Teachers, Don’t Forget to Relax

Admittedly, self-care is not my forte, but, like Alice (from Alice in Wonderland) I need to learn to take my own good advice.

I think that most people imagine that teachers spend the whole summer sleeping until noon, hanging out by the pool, and relaxing. For me, this is laughable.

Instead, summer vacation ends for me in 2 1/2 weeks. So far, I have:

  • attended 12 days of training offered by my district (many of which included tasks that I needed to complete outside of class time, even if it was just working through the lunch break that day instead of going out somewhere).
  • implemented 30 days of “Family Art Time” with my kids, where we watched a YouTube video of how to draw a specific picture step-by-step. It’s a combination of fine motor skills practice, time hanging out together, and learning a new skill as a family. My progress has been logged via Instagram.
  • subjected my older two sons to “roll, write, solve” addition practice with dice. They get to “level up” to a die with more sides and numbers when they correctly solve 10 questions in 3 minutes.
  • read most of Explore Like a Pirate in the hopes of diving into gamifying my classroom this year, and come up with the beginnings of a plan for my game.
  • Participated in some Twitter chats, mostly #3rdchat, as a way to connect to other teachers for ideas and feedback.
  • finished knitting the shawl I’ve been working on as a surprise for my grandmother before the cold weather sets back in. (Confession: I meant to finish it in time to give it to her last Christmas, but was only about halfway finished.) I’ve also made some progress on a couple of other unfinished projects that started to collect dust during the school year.
  • read for pleasure. The Paper Magician series by Charlie N. Holmberg is a really fun read. It’s enchanting and full of action…and really makes me want to do some origami.

I imagine that I am NOT the only teacher who has been busy this summer, and many have accomplished far more than I have.

During the school year, I am sometimes guilty of not getting enough sleep, spending too much of my time at home on things for school, never exercising (other than the 7500 or so steps I tend to walk around my classroom and school each day), and not doing things outside of school that I enjoy.

Summer is when there is time available to be a little selfish and do the things I don’t always have time to do during the school year, and while for me that doesn’t mean sleeping until lunchtime and hanging out by the pool, it can mean commandeering the TV for awhile, sitting down at the piano and playing just for fun, knitting without falling asleep in my project, or taking the kids somewhere other than the grocery store. I need to be careful to walk the line between having zero plans and accomplishing absolutely nothing for weeks at a time and making so many goals that even family time and hobbies feel like work.

What have you done to relax this summer?




The Power of Books

I hope everyone has read at least one life-changing book, but I think that many times books change us as readers without our even realizing it. For example, this article at Smithsonian.com discusses a study that was published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that those who read Harry Potter, “might develop greater empathy and tolerance toward people with disadvantaged backgrounds.” Based on observation, it seems that my students who are Percy Jackson fans seem to not have any negative stigma regarding ADHD. In the series, it’s a known fact that many demigods have ADHD and dyslexia, since their ability to pay attention to lots of different things helps them in battle, and their brains are hardwired to read Ancient Greek, not modern English. In the hopes that students will show more empathy towards those who are different from them, physically or otherwise, I’ve read “Out of My Mind” to my class for years, and I have many colleagues who read “Wonder” to their classes for the same reason.

I think that it’s equally important that literature featuring protagonists from different cultural backgrounds are read by children of any race or cultural background. Everyone deserves to read about a character with whom they can identify, but they also all benefit from reading about others to broaden their perspective. This is precisely why the books I offer students to choose from for our historical fiction unit featured a wide variety of protagonists: Esperanza Rising features a Mexican girl who emigrates to the US; Bud, Not Buddy features an African-American boy looking for his father; The Watsons Go to Birmingham features an African-American family from Michigan who travel to Alabama in 1963; Number the Stars features a Jewish girl in Denmark and her best friend, a Christian girl whose sister died as part of the Resistance during WWII; In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson features a Chinese girl who emigrates to America in the 1940’s; Sylvia & Aki features two girls based on a true story, Sylvia is Latina and is not allowed to attend the “white” school and Aki is Japanese-American and is sent to an internment camp during WWII.

What books do you use to enhance your curriculum, teach your students life lessons, or give them a different perspective of the world?

Teachers Using Google Apps Scripts

The training I’ve been to (so far) this summer where I’ve learned the most was one on using Google Apps Scripts. There was a pretest, which I completely bombed, and I wondered whether I was in so far over my head that I should just go home. It was very much out of my comfort zone, as the most sophisticated programming I’ve done before was Lego NXT robots with drag and drop programming, when I taught summer camps at the local science museum.

Why should a teacher learn to code Google Apps Scripts? Well, if you have repetitive tasks you do on any Google products (within the same product or moving information from one to another, such as from a spreadsheet to a document), creating a script to complete that task at the touch of a button (or automatically at a specific time) could be a real time-saver! It may take awhile to code the script in the beginning, but once you have it, it saves a ton of time later. If you’ve never coded before, the learning curve is a bit steep, but there are resources free on the internet to help you!

Helpful Resources

Codecademy – Use the JavaScript tutorial. Google Apps Scripts is sort of like a dialect of JavaScript. If you get the basics from this, you’ll have a good foundation.

