my grades and planbook for lesson planning.  I really love both!

Don't forget about my Back to School Savings Giveaway.  You can win a $20 gift card to Walmart or Target plus $20 to my TpT store. The giveaway ends on Sunday. 

Review of Online Lesson Planners and Grade books

I have across some fabulous online resources for being organized. I have tried several of them out and am going to give you my opinion on the positives of each. 

Online Lesson Planning Software

All of these software programs will make working on your lesson plans from home and school or on multiple computers easier.  They also all allow you to tie specific standards to your lessons easily. I will be using these to select the Common Core Standards when I put lessons in.

Planbook - Planbook is an inexpensive resource that allows you to create lesson plans online. It is $12 a year, and you can try it out for free. You can set up your classes and have different schedules for different days. You can add lessons for each subject for each day and even check off the standards that you used (I haven't gotten quite that detailed yet, but I'm getting there.)  I have traditionally done my lessons in Excel, but I like that I can access from both home and work without having to worry about printing it out unless I want to.  I like the way you can set your weekly schedule in Planbook. The schedule shows up each week and you just select the class and day you want to update your plans.  I like the Schedule part of Planbook the best of the three software programs. 

PlanbookEdu - I checked out PlanbookEdu after seeing Randi's post today. Some features are free and the premium features are $25 a year.  It seems fairly user friendly. It seems pretty similar to Planbook.  You create a "planbook" and then set up lessons that can recur.  You just tag the lessons the name of each period.  Then you click on the specific lessons and days you want to edit them individually.  PlanbookEdu does seem to have some nice printing and exporting options for the lessons.  It does also seem you can attach files and links to the lessons. 

Learnboost - I also checked out Learnboost after I saw it via Teacher Playground via Technology Tailgate. Learnboost is free, which automatically gives it a thumbs up to begin with. I like that Learnboost has built in lesson planning and gradebook capability.  This was my first choice, but Planbook ended up seeming more user friendly to me for what I needed.  Learnboost does have it built in to create more detailed lesson plans.  


If you are looking for something to replace a basic lesson planner where you write short descriptions and have a quick reference, I would go with Planbook or PlanbookEdu. (You also can just opt to type more detailed lessons in the boxes).  If you want to create more detailed lesson plans and attach links and videos, I would go with Learnboost. However, Learnboost does not make it easy to view your lessons at a glance for the day or the week. My first choice for me is probably Planbook, but I am going to try out PlanbookEdu for this week so I can decide between the two. 

Grading Software

The Learnboost grading software seems easy to use, so if you went with Learnboost for planning, I would use the grading software, too. 

Engrade - Engrade is a free grading software that, so far, I have found very easy to use.  You can create your different classes and select how you want to weight assignments.  It's very user friendly and more convenenient than dragging a physical gradebook back and forth from school. It also has additional features where you can create online flashcards, presentations, and quizzes for your students.  For grading, I have decided to use Engrade. 

Here is a video about it:


Have you found any other great online resources for planning?  I want to start using LiveBinders as well. I need to organize my bookmarks a lot better.  I am debating what is the best method to share links with students...just via my class website or should I start using Edmodo or Kidblog?  I think my students are feeling a little overwhelmed with websites right now.  Or would it better to use a resource like Symbaloo where I might be able to use thumbnail images to organize the links? I want to make it easy for my students to go to one page to keep getting clickable links for thinks we use often. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Back to School Savings at Walmart and a Giveaway

Summer is winding down way too fast.  Many of us are getting ready for Back to School.  We all know a big part of that is back to school shopping.

July 25-31 is a Teacher Appreciation week.  Earlier today I came across this article that Walmart is giving teachers an extra 10% off that week.  If you register your receipt from that week, they will give you 10% off on school supplies. Who doesn't want to save more money?

Did you know though that you can save at Walmart every week (besides just normal savings)?  I will be honest...Walmart is not my favorite shopping experience.  So, I really do not go that often.  However, we all know we can save money shopping there.

My husband and I are really watching our budget because we want to take a trip to Hawaii at Christmas. We would have gone for our tenth anniversary, but it's looking like we will go for our eleventh wedding anniversary.  I don't want to go to Walmart every week because we already go to three grocery stores regularly.  I decided I am going to start going to Walmart once a month during the second half of the month (when we have more money.)  Then on that monthly trip I can buy things like cat litter, water, Powerade, toilet paper, toiletries, school supplies, etc.

A fellow teacher told me about Walmart Savings Catcher and how it had saved her so much money.  I decided to try it. Earlier this week I spent $102 at Walmart.  I came home and entered my receipt at Walmart Savings Catcher.  I got an email yesterday that I am getting $9.27 back to spend at Walmart.com. That is about a 9% savings on top of Walmart prices already.

Walmart Savings Catcher checks your receipt and checks local sales at other stores in your area. Anyone in your area who had a better price they give that discount in the form of an e-giftcard.

