18 November 2016

And then all is well...

I've been pretty sick for the last few weeks. Coughing uncontrollably at times, so congested that I can't breathe, worried about developing pneumonia. But I'm a teacher...we push through. We work on days when we should be home in bed. We try to push our bodies further and faster than anything else we've ever done. It's way more work to get things ready for a sub than it is to just show up and teach from your desk, writing instructions on a white board when you have no voice. And then it comes around to bite you. You start coughing up blood. Being so short of breath that you can hardly cross your room. Getting so dizzy that you're in danger of falling down in front of your kiddos.

That's where I've been. On the advice of friends, I decided to take Thursday and Friday off this week to try and start healing. I was just going to do Thursday, but was convinced that one day wasn't going to cut it. They were so right. Two days in to my forced break, I'm still coughing harder than I have in years, still very congested, and still dizzy. BUT. Two days of doing nothing but napping has done wonders for me. I still feel kind of awful, but not as bad as I did the rest of the week. Two more days of this just might make a difference.

Then this happened:

A student's mom emailed me last night and asked if I felt comfortable giving them my address. She said her son had made me something and wanted to give it to me so I'd feel better. In my community, I felt okay about that. They showed up a little after school got out today, with a Jamba Juice and a sweet homemade get well card. He told me at the door that he really doesn't like having substitutes because they're not me and he'd much rather have me. 

I may not be feeling a ton better physically, but I'm soaring emotionally. This is the reason that I keep doing what I do.

17 September 2016

Classroom reveal (finally...)

I finally got around to taking pictures in my classroom. School's only been in session for almost a month... But hey, when you break your foot two weeks before school starts, nothing else goes right for weeks.

Without further ado, here are some pictures of my room. I know you're all going to be SO JEALOUS of my carpeted walls.

I love hanging student work out in the hall. There really isn't a good place for it in the classroom.
This year, we have WANDerful work coming up!

My kids love seeing the Fat Lady every day when they get to school.
They love seeing their owls even more and knowing that they have ownership in our room.

When you walk in, this is what you see. I don't like desks, so we use tables.
It seems to work out just fine! I also have some flexible seating options for our
independent work time. I don't have the funds to go full flexible seating, but my
kids seem to be just fine with what we have. I have pillows, crate seats, bean bags,
and some fun chairs for them, plus lowered/raised desks. They can also sit on the floor
if they choose.

Our 'taking care of business' area. This is where our cleaning supplies,
orphaned crayons/colored pencils, pencil sharpeners, sharp/dull bins, and
some art supplies live. Also, the portraits that are necessary to any Harry Potter
room. Our behavior chart fits in well here too.

Moving along, we store notebooks and folders here in the back. I love having
color-coded everything so that there's no guessing on where a kid's things go.
They also love having our 'pet' owls in the room. The white one is Hedwig, of course.
We're still working on the others.
I also have my math and science anchor areas here. I made an anchor chart for the 8
math practice standards, and made it our "We Will" area. I don't like "I Can" statements,
because there's no indication that you WILL. Just that you CAN. So we WILL do these things.
I use our math practice posters as our daily focus. We work on many areas in a day, but
focus mostly on just one.
I also have a character trait clip chart. Our goal is to clip over from the behavior chart to the
character chart. Any kid who does earns 25 House Points. They LOVE this.

Another fun feature is our magnetic dart board. Kids have the option of
either earning House Points for moving up the behavior clip chart, or
throwing darts. It's about 50/50. They also love reading the Harry Potter
quotations on the closet door.
The little table is Madame Pomfrey. I have my band-aids there, along with
mints. If they're not feeling well, they know to go check with Madame Pomfrey
They keep their books in the cubbies, and our bean bags live behind it.

Lots of people were wondering about how I track our AR. I go by percentages
instead of points to track, and I use the number line here to do it. Each student
has a broomstick, and on Fridays, we move them to wherever they are
percentage-wise. I have little potion bottles up above with percentages
written on them, and change them out. This week, they needed to be to 10% of their
goal in order to reach it without having to struggle at the end. Next week, the next
cupboard over will have the 20% potion bottle. It's a GREAT way for them to manage
their own points.
This is also where we keep paper supplies, scratch paper, communal baskets, and
homework turn in baskets.

I love having a separate, color-coded basket for each House. My kids love it
too, because they never have to ask where they turn things in. It also makes it very
easy for me to tell who has turned it in and who hasn't.

