Friday, February 28, 2014


Friday couldn't have come any faster this week! It's been a long day (I was at work from 7:15am to 7:30pm because of our Math Night!)

I am looking forward to my weekend - and catching up on my blogging and making some more TPT products for March!

Have a great Friday!

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guest Blog at The Autism Adventures of Room 83

I'm so pleased to announce that I have a guest blog on The Autism Adventures of Room 83! Head over to Melissa's blog to see my post on CGI math techniques in a special education classroom.

If you like my guest blog on CGI math, check out my products on my Teachers Pay Teachers store!
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Some Advice for New SPED Teachers - Part I

As I finish up my masters degree this semester and look forward to (hopefully) becoming a master teacher in my district, I've been thinking back to my first year as a full-time teacher and wish that I had been given some sort of manual before being thrown into my own classroom!

For all of those future teachers out there (both general and special education teachers alike), here are some points to remember as you begin your first year of teaching in a special education classroom.

  • Your first week will be hard. No matter how much experience you have under your belt. No matter if you worked for the district before. No matter if you read dozens of “new teacher how-to” books. No matter if you graduated at the top of your class with honors and think you know everything there is to know about teaching prior to stepping foot into your own classroom. Your first week – possibly even the first entire month of school – will be difficult. It might even make you want to cry and quit. (Trust me…I cried and had those thoughts my first week of teaching!) But as a new teacher, and during that first month of school, you will learn so many things about yourself and about your students that when you look back at the end of the school year, you will wonder how you could have ever thought about leaving these kiddos.
  • Do your homework. This is not just a mantra for the students to remember, but one to remember yourself as their teacher. Know exactly who’s coming into your class prior to the first day of school. Read their cumulative folders…extensively. Note any of their quirks, things that may set them off, and any problematic behaviors. I found out too late that I had a “runner” in my class…that was not a very good day.
  • Seek out a mentor. As intimidating as it may be for newer teachers to approach and even consult with veteran teachers – specifically veteran teachers who have worked at your school site a lot longer than you – find at least one teacher in your specific grade level that you can collaborate with and who – if you’re lucky – will take you under his or her wing. Reflecting upon my first year of teaching, I can tell you that it would have been a lot harder had I not had another teacher to lean on for support. I found a general education teacher who was not only generous with her time to me, but also made my students feel as if they were fully included in all of our grade level activities and programs.
  • Make friends with your front office staff. A little known secret among the professional teaching community is that while the administrator may be the big boss of the campus, the front office staff helps to ensure that the school – and ultimately your classroom – runs effectively and efficiently. These ladies (or men) handle those parents who like to call…constantly, while also taking your sick students in when the nurse isn’t there or is unavailable. They make sure that all your “t’s” are crossed, all your “i’s” are dotted and that no IEP document goes unfiled. They are also very generous with school supplies…especially if you bring them Jamba Juice or Starbucks on a regular basis.
  • Find balance. While teaching is a full-time job, it is ten times more stressful when you’re also working on a master’s degree, which – in today’s economy – many teachers have opted to do in order to secure their financial future. (As if teaching wasn’t already a 60+ hour work week, let’s add some graduate textbooks, a thesis paper, and additional case studies to that workload!) As a first year teacher and college graduate student, I had to remind myself to put aside grading papers, reading dozens of educational journals and articles, and take a few minutes (or hours) to focus on me. It’s extremely important to maintain a balance between work, school and maintaining some semblance of a social life. A happy teacher moves mountains with her student. 
I am sure that there are a dozen other things I should include…maybe this post calls for a sequel? Part II? After all, sharing is caring...
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Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday's App: Popplet

To round off our week of classroom apps, I've chosen to showcase the app Popplet.

As many of my readers know, I'm a big fan of graphic organizers. As such, I'm also a big fan and user of Inspiration Software and Kidspiration. Both are computer-based programs that have since had iPad apps created for them (each with paid and free versions). 

Popplet is a similar brainstorming-esque application that allows users a wide variety of options. Popplet allows students to brainstorm and create mind maps, draw diagrams and process charts, record their thoughts through journals, notes and lists, collect inspiration through mood boards and scrapbooks, and present a wide range of galleries through photo albums, portfolios, and presentations.

Students can use the drawing tool and draw their own images or can import pictures from the web or camera roll. 

