A Bucket of Thanks & A Special Thank You

Since I've been a special education inclusion class for the last two years, I've been blessed to have a para in my room to help me all day, every day. I was truly blessed to be paired with a wonderful woman who was willing to tackle whatever I asked. She was truly amazing with all of our students, but really worked magic with our autistic students. I'm not sure that I could have managed the many different needs in my room without her. So, as the end of the year came, I tried to think of how I could say thank you to someone who has really become my copilot in my teaching adventures for the last two years. Next year, I will be taking a break from inclusion so I already know she won't be in my room, so I wanted my gift to show how I appreciative I was. Now, being a teacher, I couldn't totally break the bank on it, so I had to get creative. Lucky for me, she LOVES candy, so I browsed a few ideas on Pinterest to end up formulating my own. Thanks to $1 candy at Walgreens, a $1 sand pail from the Dollar Store, and adorable graphics from Mel at Graphics From the Pond, I was able to create a "bucket of thanks" for this special woman. I also added a card with a $25 Barnes and Noble Gift Card, but I just really love how the gift turned out! Here it is:


I started with the following candy bars:



She's a big fan of frogs so I knew I could count on Graphics from the Pond to have adorable frog clip art. I used Mel's Five Frogs Clip Art and Polka Dot Doodle Border  to create some tags to go with each one:

In case you can't read them, they say:
You've been "mounds" of help. (Mounds Bar)
100 Grand couldn't replace you (100 Grand Bar)
I really "skored" when you were assigned to my classroom (Skor Bar)
We've had plenty of good times. (Good and Plenty)
You've been a life saver. (Life Savers, any kind - gummy or hard candy, any flavor)
Your help really "mint" a lot to me! (Junior Mints, but you could really could do any mint here)
It's been a joy to have you by my side (Almond Joy)


I then grabbed my beach pail, threw some tissue paper in the bottom, and then arranged my "bucket of thanks." I must say that I am incredibly pleased with the outcome, and she loved it too! 


I'm sharing these tags that I created with all of you. There's also an extra that says, "Thank you berry much" in case you have a berry related treat in mind! Here's the link to download them if you'd like to use them:



I also have to share my most favorite student thank you card of all and the story behind it. 

I am a huge fan of thank you cards. I always buy the blank thank you cards that come in multi-packs (also to be found at your local Dollar Store), and then I write each student a message inside to let them know that I enjoyed being their teacher. I always put positive messages and a couple of memories that I have from the year for each student. This year, I bought just enough cards, so I didn't have any room for error, which is always terrifying for me. Well, needless to say, I started to write my note to one of my students, and I messed up part of it. I was so upset with myself, but the funny part is that on the very first day, I tell students, "I am human, I will make mistakes at least once a day if not more. You are human, you will make lots of mistakes this year. We should never be ashamed of these mistakes, but simply see them as a learning opportunity." I return to this statement daily, and actually call to attention when I make mistakes, because it allows them to know that making mistakes isn't something to be embarrassed about. When I thought about this, it really applied to this thank you card that I was writing. I was making my daily mistake! So instead of going back to the store to buy more cards, I simply drew a line through it and wrote next to it, "A mistake, to show that I am human." Well, on the day that I handed her my card, she also gave me a thank you card. This is what it had inside:

Ladies and gentleman, is that not the best? We both made mistakes on our card and wrote the same thing to fix it! A lot of things warm my teacher heart, but this one made my teacher heart expand! Such a coincidence, but also such proof that I made at least one student feel safe in making mistakes. I am really big on creating a positive learning environment and so it meant so very much to me. Don't ask about the Choco Loco Club, that's top secret information! 

I think that almost everyone is on summer break now, with the exception being my Aussie followers! I hope that you are all kicking back, relaxing, and taking some time to decompress and embrace that "you" time. I know it doesn't last long, but it's the necessary down time that we need to be fabulous in the classroom when we return in a couple of months! Enjoy it!