These books are the ones that anyone can read, any time
we have free reading time. They're sorted according to genre,
and the bins and books are clearly labeled. This is the first
year that I've used this system, and I LOVE it. My kids are
so good at getting the books back where they go. They also really
like being able to look through a bin that interests them, rather
than having to go through shelf after shelf.

We also have a restricted section, where students have to
check books out. I will let any student try books in the restricted
section, regardless of their reading level. I figured that it would be
a good way to push them without seeming pushy about it. The kids
are pretty good at figuring out when a book is too hard or too easy,
so they go back and look for something else.
These books are all grade level 4.9 or higher, and they're all
labeled with AR information including point values, book level, and test number.
I also have my rock collection, which I inherited from my grandpa.
The kids really like looking at my rocks!

My favorite thing about this white board is the Fist to Five area. It's the
perfect way to do a quick formative assessment on student understanding.
I have the kids put their heads down, and then I ask them to give me their
fist to five. It's remarkable how honest they are when they know that only
I can see what they're putting up.
They also like knowing what's coming up in the week so that they feel
prepared. We have a voice level chart (which we're still working on, and
probably always will be), and we keep the week's vocabulary words up
so that we can go over them frequently.

On this side, meet Henry. The kids decided that he's all that's left of a kid
who didn't turn in his homework. Hah!
We also have a word wall, where we include the Word of the Week (which
always has a prefix/suffix, or a Latin/Greek root), and their Word Wizard
finds. The kids like coming up and looking through our words and using
them in their writing.
The parking lot is for questions that we just don't have enough time right then
to cover. Students are given a minute or so to write their questions in the parking
lot, and then when we have a free minute, we cover them. It's a fantastic way for
me to not forget!
We also have our Harry Potter Educational Decrees (all about turning in work, keeping
the room clean, and going to the bathroom at appropriate times), my favorite
class saying (Do it right or do it twice...your choice), and our points.
The kids love checking their House Points and the teacher vs. students scoreboard!

The kids also love tracking their points earned with the hourglasses.
Each gem is worth 10 points that they've earned throughout the week.
At the end of the month, we see which House has won the House Cup!
They also really like the flying keys, and from where they're at, they
can't see the fishing line that holds them up. They think I'm magical!

This is my area. I'm still in the process of getting some
things sorted out, but it's getting there. We used our
Sorting Hat for an actual sorting ceremony to put the kids
in their Houses. They LOVED wearing it!

No Harry Potter classroom is complete without a potions collection.
My students also bring me wands that they've made, and a friend
gave me Dumbledore's wand. I use them as pointers!

Closer view of my potions, and also the Tri-Wizard cup. A student brought
it to me last year from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Reading area, where we remind ourselves of our skill and strategy for the week,
and also our non-negotiable list. It's full of things like being grateful, pushing ourselves
to do better, trying more than once, etc.
We also have our House Elf Chores here. Each student has a job for the week.
The black and red box is our 'caught being good' box. Students can write notes
when they see someone doing something above and beyond, and then we read
them every few weeks. They like hearing all the good things they're doing!

As you leave our room, the last things you see are a few
more portraits (which change!), and our birthday area. The kids
really like having their birthdays listed for everyone to see! They made sure
I put mine on there too. :)

There you have it! I love my classroom, and my kiddos do too. They come up several times in the day to tell me something that they've seen in the room and are curious or excited about. I love that they're getting into Harry Potter! We're reading it aloud right now, and it's fun when they hear something that mirrors something that we have in the classroom.

I love being a teacher and getting to be so creative in my space!

27 August 2016

Back to School!

Well, the first three days of school are done...and I love it! My class is amazing, yet again, and I swear I have the best kiddos in the whole state. Maybe the whole country. They're so eager to learn and so willing to do what it takes to be successful. We'll have bumps along the way, I'm sure, but overall, I think it's going to be a smooth year.

I'm *almost* done with my classroom decor. Breaking my foot two weeks before school started really put a damper on things and made it impossible to be as ready as I usually am. I have just two or three more things to do, and then I'll be done.

Pictures to come!

28 July 2016

My very first Teachers Pay Teachers paid product!

It's been a goal of mine for awhile to start selling on Teachers Pay Teachers. My problem? Well, I'm really not very creative or crafty. If someone else has done it, sure, I can replicate (usually). But to come up with something on my own? Design something? Nah. Not really happening.

Until today!