Popplet is a great brainstorming app that allows for scaffolding and differentiation. It is easy to set up and easy to use. I found a great Popplet tutorial here - it takes you step-by-step in creating a popplet. 

Popplet has both a free and paid version of the app. Popplet Lite only allows you to create one popplet. The paid version of Popplet lets you create an unlimited amount of popplets and save them onto your device. (Again, the paid version outweighs the "lite" version of the app!) 

If you're looking for a creative, engaging way to let students create mind maps and brainstorm their ideas, Popplet gets you there.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thursday's App: Puppet Pals

So, I believe that storytelling is an essential part of every primary grade classroom. Storytelling helps improve oral language skills and story writing. It also develops students' understanding of sequence and plot and encourages reading and critical thinking skills. These are critical skills for most students, but even more important to our kiddos with special needs who may have a challenging time grasping the concepts of sequencing. 

Although storytelling has been traditionally incorporated with language arts curriculum, it can be easily integrated into history, geography, and social studies curriculum. 

I was recently at a math conference when I was introduced to the app Puppet Pals (at a math conference nonetheless!) I thought it was such a great app that I immediately came home and downloaded the app. 

There are several different versions of the app. The original Puppet Pals HD comes in two different versions - one is free and the other is paid ($2.99). The updated version is Puppet Pals 2; it, too, has a free and paid version. I paid $4.99 for the paid version of Puppet Pals 2 and, like all apps I buy, is worth the investment if you're going to utilize it in your classroom. The only downside I found so far? It took FOREVER to download the app…but again, well worth the wait!

The paid versions of the apps give you access to more characters, with Puppet Pals 2 adding some characters such as Cleopatra, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. (Just imagine the stories students could tell with them!) If you didn't want to use any of the provided characters, you can superimpose your own images onto cartoon bodies. 

Here is a short demo video I created to show you what you could do with Puppet Pals. You can even add music to videos!

TechChef4U provides an excellent tutorial on how to create videos, along with a great list of possible projects for Puppet Pals. If you're looking for an interactive app that allows your students to work on storytelling concepts while also practicing oral language skills, Puppet Pals is the way to go.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday's App: Remind101

I have been looking for a way (for months) to effectively communicate with ALL parents in my classroom. I have several parents who are absolute angels about getting back to me when I call, email or send notes home with their child. Unfortunately, I also have parents who won't return notes or communication if their life depended on it. 

My school has a teleparent system but I can't personalize the calls. I have found services that allow me to send out personalized, pre-recorded broadcasts (like the services offered by Call-Em-All). However, these services cost money (starting at $7.50 per month). I wanted to find a system that allowed me to send out a message (whether via text or pre-recorded service) but that was minimal on cost. 

In comes the app Remind101. It provides teachers a safe way to send out text messages for parents and students. It is 100% free and I can send as many messages as needed each month.

It's easy to set up - just check out Remind101's website here. The website will guide you through the process of setting up a class (or multiple classes if you teach middle school or high school). Remind101 will assign you a class code that you will register to from your cell phone. Students who have your class code can register to receive your messages.

Using the Remind101 app, teachers can communicate with anyone who has registered their cell phone number with your class. You can send out reminders for tests, homework notices (to those who haven't turned in homework), words of encouragement, or general classroom reminders. You can send out the messages to individuals or the entire class, and you can even schedule texts to go out at a later time.

For those of you who have trouble getting and keeping parents connected, Remind101 is a great app that helps facilitate smoother communication with parents and students alike.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesday's App: Book Creator

Today's app of choice is Book Creator. I was first introduced to this application through one of my district's technology trainings. Our technology leads had been discussing applications that could be used to create books and while we had discussed other apps, Book Creator was one that we kept coming back to. Once I had the chance to play around and experiment with it, I fell in love with it!

Book Creator is an application that allows users to create beautiful iBooks right on the iPad. Books that are created can be read in iBooks, sent to other users, or can be submitted to the iBooks store. 

As with other apps, Book Creator allows its users to use pictures from the iPad camera roll, take photos on the spot, or grab photos from the web. With just a few tugs and pulls, you can resize images and move them around the page as you see fit.

For a special education classroom, this application holds so many possibilities. Prior to this app, I was spending my weekends creating social stories books for those of my students who needed them. I would spend hours transferring photos from my digital camera over to my computer, and then placing those photos in documents, creating the story, and then printing out those pages to be laminated. 

