Thursday, August 27, 2015

DIY Chromebook Storage

Last year I submitted a Donor's Choose proposal for a set of Chromebooks for my 4th and 5th grade Literacy classroom.  With a lot of help from social media shares, I received 14 Chromebooks by spring.  It was awesome!  I was also lucky enough to find an extra laptop cart hidden in a closet, so I had a place to store my Chromebooks, which made setting them up go pretty quickly.

But, that cart was really big.  I don't know if it was created to store 17 inch laptops from the early 2000s, but it was really hard to rearrange my furniture around it.  So it got me thinking of alternatives for storing my Chromebooks, and of course Pinterest.  I stumbled across this page that showed an Ikea cabinet as storage.  Hmm.  I happen to live about 5 miles from the first Ikea ever built in the U.S.  I'm so close that my husband has been known to get up on weekend mornings and go over and eat their $1.00 breakfasts before hitting up Home Depot.

I made a plan, and this is what I came up with:

I bought this Ikea cabinet in white (it is available in bolder colors for those braver than me).

I liked how the original post separated each Chromebook but wanted something that allowed them some "air" so they don't overheat when being charged.  I remembered seeing a ton of teachers who use dish drying racks and other paper sorters to store their machines.  I would have done the dish drying rack method aside from the idea that I wanted a cabinet that had locking abilities.  So off to Amazon I went.  I have Amazon issues, but that would take another entire entry.

I found this literature sorter.  And I bought two.  I love it so much, I'm trying to figure out a way to organize my home office so I can buy more.  And then set up a spare bed in that room so I can lay around and stare at the magnificence of the mesh organizer.  

Before I even assembled the cabinet, I was having nightmares about how I would handle all of those cords.  I definitely thought about this part for a few days.  AND I'M VERY GLAD I ALREADY HAD MY CHROMEBOOKS BEFORE ATTEMPTING THIS PROJECT.  Why?  Because different models of computers have different locations for their charging ports.  And the only lonely Chromebook I already had has a port on the side near the back.  But the new books have a charging port on the back of the actual machine.  So knowing the location of these was the focus of the entire configuration.  If you are going to do something like this, make sure you already know where each machine charges.  

I ended up with some cord clips of the cheaper variety.  And zip ties.  If you don't have zip ties, you need them.  Even if you aren't making your own computer cabinet.  I will always find a way to use zip ties.  You can zip them through grommets of a pocket chart to hang on a stand. You can connect two desk legs together  if making a group.  YOU CAN KEEP YOUR CORDS FROM BEING YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE.  

Just buy them in bulk, okay?
Of course, I needed power strips.  And, I made sure that they had extra long cords on them.  This was key when assembly started.:

I assembled the cabinet first.  It was actually quite simple.  I assembled it on top of a table so I didn't have to spend the entire cord zipping time bent over or on the floor.  

Then, I thought about where I would put the power strips.  In the original post, they are inside the cabinet.  But, I wanted to be able to switch them off easily, so I actually mounted them to the back of the cabinet (with zip ties, of course).  This cabinet is considered a TV stand, so there are two 3 inch holds on the bottom of the unit.  I decided that I would feed each charging plug out that bottom hole and up to the power strip.  First, I needed to figure out where to put the power strips.  I marked spots for the zip ties and brought a drill in to school.  

And then I had my first lesson on drill bits.  When the first two wouldn't even start to penetrate the metal cabinet, I almost scrapped my plan.  Luckily, our building engineer had come in for something else.  He took a look at the bits I used and immediately told me they were for wood.  He helped me find a drill bit that worked great in the metal.  It was a little smaller than the hole I needed, but it created a "starter" hole that I made bigger with another drill bit.  Once the holes were drilled, I started zipping those power strips on.  I didn't get a picture of it, but I actually used a sharpie and wrote the number of each Chromebook above the outlet in case I needed to remove just one plug.  (I also wrote the number on the actual plug as well during set-up.)

