Saturday, August 27, 2016

Classroom Curtains

Do you have open storage shelves in your classroom that could use a pretty disguise? I did! 

Actually, for years I have dreamed about having curtains to hide the junk teaching supplies on the seven shelves that run along an entire wall in my classroom. It just bothers me to look at exposed storage all the time. 

Now, I will begin by telling you that I do know how to do a basic straight stitch on a sewing machine. I'm definitely not a seamstress, but this type of sewing is pretty much as easy as pressing a pedal. If you don't have a sewing machine, go ahead and recruit a friend or relative who does. Hey, I kidnapped my mom for the day! You could always hand-stitch these curtains, but then they might not be ready in a jiffy.

Okay, so here is my best advice for quick classroom curtains. After years and years of waiting, my dream finally came true, and it was all because of this simple trick. Don't start from scratch! Modify some already-made curtains from the store! Hopefully you can find a fabric style you love on clearance like I did. It will save you lots of time and money.


I found these beauties at Kmart for $16. per 2 pack of panels. They were much too long for my cabinets, so I was able to cut them in half and get an extra set out of each package. Buying the fabric this way was much less expensive than paying for fabric by the yard. I had also considered using flat bed sheets, but these curtains were much better quality and the best part is, they were already hemmed on the sides! Here's how we did it.



The curtains I found had large metal grommets at the top that I did not need. My curtains would be hung with small spring rods, so I just used a pair of sharp fabric scissors to zip across the top of each panel and remove the grommet strips. 



I know those strips will come in handy for some other project, so I saved them for another day. They were just too nice to put in the trash. You may just see them again in another blog post!



Now, the thing that worked out nicely is that the hem on the bottom of each panel could be used as a pocket to hold the spring rod at the top of each curtain. I just had to turn the curtain upside down and pull out a few stitches on the side of each hem in order to open it up for the spring rod. 



We wanted the finished curtains to hang at 26 inches in length, so my mom measured and cut to allow enough fabric for a one inch hem on the bottom, plus a one and a half inch slot for the spring rod across the top. After folding under for each hem, it ended up being 31 inches of fabric. Some sections already had that slot for the spring rod, so on those pieces, we just had to hem the bottom. I ironed and pinned while my mom did the measuring and cutting. If you think I am detail oriented, you should meet my mom!



Once all the measuring, cutting, ironing, and pinning was complete, the sewing went really fast. Zip, zip, zip, and the job was complete! 

Now I smile every time when I look at those curtains. It was worth the effort to go from this.



To this.



I know this post was not very technical or specific. The exact measurements and details will ultimately depend on the size of your shelves. Hopefully, it will at least inspire you to start browsing some curtain clearance racks. One day, the perfect color and design might be right there waiting for you at the perfect price! Modify those things the best you can and put them on a spring rod. No one will ever notice if your hems aren't perfect! :-)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A New Chapter


For those of you who have been following me on Instagram, you may have noticed that my classroom is taking a new shape this year.  During this, my twentieth year of teaching, I have decided to take on a new adventure as a K-5 gifted support teacher. It has been a bittersweet feeling to hang up my homeroom teacher hat after all of these years and step into a specialist role. Of course, many, many, many factors went into this decision, but ultimately I know that this new position will lead to growth and happiness. I am actually pushing up my sleeves with excitement over the challenge.

I am still teaching in the same school, and my new classroom is directly across the hall from my third grade classroom of 12 years. In our school district, gifted education is currently a pull out program. In this new role, I will set goals, write IEPs, and design and deliver instruction for 31 identified gifted students. These students will visit my classroom throughout the day in small groups {yippee!} for enrichment and acceleration. Doesn't that sound dreamy? :-) Trust me, I have been a homeroom teacher for long enough to understand what a special opportunity this is that I have been handed.

Here are a few snapshots in my new classroom. I have had lots of fun with my new color scheme. It is still a work in progress, so I will zoom out and share more once it is complete.