Today, I decided that I didn't quite like all the classroom library book bin labels that I found. Not that they weren't cute, because they totally were, but because they didn't fit my needs. I had very specific images in mind, and nothing matched up. So I made my own. I. Made. My. Own.


Really, this is huge for me. HUGE.

If you click on the picture, you can visit my TPT store and see them for yourself. I'm not saying you have to buy them. I'm also not saying that you don't. *giant grin* I'm really hoping that they sell and that I can bring in a little extra each month. Hey, a teacher's gotta do what a teacher's gotta do, right?

Now that the first paid product is out of the way, who knows where I'll go next?

Thanks for stopping by!

26 June 2016

My Summer Manifesto

I got an email from An Apple for the Teacher today, and it had a template for a summer manifesto. I love making lists, so this seemed like a pretty awesome way to get my summer under control.

Here's my manifesto!

I'm going to do it! I will!

22 June 2016

Makeover time!

This week, Fourth Grade Brain got a makeover...a Pinterest makeover, that is. As I was going through the thousands of amazing ideas on Pinterest, I realized that pinning to my specific boards was kind of difficult. I decided to make things easy on myself, and used my banner to make specific board covers for each school area that I pin in. (Right now, I'm using the Cutest Blog on the Block banners until I can have my own designed. Don't worry, I've given full photo credit to them, as they deserve!)

Here's a sampling of what it looks like now:

This makes it so much easier to pin on the go! I found a whole bunch of pins that were in the wrong places because I couldn't quite tell what the board was on my phone. Problem solved.

As I've been going through my boards, I've found some real gems that I'm looking forward to trying out for this next year. I'll be posting here about how things work out. One thing to note is that I use the ideas I find to supplement my classroom, not replace curriculum. I do a lot of this stuff for fast finishers.

< shamelessplug > If you're interested in following any of my boards (or any of my social media really), my Pinterest button is on the left with my other social media buttons. If you already do, thank you! < /shameless plug >

As a side note, I also gave myself a makeover. Every now and then, a lady needs that to avoid shaving off her hair! This time, I cut bangs. My hair now looks like this again:

That's me on the left with the shorter hair. The other fabulous lady is my sister.
We were at a U2 concert.
Makeovers are the best!

17 June 2016

Featured Blog: Tesseract Books

This week, I'm highlighting a fantastic children's book blog: Tesseract Books. I've been a regular visitor since it was started, and have gotten a ton of great recommendations from Emilee. She's got books in just about every category you can imagine, from adventure to fairy tales to poetry. She features every age group from young adult on down to early readers. Really, you can't go wrong here. Also, Emilee was my roommate at BYU and remains one of my favorite people EVER. She has excellent taste in everything.

One of my favorite things about Emilee's blog is her explanation of why she chose Tesseract Books as her blog title:

"In Madeleine L'Engle's book, A Wrinkle in Time, a tesseract is a way to travel in space. Books allow children (and the child in each of us) to travel to any place and time."

It's so true! I can't think of a better way to travel through time and space than with a good book. I've had kiddos tell me so many times that they felt like they were really inside the story when they read a book they loved.

If you're in the market for really great kids' books (and you should be), Tesseract Books is definitely a top pick.

You can also find Tesseract Books here:

30 May 2016

Read alouds that may be a bit obscure

As a classroom teacher, it's part of my job (and a favorite part!) to find books to read to my students. I try to expose them to a wide range of genres and authors. Some of the books that I read this year are a little older and more obscure, but the kids loved them.

Here's a list:

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: obviously, with a Harry Potter theme, I HAD to read this one. It's so much fun to read aloud, especially when about half of the class hasn't read it. I do voices, and that's a blast. I had more than half of my class finish the series after we read this one. Win!

2. Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back: I'd never heard of this gem by Shel Silverstein until this year. It took a couple of days to read, and the kids loved it. It's the story of a lion who begins to think that he's human, and then works at finding a place to fit in...but does he really fit in?

3. Naya Nuki: Shoshone Girl Who Ran: to be honest, I'm not the biggest fan of Ken Thomasma. His writing style just doesn't really click with me. However, my kiddos really loved this story. It went along so well with our Idaho History unit, and we even incorporated Naya Nuki into our Lewis and Clark play this year. It makes history a lot more interesting when you can inject some literature into it.

4. Snow Treasure: this is an old favorite of mine. World War II is my favorite historical era, and I love reading books from multiple perspectives. For a lot of my kiddos, this was their first exposure to the time period. They were so into the story! They worried about the characters and hoped they'd be okay. It was fun to make predictions with them about what was going to happen.