I placed each cord inside, with the thicker part of the cord going through the hole on the bottom and around the back to get plugged in.  Once I had the first 8 plugged in, I slid the shelf under them and installed it near the top of the cabinet.  I did this to the other side of the cabinet as well.  Once that was done, I placed the computers in the mesh organizer, lined up the chargers with each computer and installed a cord clip under the top shelf.  Then I zip tied every darn cord that was hanging all over the place to keep it all tidy on that top shelf.  I also numbered each slot of the mesh organizer so students know where each computer goes.  There are also numbers on the side of each computer AND a number right at the tip of the charger so plugging them in is easy.  

I did remove the computers when I had the cabinet moved to the floor, but here is what it looks like completely assembled.  The last computer in the photo is my "old" chromebook, and the empty spot is for my teacher lap top.  I will only have the power strips turned on if the cabinet is open because I do not want anything to overheat.  To prevent the doors from possibly shutting on their own, I used an extra-large binder clip on the shelf (upper right) to prop that side open.  

P.S., That cord sitting under the cabinet has since been zip-tied to the power strip on the back of the unit.

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Warning!  There is nothing fancy about this blog post.  There are no links listed and nothing here will WOW you.  I'm blogging now about my own experience two weeks ago when I taught similes and metaphors.

In the past, I have taught similes and metaphors as two different ways to compare.  Although I introduce them together, I would generally teach similes (an easier skill, IMO) and then I would move to metaphors.  Well, two weeks ago, I decided I would teach them as the same skill.  I mean, after all, they are used for the same reason, right?  

So I created a T-chart on the board.  "Simile" titled the left column, and "metaphor" titled the second column.  We first gave each of them the same definition: the comparison of two unlike things.  We wrote that definition under each column.  We focused on the fact that they both have the same function.  Then I asked my students this important question:

If they are both the same, why are there two kinds?

And that's when I entered the key words "like" or "as" under the simile column.  We discussed how similes have those key words inside of a comparison sentence.  

Then we used this example of a simile: My sisters is a sweet as an angel.
It's not earth-shattering.  It doesn't dig down in to the depths of great novelists.  It just is a plain simile.  And with this plain simile, my students were able to identify what/who was being compared, and they identified the key word AS.  

Next, instead of giving an example of a metaphor, we took the simile above and we changed it in to a metaphor.  Because we know that a metaphor has the same function, this was a simple task of rewriting the comparison without using like or as.  And in a flash, we got this metaphor: My little sister is a perfect angel.  Yes, we added some words.  We did that to make sure our new metaphor made sure that the reader understood the meaning of the comparison.  

We did a few more of these together.  And each time we created a simile, we identified WHY it was a simile, and then we changed that simile in to a metaphor that made the same comparison.  

Each morning of last week, I had my students write a simile comparing two unlike things in their morning warm up.  Then, I had them convert them in to a metaphor.  Did all students write perfect metaphors?  No.  But, for a new skill, most of my 4th graders have really grasped the idea.  

And I think it all has to do with my different approach....

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Supporting small businesses

This is not teaching related, but I had to post it now that we are approaching the holiday season(s).  I fully intend to support small businesses as much as possible.  Many people think that shopping at a small business causes a price increase for what you're buying.  This isn't always the case, and you should definitely shop around, but think of the immediate impact you have when you do this.

If you do not live near small businesses, consider online places like  Many artisans on etsy are able to create amazing items that would make awesome and one-of-a-kind gifts for friends and family.

Example:  I was thinking about the upcoming cold weather (I have random thoughts all the time).  I was trying to figure out if I needed to think about buying a new pair of gloves that allow me to wear my wedding band and engagement ring without it getting stuck to the weave.  Then I started to think about an alternate ring that I could wear that didn't stick up like my engagement ring.

I ended up wanting a ring made with my husband's signature.  His signature is certainly "special" and I even cringe when he signs his name because I do teach cursive.  I went to etsy and searched for "signature rings" which yielded many affordable results.  I ended up going with a store called SilverHandwriting and all I had to do was have my husband write his name, take a photo of it with my phone and upload it to etsy.  Then when the shop owner said she could do it, I spent a mere $30ish and a week later I have an awesome ring!

