Six Things to Remember on the First Day of School

Six Things to remember on the first day of school: for novices and experienced teachers, some helpful reminders for that big day!

Today was my 38th first day of school as a teacher. You'd think I've had enough practice at this, but I still get nervous on the first day. Here are a few things I have to remind myself about each year:

1. Don't try to do it all in a day, set priorities! I can't wait for the children to know all our procedures so we can get down to actual academics. But that takes weeks. Today, I focused on procedures during group shares.

2. Give plenty of opportunities to talk! This can be tricky since many of the children are kind of shy at first. I use "turn and talk" all the time, but it takes some warming up to be comfortable with the group. Start today, with limited expectations and lots of guidance. Today my students had to tell something they were looking forward to in second grade. I gave them several examples, which some of the shy kids used, and the more outgoing were able to go beyond the examples.

3. They haven't had to sit still or listen all summer! It's tempting (and often necessary) to do a lot of talking on the first day, but keep it short. After a few minutes of sitting still, they'll never remember what you said anyway! Want to help them remember? Have them repeat what you say, using gestures.

4.  Let them see you make a mistake or two.  Many children fear looking bad to the new teacher. It's important that they see mistakes are normal and encouraged. I definitely don't have any trouble making mistakes, but when I do, I model what I expect children to do when they make mistakes.

5.  Let them see you have a sense of humor. Laughter is an important part of every day. No matter how stressful the work gets, or how many tests you have to give, or how naughty the children might be, a sense of humor puts it all in perspective. There's a lot of learning to be done this year, but it's important to make it fun. Read a funny book or tell a silly story.

6.  Make sure they want to come back! Make sure there's at least one activity that is fun enough to make them go home with a smile, tell their families how much fun your class is, and make them want to come back tomorrow.

What else might you add to this list?

Look Out for the Dreaded Desk Monster!

Look Out for the Dreaded Desk Monster! Here's a different approach to encourage children to keep their desks clean.
I've never actually seen a desk monster. I don't think they're dangerous at all, but they are pests! And they're tricky, because they hide during the school day, but come out and wreak havoc when no one is around. Here's my evidence of their existence:
  1. They've been known to eat important papers.
  2. They leave footprints on the desks of students in the form of dirt, pencil markings and crayon markings.
  3. If there's a bad infestation, they make nests out of children's papers by crumbling them up at the back of their desks. 
Luckily, I've found a few things that can help keep these guys at bay.
  1. Don't keep any stray papers in your desk. Keep any important papers in a folder.  Desk monsters can't open folders.
  2. Keep food away from desks. If you spill a little snack, clean up the crumbs right away.
  3. Keep all the books and materials in your desk in a neat and orderly manner.
That's it!  If you follow these three simple rules, the desk monsters won't be able to make nests, and will move onto another classroom. (Maybe your brother's classroom!)

The Big "Who's That Blogger" Reveal!

We are so lucky to have Michelle from The 3 AM Teacher and all her creative ideas!  Wasn't she amazing creating the Who's That Blogger Match Up and Giveaway?  Well, here she is with the big reveal...and an awesome freebie, too! (Psst... did you guess I was #57?)

Who's that Blogger Reveal & Winners!!!


I have labeled the childhood photos with the matching blogs for you all to peek at!! Because of the volume of entries, winners will be notified throughout the weekend. I appreciate your patience as we send out emails and prizes.

Click on each image to see the photo






Winner of the $125 Amazon Gift Card!!!
CONGRATULATIONS to
MEAGAN RAVEY
You will receive an email notification and once your email has been confirmed, I will send you the Amazong gift card!!

Thank you so very much for playing!!
I created a fun FREEBIE for everyone to grab!! 
Please feel free to share the freebie through pins & I always appreciate your feedback!!
Have a WONDERFUL SATURDAY!!
Click the image to visit my TpT shop and download the new decorated owl FREEBIE!!



Five Team Building Activities for Back to School

Team Building Activities for Back to School - Here are five easy "get to know you" activities that can be used at any time to encourage working together.

As a second grade teacher, I get many students who struggle with social skills and working with others.  I like to start the beginning of the school year with plenty of activities to build those important skills.



Back in May I wrote a blog post about Team Building Activities. You can see that post HERE. I've noticed that post has received a lot of attention lately, so I'm thinking that teachers are looking for Back to School Team Building Activities!

Here are 5 ideas for Back to School Team Building Activities!


team building
1.  Musical Shoes - While sitting in a circle, have everyone take of their left shoe. As the music plays, they pass the shoe to the right while taking the shoe being passed from the left. As the shoes dance their way around the circle, stop the music randomly. Whatever shoe they are holding, they need to find the owner and make sure they know that person's name. They also have to find their own shoe, so there should be a good deal of chatter and giggles as they hobble on one shoeless foot. Teachers can choose for the kids to exchange different information such as their favorite book, number of children in their family, or their birthday month.



