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Need for Speed; A Car STEM Project

Do you need to keep kids engaged the last few weeks of school?  Are your kids bored at home?  STEM camp?  I have the answer for you!  In the South, we get out of school in May.  We spent the last few weeks of school researching and experimenting with Newton's laws.  We used what we learned to create the most aerodynamic cars possible and ended the year with a big race.  The kids had so much fun!  They were so busy learning, they didn't have time to get in trouble!!  I call that the ultimate win!

 We started the unit off by learning about wheels and axles.  We watched a few videos and recorded our findings.  Then, we tried out what we learned.

Then, we studied Newton's Second Law of Motion.  Here are a few pictures of our experiments.

Our next step was to learn about air resistance.  For practical purposes, some of our experiments involved water.  We discussed how water resistance is similar to air resistance.

I found several different videos of a variety of cars on youtube.  I made QR codes for each video.  Students were able to watch each video and take notes about what they liked or what they might want to try.  

We spent the last few days building, racing, and rebuilding getting ready for the big race.  Here are the cars the kids made.

Check out the entire unit here .

Teacher Appreciation Giveaway

Thank you teachers!  Everyday you work hard and your efforts often go unnoticed.  I am giving away a Peace Frog Teacher t-shirt donated by Good People and a $25 TpT gift card.  Hurry and enter, because this giveaway ends soon.  I hope you all have an amazing end of your school year!

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Expository Writing

Do your students struggle with expository writing?  It's hard for students because they often lack the background knowledge necessary.

I created this set of notes for my students.  Each page is a different animal.  Notes are written in fragments.

Here is an example of what a note sheet looks like.  I project this on my smart board so everyone can see it.  I also give students their own copy.  

We read through the notes together.  Then we decide what information we can use as a detail.  We underline that information with red.  Then we look for facts that give more information/examples.  We underline that fact in blue.  We find at least 3 sets of facts that can be used as a detail/example.  Once we have the "meat" of our paper underlined, we start writing.

Since we are just beginning to write, I have taught my students a very generic topic sentence.  I tell them it's a generic topic.  It will get the job done, but it has lots of room for improvement.  We use the sentence frame:  _____ are interesting animals.

After students write their topic, we look at the first pair of facts we underlined.  We make them both into complete sentences.  We do the same with the remaining details/examples we identified.  Then, we write a conclusion.  For right now, we are using a generic conclusion.   As you can see, _____ (restate the topic).

As students write, I ask them to underline the topic and conclusion in black, details in red, and examples in blue.

Here's an example from 2 different students.  The top example is from a student who worked with me in a small group and needed lots of support.  The second example is from a student who wrote the entire paragraph by himself after we discussed details/examples from the notes.

If you are interested in using notes for expository writing, you can find set 1 here.

Fraction Anchor Charts

Do you use anchor charts?  I love them!  They are a great reference for students during independent work.  Here are a few of the anchor charts we made during class over the last few weeks.

 This has been a great reminder for my kids on fractions that equal 1.

My kids really struggle with looking at a fraction and being able to determine immediately if it is less than or greater than one.  This anchor chart has allowed me to quickly review this concept with the kids and it's a great reference for them during independent work.

Students often forget the different ways to represent a fraction especially when they are trying to solve word problems.  This chart helps them decide the best way to organize the information in the word problem to make it easier to solve.


Do you want to get your kids hooked on reading?  Of course, you do!  Epic! is the answer for you.

1.  Epic! is FREE for teachers!

2.  Epic offers REAL books.  Does your school participate in AR or another reading incentive program, but you have kids who have read every book on your bookshelf?  Epic! has thousands of books.  Kids can read the books on Epic! and then login to AR to test.

3.  Do you have kids who struggle to read on grade level or are nonreaders?  Epic! has thousands of audio and read aloud books so all students can access both fiction and nonfiction books.

4.  Nonfiction books?  Epic! has thousands to choose from.

Epic! has everything you could possibly want for a classroom library.  You can find more information here.

Here are a few screenshots of what Epic! looks like.

Do you want an additional incentive for your kids?  Epic! has the Readerpillar.  As your class reads books, they earn badges to fill in on the classroom chart.  Epic! even offers some rewards for your students such as printable crafts.

I hope you check out Epic! My students love it!!

Accepting Feedback: Social Skills

Accepting Feedback is the #1 social skill that all of my students struggle with.  It can be really hard to accept feedback.  Our entire school works to teach kids how to accept feedback.  Here's the steps that we use.

First, students are expected to say, "OK." or "Yes, ma'am." Then, they should do whatever they were asked.  If a student accepts feedback and complies with the adult's request, then the situation is over and we all move on.  The problem occurs when students argue or refuse to do what is asked of them.  

Example:  Student is talking to classmate while teacher is teaching.  Teacher: Student please stop talking.  Student: OK.  Teacher: Thank you for accepting feedback.