It went from this:

To this:

Now I want signature jewelry for everything!  :)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2014: Setting up Word Work and Writing Activities

This year we will use Journeys for our Literacy instruction.  Although we will use a basal, I am going to try to create a schedule that runs like a reading workshop.  During the time that I work with students, some of my students will work on word work activities and an interactive writing center (created by Jody Udovich, which is Uh-mazing).   My word work centers are housed in plastic drawers and the writing center is housed in a file box.  (see photo)  There are more photos of my new classroom HERE.

I've posted about my word work centers before.  Some of them are the same as before, while I've added others.

 This particular word work activity has two drawers (so enough for two kids) and a record sheet.  Students will take the entire drawer (either #1 or #2) AND a record sheet to their seat.

You can download my word work instruction sheets and record sheets HERE.
 Above: All items for the activity are inside the drawer.  Below: Under the materials, I have laminated and hot-glued instruction sheets so students can be as independent as possible at this time.
 If an activity has a record sheet, they are located in the third drawer.  If the activity does not have a record sheet, there are just three drawers of the same activity.

Here is a list of the word work activities my students will have access to:

4th Grade -
1.  Cursive Vocabulary - Students will use skinny dry erase markers on a personal wipe board to practice writing word wall words in their best cursive.
2.  Vocabulary Clips - Students will match clothespins (with vocabulary words written on each one) to definitions on sentences with context.  I think I will use Social Studies words for this activity.  I haven't yet decided and, therefore, my clothespins are currently blank.
3.  Stencil Spelling - Students will spell their current spelling words with stencils I picked up at the local teacher store.
4.  Bottle Cap Spelling - Long ago, I saved water bottle caps from many cases of water.  When I had enough, I wrote a letter on each one.  Students will use these caps to spell out their longest spelling word for the week with the bottle caps, then then they will spell smaller words with those same letters and record their work on a record sheet.
5.  Letter Cards - Students will use letter cards to spell out their weekly spelling words and take a picture of the finished product.
6.  Sight Word Test - Students will test teach other on their quick reading of Dolch and Fry sight words.  If they miss one, they write it down on a record sheet.  They are no penalized for missing a word, but this will give me an instant list of words they need more practice with.
7.  Letter Card Fun - Students will mix spelling with math using my Letter Card Fun center.  Since this activity is geared toward younger students, I only used a portion of it for my older kids.
8.  PA Counties - Students will identify the counties of Pennsylvania on a map.  This is a tricky thing to do from memory, but I think it will be good practice (and it ties in to their 4th grade Social Studies).
9.  PA Cities - same as above but they will identify PA cities.
10.  PA Rivers - same as above but they will identify PA rivers.

5th Grade -
1.  Cursive Vocabulary - Students will use skinny dry erase markers on a personal wipe board to practice writing word wall words in their best cursive.
2.  Mystery Words - I have letter cards in an envelope.  Each envelope houses only the letters needed to spell one longer mystery word.  Students manipulate these cards to figure out the mystery word, but to also spell out smaller words.
3.  Rainbow Words - This is an oldie, but a goodie.  Students will write this week's spelling words using alternating colors of the rainbow.
4.  Vocabulary Water Art - Students will write this week's vocabulary words on a coffee filter in any design they like.  They will turn it in DRY, but once I give them credit for doing the assignment, they will be allowed to add droplets of water to it to create coffee filter water color art.
5.  Magnetic Sentences - I bought these magnets from Lakeshore.  Students will create sentences and then identify parts of speech.
6.  Letter Stampers - Students will use alphabet stampers to spell out their weekly spelling words.
6.  Sight Word Test - Students will test teach other on their quick reading of Dolch and Fry sight words.  If they miss one, they write it down on a record sheet.  They are no penalized for missing a word, but this will give me an instant list of words they need more practice with.
8.  US States - Students will identify the US States on a map.
9.  US Capitals - same as above but they will identify US capital cities.
10.  US Rivers - same as above but they will identify major US rivers.

