Want to Start a Blog?

Starting a blog can be scary.  Writing each post is still a little scary, even!  (What if everyone thinks my ideas are dumb?!)  It was for this reason that I thought about (and talked about) starting a blog for what seems like forever before I finally took the plunge.  In the end, it was seeing my favorite blog authors at the Southern California Kindergarten Conference that really inspired me to register a blog name and simply go for it.  Here's what I've learned so far about what's necessary for starting a blog that people will read. 

1.) Register a Domain
Choose your blog name on blogger. If I had to do it over again, I would have chosen a name that used shorter words, because they're easier to put on logos, blog buttons, and the like.  But more important than that is to choose a domain that's easy to remember, and that you like.  

2.) Design Your Page
Now it's time to design your page. I chose to pay someone to design my blog page, and in my opinion it was totally worth it.  There are plenty of free templates you can find online, but if you're not able to write code, or are familiar with pasting other people's codes into the correct places, I recommend having a professional do it, especially if you want to ultimately make money off your blog.  It's my opinion that a beautiful header can take a good blog to an amazing blog.  I'm inspired by pictures, and a blog's design is a part of that.  Inspire teachers to be creative through your branding!

I had my blog designed by The Cutest Blog on the Block, but there are tons of other people/companies who design great-looking blog pages. I would recommend looking at the footer or sidebars of blogs that appeal to you visually, and see who designed them. (This is how I choose tcbotb.) If a blogger paid someone to design their blog, the designer will have some sort of link somewhere on the page. 

3.) Get on Bloglovin
Register your blog with Bloglovin. This is just one more way to get your blog out there.  If you have social media icons on your blog page, include a link to Bloglovin in there as well.  So far I have more followers on Bloglovin than I do through my actual Blogger page. 

4.) Get on Pinterest . . .Like Yesterday
This might just be the most important thing:  if you're not on Pinterest yet, get on it. So far, I'd say roughly half of my viewers have accessed my blog through clicking a pin on Pinterest. Luckily, I've already been on Pinterest for several years now, and have built a following on the site by curating a series of teaching-related boards with a ton of great pins. So now, every time I pin a picture from my blog, it's being shared with all of my Pinterest followers.  Your Pinterest-followers are your potential blog-followers. 

5.) Photograph EVERYTHING
You need to start taking pictures of everything you do in the classroom.  Obviously, you can't photograph your students' faces and post them on your blog, but you can take pictures of their hands working, of student work samples, bulletin boards, anchor charts, etc.  Every blog post needs a picture, for several reasons. First of all, because people want to see pictures, to go along with an interesting narrative. And second of all, you need a picture to pin on Pinterest (see tip #4).

I tell you, when you start looking at your students' work through the lens of one who plans on posting it online, it forces you to step up your game as a teacher. Every writing assignment and art project needs to be Open-House-worthy.  More impressive. Better-tied to the Common Core standards.  I ask myself about every assignment I plan now: is this good enough to blog about?  I'm always trying to improve upon my lessons until they're of the same caliber as the teacher-bloggers I admire.  (This is a work in progress, and someday I'll get there... Wouldn't we all love to be as fabulous as Teacher to the Core's Katie, or Teacher Bits and Bobs' Kerri and Lindsay?)

6.) Download and Learn to Use Photo Editing Apps
Part of posting great pictures on your blog is in the presentation of those photos.  My favorite iPad app for writing text on photos is Phonto (see my post on Phonto here). Think about some of the most appealing photos you've seen on Pinterest and on your favorite blogs; many, if not most of them have captions or labels written directly over the picture.  It makes a difference. 

If you don't have an iPad to use Phonto, you can also use PowerPoint to lay text over images, and the save the slide as a .jpg or .png file. 

7.) Post regularly
As a long-time blog reader, it can be frustrating when you find a blog you love, and then there aren't any updated posts when you visit the site again!  To keep your readers coming back, give them something to come back to.  I'll admit, it's been difficult to stay disciplined with a blog-writing schedule, especially on those days when I just want to come home, put on sweatpants, and watch cheesy TV shows on Bravo.  It is so rewarding though, to press publish on a post, and then see on the stats page that you're getting page hits. 

I'm sure there is much more to blogging than I've listed here.  I'm just humbly sharing what I've learned so far in my short blogging history.  I'd like to invite all of you to share in the comments section your thoughts on what it takes to get a blog started.  I'm listening!

A Teacher's Must Have App List

Syncing Your Classroom iPads

I am extremely blessed to have a set of 10 iPads for my classroom.  It would be an enormous chore (and expense) downloading apps onto each individual iPad if they weren't all synced to the same iTunes account. Here's how to sync your class set of iPads, and make downloading apps onto each one a cinch. 