2.  Silly Songs - There are plenty of silly songs out there. You can find them on Youtube (like My Aunt Came Back above - guaranteed giggles and requests for repeats) or on CDs, or perhaps you know some from summer camp! Here are some I've had success with:  


John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
There's a Hole in the Bucket
On Top of Spaghetti
Going on a Bear Hunt
Madalina Catilina
The More We Get Together
Found a Peanut
The Hokey Pokey
This Land is Your Land
Make New Friends
I've Been Working on the Railroad

Even if you don't consider yourself a singer, the kids will always remember these songs. Plus, there are even more advantages to group singing: There have been studies that show when people sing together, their hearts start to beat to the same rhythm. See more about that HERE.

team building3. Introductions - Children should work in pairs to learn 3 things about each other. After some practice, they come back together to do formal introductions of each other. It might sound like this:  "This is my new friend Mary. She likes gymnastics, reading, and the color pink."

Team Building4.  Cooperative Musical Chairs - This is like the traditional Musical Chairs, but with a twist. The game starts with one less chair than children. When the music stops, they all find a chair, but when there's someone left, someone must make room for this student. Remove chairs each time, so the students will keep having to find a way to include everyone in the group. Beware: Giggles will follow!

5.  Who Am I? - Make up cards with famous names on them that the kids will be sure to know. (Book characters are fine!) Each child wears a card on their back so that others know who is Children have to ask questions of the other children to try to figure out the name of the character they're wearing.  (With my little ones, I give loads of hints, and sometimes show them all the cards ahead of time to narrow it down. We want them to be successful!) 

What Team Building Activities do you use in  your classroom?

Understanding by Design - The Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Teacher Blogger

There are advantages and disadvantages of being a teacher blogger.  
The advantage is that I get a lot of satisfaction from blogging.  It helps me work out my thinking, especially after a workshop or some kind of training.

The disadvantage, is that sometimes, it haunts me.

Yes, it haunts me. Seriously.

Like, for example, today my district sent committee members to a training on Understanding by Design.  It's a two day training, and includes teachers from all the schools in my district, all levels.  It's great to spend time with some of my colleagues that I don't see that often.  It's always good to talk to other teachers.

Plus, Understanding by Design is a great concept for designing lessons!  With our district adapting the Common Core this year, quite a bit of our curriculum and materials have to be adapted, modified, or rearranged in some way.

I was trained once in UBD, but I'm thinking that was about 15 years ago.  (I believe that because I remember getting a late start due to child care issues.  That "child" is 20 now.)  I think I may have forgotten a few things.  Plus, they know a whole lot more now than they did 15 years ago.

Here is the book we're using in the training.:
It's very easy to read, and goes right along with what we're doing in class!  Lots of great visuals and charts to revisit when we have time!

This is the most recent revision to the original Understanding by Design book by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe

I suppose you're still wondering why being a blogger haunts me at times like this.

When the instructor poses a question like this one: Twenty years from now, what do you want the students to remember about you? I find myself thinking... I really want to share this with my readers!

When you hear the phrase, Hands on, but not minds on, I think, I really want to share this with my readers!

When I read articles like THIS ONE, I think, I really want to share this with my readers!

When I get recommendations for books like this one:

or this one:
or this one:

You've got it... I just can't wait to share with my readers!

Seriously, check this stuff out, they give some great reasons to think about teaching!

Day 2 of training tomorrow!

Five Useful Tips and Tricks!

I've been teaching for 39 years. I've been teaching in my present school for 31 years. I've been teaching second grade for 17 years. You might say I've collected a few tricks up my sleeves! The more I read about studies on how the brain works, the more I realize that most teachers have figured these things out through experience. Now we just have the evidence to back it up!
Five Useful Tips and Tricks! These five tips are things that many teachers figured out for themselves, but now there's scientific evidence to back it up!

