Unexpected Visit from Wal-Mart

It really has been a while since I have been on to share exciting things going on in my second grade classroom. I feel like there is always so much going on but I am going to trying to get on here for a really good post once-a-month...that being said I have something AMAZING that I want to share.

Two years ago I was in search of something for my classroom but didn't have the money to spend out of pocket. A friend sent me to Donor's Choose. For those of you who don't know anything about it, I would HIGHLY recommend checking it out. It is free to sign up for teachers. I'd like to do a follow up post on the ins and outs of setting up your grant for Donor's Choose later.

Anyway, I have had 3 grants filled from Donor's Choose over the last year and a half. Recently, I was looking at getting more technology into my classroom. I tried a year ago to get a tablet grant fulfilled but it didn't get enough donors before the deadline. This school year I thought I would try again. I hadn't had anyone donate and thought maybe I would need to try again in the spring.

But then something unexpected happened.

Something I still can't quite wrap my head around.

I got a surprise visit.

I was in the middle of my first reading test with my class when my principal walked in. Thinking nothing of it, I assumed he was there for a walk-through.

But then I saw my assistant principal. I was sitting at my desk and students were coming up to me with their questions.

Then in walked our curriculum director.

Followed by my assistant superintendent.

Then in walked my superintendent.

I have to admit my heart dropped to my stomach and my first thought was they were coming to dismiss me. (I know they wouldn't come to someone's classroom to do that but I have never had an expected visit from 5 administrators before!!)

While all these scattered thoughts ran through my head as I kept working one-on-one with a student, I noticed some balloons in the hallway. I thought I saw a 3 and a 0 and I thought, maybe it is for me 30th birthday?

Then I noticed men in suits (no it wasn't Men In Black!!!) and more than a dozen Wal-Mart employees all walking through my doorway. I had NO IDEA what was going on. I was panicking thinking my students were going to flip out at all of the extra people joining us that morning. I think they were more in shock than anything else!!

It turns out, Wal-Mart had come to give us a few surprises that morning. Apparently, my administrative team was aware for a few weeks this visit was going to take place. News coverage was supposed to join them for their grand entrance but there was an unfortunate school shooting that had to be covered.

Wal-Mart had gotten wind of my Donor's Choose grant and had come to PERSONALLY fulfill my grant. In fact, they went above and beyond just filling the grant. Several district managers, store managers, department managers, and employees brought thousands of dollars worth of goodies for my classroom. (I think all in all including myself and my students there were over 50 people in my classroom during this visit!)

I'm still in shock.

  • They brought us 3 iPads for my classroom with Otterbox cases. (Seriously, these cases are amazing to withstand little kid abuse.)
  • A Radio Flyer red wagon filled with back to school supplies: crayons, glue, highlighters, tissues, hand sanitizer, notebooks, paperclips, bulletin board accents, erasers, pencils, glitter glue, pencil sharpener, construction paper and so much more!
  • A gift card for $490 to Wal-Mart. (After a National study was conducted, on average most classroom teachers spend around $500 per year on classroom supplies.)
  • An iPad for my use at home and in the classroom.
  • A healthy snack: lots and lots of apples!
    I felt like a Publisher's Clearing House winner!!!

    This adorable wagon was covered with tulle using our school colors and was such an adorable way to present school supplies! It was like Christmas for teachers!

    Can you tell my kiddos were in shock and SUPER excited? (They also got out of their math test later that day so they were REALLY glad Wal-Mart visited!!)

    I've never had more volunteers to hold a piece of paper in my life!
I honestly can say I have never been more surprised (well, maybe my husband's proposal but that's about it!!) by anything especially in my professional career.

Apparently, Wal-Mart visits different school districts each year and chooses a classroom to shower with gifts and goodies. I am beyond thankful and grateful they chose me this year. This is something my students talk about almost daily and we are thoroughly enjoying all of the extra goodies they brought us.

I cannot guarantee this type of excitement will come with a Donor's Choose grant but believe me, there are companies out there who are more than willing to help out teachers with much needed supplies. I know it seems a little strange asking for such large and expensive items but you never know what you can get if you don't ask.

So to everyone all the North Versailles, PA Wal-Mart, from the bottom of my heart. You made this year the BEST YEAR EVER for not only my students but for me as well!!

