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3 Ways Students Can Help Save the Earth


Earth DayIn case you forgot, Earth Day is just around the corner! To help you celebrate, we’re sharing three activities from a book we’ve been reading called The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth.

Pack a no-garbage lunch
You may not know it, but lunch trash is the second-largest source of waste in American schools! Every year, Americans discard 380 billion plastic bags and nearly 2.7 billion juice boxes—and just think about all of the other items that we turn into trash every day!

To cut down on waste, try packing a no-garbage lunch. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Use a brown paper bag. When you’re done with it, save and reuse for tomorrow’s lunch
  • Even better, pack your lunch in a lunchbox; you can reuse a lunchbox for years!
  • Carry a sandwich or other food in a reusable container
  • Save your zip-lock bags; these can be rinsed and reused
  • Buy snacks in large packages instead of individual ones. Not only do you get more food, you also get less packaging
  • Bring more natural snacks. When you eat apples and bananas, your “packaging” is always biodegradable
  • Bring your milk or juice in a reusable thermos
  • Instead of using paper napkins, bring a cloth napkin

Be a Water-Leak Detective
Even a tiny leak can waste a lot of water. For example, a leak that fills up a coffee cup in 10 minutes will waste 3,000 gallons of water in a year! Cutting down on water waste is not only good for the environment, but it can also be a useful learning activity at school.  

For example, students at the Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air, Maryland investigated their school to find leaks; then they analyzed how much water was being wasted by leaky faucets in their school. After crunching some numbers, the students all wrote letters explaining the problem and sent them to the faculty to find solutions.

Here’s a simple way to check toilets for leaks:

  • Take the top off the toilet tank. Now put about 12 drops of red or blue food coloring in the tank
  • Wait about 15 minutes. Guard the toilet so no one uses it while you’re waiting
  • Now look in the toilet. If colored water shows up in the bowl, you’ve found a leak!

Raise awareness about endangered species
When students hear about “endangered species,” many of them think about animals that are thousands of miles and many continents away. Unfortunately, there are many endangered species in our home states. In Michigan, where we live, the northern long-eared bat, the Kirtland’s warbler,  the Hine’s emerald dragonfly and the piping plover are all on the endangered species list—and these are only a few of the species listed! So what can students do about this?

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How zombies can keep your students from using passive voice


Worried about your students using passive voice? Here's a simple, zombie-inspired strategy to help them avoid it. Enjoy!

writing strategy

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15 of Our Favorite Brain Breaks for Students


brain breaksIf you’re not familiar with them, brain breaks are short activities that offer students a reprieve from routine learning activities. Not only are brain breaks fun, they’re a simple way to refocus students’ energy and get them back on track.

We shared a collection of brain breaks back in December, but thanks to Liz over at The Happy Teacher our list has grown considerably. 

1. Crab Walk around the Room: Put on a song and have students walk in the crab position around the room. At some point, have students go in reverse. 

2. Doodle Time: Give students some blank paper and markers and let them doodle and talk for five minutes. 

3. Dance Party: Turn on the radio and let students dance until the song ends.

4. Tic-Tac-Toe: Give students some blank paper to play tic-tac-toe with a friend. It’s a simple game that won’t cause a mess or a distraction for your neighbors! 

5. 50 Jumping Jacks: Get students’ heart rates up with this quick physical exercise. 

6. Heads Up, 7-Up: Another classic that is easy and exciting for students!

7. Stretching: Choose a student to come up and lead a minute of stretching.  Most students know various stretches from gym class and will enjoy leading their peers!

8. Pantomime: Choose a student to act out an activity without talking.  The class must mimic the leader and then guess what the activity is (swimming, flying, sleeping, laughing, jogging, singing, etc.).

9. Mirror-Mirror: Have students pair up and mirror the actions of their partner. Students will get a kick out of this activity!

10. Thumb Wrestling: Have students choose a partner and participate in some old-fashioned thumb wrestling. Be sure to establish your expectations before this little brain break.  

11. Rock, Paper, Scissors: Have students partner up for five rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The winners get a high five from their partner.

12. Sky Writing: Have students “sky write” their ABCs, sight words, spelling words, or a secret message to their friend.  

13. Air Band:  Choose an "air" instrument and "rock out!"  Drums, guitar, and saxophone are my personal favorites.

14.  Silent Yoga:  Strike a yoga pose and see how long your students can hold it. Google "Kid Yoga" for some easy examples. 

15. Desk Switch: Give your students 10 seconds to grab their materials and find another desk to sit in. They will remain in this desk until the end of the lesson. There are two reasons we do this: First, it gets them moving; second, being in a different location often helps them see the environment in a new way.

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79 Ways Educators Can Use Google Forms in the Classroom


We’ve long been fans of Google Forms. This tool enables us to create surveys, track data, share compilations of our students’ creative work and the list goes on and on. What continues to surprise us is how creative teachers have gotten with this free tool. Below you’ll find 79 ways to use Google Forms in the classroom.

ten common technology challenges for teachers

Common Core Writing Prompts for Students


Like any craft or trade, writing is a skill that improves when our students practice it—and practice it often. Although I’ve known many teachers who believe “bell-ringers,” warm-ups or informal writing reflections are a poor use of time, I still stand by them. Because I do not “grade” reflections in the traditional sense (students receive credit simply for completing the assignment) I find that students are often more willing to take risks. In fact, many students regularly comment that these exercises increase their confidence and get them excited about putting pen to paper.  