Hope this gives someone some good ideas!

2014: New Year / New Grade Level(s) - PHOTOS

I have decided that I'm not the best blogger around.  In fact, I often forget to blog and then wonder if it's been too late since my last entry.  Well, I'm about to start a new year in a new classroom with a new grade level (4th/5th Literacy/Social Studies).  So, I figured it's okay to make a post even though it's been a LONG time since my last post.

First, here are some "before" pictures of my classroom.  I teach in a 100 year old building, which can be terrible and awesome at the same time.  The ceiling heights are great, the woodwork is beautiful, the coat closets are large...There is no elevator, there is no air conditioning, the heater has two settings: off and sizzling.

(If you click on the first photo, you will be brought to a 
screen where you can flip through the photos in a larger view)

Here are my after pictures.  We were allowed to paint our classrooms this year.  I have an affinity for turquoise, so I found a sea blue color that isn't too bright, but definitely cheers up the space.

You can read about my word work activities HERE.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Classroom Pictures Pinterest Board

Just a quick note that I've been busy pinning classroom pictures on a Pinterest board.  If your classroom isn't pinned, please let me know and I will add it.  

Click here!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Tree Hacks

Am I using the term "hacks" correctly?  I try not to use new words if I'm not sure, but my post today is a little more than "DIY fun". 

Last year I went to bed early one night.  I fell asleep and my husband screamed ad yelled for me, called me on my cell phone when I didn't answer, and sent me multiple text messages of "help!" I came running to imagine the worst.  There he was, on the floor and I panicked.  But, like the pain he can be, the reality was he was watering the Christmas tree and he ran out of water.  :/

Here is how I prevented that from ever happening again.  I created a tree watering tube. 

I went to Lowes or Home Depot for 4 feet of tube.  They cut it from a giant spool of tube for you right there.  I made sure to find a tube that was wide enough to insert a funnel in to one end.  Then, I raided the baking drawer in the kitchen for a small funnel. 

Although the end of the funnel fit pretty well in to the tube, I secured it with a little duct tape just to be sure. 

I placed the funnel near where I wanted to water the tree, and inserted the tube between branches, securing the tube to the trunk every few inches with some simple zip ties.  Then, I made sure the tube sat below the top edge of the tree base.  Now, we just fill a cup of water and pour it right in to the funnel. 

My next "hack" has to do with my obsessive urge to make sure things match.  Last week, we set up the tree with our rustic ornaments.  Since last Christmas, though, I finished painting and decorating our living area and the colors are on the creamy/aqua scheme of things.  So, the rustic looked really out of place.  Since we recently set up a family room in the basement, we figured we could set up our fake tree with the rustic ornaments there. 

Then, I went on a mission to find ornaments that would work better with my color scheme and found this picture on Pinterest.  (Here is the website from the pin.)

I LOVE this look. I had to have this color scheme!  Although, I was disappointed when I went to the store to find that most white bauble ornaments were a matte finish and cheap looking.  I ended up at Michaels and bought clear glass ornaments to coat with white and gold paint.  Here are the results:

A few tips, if you want to try this.  You'll need patience.  I sometimes lack this.  Fill the ornament with the color paint you'd like and shake it around.  Empty the leftover paint back in the bottle and sit the ornament upside down to dry and empty for at least 2 days.  I did not do this second part and one week later, I had some  many sad ornaments that needed another shake and dry. 

I didn't have any plastic cups, so I used a shipping box and a box cutter, cut an X and poked the top of the ornament through to hang upside down. 

Here you can see many of my ornaments had extra paint in them.  LOL
Now that I have my ornaments, I needed a garland.  I used red wooden cranberry garland on the rustic tree, which I love because it was simple.  I've looked all over for a simplistic garland to add to my new color scheme.  Found. Absolutely. Nothing.  Why must everything Christmas-y be covered in glitter?  
So I went back to the craft store and bought some cream-colored ribbon to string on a thread.  Here's how my garland turned out:

Happy Holidays!