Where the fun of a tree house meets the world of education!

The Ugly Truth…

I’m really grouchy and really trying hard not to snap on someone. I swear, I am. But if one more person blames education for something, I’m going to scream!
Here’s the ugly truth no one wants to hear…
Teachers are NOT gods! We’re NOT miracle workers! I don’t have any mystical powers of persuasion and I sure as the world can’t force a child to learn anything! I do my best to make it interesting and I fight like mad to infuse every day with my love of learning new things and sharing the things I’ve learned with others. Even so, there are kids in my class EVERY YEAR that couldn’t possibly care less and are only in school because the state says they have to be (or because Mom needs a break).
You can point fingers at Common Core, new Math techniques… whatever you want! But I will tell you straight to your face that if that kid doesn’t actually want to learn something, THEY’RE NOT GOING TO. And if they’re picking up negative vibes from ANYWHERE about school (have you watched kids’ shows, these days? Seriously?) they’re going to bring that with them and they’re going to sit in my class, the class across the hall, across town, across the county, across the country… and they’re NOT GOING TO CARE!
In our modern society, we want to point fingers and blame other people or circumstances for the things that don’t go as planned. The really ugly truth is that society, as whole, has a VERY BIG PROBLEM right now and the people paying the most for it are the kids. They pay for it by not being able to play outside, by knowing how to work a new tablet within 2 minutes of it being handed to them, and by forgetting to go to the bathroom because their bladders have had it! When a second grader has a cell phone, it’s time to ask why and FIX IT.
You want to point fingers, fine. Be aware that you’re part of the problem when you do. How do YOU talk about school to other people? How do YOU support the education of the children around you? How do YOU approach a problem out there in the real world? All of these things are being soaked up and the the teachers have to deal with them AND try to teach them standards that couldn’t be crammed into a 20 year education cycle with any kind of rigor… in 12 years. We have to do it with few supplies, little to no home support, a range of prior knowledge that spans no smaller than 3 grade levels, and expectations that EVERY ONE of those kids in that class are going to make or exceed benchmarks in 10 months. We have to be the teacher, mom, dad, therapist, personal assistant, nurse, and task master ALL AT THE SAME TIME and FOR 24+ KIDS! You want to know what’s wrong with the American Education System? Society. That’s what’s wrong with it. Fix that and then come talk to me about why people believe the world is flat. Until then, stop complaining and shaking your heads about the “fall of the education system.” 
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Kingdom of Lily Arbor- Classroom Decoration and Organization

This is the easy part, I have to admit. There are plenty of ideas out there for decorating a classroom in a Castle theme. I’m not just going to stop with some purchased doo-dads, though!

Library– This will be called the Enchanted Forest, because I am going to put trees in the Reading center. Each tree will represent a genre, and when a student finishes a book, they get a leaf to add to the tree that matches the genre of the book they read. I’m going to string twinkle lights in the trees so they prove lighting for the library, too!

Walls – I’m going to cover the lower half of the walls in faux stone. Whether this is party decorations or bulletin board paper, I haven’t really decided. There will be stone columns going up the walls at intervals all around the room, too. I’m going to focus all of the posters on the wall with a Castle theme. This will include making my own stuff, most likely, but I’m sure I can do it. I want to minimize what’s there, anyway. I did find a great display option for student work that had a dragon next to the bulletin board. I am going to adjust the wording so it’s something about a dragon hoarding golden efforts or something like that. There will be other trees around the room, for things like Kindness, IB Profile/Attitudes, supplies we need, and whatever else I can think of.

Hallway- I’m going to hang more faux stone on the wall, laminated so it’ll last all year. Each student will get a second of the wall and, rather than putting names on the wall, they’ll hang their coat of arms, instead! They will be creating their coat of arms the first week of school, so I’ll laminate it and hang it on the wall for them to use all year! I’m also going to designate the three squares closest to the wall to be the MOAT to keep people from walking on them (it’s a rule in our school).

Doorway– My door will have large black “brackets” like a medieval door and I’m going to lay out a rug that I’m going to spray paint to look like a drawbridge. I have found two opens for the chains for the drawbridge and I can’t decide which one I like better: a standard paper chain (laminated strips so it lasts longer) or sliced foam insulation. They both look awesome, so I’m not sold either way. I’m going to make a duct tape portcullis to hang from the doorway, too. Cool, right?


