RECHARGE & UNPLUG, A Teacher's Guide to Breaks

Winter break, fall break, spring break, or whatever breakin’ electric buggaloo you’ve got coming up —make sure to make it your own.  There’s nothing more exciting than coming home and realizing you have ZERO teaching to do for the next week or so.  No planning meetings or PLCs or bus duty in negative degrees. Just a bunch of days that you get to fill. For many of us they’re already planned out but you need to remember to take a couple of days for yourself.  

Call it recharging or unplugging (I even put those in the titles) or whatever cool buzzword they got for it (right, bae?). Just make it your own. I’ve spent a little time and put together some of my favorite past times that I’ve found effective.
Feel free to insert "NOTHING" in that box above.

Organize Your Classroom Before You Leave For Break
Yes, you want to fly out the door when that bell rings. Just wait. Clean up your room, throw away all those piles of papers (that will just get tossed when you get back), and get your room in working order for your return. This little prep work means you’re coming back on a clean slate.

Dogfood A Project You Want Your Students to Do

What does that even mean? Dogfooding is when you test out a product/resource/project yourself. So if you’ve got a project your want your students to do, take a day and do it yourself. Figure out what works well, what doesn’t, and understand the issues students will face. 

Buy A Cake For Yourself
No regrets. No remorse. Besides, you've got a whole week to eat it.

Give Back
Find a charity or organization that you'd like to help.  Call them up and see if they need anything.  Our local animal shelter loves getting homemade cat toys that my daughter's girl scout troop makes.  

Or take a box of cookies up to a fire department or police station. Yes, just like you see in the movies.   

Don't Sleep the Day Away
Unless you really want to, then it's cool.

Practice Your Teacher Voice in the Middle of a  Grocery Store.
You know, just for fun.

This is just a sampling of some ideas to guide you through a teaching break. You can find the BIG LIST at Upper Elementary Snapshots.

If you need more ideas you can find me doing my favorite one --reminding my kids to turn off all the lights when they leave their rooms.

Flexible Seating on a Budget

Flexible seating doesn't have to break your bank account. Sure, we'd all love to get a $5,000 grant to transform our classrooms-- but that probably won't happen. So instead,  I wanted to share some simple and effective ways to introduce flexible seating options into your room without having to buy stock in IKEA.

Personally, I LOVE flexible seating.  Although if I'm going to be technical, I prefer the term flexible learning spaces because it needs to be more than just what they're sitting on.  It should include spaces within the room that can facilitate learning, collaboration, and problem-solving.

This year the fifth grade team at my school decided to give flexible seating a try.  Each teacher came in with some different ideas that they wanted to try and incorporate; the results have been pretty incredible.  

Jump over to Upper Elementary Snapshots to see the rest. CLICK HERE


Classroom Must Haves: Things I Can’t Picture Myself Teaching Without

There is no standard classroom that is perfectly mapped out for us containing everything we need. We take our time curating materials, along with hitting up every garage sale to find the perfect classroom resource.  Whether we're hoarders or throwers, every teacher has those specific items they can't live teach without!  

From the perfect coffee cup or roll of duct tape, we all have our go-to favorite resources, these things just seem to make our teaching life click. I've teamed up with the bloggers over at Upper Elementary Snapshots sharing my Classroom Must Haves.  In fact, I can't "picture" myself teaching without them!  So, will they match up with yours?  Make sure you collect our "Must Have" freebies and enter our Giveaway at the bottom of this post!

This is a my ratchet set. It is my best friend. We've taken apart and put together so many wonderful things at school. From dissecting a computers, to raising tables and lowering chairs--this little buddy has been with me a long time. This ratchet set is used at least once a week to fix a problem.

I hate having to rely on the custodial staff.  They're busy enough, which is why this guy comes in handy.  It is an absolute classroom must have.  Just to be clear, I don't teach with this, but I have used it with students for teaching moments.

In school we have parts and materials that can be brand new to fifty years old, meaning that assembly (or unassembling) isn't an exact science. Let's be clear--this is not a tool box (but you should have one of those too). It can screw/unscrew with more than 50 attachments--which is something, considering we have rounds out screws, rounded bolts, and school furniture older than my grandma.

And if you needed more convincing: This is one of the best tool for putting together items from IKEA or Target.  Think about that shelving.

If you're looking to get one like this, I'd highly suggest checking out this Ratchet Screwdriver SKIL set at Amazon. This one is a little smaller (mine has since been discontinued), but contains all the essential elements and options to become your best friend. Tim the Toolman would be proud (mid-90's reference).

For context.

I don't care what read aloud you have or how big your classroom library is.  If you don't have the a Calvin & Hobbes book, you are doing your students an injustice.  That's right, and injustice. These books are literary staples. They are a must have.  

It's a bit tough to convey all my feelings for Calvin & Hobbes. Bill Watterson created a safe place for creativity, imagination, and unlimited possibilities for kids and adults in his stories and characters. And as educators it's our responsibility to give kids a chance to get lost in those ideas, and maybe find their own stuffed tiger.