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End of the Year Goodie Bags and Poem

This year, I decided to end my year the same way I started it.

Those of you that have been following me for awhile know that I always greet my students on back to school night with a goodie bag with a welcome poem, which I also have in Owl Version if polka dots aren't your thing.

My Welcome Poem can be viewed here: Welcome Back Poem Filled With Goodies

This year, I decided that I would end the year the same way that I started it, but I wanted it to be more specific. The welcome poem is a poem that has been getting passed around for years, with no clear creator. Over the years, I've revised it to make it work for me, but I wanted to create my own poem that would be specific to my own students. I posted my first version here: End of Year Poem for Goodie Bag. Since then, I've had lots of people ask me where I got the Fun Dip, which I found out the hard way is not easy to find, so I had to order $12 worth from Amazon, an action I would like to not repeat next year. Needless to say, I reworked the poem that is on TpT a bit and came up with a new one that I've already posted. It's not too different, except that I've changed the "fun" to "mounds of fun," because Mounds are about 1,000 times easier to find than small packets of Fun Dip. I also added a couplet that uses "pop" so that a lollipop could be added. 

The end of the year poem now looks like this: 




The one I made for my class was a bit different from the one I have on TpT, as I wanted it to reflect our own personal experience, so I added some items that were specific to our year together, like purple pens, which we use for revising and editing, M&M's to represent a beginning of the year activity, and butter cups, because I'm always saying, "What's up, buttercup?" Here's what the final product looked like this year:

Please note that Cry-babies, Smarties, and Sweet-Tart chews can be found at the Dollar Store! That almost makes up for the $12 Fun Dip...







Instead of placing these on their desks like I did at the beginning of the year, I waited until right after their 5th grade promotion ceremony. When we were all back in the classroom, I made a little speech about our time together and then I proceeded to read the poem aloud before passing out the bags. As it turns out, the Cry-babies that I chose to represent the "sour" in the poem, could've also been used to describe their teacher when she read the poem aloud. There may or may not have been big, giant tears and tissues involved. 

The bag was a hit. The best part is that the item that they were the most excited about was the purple pen. I made purple pens a highly demanded item, you're welcome, Bic! I'm glad I did the goodie bag to wrap things up, and proud to have a completely original poem creation. My 5th graders think I'm a super awesome poet. I hope that they know that I wouldn't be without their inspiration. :-) 





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Highlights From My Last Week

Well, it's officially my first Monday off, which means that another year has come to an end. Our last week was fantastic and I almost didn't feel ready to say goodbye when Friday rolled around. Here are a couple of the highlights from our last week of school:

The Important Book Read-Aloud and Activity

If you haven't read The Important Book yet, you must grab yourself a copy ASAP! This book provokes great discussions about what is truly important. This is a simple book, but it provokes deep discussions. As the first line is repeated in the last line, my students responded, "Didn't the author already say that?" and they asked questions like, "Why is that the most important thing about it?" or "How do they know that this is the most important thing about it?" For example, the author says that a book is important because "it is round", but students wanted to know if it's more important because it can make so many different things. This book is written to invite thought and debate and so it's perfect for a group of fifth grade students about to go in to middle school, because they've started to develop their own opinions and are ready to think critically. 

When we finished the read-aloud and discussion, I gave each student an "Important Book" Paper and tell them that they are going to think about their year with their classmates and identify one thing that is important about each person in the room. They write their name on the front and then pass the paper around the room so that their classmates can each add what they think is most important about that student. They pass them around until the paper has reached the last person. Then, before they get them back, I collect them. I read each one, and add to the back of the card what I think is the most important thing about them. (It's also good to read the back just in case you have someone who tries to be smart-alecky/writes something inappropriate).  I try to make my statement a summary of what most of the students said, but had to add my own when they didn't. Students were so excited when I passed them back, and they had big, huge smiles on their faces when they read what their classmates had written. It's a nice little end of the year activity that makes all the students smile. You can get my activity here:



Here's an example: 
One thing I love about this is the different handwriting from student to student. I think that when the student reads them, seeing all of that different handwriting reminds them that these are all positive comments from different students. 