I’m also going to cover the front and side of my desk in faux stonework, hang banners on strings around the room, and continue to light the room with lamps instead of those headache inducing fluorescent lights. I’ll be on the darker side of the hallway this year, so we’ll have to see how that goes.


There’s more coming, so… stay tuned!

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New Grade Level, new ideas…

Three weeks ago I get a call from my Principal. There’s been a major shuffle and I’m being moved down to 2nd grade. This is a little (ok, a lot) scary, as I’m an upper elementary school teacher by nature. 3rd grade was pushing my limits. 2nd?

I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to get these changes in my head and I’m not making much headway, honestly. That is, until I found the theme for my classroom next year. Usually, I don’t care much for themes. It’s a poster on the wall, maybe a chant or something, or a nickname you use to describe your class. This, though, hit me completely differently and I’ve been tweaking things about it ever since.

You see, my hobby is a really cool organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism. We center our activities on the preservation and reeducation of medieval skills and lifestyles. That pretty much means I spend my weekends in the middle ages. We have kingdoms and Knights, Princesses and, sometimes, even CASTLES!

So, why not a Medieval theme in my room next year? The second grade is where the big genre studies come in, and Fantasy is a big one that is met with a Fairy Tale Ball in the 2nd semester. I don’t want this to just be a poster or decoration, though, people! My room will be a kingdom in itself!

I’m going to break these plans down into a few different areas:

Classroom Decoration and Organization

Classroom Management (Behavior, etc)

Curriculum and Instruction

Other Stuff


These are just plans, so far, so I’ll be sharing where I got them, how I’m planning on setting them up, and, later, I’ll show you the implementation. I’m really excited about this, so… bring on the dragons!


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Product Review- Simple Minds Mind Mapping

A few years ago, I was introduced to the concept of mind mapping as a teaching/learning tool. I really loved it, but I realized it was so much more than that! It was a way to organize what I had to teach and, if I found the right software, I could even link inter-subject units easily!

If I could organize my planning, then I could use it to organize details for the stories I write, too!

It’s just an amazing tool for anyone!

The best one I’ve found for myself, personally, was a piece of software called Simple Minds (being an 80’s kid, I love the name, too!).

You can find it online here:


This software does everything! You can add links, embed videos, share it between users, add images and other media… it’s just a great place to store your stuff and organize it!

Most recently, I have used it to organize my notes for my track at JordanCon! I’m sharing this one from a few years ago because… reasons!

JordanCon 2014.png


Cool, right?


Go on, download the free trial and give it a shot today!


Until Next time!



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My Favorite Plan Book

It’s funny, I know, that I really enjoy my paper plan book being such a geek. I will say that, being the nerd I am, I usually start with a digital mind map (I use Simple Minds, more on that tomorrow), then move to the paper plan book with specific activities.

So, here’s what I need in a planner:

  • Lots of space to write out assignments and plans.
  • Space to jot notes about what’s going on that day (extra duties I have, absences, etc)
  • flexible planning space (integrated units need to be together in my type A head)

If I got all of that in an Erin Condrin (I’ll get there someday!), it would cost me over $100. I’m a teacher, I don’t have a spare $100 sitting around to spend on a planner.

So, I found this:


The planning pages are PERFECT for flexibility! Look at the inside pages:



It also has organizing pages like these:




And grouping pages like these:




Just in case that wasn’t awesome enough, I found it on Amazon for $15, new, and a few options for non-Amazon vendors even cheaper!


This is seriously my favorite planner! I’ve bought one every year for the last three years! Try it, for yourself!


Until next time!

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Mentor Sentences- Choosing a sentence

So, yesterday, I told you about this wonderful thing called “Mentor Sentences” and how much I love them. I know I left you with this dangling question, “What if I’m reading a book that no one created a mentor sentence unit for, Mrs. Franklin?”

I’m glad you asked, bright one!

Today, we are going to talk about how to choose a sentence from the book you’re reading to use as a mentor sentence.

The Problem:

The real problem here is that we’re all trying to make our bosses happy and do what we want, too. “Our bosses say we have to teach X in August, Y in September, and Z in October. However, my friend Ms. Jivey’s lessons aren’t aligned with that. Oh, and when I’m teaching X in August, I have to be reading this book that the district aligned with this curriculum map.”