I'm going to tell you more about those curtains from the last picture in my next post, so stay tuned for that in the very near future.

You can still expect all of the same unique teaching tips and tricks that I usually offer on my blog, but now I will also sprinkle in some posts about my experiences with gifted education. Creativity is my passion, so you will continue to see the "do it yourself" type of tutorials about the items I make for my classroom and my hope is that they will translate to you. I sure hope that you will come along with me on this journey. The ride will be so much better with friends. :-)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Magnetic Dice Shakers

Okay, so here's another fabulous dollar store find for your classroom, although I must admit that this one threw me a curve ball.

I once saw magnetic spice containers at a specialty kitchen shop and thought they would make great containers for dice. The only problem was the price. It would have cost a fortune to buy a class set or even enough for partners to share. I searched on the Internet and kept my eyes open in just about every store for over a year, but couldn't find any magnetic spice containers for an affordable price.

Then, I realized that I was looking in the wrong department! One day last spring, I stumbled upon these magnetic storage tins in the office supply section at Dollar Tree! They were designed to hold paper clips, but looked very much like the spice containers I had been looking for all along. The best part is that they were sold in sets of two for a dollar! I snatched up a dozen packages and went on my way. Here enters the problem.



As always, when shopping at the dollar store, we risk quality over price and quantity. Shortly after filling my containers and hanging them in their new home on the side of my file cabinet, I realized that the dollar store magnets were not going to properly adhere to the back of the tins. I still loved the idea of the containers, but this was just not going to work out.

Enter solution. 



It turns out that this fix-all adhesive (also from the dollar store) will do the trick. Remove each magnet with a butter knife. 



Bada bing.



Bada boom.



And then we were back in business. Those magnets are very difficult to remove and they have stayed in place ever since!



Now that's pure teacher bliss.



Happy shaking!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Easy~Peasy Place Value

Here is an easy and inexpensive little tool you can make for teaching about place value. Grab yourself some pill boxes from the dollar store, and soon your students will be reading and writing really big numbers!

The nice thing about weekly pill boxes is that they have seven individual compartments, the perfect amount for building numbers in the millions. Take a look at the pictures below to see how I transformed my pill boxes into learning tools. 

I decided that it would be best to cover up the days of the week on the pill box lids. These lids will actually end up being the back of your place value tool, so if you aren't fussy (like me), you could just leave them as is. A few coats of spray paint will do the trick, but some pieces of duct tape would also do a great job of hiding those letters.

The first thing I did was cover the edges of each pill box with masking tape to keep that part of the container clear. You will also want the bottom to stay clear so the dice will be easily seen. Placing the pill box flat on some newspaper will prevent the bottom from getting sprayed. A role of 3/4" masking tape worked perfectly to protect those edges.



I sprayed the lids once and then let them dry for about fifteen minutes before giving them a second coat.



Don't fret if the letters still show after the first coat of paint. 



Here is what they looked like after the second coat. Much better. :-)

Remember that you can always use duct tape to cover the lids if spray painting seems too complicated.



Next, I removed the masking tape. 





I measured the inside of the lids and made a place value label for each section. Mine are printed on white card stock. Here is a {free} copy of those little labels in case you can find the same pill boxes. The labels are nothing fancy, but they might save you some time. ;-)



These labels actually fit pretty snug inside the lids, but I added some glue for extra security.


Finally, I placed one small die inside each compartment. Small dice work best, since they allow for shaking room.  I already had some small dice on hand, but they are inexpensive to order online. I found this set of 100 for $2.31 (plus free shipping) on Amazon.



Now it is time to snap the lids shut. Turn it upside down and shake, shake, shake! Your students will have so much fun reading and writing numbers!


Here are some other tools I like to use for teaching place value in the upper elementary grades. The place value lapbook provides lots of hands on practice with really big numbers. The place value scavenger hunt is a challenging enrichment activity that will give your students some extra review and practice and is even great for a sub! :-)