Google Apps Scripts Developers Page – You can click on the product you’re coding a script to use with, or use the guides near the top to help learn how to use the apps scripts for different purposes. I recommend using CRTL+F in order to search for specific terms on the page.

Alice Keeler – One of the things that really helped me to make some of my scripts work was to look at one that is functional, and tweak it to do what I want that may differ just a little from that initial author’s intention. Alice Keeler has a ton of premade scripts and add-ons that she shares on her website for free. She also has tutorials for writing your own.

Example Scripts

To run a script:

  1. Open the file the script is attached to.
  2. Go to Tools>Script Editor
  3. Choose the script you want to run (if more than one) and press the play button OR click Run>Name of the script. All of the scripts below will only work on the tab of the spreadsheet you are currently open to.

Format a Spreadsheet – This will format a spreadsheet to get it ready to analyze data. It changes the column widths, deletes extra columns and rows, freezes the first column and the first two rows, changes the color of the background and font of the header rows, and set up to average the columns. To use it, open the file, then go to File>Make a copy. The copy is yours to edit and use as needed. Feel free to copy my script and change it for your needs.

Words Their Way Spelling Inventories – Semi-Automatic Analysis

I made a file for each version of the WTW spelling inventories. I call them semi-automatic analysis is that it doesn’t analyze correctly spelled features for incorrectly spelled words. If you type in how each student spelled each word, the script will mark the word as spelled correctly or incorrectly, and will give feature points for all correctly spelled words. You will still need to manually score feature points for words that have been misspelled. You’ll also need to transfer the data from each student’s tab to the class scoresheet. Once there, it will automatically color code each spelling feature as mastery or “could benefit from instruction” based on the recommendations from the Words Their Way book. I have the fourth edition of the book, so please double check whether there are huge changes that need to be accounted for before using my files as they are. I hope to update the code (once I figure out how to do it) to automatically transfer information from each tab to the class scoresheet, so keep a lookout for updates if you’re interested in using these. These files would be great to use with Alice Keeler’s TemplateTab script! Just make sure you run her script first.

You’ll need to use the link below for the file(s) you need, then File>Make a copy in order to actually use them. I have instructions for using the script on the first tab of each file to help you out.

Primary Spelling Inventory

Elementary Spelling Inventory

Upper Level Spelling Inventory


Creating Responsive Quizzes With Google Forms

A responsive quiz is one that responds based on a student’s answer. If you’ve ever used Google Forms to create “choose your own adventure” stories, this has a very similar setup. The idea is that when a student answers a question correctly, they get another question of equal or greater difficulty, and when a question is answered incorrectly, their next question is easier. This is a great way to determine a student’s upper limits on a particular skill when pretesting. This can really help when planning small groups, seeing which skills need to be reviewed from previous years in order for students to grasp the current skills, and knowing which skills students are already nearly proficient in to help pace your unit.

The first step (once you have determined the skill you’ll be pretesting) is to vertically align standards. I would recommend starting off with standards for the grade level below yours, or with standards from your grade level that students will need to have already mastered in order to be successful with this skill. My sample quiz is intended for 3rd graders to determine their prior knowledge for rounding. I found this math vertical alignment document that aligns Common Core standards from kindergarten all the way through eighth grade. The standards for place value and notation are located on page 19, so that’s where I’m looking for guidance on which standards to put together.

place value and notation vertical alignment

As you can see, there are multiple standards that students should have mastered in kindergarten, first, and second grade in order to successfully round numbers to the nearest ten and the nearest hundred in third grade. If students show mastery of the third grade standard, their quiz will also ask questions regarding the fourth and fifth grade standards in the skills similar to rounding.

For this quiz to work, you’ll need to click “add a section” on the right side after creating each question. After creating your questions, click on the stack of 3 dots in the bottom right corner of each question to reveal a menu. I like to shuffle my answer choices, but you’ll definitely need to use the option “Go to section based on answer.” You’ll need to set up each question to send students to answer correctly to a question of equal or greater difficulty, and all wrong answers to take a step back in difficulty level.

On mine, I’m including at least one question for each related standard from first through fifth grades. I started with a second grade question in an effort to build confidence with something familiar before moving forward. If they answer a second grade question right, they move to a third grade question, if not, they get a first grade question. If a first grade question if answered right, they move to a second grade question, if not, they get another first grade question. When I ran out of first grade questions, students who answered a second grade question wrong got another second grade question. I set it up to submit the quiz after any incorrect answer from 4th and 5th grade questions.

You can see my sample responsive quiz below. In order to avoid having changes made, I can only share it like this. One of the drawbacks of Google Forms is that you can either share with editing rights, or you can share the completed form. Feel free to take the quiz to see how it works, purposely answering questions correctly or incorrectly to get a feel for how it would play out for your students. The number at the top of each page represents the grade level of the standard the question covers, the letter beside it is just a numbering system to keep the questions straight.

Teacher Planner Options

There are so many options out there for what teachers use as their lesson planner. Here’s what I know about just a few of the options out there. I know from personal experience that different schools have varied expectations about teacher’s lesson plans. Some administrators never check plans unless they see a need for it, others require teachers to turn in plans the week before they are taught, and everything in between.

