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 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?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Two For Tuesday: Picture Book Units on Sale

Today I am going to link up with The Teaching Tribune for "Two for Tuesday."

Some of my better sellers recently have been my picture book literature units.  So I have put two of them on sale for today.  They normally are $3.00, but for today they will be $1.50.  That's right $1.50!  Both of these books are fabulous and I have enjoyed the discussions I have had with my students.

A Literature Unit for Patricia Polacco's Junkyard Wonders

A Literature Unit for Drew Dewalt's The Day The Crayons Quit

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Made It: Back to School Essay Writing and Overnight Oats

Today I am going to link with 4th Grade Frolics for "Monday Made It."

I have not linked up in a very long time.  I am not the most crafty person.  I prefer to make things on the computer.

I do like to try new recipes though.  I have a love/hate relationship with food.  I love to eat.  I try to eat healthy. I like variety, but I do not always enjoy cooking.  I do pretty well with dinners and lunches.  For dinner, I usually cook several things on Sunday and we eat leftovers throughout the week.  That is how I manage cooking with my crazy schedule of work and graduate school. Lunches I usually pack bento lunches for myself during the school year.  This helps me get in some variety and makes me be intentional with what I eat. Breakfast I really struggle.  So like any good teacher in the summer I have been looking through Pinterest for breakfast ideas.  I try to avoid gluten and dairy when I can, so I have been looking for some gluten free and dairy free breakfast ideas. I came across several recipes for Overnight Oats.

I tried this recipe first from SugerGlueMom for Strawberries Overnight Oats.  They look great, but personally I found the steelcut oats bitter without being cooked.  (The steel cut oats are delicious if you cook them overnight in the crockpot.)

I found some other recipes with rolled oats, so I decided to try that instead of the steelcut oats.  Here is an example of a recipe I found.

They look pretty in mason jars, so now I want to get some mason jars.  I made my overnight oats with 1/2 cup rolled oats and 1/2 cup almond milk.  In the morning I added some stevia and fresh peaches.  I thought it was good and had a cold cereal taste.  You could add more milk if you wanted it creamier.

I had this idea last year with my students to make sure they wrote at least one essay every month.  I wanted them to have choices.  Within a three month time span, I wanted them to have done at least one narrative essay, one persuasive essay, and one informational essay.  We did this routine in December and January.  The kids really liked the menu I made and having choices.  Like many of my ideas now that I am working and going to grad school both I never finished making all of the months, so that is one of my goals this summer. I finished making a Back to School Essay Writing  this week for the months of August and September. It has an essay menu, graphic organizers, rubrics, scaffolded practice for drafting and revising, and publishing paper.  I am going to be working on finishing the other months.  Now, that I am moving to middle school I need to work on making a middle school version.

This last one is more of a tried it than a made it.  For the last couple months, I have been getting familiar with essential oils.  I am trying to learn as much as I can about their uses.  Well, being that it is summer and Texas I managed last week to get sunburned and eaten alive by bugs.  I have about 17 bug bites between both of my legs.  Bites swell up to about the size of a quarter on me.   I put Lavender Oil on my bug bites and within 30 minutes they had gone back down to just little red dots.  The Lavender helped with the itching, too.  I also used the Lavender Oil on my sunburn.

I had one stubborn bug bite behind my knee that was completely red and inflamed because of its location.  I tried the Purify oil blend on it as well.  It helped some.  I finally had to give in and use Hydrocortisone once just to get the inflammation down. Since then though if any of the bites itch, I just put a little Lavender oil and they are good. 

Have you made or tried anything new this week?
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