End of the Year Awards

At the end of the year, I never know what to do in terms of end of year awards. I wanted to do the candy awards, but I had already a goodie bag so it seemed like if I gave candy awards, I'd be giving out far too much sugar and spending way too much money. There are a lot of end of the year awards out there, but so many of the sets that I found just didn't seem to fit any of my students. I always struggle to find the awards that seem personalized for each student. This year, I bought three sets. Set #1 was a fail. Set #2 was a fail. Set #3…drum roll please…was a winner!



A billion, trillion thanks to Mary at Teaching With a Mountain View. Mary has some of the best resources out there. I will need to do a separate post about all of the wonderful early finisher options she has, which happens to be one of my goals for next year! Getting back to the point, I found End of Year Awards Classroom Superlatives Positive for ALL Students and knew I had finally found THE ONE! Her selection of awards is completely awesome. I actually could apply at least two awards to each student with ease, though I only did one. I've finally found the perfect end of the year awards! Hooray!

As if I didn't already love this pack, Mary added a special one for me, Homework Superstar. This year, for the first time in 9 years of teaching, I had a student who did every single homework assignment, on time, for the entire year. WOWZERS! I was blown away. What would I do to recognize this student's efforts so that she would know just how amazing her accomplishment was? Well, Mary added a printable award to her set for me and then I took a trip to the trophy store.


I had her name added above the Homework Superstar, but blurred it for privacy purposes. It cost me $10 and let me say that it was worth every penny to see the surprised reaction and giant smile on her face when she saw me pull it out. My goal was to recognize her and make her feel special for her accomplishment and I know that I accomplished just that! 

End of Year Awards = Tremendous Success! 



A Personalized Thank You Gift From My Students

My students are the sweetest! They've been working all week on a "secret" that I could not know about. All that I knew, is that they had a bag full of index cards. So I was a little surprised on Friday morning when one of my students walked up to my desk and asked if she could speak to the class for a moment. Her and another student pulled this giant green (my favorite color) poster board out. On the poster are index cards that are made in to mini-thank you cards from each student. If I told you that this didn't make me cry, I would officially be lying. I loved this personal gift from my students and I'm currently displaying it in my office at home. I'm going to use it as a reminder that I am truly making a difference. I love that they also made it on my favorite color and added some owls, which has been the theme of our room this year! 



Here are just a few of the adorable notes that they wrote: 




Once again, my teacher heart is warm! I have truly been blessed with amazing students year after year. 

Now bring on the summer! 


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Best Brain Splash/Brain Dump Ever!

We're officially done with testing so I am breathing again. We tested once a week for three weeks and I'd say that I was possibly more exhausted than my students. I've spent most of the weekend napping. I didn't even realize how exhausted I was until I finally began to decompress. I think I'm officially ready for the summer, though I know there are going to be lots of tears this week when I have to say goodbye to my wonderful group of students.

Speaking of my wonderful group, I have to tell you that they were rock stars during testing. Though I don't know how well they did, I know that no matter what their scores say, they worked incredibly hard. My teacher heart has been so full seeing them give their best effort on each test. I am incredibly proud of them!

My most heartwarming moment came last week, the day before our math test. I took everything off of my board so that we could do a math brain dump, or brain splash for those of you like me who like to avoid the giggle that comes when you say "dump". I had students line up in a single file line, then gave markers to the first 4 students in line. I told them to write anything that they've learned that will help them on their math test. When they were done with one idea, they would pass their marker to the next person in line and then go to the end of the line. I told them that when they no longer had an idea to contribute, they could be seated. Here's what it looked like when they started:


They were so excited to do this, that those standing in line were actually giddy. To keep them from getting too antsy and keep their focus, I told them that there could not be any repeats. Occasionally, I stopped them and did a "board check", where I identified areas where students wrote down a word like "sum", but didn't tell me what a sum was. I added a definition and asked students to focus on writing down only ideas that will truly help them on their test. We agreed that a word without a definition or just writing a fraction like 5/16 wouldn't actually help them in their thinking. After a couple of "board checks" and great discussions, they were off. Guess how long they lasted?