Digital Planners

Google Drive

Whether you use a new doc for each week, a spreadsheet you have carefully formatted and create a new tab for each week, or even format slides to show specific lessons, your plans will always be available to you if they’re on Google Drive.

If you aren’t up to the task for formatting the file to look how you want, there are tons of sellers on Teacher Pay Teachers who sell digital templates they have set up, and some will even make custom ones for you if you have specific needs that you don’t see met by what is already in their store.



This web-based planner allows teachers to set up their planner for a variety of types of schedules. You can view your plans by day, week, month, or as a list. Lessons can be organized into units. Standards and assignments can be attached to lessons. It allows you to share plans with colleagues who also use Planbook.com using a teacher key, and you can also share items you specify with students (and their parents) with a student key. If you need to bump a lesson forward or backward by one or more days, it only takes 2 clicks. You can also easily extend a lesson and/or the standards attached to it for those lessons that take more time than anticipated. There is a print-to-pdf option that would make it easy to keep a paper copy on your desk, or attach the pdf to share plans with your administrator. There are also apps you can use to access your planner on both Android and iOS. Although there is a yearly subscription fee of $12 for Planbook.com, that is far less than some of the paper options out there. You can sign up for a 30-day trial to check out whether it works for you before committing to the subscription.


Here’s another web-based planner, with many similar features to Planbook.com. This does have a free version and a paid version. The subscription costs $25/year, and you lose some really important functionality without it, such as being able to print or email your plans. Their site is supported on iPad and iPhone, but not through an app. You get a 14-day free trial of premium features when you sign up, and are automatically changed to the free version once the trial ends. It only takes 2 clicks to bump the entire day’s plans to the next day (think snow days). Comparing Planbook.com and PlanbookEDU.com, the latter is very simplistic, but that also means there are fewer features available, so it depends upon your needs and preferences which is right for you.

Paper Planners

Erin Condren


I’ve seen a couple of colleagues with Erin Condren teacher planners, and several YouTube videos of teachers outlining the pros and cons of these beautiful planners. They start at $55 for a standard wirebound coil, or $60 for metallic coil and metallic accents on the cover. It comes with: 40 weeks of lesson planning, 12 monthly planning pages, a communication log, a yearly planning page, some checklist pages (not enough to be your gradebook), 1 sheet protector, a folder, dry erase board inside covers, and 4 pages of sticker sheets. The primary complaint I heard from several YouTube videos is that the monthly planning pages are all together, and then all of the weekly pages are in a separate section. So, you’ll have your August-July calendars, followed by your weekly plans for August-June, while some prefer to have the weekly plans immediately following that month. By the time I customized one on their site, I was up to $68 before tax and shipping. They are very pretty, and have a lot of useful pages included. The second most common complaint I heard on YouTube videos is that the months and weeks are not dated. The months are labeled, but the actual numbers for each day are not printed on the page. You need to put little stickers or write them in yourself.

The Happy Planner

I spent some time drooling over these at Michael’s one week this summer. (Yes, I went multiple times, don’t judge me.) There are several YouTube videos I watched comparing Erin Condren’s planner with The Happy Planner. Some of the biggest differences include that The Happy Planner already has all of the dates filled in, the weekly planning pages are immediately after each month’s calendar, and the page are repositional (to a degree…some won’t make sense elsewhere). The Happy Planner is bound using a disc system (like the Arc notebooks at Staples), so you can use a special punch to attach any paper you want into your planner, and you can also remove and replace pages. There are lots of ready-made accessories you can add to your planner, such as additional student checklist pages, notes pages, folders, stickers. Let’s put it this way, I didn’t have everything I wanted to buy in my cart, there was a 40% off sale, and I still had $80 worth of things in my cart at Michael’s before I decided against it.

My Two Cents

Personally, I like to use a hybrid of paper and digital plans. I love having all of my units and lesson materials on my Google Drive, but keep an abbreviated version of that week’s plans written on paper. For the past several years, I have started the year with one of the digital options, but before September ended, I always go down to the teacher supply closet and pick up one of the basic planners available there. You know the ones, with greenish paper, 6 boxes across and 5 days down.

For the coming school year, I thought long and hard about buying an Erin Condren Teacher Planner or The Happy Planner’s version. In the end I opted not to get either one. I’m left-handed, and have a very difficult time writing in binders and wirebound notebooks. The Happy Planner’s binding system has 11 discs I would need to avoid, rather than the 3 in a binder, and I never write in binders.

Instead, I bought a really big Leuchtterm notebook, since I don’t mind writing in that style of binding, and I’m setting up a few pages most days this summer to take what I think are the best features of The Happy Planner and the Erin Condren Teacher Planner and put my own twist on them. Is it time-consuming? Absolutely, but I’m counting it as crafting, so I’m happy to do it. I intend to include my weekly plans, checklist pages for me to log grades (as backup for PowerSchool, and to keep them at my fingertips in case I need them and don’t want to log in to the digital gradebook), and more. I’m logging my progress in Instagram if you want to follow my setup.