First, go to your Settings icon.

Next, once in Settings, scroll down to iTunes & App Store.  There, check yes for Apps under Automatic Downloads. 

You can check Automatic Downloads for Music, Books, and Updates as well, however the music (unfortunately) is only an automatic download if you purchased it through iTunes. If you've put music from a CD into iTunes on your computer, you have to manually connect each iPad to your computer to put that music on each one. This was a huge bummer for me when I put all of my read-along CDs onto each iPad. It took forrrrreeevvvvvverrrr! (Cue Sandlot voice-over.)

Do these steps for every one of your class iPads.  As long as all of your class iPads are registered under the same iTunes account (the same email address), you now only have to pay for and download an app on one iPad.  The rest of your iPads will then automatically begin downloading that same app.  It's as easy as that!

Favorite iPad apps: Fizzy's Lunch Lab

Easter Egg Hunt

I hear Easter Egg Hunt, and immediately think, "I need to make cute baskets for their eggs!"  Baskets turned out to be impractical (duh, right?) but a parent generously gave us these great little white boxes.  So of course, I had to come up with a way to decorate them to the nines, and came up with this!

It was so easy!  I started by giving each kid some Easter egg designs to color and cut out. 

Step 2: Cut strips of green paper for the grass, and cut "fringe" along one side. 

Step 3: Glue the paper eggs to the sides of the boxes first, then glue the grass down over them.  (I told my kids it was okay for the eggs to be half covered, because when they hunt for their eggs in the grass later, half of those eggs will be buried in the grass, too!

Let everything dry, and voila!  Beautifully decorated Easter boxes!

Me versus the Paper Monster

Can I just tell you, I hate grading papers. It is a deplorable chore that I put off and put off, until finally I'm in a situation like this:

Now, I'm preetttttty organized in regards to school supplies, books, and my filing cabinet.  But when it comes to my students' finished work, I'm a mess.  (See above.)  So every couple weeks, I have to spend (what feels like) an eternity going through the piles of paper, grading and filing, until the same table looks like this:

As you can see, I needed a Starbucks break somewhere in there, but I all but finished!  Whew! 

One of my projects this summer will be to come up with a system for taming the paper monster. I'm open for suggestions, people!  How do you stay on top of grading, and keep the deluge of paper at bay?

Math Center Dice Games

I bought a tub of 72 double-dice (a die within a die) at Lakeshore last summer, and I've found that there are there are sooo many ways to use these little guys.  At the beginning of the year, I used them to help my students with addition fluency.  Students had to add the number of pips on each die to get the total sum of pips, writing the equations in their math journals.  (Yep, the little dots on dice are called pips.)  My kids were amazed when I told them they weren't just called "dots," and even more amazed that I knew about this.  All the things I teach them every day, and this is the piece of knowledge that makes them think I'm a genius who knows everything.  Go figure. 

First Grade iPad Apps

It's great to be aware of the best iPad apps for your students, even if you don't have iPads in your classroom.  I didn't have any type of technology available at my previous school, but many of my students had personal iPads at home.  Knowing what types of apps and resources were available allowed me to recommend apps to parents whose children needed extra help in different areas.

Now that I do have iPads in my classroom this year, I've had to double down on my searches for the best, the most effective, (and FREE) apps for my students.

Upcoming posts will list descriptions and links to some of my favorite iPad apps.  Most of them are free, but I have upgraded to the full, paid versions of many of them, since my kids (and I) liked them so much.  Stay tuned!

*Update: click on the label #iPads on the right for all my posts on iPad apps!

Top Row Left: Sentence Builder Free FREE: My kids love this one. 
Top Row Middle: Pocket Phonics Lite FREE: (However, I HIGHLY recommend buying the full version.)
Top Row Right: Brain Pop, Jr.  FREEYou have to pay for access to all videos, but the Movie of the Week is free!

2nd Row Left: Spelling City FREE: My kids use this app to take their spelling test each Friday.  
2nd Row Middle: Bluster  This one is FREE, and AWESOME.  
2nd Row Right: Opposites This one is only $0.99 . . That's not even one-fourth of a Starbucks vanilla latte.  