5. Stone Fox: Here's one that we attempted to read during the Iditarod. We didn't quite make it, but it was still cool to talk about the dog race and read a story about a smaller one. Also, it's heartbreaking, so good luck getting through it without crying. I cried and so did a few of my kiddos. Overall, we really enjoyed the story.

6. The Trumpet of the Swan: An old childhood favorite really came to life while reading it to my class. I'm not going to lie...they were bugged to death by the cob! Then again, so was I. We started adding "swanlike" to every line he said, and laughed hysterically while we were at it. They really liked the story though, and we had some interesting philosophical discussions about if and when it was okay to break a law. My kiddos are deep thinkers, and they really thought it through.

Read alouds are such an important part of classroom instruction. What better way to model fluency and good oral reading skills? The kids love it, and so do I.

24 April 2016

Author Spotlight: Sarah Sundin

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am absolutely enamored of World War II. There's something about the time period that just calls to me. I've done loads of research, read tons of books, and finally came to the conclusion that I was born in the wrong decade and should have been reaching my 20s in the 40s. If I could go back in time, that's when I'd go to, hands down.

As a WWII aficionado, I try to read as much about it as I can, both fiction and non-fiction. Today, I'd like to bring my very most favorite WWII author to your attention...Sarah Sundin.

Here's a little bit about Sarah Sundin from GoodreadsSarah Sundin enjoys writing about the drama and romance of the World War II era. She is the author of the Waves of Freedom series (Through Waters Deep, 2015, Anchor in the Storm, coming May 2016, When Tides Turn, coming March 2017), the Wings of the Nightingale series (With Every Letter, 2012, On Distant Shores, 2013, and In Perfect Time, 2014), and the Wings of Glory series (A Distant Melody, A Memory Between Us, and Blue Skies Tomorrow). She also has a novella in the WWII Christmas collection Where Treetops Glisten (WaterBrook, 2014). 

A mother of three, Sundin lives in northern California. She works on-call as a hospital pharmacist and teaches Sunday school and women's Bible studies. She enjoys speaking to community, church, and writers' groups.

I've read all of her published books so far, and it's hard to pick a favorite. I love them all! You know they're good books when the average rating on all of them is over 4 stars. As for me, they all get 5 stars! They're meticulously researched, beautifully written, and full of everything that makes me love the WWII era so much. Every time I pick up one of Sarah's books, I feel transported right into the middle of things. I love that! Her characters are alive for me, and she treats difficult issues with love and respect, all the while staying true to the time period. 

For those of you who haven't read any of her books, I'd recommend starting with the Wings of the Nightingale series, and then moving on to Wings of Glory. Then pick up the stand-alone short story collection authored by Sarah and some others. After that, definitely head for Waves of Freedom. That series isn't complete yet (and I'm desperate for the third book already! I got an advance copy of the second, and LOVED it.), so start with the ones that are. If I had to pick a favorite series, I think Waves of Freedom would be it.

Happy Reading!!

To visit the Goodreads page for each book, just click on the link in the caption:

Wings of the Nightingale:

Wings of Glory:

Waves of Freedom:

Stand Alone (short story collection by various authors):

**all images courtesy of Goodreads**

10 April 2016

Welcome to Fourth Grade Brain

Hi, and thank you for visiting! I'm Emily (or Ems, as most people call me), and I'm a fourth grade teacher in Idaho. I LOVE what I do!

A few weeks ago, my best teacher friend and I were talking about books. I'm always happy to do that, you know. Anyway, she mentioned that she'd love to have a website where teachers could go to find book recommendations from another teacher. I had the immediate thought that, "HEY! I could do that!" I'm an avid reader AND I'm a teacher! Eh voila, Fourth Grade Brain was born!

The idea kind of grew and grew, and I decided to make this more than just about books. I want to include teaching ideas (mine and definitely from more experienced colleagues and people I meet across the web), things that have and have not worked, spotlight great teacher blogs and book blogs, and gather a community of great teachers.

I will have a page set up for books that I recommend. They'll be alphabetized by title, and will include a link to their Goodreads page. I'll also have a page where I'll curate my collection of teacher resources (including links to the creators, of course!). Then there's the page where you can submit your own blog or website for spotlighting. You can find that HERE.

I've got a small online presence, and you can find me at any of the sites to the left. Feel free to follow any (or all!) of them, and I'll return the favor.

I hope to meet lots of new teacher friends and fellow book lovers!