Stay tuned for a follow up post on how to submit a Donor's Choose grant.

Monthly Fluency Tracking

So, I'm gonna say a two letter word that may have some of you reaching for your mouse or a few of you groaning...are you ready??

Progress Monitoring.

Still with me? Ok, I remember my first year teaching kindergarten and in a grade level meeting my principal leaning across the table and said, "Hol, you're monitoring your kids...right?" Enter that panicked feeling and my heart started pounding. I grabbed my mentor teacher after the meeting and had her explain what the heck my principal was talking about. I mean I remember them mentioning this during student teaching and my education courses in college. But to actually put that into practice in the classroom? Oh boy.

After that, I realized the importance of what I wasn't doing. For a few years, I progressed monitored but never had a great way of keeping my data organized.

Two summers ago, I sat down and really organized my fluency binder. I'm sure everyone has a different way of keeping their fluency data together. Many of you might have a better way than I do {if you feel like sharing, let me know!!} but here is what mine looks like.

** Disclaimer, I did not show any of my close read sheets simply because I use about 4 different sets I have purchased off of TpT. There are so many great ones out there and I like having a variety to choose from depending on the student, season, or skill.

First, I keep my fluency progress monitoring materials in a separate binder from any other progress monitoring. All of my close reads are in sheet protectors. I used to just hole punch them and keep them in the binder. I found I was always cringing when the kids would crinkle the paper as they read. My OCD stepped in and I now have my close reads ready to use year after year without worrying about them being ruined.


I set up my binder so each kiddo has their own page for every month. They all have a cute seasonal printer friendly graphic in the corner. Sometimes I find myself coloring them in every once in a while. {Like in another meeting :) }

I print out sheets for the upcoming month during the last week of the current month. Their names or numbers can go on the top line. I keep track of their fluency from their homework and my classroom progress monitoring. You can keep track of the story they read, their words correct and words read and take their percentage from those numbers. RL stands for their reading level. { 92% and lower is a frustration level, 93%-97% is an instructional level, 98% and higher is an independent level}. RT stands for retell which gives me an idea as far as our DIBELS testing.


Once I finish progress monitoring for the month, I take all of their individual sheets and record each student's data for the entire month on a master sheet. I keep track of their monthly progress for our SLO goals. This counts towards one of my assessment categories and I have concrete data to back up my scores. This information is also useful during parent meetings and IEP, GIEP meetings as well.


I also use my master data sheets to compare the beginning of the year to the end of the year. Our final DIBEL assessments will be during the month of May. I like to have an idea of where my kids are the month before we test. The first line for each student was their data from September and the second line is from March. I take this binder with me when we have our grade level reading meetings.


Each month my parents get a progress monitoring report on their child's fluency. I remind both parents and students this is not a grade but simply an assessment tool to check their progress. Some parents don't fully understand how to check fluency at home and oftentimes do not have the same data as I get in the class. This is a great way to show parents where their child is for the month.

Each report has:
  • a line for the student's name
  • a line for how many words were read
  • a line for how many words were read correctly
  • a line for the child's reading percentage
  • a line for their reading level
  • an indicator for their reading level {I usually highlight or color in the arrow indicating which level their child is reading for the month.}


Sometimes I will look back and see which student started the year really struggling and I check to see if there is any progress a few months/weeks later. The master spread sheets are perfect for comparing this type of data.


I have used this data to help my reading team meet when it comes time to split our kids up for enrichment groups. I also use this information when I fill out RTI/RTII forms. Having concrete data to support my concerns is such a life saver!!

If you are interested in checking out more of this set, hop over to my TpT store and CLICK HERE.

I would love to hear what you do that is different! I am always looking for ways to improve my organizational skills:)

Earn those TpT Credits

I feel like this is quite the buzz around seller forums. Why don't buys leave feedback?? Well, I have no answer but maybe people don't realize what they are getting.

Ok, so let me break this down. This process is very similar to gas perks. You know the drill. You pull up to the pump. Swipe your perks card. Swipe your credit card. Pump the gas. Earn rewards. If you are like me, you will drive out of your way to get to that specific gas station to earn your rewards. You know you need the gas so you may as well benefit from it, right?