Writing Prompts is a site I continue to use when I’m looking for informal writing prompts. Each prompt comes with an accompanying photo and a brief explanation of how the prompt fulfills Common Core Standards. Below are a few samples of the writing exercises you’ll find on the site.

common core writing prompts
common core writing prompts
common core writing prompts

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Meet Librarian, Information Science and Technology Teacher, Susan Hefley


How I Work
This is the fourth in an ongoing series of posts inspired by How I Work, a series on one of our favorite sites, Lifehacker. As educators, we like to know how other educators work, how they live, and how they play, so every week we’ll be featuring a new interview with a new teacher.

susan hefleyThis week, we’ll be hearing from Susan Hefley!

Location: Rural area north of Pittsburgh, PA (Butler, PA).

Desired location: Somewhere warmer and closer to family (Florida and Texas look really good after the winter of 2014 J).  I also really want a position in either Utopia or Disney. 

Current work title (administrator/teacher/school technologist, etc.) Also, what grade do you teach?: I am the Librarian/Information Science and Technology Teacher for grades K-6.

What I teach:  Library and Information Science are my greatest strengths followed by computer science and just technology in general.

What I have an interest in:  Technology, apps and gadgets, history, all things French and making learning fun, reading.

Do you have a specific long-term career goal?: I want to BE a life-long learner and encourage as many other people as possible to be life-long learners. This is often through my work as a teacher, a volunteer and with professionals through various professional organizations and social networks.

Languages you have studied or currently speak: I studied French and later became a foreign exchange student in France in high school. I minored in French in college and studied for a summer semester in Quebec. However, after not USING the language at all for ten years I have lost most of my proficiency and would love an excuse to brush up and go back.

The project you’re most proud of: This is a hard one. I am proud of all of the hard work that I help my students to accomplish, and their learning. I am proud of my own education and professional accomplishments and contributions. I am also proud of all the little things like catching “my” own little ones reading. I am proud of my volunteer work including my current project to raise an assistance dog. However, if I could only pick one it would be that one that no one knows about: the books I write.

Favorite time of the day: 7 a.m.

Favorite technology gadget for the classroom: It changes all the time! Right now I love the AURASMA app, but that is not a gadget per say. I love Class DoJo.  I love Google Docs.  I love Edmodo.  If I had to pick one gadget right now it would be a Smart Board and iPad combo. 

Next conference/professional-development event you’re planning to give or attend: I just attended and learned so much from the PETE&C conference! It was great! I am looking forward to PSLA in May. I have a WPSLA workshop in a few weeks and my own school is planning a “Tech Academy” where I will be a presenter in May. 

The librarian in me also loves a good Book Festival, my own book fair starts next week but Johnstown PA has a children’s book festival in April that I want to try to get to.

How many hours per day do you usually work?: Technology is a blessing and a curse. Now my work follows me home. I reply to parent emails on my phone, I talk with the PTO over Facebook. I post things on snow days to a community group on Facebook. I work after school at home on lesson plans and other work. Then I come in early the next day. I know I need to cut back, but on AVERAGE I probably work about a 9-11 hour day.  Some days a LOT more, some days only 8 hours. ALWAYS at least 8 or 9.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?: INTROVERT!

Are you an early-riser or a night-owl?: Early Riser.

Do you have any pets or kids (names and ages)?: I babysit/nanny on the side and have been with the same families for years!  “I” have 3 boys who are now 13, 11, and 2 and a little girl who will be 6.

The ones that actually live with me are four legged. I have one 10-year-old dog named Lia and a new foster puppy named Biscuit. Biscuit will grow up to be an assistance dog and will only stay with me for about 18-20 months.

Next city/country you want to visit:  FRANCE!

Favorite vacation place: Where ever my family is, but I like to champion places to visit and learn over the lazy beach vacations.

Favorite book: You can’t ask a librarian this. I can give you a favorite for every genre, every grade and interest level; then every month it changes!  I have so many favorites but luckily I have a wonderful library where I can put them on the shelves and share them!

Favorite song: “For Good” (from Wicked)

Where we can find your website/blog/classroom blog:

My library website is: www.dassamckinney.webs.com

My personal site is: http://susanhefley.webs.com

You can find links to MOST of my other sites here:  http://susanhefley.webs.com/apps/links/

Do you have a Twitter account we can follow you on?: I have never gotten into Twitter.  “My” community and the ones that I want to follow, share and communicate with are on other social networks……except for my little brother and local news. They tweet and I read it with my account. So I have one…..I just never use it.

If you want to connect with me, try LinkedIn, Facebook, Edmodo or traditional email.




ten common technology challenges for teachers

The Best of the Week: Volume 2


describe the imageThere’s never enough time to blog and reblog all of the interesting resources we find during the week, so we decided to start a Best of the Week List where we share all of the education-related blogs, articles, apps and resources we come across every week.