Yeah, that’s where I live, too. You see, our district/state aligned our Social Studies and Science curriculums with the ELA curriculum and created units that organize these together. Helpful, right? I’m sure it started that way. However, in their attempts to make our lives easier, they added specific books and specific writing tasks that HAVE to be done each marking period; as in someone downtown is expecting to see it. So, now I don’t have time to do this awesome book I found, because I have to read a book required by the board.

Now, before you throw up your hands and say, “I can’t do mentor sentences! I have to do this stupid thing…” let’s step back and remember what the purpose of a mentor sentence is. We’re pulling a sentence from a piece to use as the model for our grammar and writing lessons. So, the easy answer here is to pull a sentence from what you’re being forced to read and use it as a model.

But, I’m reading a chapter book, Mrs. Franklin. Those are GINORMOUS! 

Yeah, so take a sentence from one of the chapters you’re reading this week and use it. Focus on the thing you want to teach/enforce during your instruction this week and find a sentence that did it well. If you can’t find one that did it well, pick one that didn’t and have the students FIX it! Just don’t do this very often, because we’re mimicking the sentence, not adjusting it to fit our own voice. Most of the time, there’s at least one sentence you can use to model the skill you’re teaching.

Can I supplement the required stuff with what I want?

Sure. You’re not fully integrating it until you’re choosing a book with the same topic, but you can totally do this! Choose a picture book to offset the chapter book! Something you can read quick!


So, there you have it. I’m sorry it wasn’t more specific, but it’s really dependent on what you’re required versus what you’ve got time to do, versus what you want to do. I’ll be happy to help however I can, so leave me a message and tell me how!


Until next time!

~Mrs. Franklin

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Mentor Sentences- Integrating Grammar, Writing, and Reading

I’ve been doing this for years, but it’s because I bought a unit from Teachers Pay Teachers from Ideas by Jivey (freakin’ fantastic unit, I want to add) and not because I’ve actually invested time in developing the concept. So, what do I, as a nerdy teacher do? I find books and go to trainings when I should be packing up my room for the summer.

So, before I go too crazy, let me credit the guru’s that I love in this area:


Ideas by Jivey







Seriously, these people are amazing and I want to be like them, someday when I decide to grow up. Yeah, that’s still up in the air.


So, what is a mentor sentence, Mrs. Franklin? 

I’m so glad you asked!

A Mentor sentence is a sentence you take from a book and dissect like a frog in Science. The purpose here is to identify the choices the author made and figure out why they did it in this particular sentence. We’re trying to get students to read with the intent of digesting the craft of writing and making it their own. They rewrite that sentence, they make their own sentence using the same decisions as the author and they practice using those concepts in their own writing.

But, wait… isn’t that stealing?

Umm… no?

<quote>“Nobody is born with a style or voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying. We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism — plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.” ~ Austin Kleon</quote>

The name of that book was “Steal like an Artist” by the way. Just putting that out there, do with it what you will.

OK, so, how does this work?

Wow, you’re a great student, asking all the right questions! I’m so proud!

So, step 1- pick a book (or use a book you’re already reading), then pick a sentence that illustrates the thing you want to work on in Grammar/Writing.

Step 2- Follow the daily setup ON THE SAME SENTENCE!

The Daily Plan: 

Day 1- Invitation to Notice- jot notes about WHATEVER they notice in that sentence (“I see a period!” “That letter is capitalized!”) Seriously, ANYTHING they notice is worth writing down.

Day 2- Invitation to Identify- Identify the mechanics in the sentence (parts of speech, grammar, etc).

Day 3- Invitation to Revise- You guessed it, students revise this sentence using the same content, but changing words.

Day 4- Invitation to Imitate- Students write their own sentence using the same mechanics that exist in the sentence, but they write a completely different sentence!

Day 5- (OPTIONAL) Quiz on weekly skill.


So, why am I giving up my English book?

1- Because we don’t remember those stupid grammar rules the teacher taught us in third grade, not all of them. Sure, you remember some of them, but not all of them. Why are we teaching them using the textbook when it didn’t work for us? It doesn’t work any better now, if you’re being honest with yourself. The kids’ writing still suffer, they don’t use these conventions, you’re still banging your head on the wall. STOP IT!