Grab a copy for your classroom (or get the whole set) for around ten bucks at Amazon.

My must have resource my class is Zoo Design.  My inner child is coming out, as a kid all I ever wanted to do was be a zookeeper.  It didn't happen.  Instead, I'm a teacher.  Zoo Design is framed around having students apply area and perimeter skills to build their own zoo, but it is much more, as students must make key decisions while problem solving to complete the project.

I started by designing two levels that can easily and immediately be differentiated BUT the PBL activity looks exactly the same to all.  This helps with my resource students who work at different levels, but don't want to stick out. Besides applying math skills and using a project based learning approach, this resource allows me to gauge how well students can create, imagine, and be inventive.  I can see their strengths true strengths also, which don't always come out on the tests.  Find ZOO DESIGN, Area and Perimeter here.

You, my friend, have made it all the way to (possibly) my favorite resource.  The power of being a good friend is critical, that's why I love my How To Be A Friend poster set. This'll be the third year to hang it from my wall, which means more time to discuss how and why to be a good friend.  

Make sure you grab your yourself a copy for your classroom. You can see it on my wall (above).  I like to put it low enough so students see it at eye level. Find it here or click the image below.

This is just a miniature version I've scaled down.

After you've downloaded my FRIENDS POSTER be sure to visit each of the blogs below to add 12 more FREE RESOURCES to your own collection of things you can't picture yourself teaching without. Afterwards swing by our collaborative blog, Upper Elementary Snapshots for lots of great content and ideas you can put into practice in your own classrooms as well as a chance to win gift cards to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Teachers Pay Teachers so you can stock up on your own Classroom Must Haves.


Simple Ways to Promote Problem-Solving In Class

I have the ultimate luxury of getting into a lot of classrooms during the school year and seeing all kinds of wonderfulness (that's a word, right?) that is taking place. What I tend to see (or what I look for) are ways that my colleagues are turning their students into problem-solvers by the activities, lessons, and hands-on learning taking place.  The following are 12 ways that my school promotes problem-solving.

Puzzles! Seriously, they might seem relaxing but they make your brain hurt. Place a puzzle with 500+ pieces that will take days (sometimes weeks or longer) to complete.  Place a puzzle table in class doesn't mean kids sit around it all day, even though that would be fun.  Kids come and go as they please, steal moments when they can, and work together.  Puzzle completion tends to happen organically (along with the problem solving).

Learning to Code is basically the equivalent to learning a foreign language in school these days.  Kids need to know how, or at least, have a basic understanding of how coding works. is the easiest and most functional site for getting kids started.  I've used this site for the past 2 years and it's a gold mine for teaching kids how to solve problems and collaborate.

A Bin of Legos will set you free! Let students build, create, destroy, and build again.  I love LEGOS. I just don't like the Kragle.

Start a Class Newspaper with your students (or nudge them to try it on their own). Writing a newspaper forces kids to make a lot of decisions from picking content, writing, researching, and create the actual newspaper.  We have students in school that make it the old school way--with paper.  Then we upgraded to Google (Yeah!--GAFE) and used free templates provided. 

Celebrate Moments of Failure.  Yes, this might sound a little funny, but it's true. Failure typically occurs with kids because something was difficult. Using failure as a positive platform to promote hard work builds trust with students creating a safe environment. It's all about the mindset. Safe environments tend to allow students to take more risks.  This applies for us, as teachers, too.

Survival Games are fantastic because they allow for imagination and team work.  Earthquakes, lost in the desert, or living on a deserted island are fantastic ways to test their ideas.  These scenarios don't have to involve huge productions and you (the teacher) can even make up the rules as you go along.

Board Games are just the best. Sure, the actual are incredible, but the real magic happens when kids play them.  Most of the times kids bring in new games have have to TEACH other students.  It's wonderful and requires problem solving strategies for everyone involved.  If you only have a few board games, I'd suggest stocking on a few more.  Cataan, anyone?

Play Chess or start weekly chess time with you students. Before I began teaching I'd never played, but I had a teacher who had his kids play every Friday afternoon.  His students taught me how to play.  Most of the time they beat me, but eventually I figured it all out...and I'd still lose. Chess takes skills, patience, and planning...and anyone can learn to play it.

Place STEM Bucket in your room and allow students to different challenge each week.  STEM buckets can be leftover school supplies, pipe cleaners, paper, tape, or even the recycle bin.  It doesn't matter whats in the bin because taking the challenge is the ultimate goal for the kids.

Genius Hour put learning directly into the student's hands as they choose what they want to learn more about.  The HOW is up to them.  More and more teachers are attempting Genius Hour as a way to shake up learning because it allows for students to learn in the way that fits them the best.

And my favorite, Project Based Learning. Giving students a topic or driving question and seeing how they attack it and solve the issues is a beautiful thing. 


What do you do to promote problem-solving in your school?

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