Classroom Management

Reading and Language Arts

Technology in the Classroom

Current Events & Random Links



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10 Engaging Activities for Students Who Finish Work Early


studentsAs a student, I was rarely the first to complete my tests or in-class exercises, but when I was, I held onto my work until it was collected. Why? Because I didn’t want to be “rewarded” with more work; I didn’t want to select a time-killing ditto from the teacher’s filing cabinet.

If I didn’t want to work on dittos while the rest of the students completed their work, I know that my students don’t either.

I consider all 10 of the activities below to be creative, engaging and meaningful. Here’s the rule I used when compiling this list: If I wouldn’t enjoy working on the activity myself, it didn’t make the cut.   

10 Engaging Activities for Students Who Finish Work Early

1Newspaper Blackout blackout art
All you need is a newspaper article (or any form of print media) and a Sharpie. Say something about yourself by blacking out all of the words you don’t intend to use in your sentence.

2Write a Six-Word Story
Flash fiction has been around for a while, but it was perhaps Ernest Hemingway that dazzled us with the flash-fiction concept in the 1920s when his friends bet him that he couldn’t write a complete story in six words. Whether or not it’s true, the story goes that his colleagues each dumped 10 bucks into a pot. If Hemingway’s story wooed them, he’d pocket the money. Once the money was pooled, he grabbed a napkin off the table and nonchalantly dashed off six words:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Then he slid the napkin across the table and collected what was due to him.

Using Hemingway as an inspiration, write a story in six words.

3Read Whatever You Want
Let’s keep this simple: Grab any book, comic book, magazine or newspaper you like from the classroom library. Start reading!

Start with an article related to a personal interest. In that article, find a link to another article that teaches you something you didn’t know. Read that new article and write a summary of what you found interesting or what you learned.


Read a review about a movie, book, music or game that you like. Summarize the author’s opinion and write your response. Quote parts of the original review in your response.

6*Another Middle School
Look up a website of a middle school that you don’t already know about. Browse the pages of their website until you have learned some things about the school. Summarize what you find. Here are some questions you might answer:  What appears to be the best thing about that school? What suggestions do you have for their website that would help you learn more or make it easier to use? What do you dislike about the school based on what you see on the site?

7*World News

Use Google news to find a current world news event that interests you. Summarize the article and write your thoughts about it. Be sure to quote parts of the news article you read.

8*Found Poem - Read this article about how to write a found poem:  


After reading it, find any webpage that you want and create a found poem from it. Write your poem and list the URL for the webpage that you used. Write a sentence or two explaining why you picked the words and phrases that you did for your poem. 

9*Suggestion for Class
- Find a website, game or online program that you wish a teacher would use in class. Write the URL of the resource and explain why you think a teacher should use it and how they could use it.

10*Make a Timeline - Use this online tool to make a timeline with at least 6 events from start to end.  It can be about your life (from birth or maybe just a single season of life) or it can be about some famous person or event(s)


Get a screen capture and paste it into Word.  If it’s too long to fit on the screen, copy it in parts.

*These activities all come from blogger and technology-coordinator, Mike Petty. For more ideas, be sure to stop by his blog, Classroom Games and Technology.


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Read All About It: 5 Places You'll Find News for Kids


Years later, I still look back fondly on what my seventh grade teacher called “Current-Events Friday.” This meant that each student was responsible for selecting three articles from the newspaper, summarizing them and then sharing one article with the class.

Back then, most of my peers and I were stuck with The Detroit Free Press, but the Internet offers our students infinite choices as to where they want to find their current events selections. Below you’ll find five of our students’ favorite news sites. 

Read All About It: 5 Places You'll Find News for Kids

news for kidsBy way of what they call a “special agreement” with more than 800 worldwide newspapers, Newseum posts hundreds of new front pages on their website every day.

news for kidsIf you’re students are looking for political and editorial cartoons on current events, The Cagle Post should be their first stop. 


The New York Times Learning Center is updated every day with articles, activities, and detailed lesson plans based on current events.

news for kidsIf you’re looking for a new way to approach current events in the classroom and you want to be sure that you’re sticking to the Common Core, stop by Newsela and sign up for a free educator account.

Once you add your students to the roster, you can directly assign news pieces. Here’s the cool part: There are four unique versions of each article and they all vary in difficulty. Should a student find that the reading level is too easy or difficult, a different version of the same news piece is only a click away.  

news for kidsEvery day, the folks over at Tween Tribune  scour the Internet for engaging news stories suitable for K-12 students. If you sign up for a free account, you can assign Tween Tribute quizzes related to the content your students are reading. An added bonus: the results of the quizzes will be sent directly to your email account.

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Click and Clunk: A 5-Step Reading Strategy for Students


If you’re looking to equip your struggling upper-elementary and middle school readers with a simple reading strategy that will teach them to monitor and take charge of their own understanding, check out our newest infographic, Click and Clunk: A 5-Step Reading Strategy for Students.

To download our infographic, click here or on the image below.

reading comprehension

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