Here are five things that I always keep in mind in the classroom;
  1. Get Them Moving! We all know that children can't sit still for very long! Brain research backs that up. The average attention span is the child's age, plus or minus two. That means that my second graders shouldn't be expected to pay attention to anything longer than 7 minutes! They need brain breaks to break up those sessions. Plus movement aids learning (use gestures for the kids to mirror!) and helps get oxygen to the brain. 
    Guest Post for Rachel Lynette
  2. Get Them Talking! The human brain is social. Kids need to interact! Talking keeps the children engaged and helps them sort out their thinking. Check out THIS LINK to a guest post I did on Minds in Bloom called Keep Your Students Engaged With "Turn and Talk."  for more information and ideas on getting the kids talking.
    Music is magical
  3. Music is Magical! In fact, integrating all the arts will help with learning. Did you know that music boosts brain organization? It affects our moods and emotions. Playing music in the classroom really makes a difference. Different kinds of music work at different times. Playing slow, classical music helps kids focus and concentrate. Fun, upbeat music helps them find energy during those sleepy times of day (after lunch?) or just plain makes the kids feel good. Putting important information to a familiar tune helps them remember things. There is no end to the possibilities of music in the classroom. Click HERE for more suggestions and resources for music in the classroom.
  4. Don't Praise! Yes, you heard that correctly. Actually, experts tell us that false praise is actually harmful to the children. It's best NOT to tell children how smart or clever they are. However, honest feedback is essential for the children to grow. Instead of "you're so smart," tell them "You're getting better about remembering your math facts". Specific, honest praise is far more meaningful. It's ok to tell them they need to work at something. In fact, when they do work at that thing, and show improvement, that's when the self esteem builds! If you're familiar with Whole Brain Teaching, this is where the Super Improvers Wall comes in! (Sorry about the blurry picture, I'll try to get a better one when I'm done putting up this year's wall!) See the link HERE to Giving Feedback for more information.
  5. Keep a Sense of Humor! I suspect you already know the importance of a sense of humor in the classroom to survive as a teacher. Well, it's important for the kids, too. Learning and memory are very much related to emotions and having fun! I try to keep the jokes as much as I can, and include many games in my teaching. Making it fun means more learning will happen. (Plus, the memory needs repetition, and games keep that repetition from becoming boring!)
Links to other posts that have more information these sort of tips:





Music for the Classroom

Plus, HERE's a link to my Pinterest board on Brain Research if you're interested in learning more!
(This is my most popular board!)

Organization and Management, A Little of Each

Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization
As I've been teaching for about 100 years, I've explored many different ways to manage behaviors.

These are the two things I've settled on lately:

The Scoreboard has been my savior for the last few years!  It is my main tool for management in the classroom. The best part? It's simple to use! It's part of the Whole Brain Teaching strategies, and I absolutely love it! Basically, when the kids do something well, put a tally on the happy side. When something doesn't go well, put a tally on the sad side. If Happy beats Sad at the end of the day, the kids earn 5 minutes toward a privilege, such as extra recess, arts and crafts, or a dance party. Different teachers do different things with the scoreboard, but that's how I use it. It goes all day, every day!

Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization
Read more HERE to see how I use the Scoreboard and the Rules from Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom. See more about Whole Brain Teaching HERE (Be sure to watch the videos. That's what hooked me in!)

I also use a Clip Chart. Mine has a sports theme, and uses beanie babies for incentive. Yep, there's not much more exciting than getting the privilege of having a beanie baby (or two, or more) live on your desk for the day. (There's also a beanie baby-less version...click the image!) Read more about that HERE.
Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization

Now here are a couple of organizational ideas :

Organizational Tip #1: Organization for base ten blocks! Aren't these caddies great? It's so easy for the kids to get the pieces they need. I used to keep them in one big tub, but all the little cubes would fall to the bottom, and it was tough for the kids to get the ones they needed! These are much easier! (Plus, these base ten blocks are made of foam... much quieter!)

Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization

If you're interested in these caddies, I found a link to some on Amazon. Just click the image!
Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization

Amazon calls them "Art Caddies", but classroom teachers know they're useful for many things other than just Art supplies!

Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization


Organizational Tip #2: Writing Folder Organization! Use 4 different colors, and have even amounts of folders for each color. There's never a question of where a folder would go, or where to put it away. After school, go through the red ones on Monday, yellow on Tuesday, green on Wednesday, and blue on Thursday. Then you get Friday off!  

Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization
I use the drawers of the cart for different kinds of paper.

  Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization

 I put pre-stapled booklets, staplers, tape, and staple removers on an extra desk.

Organizational Tip #3: Letter guide/ number grid! I give every child one of these two sided cards that we use ALL THE TIME! They are good tools for math as well as handwriting. (That's the Handwriting Without Tears alphabet on the back.) They are great for covering work during a test.  They make great bookmarks. They can help kids keep their place while reading. Seriously, these guys are out several times a day. Plus, if you laminate them, the kids can write on them with dry erase markers! The letter guide is copyrighted, so you'll have to get that through HWT, but you can download the color coded number grid freebie HERE!
Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization



Organization and Management, a little of each. This post gives 2 ideas for classroom management and 3 tips for classroom organization

Hope you appreciate these management and organizational tips!


Ten Fun things About Me

Here are 10 fun things about me!
1. Well, I'd say the most important thing in my life is my beautiful daughter. She's just about to enter her 3rd year of college in nearby Boston. (I'm so glad she's close!) This picture is going on my desk in my classroom. Her birthday present to me was a trip to see the Red Sox! Isn't she gorgeous?