3rd Row Left: Word Girl It's $1.99, but my kids love, love, love this one.  
3rd Row Middle: Irregular Verbs FREE
3rd Row Right: Chicktionary FREE

4th Row Left: Grammar Wonderland Primary Lite: FREE
4th Row Middle: Grammar Wonderland Elementary Lite: FREE
4th Row Right: Fizzy's Lunch Lab: FREE

Lion Drawings

Here is the latest bit of art that I did with my students. I try to do an art project of some kind every Friday, and this was the most recent "Artwork Friday Masterpiece."  A lion is surprisingly easy to make, by drawing two hearts:  one heart, then another upside down heart, with opposite points touching. Add some eyes, ears, a triangle nose, and a flowing mane all around, and you pretty much have yourself a lion!


Favorite iPad Apps: Bluster

Another one of my favorite iPad apps, Bluster!  This app is FREE, and it has three different levels of difficulty, which is fantastic because I have a huge range of ability in my class this year.  But word to the wise: turn the volume down, because otherwise you will have the computerized sound of thundering clouds and rain roaring through your classroom.  

Favorite iPad Apps: Pocket Phonics

As promised, here is the first of many blog posts to come on my favorite iPad apps.  This is probably my number one favorite iPad app for first grade, especially for the first months of school.  Pocket Phonics teaches kids to sound out words, letter by letter, sound by sound.  It also makes students trace the words while sounding them out, building muscle memory along with the listening.  It's awesome.  I've listed the Common Core State Standards that it addresses, so you can include them in your lesson plans if you plan on using Pocket Phonics in reading centers. 

You can try the Lite version first, which gives you 6 consonants, and then decide if you want to pay the $2.99 for the full version.  Especially when you consider that you only need to pay the $2.99 once, and then it'll download onto your entire class set of iPads (as long as they're all registered under your same iTunes account).  Trust me.  You're going to love it.

California Science & Social Studies Units

I discovered these free science and social studies units last year, and they are great.  Published by the California Education and the Environment Initiative, each unit is centered within the context of the environment. They're aligned to the California State Standards for science and social studies, so you could use these instead of your textbook series at different points in the year for many of the standards. (I don't know about you, but I am not in love with my science textbook or my social studies textbook.)  And, the best part is that they've recently released Common Core Correlation Guides for each unit, making it totally easy to include the Common Core standards in your lesson plans.

The website to download these units is www.californiaeei.org

The website will ask you to register your email, etc. to get the password for downloading everything (at least you needed to do this last year), but the password is teacheei if you don't want to go through all that. 

Writing About Bats

This was a bulletin board I did in October, when we read informational text about bats and then wrote sentences about them.
(I wanted these bats to be happy, fun bats, however some of my boys simply had to draw bloody fangs on their bats.  What can you do?)

Irregular Plural Nouns

We've been doing some review work on irregular plural nouns. When I covered this earlier, a few of my kids were still a liittttlle shaky on the whole concept of nouns (compared to verbs and adjectives), so I decided to touch on it again. This is a writing activity we did last month in our writing journals:

This was enough for the majority of the class to "get it," especially after writing sentences that used irregular plural nouns.  But to let my stragglers catch up to the pack, I did this activity:

I had a list of 28 nouns one for each student, with several nouns for each of the following singular-to-plural rules: 
~add -s, 
~add -es, 
~change y to i and add -es, 
~change f to v and add -es, and 
~keep the plural noun the same as the singular. 

I then drew name sticks to assign students to a word, and they had to draw and label the singular noun on one side of the page, and draw and label the plural noun on the other half of the page, using the appropriate rule.  

The best part of this activity came the following morning during reading centers, when the kids had to sort each other's labeled drawings according to the rule they used to make the noun plural.  They recognized each other's work, and loved using their own work to do the sort. I guess there are situations where my beautifully crafted and laminated flash cards aren't the best way for kids to learn!  (While my ego took a slight blow, I realized that it's a lot less work for me if the kids make their own sorting cards for grammar and spelling conventions.)

To really drive the concept of irregular plural nouns home, I assigned this app in one of my iPad centers. In this free app, the kids are given a sentence that uses an irregular plural noun, except they have to decide what form of the noun should be used. For example, "The boy saw three ______ in the forest."  Then the students have to drag either the word deer or the word deers into the blank. 

Paul Klee Art Projects

Paintings inspired by Paul Klee's Castle & Sun

 Oil Pastel Drawings inspired by Paul Klee's Senecio

First Grade Lent Retreat

Whew!  I got through my first First Grade Retreat!  I learned recently that each class has to have some type of spiritual retreat during the year (we are a Catholic school!), and first grade has their retreat in April.  (Since this is my first year at this school, there have been a lot of firsts for me lately!). We don't actually leave campus for the retreat, the majority of our activities are in the Hall (the auditorium), but we're out of the classroom all morning, which I guess makes it a "retreat" as opposed to just an extended religion lesson.