We're taking that same principal and applying it to your TpT account. If you are already a buyer than you are looking for creative and new ideas. You are trying to meet the needs of your students. You are taking your hard earned money and supporting teachers just like you. Now, we don't get a fancy card to slide onto our key ring. Thank goodness, I think my key ring is heavy enough to pull my ignition out.

But what we do have is a TpT credit line. How does it work?

When you purchase an item, you go into your purchases and click on a purchase you have not left feedback for. Can't remember if you have? Below the seller's name, you will either see You Rock because you left feedback. Or it will say Provide Feedback.

Once you click on the link, it will take you to the main page of the product. You will see 5 categories with ratings from A-F. Once you leave a rating in each category, you are able to tell the seller what you enjoyed about the product.

After leaving feedback, you can go back into your account and check your TpT Credit tab. Here you will see how many credits you have accrued and use towards future purchases. These credits can be used just like cash when you are at the check out.


See, I told ya. Easy peasy. Not only are you earning FREE credits towards future purchases but you are also helping out the seller by saying what you enjoyed about their products. I know for myself, it is great to hear constructive feedback from other teachers.

Happy shopping my friends and have a wonderful Sunday!!

How to: Make a Mummy Experiment

October is a month full of spooky and creepy topics. One of my favorite lessons ever is when I teach my kiddos about the burial steps the ancient Egyptians took for burying their dead. Yea, part of it is I crack up {inwardly} watching their reactions to "they removed the brain with a metal hook through the nose". They all scream and act as thought they don't want to hear more. But. They. Do. If we didn't have time to learn any more facts, my kids were begging for something new as they walked out the door for dismissal.

I usually try to pair this activity with the Magic Tree House: Mummies in the Morning. This year it just didn't work out but this activity still ran perfectly. We read one of my favorite books on ancient Egypt. It gives the students step-by-step instructions on what happened during the mummification process.

I am working on updating my "How To" Make a Mummy product but this post will give you pictures and step by step instructions on exactly how easy and fun this experiment is!!

Seriously, this is such a fun experiment and really is not difficult at all. I promise!! Alrighty, here are  pictures with step by step instructions...

First I cover my table with butcher paper. All of my ingredients are set up ahead of time. The students love walking in and seeing everything read for our experiment.

I have my students pretend they are entering an operating room. They all must have hand sanitizer before they can enter the "sterile" environment. The purple bowl is from Dollar Tree and is our water/glue mixture for our wax. The sarcophagus is a box that was painted with tempera paints using Egyptian hieroglyphs.

I used liquid measuring cups for our water, salt, and oil. I have used a cafeteria tray in the past for our "mummy" to sit on while it was being "washed". This year I used bowls and those seemed to work even better. My blue and pink containers came from Target Dollar Spot and Dollar Tree. I took tags and taped them on as labels for our organs. For spices, I used multi-colored glitter to give our mummy some bling. My husband planted pumpkins in my garden so I cannot say the precise size. A medium sized pumpkin would work best.

My measuring spoons and utensils came from Wal-Mart and Gabriel Brothers. I cheated and swiped a Ziploc baggie of sand from my boy's sandbox. You can get a big bag of play sand from Home Depot for under $4. It will last you for years depending on how many projects you use it for.
This was one of my favorite shots from the entire day. We were beginning to remove organs from our hallowed out pumpkin. We remove one at a time, place them inside the containers, and remove them from the operating table.
After soaking in the salt, we rinse with water from the Nile, oil, sand (I use cheapest vegetable oil I can find at Wal-Mart.) and the finally spices.
This really is a student run project. I help out very little and make this extremely hands on. Right here we were washing the sides with water to make sure it was all covered.
We did the same for the oil. Fortunately, I have a sink in my classroom. In years past, I bring in a bucket and fill it with water. I set a roll of paper towels next to the bucket for the students to rinse off their hands.
After scrubbing our mummy with water, oil, and a little sand we filled the cavity with about 2-3 spoonful's of sand.
We glued on googley eyes and added a few sparkling gems for our "head".
Soaking the linens in wax.

Our finished mummy finally laid to rest in the sarcophagus.

It's difficult to get the strips to lay flat but I really tried not to help and let the kids do it on their own. They were so proud of their hard work.