In honor of back to school savings (and part of Christmas in July here at my blog), I am doing a Back to School Savings Giveaway.  You can win a $20 gift card to Walmart or Target and $20 to spend at my TpT shore.

Enter below.  Have fun shopping and saving!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Christmas in July: Writing Resources Sale

To continue with my Christmas in July, all of my writing resources will be 50% today and tomorrow.

These are great way to give your kids choice and get them writing essays every month.  It has everything you need to teach, scaffold, and assess your students' essays.  I am currently working on October and November Essay Writing. It has been aligned to the 4th and 5th grade CCSS.

I created these graphic organizers because some of my fourth graders still could not write a good paragraph.  This includes graphic organizers, checklists, and rubrics to help your kids master writing great paragraphs.  It has been aligned to the 1st and 2nd grade CCSS.

Use these as a center, journal topics, or for the kid who can never think of what to write. 

This is a great beginning or end of the year activity to get kids thinking about their own lives.  You might even use this as an entrance into a Personal Narrative unit. 

My students had a lot of fun with this last year in the month of October. 

Right now lots of bloggers have some great blog posts on Bright Ideas for the Classroom at the Bright Ideas Blog Hop.  I am excited to go check them out and pin some great ideas to my Genius Classroom Solutions pin board. 

As we get ready for school to start, I think it is important to not only find bright ideas for the classroom but also consider self-care.  I think as teachers many of us wear a lot of hats and get so used to taking care of other people, we forget to take care of ourselves. At my other blog, Balancing the Backpack I am sharing some ideas about self-care and wellness. I hope you will follow me on my journey toward balance.  Today I blogged about easy snacks to eat on the drive home and yesterday I shared some tips to drink more water

Friday, July 18, 2014

Christmas in July: Organize your Guided Reading Resources

A lot of fabulous bloggers this week have been having Christmas in July sales.  Considering the unusual cool front in Texas for July, I think this is a wonderful idea.  It is 64 degrees outside this morning.  I had to grab a sweater before I left the house and put on real shoes.

For the rest of July, we will be celebrating Christmas in July here at the Idea Backpack.  I will be doing a couple of giveaways, so please keep checking back.  Also, I will have at least one product 50% off each day.

The first item I have on sale is my Binder Covers & Spine Labels for Guided Reading Resources.  

Do you do Reading Workshop and do Guided Reading with your kiddos?  Do you use resources from Reading A to Z, Razkids, Fountas & Pinnell, TpT, or Readworks?  Many of your resources may be organized by Lexile level, Fountas & Pinnell level, or Reading A to Z level.  The purpose of these binder covers/dividers and spine labels is to help you organize all of your resources in one place for easy planning each week.  I kept my binders on my Guided Reading table. 

Each cover includes the Reading A to Z level, as well as the corresponding Fountas and Pinnell Level and Lexile level.  This set will normally be $5.00, but for today it is $2.50.

Leave me a comment on your favorite Guided Reading resource, and I will choose one person to get these labels/dividers for free. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Monday Made It: Healthy Passion Iced Tea Lemonade, Picadillo, & A Water Bead Deodorizer

It is time for Monday Made It.  I am joining up with Fourth Grade Frolics.

Knockoff Starbucks Passion Shaken Iced Tea Lemonade (Made Healthy)

You can read about it at my sister blog here.  (I would love to have you follow me at Balancing the Backpack as I try to start documenting my journey toward wellness, fitness, and balance. Basically, you just brew some Passion Tea, let it cool, and add some lemon slices.  It is refreshing on a hot summer day and easy.

 Picadillo and Picadillo Quesadillas

I started with Skinny Taste's Recipe for Picadillo. (By the way, Skinny Taste has a lot of great recipes.) It is a Cuban dish that is very flavorful and easy to make.  She has a crockpot version, but I find the skillet version is easier (only one pan to clean).  I just used salsa instead of tomato sauce because I had some I wanted to use up.  I also used black olives. I had Picadillo over brown rice and my husband ate it as a taco.

The second night I made Picadillo quesadillas. I just added Picadillo, fresh spinach, and cheese to some tortillas.

Waterbead Essential Oil Deodorizer

I got to share a bit with a good friend about essential oils this weekend. One of my favorite things to use Essential Oils for is to freshen up my house.  I have four pets, so there is always smells to freshen up.

You just take a mason jar, add some water beads, and about 8 drops of an Essential Oil of your choice. It freshens a room by neutralizing odors and you're not breathing synthetic chemicals or oils (such as a Glade Plugin).  I have these all over my house and in my classroom. Below, you can see my water bead jar on my desk to the right of my water bottle.

I decided Sunday night I wanted to make one for my friend's young son.  I needed water beads.  I went to two Walmarts, and they did not have any.  Michael's was closed. As a last resort at 8:45pm on Sunday night I went to Dollar Tree. Guess what? Dollar Tree prevailed where Walmart failed.

I made him a Thomas the Train Water Bead Jar.  What do you think?

Did you have any fun made-its this week?
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