Now, with Book Creator, I can easily and efficiently make my social stories while I'm at work (taking students' pictures as needed - especially to capture those "problematic" behaviors). Book Creator allows me to create the book and save it as a PDF which I can then save into iBooks and readily pull up when my students need it.

Although the application has a free version, it only allows you to create one book. The paid version (which is the one I have) allows users to create and share multiple books - and for $4.99, the app is worth it if you're going to utilize it with students in your classroom throughout the school year. If you're looking to invest in a great, creative application that allows your students to create individualized books, consider investing in this awesome app!

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Week Full of Apps!

I am a huge advocate of technology in special education classrooms! The district I work for is moving to 1:1 iPad implementation this coming school year (2014-2015) for our K-1, 2nd and 6th grade classrooms. This year, we have classrooms across the district that are piloting iPad classrooms.

As a 2nd/3rd grade combo class, I've been reassured that my special education class will be included in the 1:1 iPad program for the next school year. (I'll believe it when I get them, though!) I do, however, have several iPads in my classroom this year and have been using them in conjunction with my Apple TV. 

This week I'll be focusing on showcasing some really great applications that we use in my special education classroom - apps that are great for any classroom!

To kick off our week, I'm going to tell you about the Educreations app. 

If you aren't familiar with Educreations, it's a great application that lets users turn iPads into recordable whiteboards. This app uses voice recording, realistic digital ink, photos, and text to create lessons and recordings that can then be shared through email, Facebook, or Twitter.

With its ease of use, both students and teachers alike can readily create and present lessons or tutorials that they have created. The app is versatile and can be used across the curriculum with everything from science to social studies to math.

While some presentation apps only allow you to "draw" in, Educreations allows its users to import pictures from the iPad's camera roll, web, or Dropbox. If that doesn't suffice, users can always take their own pictures on the spot.

This app is a great way to engage students and "show" their thinking - especially in the areas of science and math. Students can create a quick tutorial that can then be shared with the rest of the class via Apple TV. 

Educreations also has a website that has lessons for a variety of different subjects. It's a great resource for teachers who just want to jump in and start experimenting with the app. Apps in Class also have a great resource about how to use Educreations at every level of Bloom's Taxonomy. 

If you haven't heard about Educreations, check it out! 

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Little Late but...Happy Chinese New Year!

I'm a little late in this post, but my class recently learned about Chinese New Year. We began by reading a short book on Chinese New Year. I think the book I purchased did a pretty good job of explaining what CNY actually is and why/how it's celebrated. 

After we learned a little bit about CNY, my students were able to create paper lanterns (which they were totally psyched about!) We used red construction paper that I had one of aides pre-cut - although, I'm pretty sure most of my students could have done themselves if we wanted to take more time with the project.

Because we couldn't find the party streamers (crepe paper) that I thought I had stored in my cabinet, my students ended up curling some construction paper strips with pencils instead. (You have to be flexible!) 

After curling their strips/streamers, they had the opportunity to decorate the lantern with some Elmers glue and glitter. We also utilized some glitter glue for the project - to add some extra sparkle!

After everything had dried, we stapled the two ends together and added another strip of construction paper for the handle. The project was a hit with my kids (who really value any arts and crafts time they get in the classroom) and they learned something about Chinese New Year in the process. 

All in all, I think it was a successful lesson!
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Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's a Jungle in Here!

So, earlier this school year I spent some time (and money) investing in resources for my classroom. I wanted to go with a particular "jungle theme" and since I was just starting out on TPT and hadn't invested in any designs, clipart, etc. decided that I might as well buy the things I needed from other sellers and use it in my classroom until I had the time to start making things myself. My classroom ended up looking something like this.

Six months later, I have steadily increased my TPT inventory and am now starting on bigger projects to include for sale on my store. One of those items is a Dolch sight word wall card list. I've included all five levels of Dolch sight words (Pre-Primer to 3rd Grade) - each card decked out in a green leopard print style (to stick with my jungle theme classroom!) 

I've also created some classroom rules posters to add some pizzaz to my other seemingly boring rules that I had quickly written on some chart paper. (They're also adorned with the cutest clipart from MelonHeadz Illustrating!) 

I'm working on creating a comprehensive packet with classroom posters and forms to use - all in a jungle theme! (If you're a Type A/borderline OCD person like me, everything's got to match!) Stay tuned for the complete package to appear on my TPT site soon!

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