As soon as my product is completely updated, I will come back and share:)

We're HAPPY so let's have a GIVEAWAY

I am SO excited to share that I hit a little TpT milestone I set for myself. NO, it isn't the big 20K one. Yet. I think I'll be dancing on my rooftop when I hit that one. No, this is just a little one but nonetheless I am still quite excited. To celebrate I wanted to share a little giveaway. Above my door is a little sign that says, "because we're happy". I am REALLY happy so I need to share! Since so many of you are the reason I was able to achieve this little milestone, I want to thank you. I am giving away a $10 TpT gift certificate and my Magic Tree House NO PREP (ELA) Books 1-5 BUNDLE. This is a $28 value all coming your way!! Fill out the rafflecopter below for your chance to win! Thank you for all you do for our kids. EACH and EVERY DAY. I am so inspired by teachers. The more of you I meet the more I am blown away. Have a wonderful week and I can't wait to send this giveaway to one of you!! Good luck!!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Twin Towers Tribute: Patriot Day Activity

I realize I am a little late getting to this but I feel like I am finally catching my breath since school started. Please tell me I am not the only one. I see other people posting beautiful blogs within the first week of school and I was dying. I was so busy filling in bubbles for our GRADE test, juggling Dibels, staff meetings, grade level meetings, sorting through contact information, and trying to keep my sanity.

I have wanted this book for years and I recently got my hands on a copy of "The Man Who Walked Between the Towers". My class was mesmerized when I read it. I honestly had no intentions of doing a writing project about this but sometimes my best ideas come from spur of the moment thinking.


We had read about the Statue of Liberty and how it was a gift from the French nearly 100 years after we signed the Declaration of Independence. My kids made the connection between the Statue of Liberty and Philippe Petit who walked between the towers: both were done by the French.

I struggle talking about 9-11. I feel torn between wanting to tell my kids how terrified I was the day those towers fell. I was in high school. I remember watching my teachers try to comfort us and keep their composure. I remember being picked up by my mom in a panic. I don't think I've ever watched the news so intently. The plane that landed in Somerset was not far from my home. It was gut retching. My students were not alive for any of this. I am actually teaching them about history that I was a part of before their time.

I tried to direct their attention to not only the terrible actions that were inflicted on our nation that day but the positive moments the towers brought in the past. We worked on writing a simplistic informational piece on the man who walked over 1,000 feet in the air with a 28 foot pole.

I was so impressed with their writing. I always make my students try writing on their own first. I won't help them until they have made an attempt on their own. Once they think their sloppy copy is ready for the final drafting stage, they have a mini conference with me. We discuss what they did well, what they should improve upon, and then get their "fancy" copy.

For it only being the 2nd full week of school, I was really proud of how well they did. I'd love to hear what you do/did for Patriot Day!

Teacher Hack

I always feel like I read all of these amazing tips and ideas from other people and want to smack myself in the forehead. Like, "Why didn't I think of that?" Does anyone else feel that as they stalk follow their favorites on Pinterest, Instagram, and ugh all of the other social media sites that hog up space on my phone, laptop, and anywhere wifi is available??

Well, I am pleased to share my own little teacher hack!!

Happy dance. Happy dance.

The best part? It's under a buck.

I know what you are thinking. No way. There's a catch. No seriously.

My local Wal-Mart has become my "getting out" lately. I'm grimacing as I write this because I know I have now jumped head first into that 25 and over age group, married, with kids. But seriously. I cannot tell you how pleased I am when I scan my code on my receipt and get a little message saying I got money back on my Savings Catcher app!! (If you haven't signed up for Wal-Mart Savings Catcher...DO. IT. TODAY. You won't regret it, I promise!)

Oh, that hack idea? You still with me?

I was in the office/stationary section and was looking for any clearance back to school items for my kids and came across this tiny container. My first thought was, "What the heck would someone do with a container that small??" Then it hit me. I am always tossing my flash drives into bags, my laptop bag, and sitting on my table next to my bed. This container holds about 6 (give or take) flash drives securely The sides flip down to unlock and it came in 2 different colors. I am in love with this thing and it was $0.88. I told you it was a steal.

I would love to hear any of your cheap teacher hacks!! Enjoy your Sunday evening my friends!!