Our retreat was centered around pretzels, and how they represent prayer and penance (which I actually didn't know before).  First, I talked to the kids about the history of the pretzel, and that they were made centuries ago during Lent.  Back in the fourth century, the Romans abstained from milk, butter, and eggs (among other things) during Lent, so they would make pretzels using only flour and water.  The pretzels represented their fasting and penance.  The shape of the pretzel is of arms crossed in prayer, to remind us that Lent is a time of prayer.  The word pretzel even comes from a Latin word meaning "little arms."  I broke things down in more detail for the kids, but that's the gist of it. 

After learning about how pretzels can remind us of what's important during Lent, the kids actually made their own soft pretzels!  Wetzel's Pretzels was so generous to donate the dough mix for us, so that was one less thing to prepare beforehand. 

The kiddos each rolled and twisted their own pretzel, and as they finished, parents would put their pretzel on parchment paper, write their name on the parchment paper with a sharpie, and pop them in the oven!  Most of the kids did a pretty good job!  Here are a few of the better-looking ones.

Although I have one student who is allergic to white flour, and had to use a special dough from Trader Joe's. Which would be no big deal, except he couldn't use flour to help him roll his dough, and the whole thing turned into a blobby mess in his hands!  The poor little guy started crying, and then I wanted to cry for him!  Trust me when I say, rolling dough without flour is nearly IMPOSSIBLE.  I tried to help him, and just made a bigger mess!  Well let me tell you, I don't think I've prayed harder all year than I did in that moment, asking God to PLEASE help me turn that sticky mess into a pretzel for my sweetheart of a student, so he wouldn't be the only kid without one. Sure enough, God came through for me, because after wetting my hands to try and get the dough to slide off my hands, I was able to make this:
The extra water made it a little runny, but it's the only thing that saved me! (Other than a little help from The Man Upstairs!)  And that little guy's beaming smile when he saw it just made my week. "It's a perfect pretzel!!!!!" he exclaimed.  (If you say so! Whew!!)

After averting that crisis (I feel like at least 20% of my day is spent averting a crisis), we went back to the classroom to listen to our principal read a story about Jesus and the Passion.  It's a really sweet story about how all the garden animals try to comfort Jesus during the Crucifixion.  It's hard explaining the Passion to little kids without freaking them out, and this book does a really nice job of telling the story in an honest way, without being scary.

By the time the story was finished, the pretzels were all out of the oven!

And that was our First Grade Retreat!  The kids all sat in the Hall eating their pretzels together, and let me tell you, they were delicious!  The parents were so on top of it, they even had mustard and nacho cheese in little dipping cups at each child's place. 

I'm just glad it all went off without a hitch!  The kids had a great time, they were engaged, they seemed to really "get it," and the parents who came to volunteer were happy with how it all turned out. Success story!

Favorite Things ~ Erin Condren Planners

I want to start sharing all of my favorite finds with you, readers, and here is a biggie: Erin Condren Life Planners and Notebooks.  And because I just got an email from her about a big sale, I decided this was perfect to start with! 


I love everything Erin Condren!  I have the Life Planner (which I use for my personal life schedule), as well as the notebook with calendar insert, which I use to keep track of school events and deadlines, along with blogging ideas, lesson plan units I want to write, and miscellaneous teacher ideas I want to keep track of. True, they're a little pricey, but if you join her email-mailing list, you can just wait for one if her awesome promos (like right now!). I just got the above email this afternoon.  If I didn't already have the one (okay, two!) I'd be taking advantage of this new promo tonight!  Full disclosure: if you like to write a lot for each day, (like a lot), you might find this format a little limiting. (That's why I have a whole other notebook for my teaching schedule and notes, separate from my personal Life Planner.)  But the covers are soooo beautiful, it's easy to get past. I mean, it even looks pretty sitting on my night table next to my Sprite Zero!

Okay, I can't wait to share more of my favorite things!  Until next time!

I love the Phonto iPad app!

One of my new favorite iPad apps is a (free!) photo-editing app called Phonto.  It lets you write text over photos, in a bunch of different colors and fonts.  This app will also let you put a background color behind the words (like I did in white), and rotate the words (like I did on the second photo, along the left-hand side).  I had some fun practicing Phonto's options by writing labels all over some pictures of my classroom.  

I'm still looking for a good photo collage app though... I've tried a few but haven't liked any of them that much so far.  I just downloaded Pic Collage, but I'm not in love with it.  It's difficult to zoom/resize the images once you put them in the squares.  But don't worry, followers!  You'll be the first to hear when I find the one that works for me!