This is what we want to happen.  You ask a student to stop a behavior and he/she does it.  Children are not robots and we wouldn't want them to be robots.  

Example: Student is talking to classmate while teacher is teaching.  Teacher: Student please stop talking.  Student: But he was talking too! 

This is how students try to suck us into an argument or get us off track and waste time.  How do you avoid the giant waste of time?  Repeat your direction and nothing more.  "I need you to accept feedback and stop talking.  Your response is, "Ok."  Turn and address the other student if needed and then continue to teach.

We practice this several times at the beginning of the year and revisit this topic throughout the year. 

If the student needs to explain more about the situation, they can bring it up later when we both have time to talk about it.  I explain to my students that sometimes I don't see the entire situation.  If that's the case, they should let me know.  If I am wrong/missed something I will make it right.  This conversation doesn't need to occur during teaching time.  It can occur during quiet work time, a transition, or recess.  

Friday Funny: The Staring Contest

This is a true story from my classroom.  I love kids and how they think!

National Compliment Day

National Compliment Day is January 24.  Take a minute and write a compliment to a few peers.  They need to hear something they are doing well.  This will make you both feel better.  I am including 2 templates that you can print and write a compliment on for a student or a peer.  I hope you enjoy this freebie.

Teachable Moments - Social Skills

I love teaching social skills in the middle of an activity when the opportunity arises.  The other day, I was playing a board game with a small group of students.  After a few minutes, they began to disagree about the rules.  The kids weren't upset, but could not agree.  I decided it was the perfect opportunity for a social skills lesson. 

While the kids continued to argue, I shoved the game board off of the table, sending pieces flying everywhere.  (Classic kid move.) . The kids stopped mid-argument and stared at me in disbelief.   I asked them several questions:  How did that make you feel?  Was my reaction appropriate?  Do you want to play games with someone who reacts the way I did?  When you are in a similar situation and feeling frustrated, how can you make a better choice? 

At the end of the conversation, the students really seemed to get the idea.  My teaching assistant returned to class and the students were excited to tell her that I made a giant mess with the game.  One student explained the situation to her like this:  "She's Miley Cyrus!  She came in like a wrecking ball!""

We talk about this incidence often.  The kids like to refer back to it because I was the one who learned a lesson.  What are some of your favorite teachable moments?

When do you give up?

Teaching is hard.  There are many things that make teaching hard but the hardest part is working with children who are broken and strong willed and try your patience in almost every situation.  You know, the child that argues, refuses to follow any rules, leaves class when he wants, sleeps, refuses to complete work, picks on other students, interrupts your teaching, yells out/cusses, is physically aggressive, and the list keeps going.  There are lots of reasons teachers don't want "that" kid in their room.  They require an insane amount of energy on the best days.  So, how long do you try?  When do you call it quits?  When do you decide the child is beyond hope and unable to change?  When do you stop trying?

The moment you give up on a child, he has nothing left.  More often than not, we are the child's last hope, their last advocate.  If you give up and stop trying, the child will fulfill the negative messages they have heard their entire lives.

So, when do you give up on a child? The answer for each of us may be different.  My answer is NEVER. I guess that's why God gave me an extra dose of stubborn when he made me.  He knew I would need it daily to get through life.

I know teaching is tough, but you are tougher.  Hang in there, my friend.  You are making a difference!   #NeverGiveUp

Teacher Mom Life Hacks

I don't know about you, but being a teacher-mom is hard and exhausting.  The last thing I want to do when I get home is to cook dinner.  We eat out way too much and we have all gained too much weight.  Every year I promise to do better, but after about 1 day, I fall apart.  I just can't do it all.  I found an amazing site that will help you get 5 meals on your table in less than an hour of prep time over the weekend.  I know what you're thinking.  I didn't believe it either.  And on top of it being possible, your kitchen will NOT look like this!

My secret is 5 Dinners 1 Hour.  You can choose the meals your family will eat for the week.  The site will create a grocery list and all of the recipes for you to print out.  You spend an hour or less prepping everything for the week.  Each day, you either throw the meal you prepped into the crock pot before school or on a sheet pan when you get home from school.  You only have the 1 cooking dish and whatever dishes your family uses during the meal.  It's sooooo easy and delicious. 

I know you want in.  Here's my affiliate link:

The recipes are actually kid friendly.  My very picky kids actually have loved all of the recipes we have tried so far.  The recipes are healthy and easy.  If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, they are great for lunch.

How to thrive in December

December is stressful!  It's also stressful for our kids.  There are so many special things to do that we are often off schedule and we change up routines.  Kids are excited and can't wait until Christmas.  All of these things make kids and adults very crazy.  So, how do we survive?

We channel all of that stress, anxiety, and energy into something productive.  I teach my kids how to use these round looms to knit scarves.  Knitting is easy once the kids learn the process which is easier than you think.  It also requires concentration which helps the kids focus and reduces anxiety.  It also requires a lot of fine motor skills so it's easy to tie into IEP goals.