2. Also important in my life is my "gentleman friend".  (At my age, I just don't say "boyfriend" anymore! Interestingly enough, we've known each other since we were on the same carpool in Kindergarten. We did go about 35 years without any contact, then "re-met" a few years ago. He keeps me laughing and feeling good about myself. Plus, he's planning to help me in my classroom later today! What could be better than that?

3.  I've been a teacher FOREVER! This is my 36th year teaching. It's my 29th year in my present school. I've taught everything from preschool through 8th grade, except I've never taught 4th grade. (I don't know why!) I've settled into second grade for several years now, and couldn't be happier!

4. I'm totally fascinated by the brain. Did you ever have car trouble, then once they fixed it, you became an expert at that part of the car? I started learning more about the brain when I had a stroke 3 years ago. It's an amazing organ, and I love learning about how the brain helps us learn. I follow several neuroscientists' literature, and love reading about recent research about the brain. I have a "brain research"Pinterest board HERE if you're interested!

4. I have a master's degree in Creative Arts in Learning, and I'm always looking for ways to integrate the arts into my classroom. (It is VERY MUCH connected to brain based learning!) I'm passionate about music, and include it with almost everything in my classroom.  (See Integrating the Arts Pinterest board HERE.)

5. Speaking of music, I'm a big fan of Musical Theatre! I've performed in hundreds of community and regional performances, and I absolutely love to watch them, too. If you are a fan of musical theatre, you'll recognize this Youtube video! (Neil Patrick Harris from the opening number of the 2013 Tony Awards!) I could watch this over and over, he's so amazing! Musical theatre at it's best!

6. I also have a couple of videos on Youtube of my own performance. Just google "Sally DeCost" and you'll find me in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I played Lucy, and had a blast!

7. I took my first trip to Las Vegas this year, and had an awesome time! See if you can find me in my signature red and white dress! (See THIS POST and THIS POST for more about that trip!)
Blogger Get together July 2014


8. I am lucky enough to stay in touch with several college friends even after almost 35 years being out! (Don't do the math!) We had a get together this weekend! Awesome people, awesome place, awesome food, awesome conversation! These are the people that I can go for years without seeing, and pick up the conversation when we get together like we'd just seen each other. I am blessed to have friends like this!

9. I have great family - full of teachers! This is my brother, who just got tenured at the University of Colorado. accepting his second Emmy award for producing a documentary. (His first was for sound editing.) He's also a blogger! (See HERE.) He doesn't blog about teaching like I do, he blogs about movies. I also have a sister who taught Health and Nutrition at the high school level for years. She recently retired, and is now enjoying her passion for farming! My parents were both teachers. My dad was a football coach for years, and was a huge influence in my life. My mother (who passed away when I was in college) was a fifth grade teacher for most of her life. My stepmother (who passed away last month) taught everything from first grade through college. Her sister taught Home Economics, then Special Education. Even my niece has a background in child care, and my daughter has taught choreography to kids in plays! I could keep going!  There is a strong line of teachers, and also many in my family with music in their background as well!  
My Emmy winning brother
Myself and my sister
My football coach dad. I think this was in the early 70s.
My niece and my daughter. They are about 18 years apart and about 12 inches apart, but they are both amazing!
10. I'm fun! That's what my students say about me. They don't say I'm beautiful or inspiring. They say I always make learning fun. You know, I think that's a pretty big compliment! That's pretty much what I aim for, after all, brain research teaches us that emotions help learning!

Happy Music

Music is Magical! Playing "Feel Good music in the classroom keeps everyone smiling. This post has a freebie list of music suggestions!
Music is magical! Music  can change our moods. Music can lift your spirits, and bring you out of your doldrums. A few months ago I posted about Music for the classroom. I gave ideas for music to play for optimum learning, and why it is important for learning. You can read that post HERE.


Today I wanted to focus more on the happy music. You know, the music to have playing while the students arrive in the morning (see THIS post), or during an Open House.




Below you'll see several links for the kind of music I play in my classrooms when "happy music" is needed. As the children walk into the room in the morning, I want them feeling good, so I play happy music. I also play happy music during brain breaks, or any point in the day where children seem to need a "lift".

We also have an Open House coming up soon. The children come with their parents to meet their teacher for the first time. I usually have some fun things for the children to do when they get there, but you can be sure I'll have some fun music playing in the background! It gives a happy feel to the entire room!

Here are a few ideas for fun music: (Each image is a link to Amazon.)

Music collections designed for kids!


I find "oldies" collections are great fun for all generations.  The Big Band stuff is fantastic in the classroom, and who doesn't love the Andrews Sisters?




Here's a list of fun stuff I have on my ipad, that I play just to put myself in a good mood.  (You know, cleaning, setting up the classroom, when you need a lift!) It works for kids, too!
Most of these are "classic rock" you can't miss playing this music!


Freebie - classic "feel good" music
Click HERE to download my list.

What music makes you happy?  What music do you play in the classroom?

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