2- Because, with this, you can teach grammar, writing, and reading comprehension… all using the same book! You’re already reading to them, folks. Take what you’re reading and, instead of trying to cram both grammar and writing in as separate pieces, embed them all in the same reading passages! Instead of planning three things, PLAN ONE and cover all three! Time is a fleeting thing in a classroom, with things stealing instructional time left and right all day long. This past year, I had all of my students in my room in their chairs for me to teach for a whopping 2.5 hours out of an 8 hour day. That’s it, less than 3 hours a day! I didn’t have time to teach Reading AND Writing AND Grammar! The answer? MENTOR SENTENCES from the book I was reading to my class, anyway!


What do I do now? You’ve got me intrigued! 

Go use your Google Fu, or the links above. Buy books, search Pinterest! Get more information and take classes, watch videos, get it in your life ASAP! Your kids will thank you.  Your administrators will thank you. Your parents will thank you. Your test scores will rise. Your stress level will crash.

And come back and tell me how you’re doing and how I can help!


Until next time!

~Mrs. Franklin

PS- I have a Pinterest board just for Mentor Sentences here.

Find J Anderson online here:

Find J.Ivey  on youtube here walking you through the process

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People I love to buy things from on Teachers Pay Teachers

Alright, it’s almost summer break and time to dust off this blog and get it focused on next year!

First, I want to share the people who have made my year easier this year. If you’re a third grade teacher, these people will make your life so much easier! If you’re not, these people will probably have something that will help you, anyway!

My personal favorite is Ashleigh, from Ashleigh’s Education Journey. I seriously owe this woman a fruit basket and I want to spend a week in her room and copy everything she does. I’m in awe. I use her Comprehension units, her Math units, , her Introduction to Writing Workshop unit, her Grammar unit… yeah. This summer I have to figure out how to NOT make all of these copies because of copying restrictions from the district, but I have a place to start, which is a fantastic thing!

A close second is Teaching in Room 6, where I get the Spiral Math activities which make fantastic homework and weekly quizzes. The spiral nature of the homework helps my class remember how to do things we learned at the beginning of the year and reviewing those before test season makes reviewing so much easier! I am also drooling over those weekly paragraphs and monthly essays for next year, too! ALSO, this lady is the QUEEN OF MENTOR SENTENCES! Go check out her units, I’ve been using them for YEARS with both 4th and 3rd grade classes and the kids LOVE THEM! I’m not even joking!

Last, but certainly not least, is Rachel Lynette and her collection of Task Cards that make center time really easy to setup and keep moving while I work with small groups!


It is from these three masters that I am learning and taking away their expertise to create a classroom that is both rigorous, invigorating, and fun for both my students, and myself! So if you’re looking for a place to launch your classroom, here you go!


Until next time,

~Mrs. Franklin

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Story Cubes!

First, let me introduce these awesome little cubes. I got the idea from a friend of mine, who is a published author, who said that she wrote something every single day. Sometimes, when she didn’t have ideas, she would grab her story cubes, dump them out and write whatever showed up. It would help knock some ideas loose or, at the very least, keep her writing.

So, I thought it would be fun to do in class to help students have fun with their writing, do some problem solving (they have to include all four cubes in their writing), and a whole host of other things.

I found them at Barnes and Noble and picked up a couple of expansion dice, too! There are action packs, fantasy packs, Sci-Fi packs… seriously, if you can think it, it probably exists! Here’s the base pack: Rory’s Story Cubes @ B&N.

Want to see them in action? TRY THESE!


Fun, right? I’ll post these every day so you can use them with your class, too! HAVE SOME FUN!

Until Next time!

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Free Online Courses @ Standford University!

Let me answer this question up front: No, you don’t get course credit for these courses.

HOWEVER, you do get some really good information that can help you in your classrooms through taking these courses!


I just finished a class called How to Learn Math: for students! You can find it here!  Through this course, the instructor discussed brain growth and how it relates to math, including strategies that encourage brain growth and how the way we teach it is outdated in the face of new information about how the brain learns and grows. I highly recommend this class, which is available through December 15th, 2014, completely online… completely FREE. It may be geared at students, but it’s a great one for teachers, too! I plan on showing it to my class at the beginning of the year this coming year! It consists of videos that you watch and questions that interact with those videos, reinforcing ideas and concepts in mathematical thinking, as well as brain development.


You can view their entire FREE ONLINE course catalogue here! Go on, see if there’s anything you’d like to give a try!

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