Each student has his own basket with a loom, yarn, and a hook.  When students finish work or when they need a minute to get themselves together, they grab their basket and get to work.

Here's what the scarf will look like when it's finished.  They turn out so nice that parents usually don't believe their kids made them!

How do you survive in December? I'm always looking for new ideas.


I've received several questions lately so I thought I would share them here.  If you have questions, you can leave them in the comments or email me at lifeinspecialeducation(at)gmail(dot)com.

Question:  I have a kindergarten student who is struggling with waiting his turn.  He gets mad when I call on other students.  He only wants to be a partner with one student in the class.  He refuses to work with any other student other than the one preferred peer.  He also has poor fine motor skills and a very weak pencil grasp.  How can I help him be more successful in the classroom?

1.  Answering questions/waiting his turn to talk- Create a visual for the board.  Use a flat magnet that is red on one side and green on the other side.  Place 5 of these magnets on the board.  Explain to the student that these are his question tickets.  When he answers a question or volunteers a story, turn one magnet from green to red.  When he runs out of tickets, he cannot answer any more questions.  Since this is a kindergarten, the question tickets should be reset for each instructional block/subject.  Give the student ownership of his question tickets and have him reset the tickets to green before each new subject.

2.  Partner with non-preferred peers- To help student work with a variety of peers, have him work with preferred peer along with another peer.  This will help the student get used to working with others.  If he refuses to include the third peer, use "first, then."  First you will work with the assigned partner, then you will get to choose your own partner for the next activity.  If the student knows that he will get to work with his friend, he will be more willing to tolerate other peers to get what he wants in the end.

3.  Fine motor- First, only use the "fat" pencils/crayons/markers.  If the student does not use a tripod grasp, give the student only short pencils that are no longer than 3-4 inches.  The short pencil forces the student to hold the pencil using a tripod grasp.  Once the student begins to use a tripod grasp regularly, you can transition him to use longer pencils.  This particular student does use a tripod grasp, but the grasp is so weak that if he were to lift the pencil off of the paper, the pencil would fall out of his hand.  Try to figure out if the student has a sensory issue of how the pencil feels when writing on paper.  If this is the issue, a mechanical pencil may help.  If not, the student may need a weighted pencil.  You can make your own weighted pencil by adding a metal nut to the end of the pencil.  (Put a little duct tape over it to keep it secure.)  You can also work on strengthening his hand muscles by having find small objects in putty.

The Secret to Teaching

 Teaching is hard.  We all know that.  But what makes some teachers succeed while others fail?

The answer is probably much simpler than you may think.  It's relationships.  Teachers who take the time and effort to create meaningful relationships with their students are the teachers who are successful.  Relationships take a lot of time and hard work especially for our more difficult students, but relationships make all the difference in the world.  A student is more likely to trust an adult who takes the time to get to know them and who finds positive qualities in them.  Students are more likely to keep trying when they are frustrated, accept consequences, and calm down when upset or angry when they have a relationship with a trusting adult.  For many of our students, they have few, if any, relationships with adults and have no idea how to interact with others.

How do you create a meaningful relationship with your students?

1.  Get to know them.  I know we are busy and we have to cover the curriculum, so when do we get to know our students?  It really only takes a minute or two each day.  Every week choose 1 or 2 students to spend 2 minutes with them.  You need to ask them questions about themselves and share information about yourself.  You can also sit with them at lunch.  Kids love to have extra attention at lunch.  This is also a very low threat for students because it is a social situation instead of an academic setting.

2. Be silly.  Students like to tell jokes and trick the teacher.  Be willing to walk right into a student's joke.  This shows the students that you are human and you are not perfect.  Students love to laugh.  Find a way to laugh with them.  It's ok to laugh at yourself.  Your students will love to see you as a real person.

3.  Be willing to apologize.  When you mess up, apologize.  If you make a mistake, apologize.  I know it sounds simple, but students rarely get the opportunity to see you as a person.  If you are willing to apologize to a student when you mess up, they are more likely to apologize when they mess up.

4.  Talk to them.  Make an effort to talk to each of your students every single day.  It only takes a few seconds to say good morning and ask them how their night was.  Compliment them and notice when they come to school with a new haircut or new clothes.

5.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.  If you tell a student you are going to do something, do it.  If life happens and you can't follow through, tell the student and apologize.  When you treat a student with kindness and respect, they are more likely to return kindness and respect to you.  If you dish out a consequence when you are angry and you later realize it's unfair/unnecessary, talk to the student and apologize for reacting out of anger.  Tell them you overreacted and that xyz is a more fair consequence.

The bottom line, talk to your students and get to know them for who they are.  Celebrate what makes them amazing.  You kids will thank you for it.  

Top 100 SPED Blogs

Recently, Feedspot made a list of the top 100 SPED blogs.  The list is amazing!!  I found several new blogs to follow.  Head over and check out the list so you can find more great blogs to follow, too!

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