45 minutes. 45 minutes of putting all of their learning on the board. Fellow educators, my heart was bursting with happiness. I actually had to stop them, because I think they might have gone on for hours. I have definitely done this activity before, but never before have my students displayed so much learning. I can't begin to tell you how amazing it felt. But more importantly, they grew more and more excited and confident when they saw just how much they had actually learned. Not only was I proud of them, but they were proud of themselves. "Holy cow, look how much you taught us, Mrs. O!" one of them said. That's going to forever be one of the best moments ever. It will be hard to top what they came up with. 

I know, I know. I should stop writing and just show you the pictures already. Are you ready? Here it is: 





Yes, it would be safe to say that this is the best brain splash/brain dump ever!

This time next week, I'll be relaxing, but I'm already reflecting on how fantastically awesome my group has been this year. I'm a lucky teacher!


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June Currently

Happy June! It's the beginning of a new month and that means that it's time to link up with Farley's Currently at Oh' Boy 4th Grade! This is an exciting one because I know that this time next month I will be on SUMMER VACATION, which is just 13 days away! Woo hoo!


Listening: The windows are open, the breeze is blowing and the weather is perfection! It's sunny and low 70's. I call this San Diego weather and I wish for it always. Unfortunately, here in Virginia, these days are few in far between. In just a few short weeks the windows will be closed and the central air will be cranked as we try to fight the summer heat. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but I certainly treasure these perfect weather days, especially when its so quiet that all you hear is the wind blowing through the windows!

Loving: I have a rule to not go in on the weekends, but I had a special treat for a baby shower after school tomorrow that does not fit in my refrigerator. I was super nervous to use the alarm system but I did it. Of course, after I filled the fridge, I stopped by my room and before I knew it, I had been there for two hours. I cleaned a filing cabinet, organized random papers, and walked out feeling a tad more prepared for the end of the year. I am all about leaving on June 13th and staying out of the classroom until August! I make this promise to myself every year and it never happens, but I am really, really going to try this year!

Thinking: About next year. I can't help it. It's my decade celebration and I'm serving it up Snoopy style again, because he's my favorite gender neutral classroom theme. Outside of decorations, I've already decided my color scheme and where I will move my furniture. See?  By having it all planned, I won't need to be there until August….right?

Wanting: I am a master of organization but this year, I seemed to lose my golden organizational touch. I need to get my organization groove back before I leave for the summer so I can start things out on the right foot!

Needing: I find it amusing that at the beginning of the year I always feel swamped and find myself saying, "I can't wait until things die down so I can breathe again." I don't think they ever did this year because my to-do list is still at least 20 items deep, never mind the fact that items for next year are starting to make their way on to it too!

Summer Bucket List:
1) I need to see my friends! It's been awhile since I had some girl time and I need it. Luckily, I have lots of plans for the summer that include spending time with some of my favorite ladies!
2) Reading = relaxation. I've always got a long list of to-reads (two bookshelves full, in fact), and my summer reads are calling my name!
3) If you don't already know, my husband and I have the lifetime goal of seeing a game at each of the major league stadiums. I'd like to check at least one off the list this summer. Pittsburgh is at the top of my list because it's drivable, and there is a lot of potential for including other places on this road trip.

Ahhhh, I love the endless potential of summer! If you are on summer vacation already, I hope that you are enjoying every second. If you are counting down the seconds until summer vacation, I'm right there with you!






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