Friday, March 27, 2020

Setting Up an Easy Virtual Classroom | Distance Learning Series #3

This post is third in a series on distance learning. You can find the other installments here: 
Connecting with Students During Distance Learning
5 Teacher Tips to Save Your Sanity During Distance Learning

Setting Up an Easy Virtual Classroom | Apples to Applique
This has been a crazy whirlwind of a ride, learning how to shift mid-year from a traditional school setting to distance learning. There has been so much for me to learn as a teacher, and I know it has only just begun!

There are many platforms available out there to use for distance learning. Since I teach first grade, my goal was to make my virtual classroom easy for both my parents and students to navigate. Some options that work well for older students just weren't a great option for 6- and 7-year-olds.

The best option that I came across to meet my needs was a Google Site. It is free and user-friendly. I love that I can quickly and easily insert resources right from my Google Drive, embed videos from other websites, and add features like Google Forms so that students can check in with me. (No, this post is not sponsored by Google 😉 ). I've heard great things about Google Classroom, too, but, unfortunately, I was not able to try it out, as my district does not give students email access in 1st grade.

The thing I like about having a class website is that everything is in one location. This was important to me so that I would not overwhelm my parents. I'm sure they are overwhelmed enough right now! From that one location, I either embed or link everything the students need for the week, including any videos or printables, and even assignments from specials teachers! I directly link to the platform I am using for students to submit assignments, so parents don't have to remember anything more than just the one site.

I added tabs and pages, and was able to quickly and easily hyperlink to other pages on my site to help parents find what they are looking for. Nowadays, most parents are comfortable with navigating websites, so having a one-stop place for them to go helps ease their mind as they learn how to "homeschool". Even better, it can be accessed on their phones, tablets, etc. so they can check things on the go.

You can make your site as simple or complicated as you want. If I were using Google Sites for other purposes, I would probably bemoan the lack of customization features, but for these purposes, it's perfect! Everything is pretty much drag and drop, which is just what I needed. No messing with html, no finicky settings to worry about messing up. In just a few hours, I made a professional-looking website that I could push out to kids and parents, where they can access everything they need to do their schoolwork at home. It's super easy to edit, too, when I need to change plans for the next week.

Now that I've got it set up and ready to go, I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on what's really important: helping my kids to keep learning these next couple of months!

Stay tuned for more distance learning tips, and hang in there!
Keep teaching with heart and passion!


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

5 Teacher Tips to Save Your Sanity During Distance Learning | Distance Learning Series #2

This post is second in a series on distance learning. If you missed the first installment, all about connecting with students, check it out here!

http://www.applestoapplique.com/2020/03/connecting-with-students-during.html
Shifting mid-year from traditional schooling to distance learning is certainly not something we ever thought we would have to prepare for as educators. There are so many questions and unknowns as we enter these uncharted waters!

I served on the Continuous Learning Task Force for my district as we figured out how to move forward for the remainder of this school year. Here are the five main things I took away.

1. Less is More
I have been repeating this often to myself over the last week or so; it's becoming my new mantra. "Less is more." Focus on the "meat" of your lessons and standards, and don't worry about the fluff. What is it absolutely essential for kids to know by the end of the year? What will they need to master before entering the next grade level? Focus on those things.

2. Keep it Simple
Don't try to learn every new platform and program. I know that I have been inundated with emails and advertisements from every education platform and website, all touting why they're the best for at-home learning, or how they are offering free subscriptions right now. Some of them sound amazing! It is tempting to try to learn and do them all. I appreciate these companies stepping up and helping teachers and parents, but it is all overwhelming. I am going to continue using platforms and programs that I have already been using, and with which my students and their parents are already familiar. We are already having too much new stuff thrown at us; we don't need to add in one more thing to figure out and adjust to.

3. Be Flexible
Some people are having a hard time wrapping their minds around this new approach to teaching, and are thinking they need to have a strict classroom schedule with live lessons at set times. That's just not realistic. Many teachers have young children at home who are going to run screaming through the room during a live lesson, or who will need to be online completing their own assignments. Many students will still be at daycare during the day and will need to complete assignments in the evening, or complete several days worth of assignments in one day. One of the beautiful things about distance learning is that it can be worked around family schedules. Give yourself--and your students--a lot of grace. Everyone is doing the best they can.

4. Be Available
While being flexible, it is important that you are available to your students and parents. Distance learning is not "set it and forget it". You cannot upload assignments for the week and then enjoy a week of "paid vacation". Students and parents will have questions and need assistance. Students will miss you and want to connect with you. You might choose to schedule some live videos or lessons so that you can connect with students, but make sure to record them and upload them to your chosen platform so that all students can access them later.
Many districts are recommending set office hours. This can be difficult to achieve for those of us who have littles at home, but make sure you are checking your email, messages, etc. multiple times a day and responding promptly. You are still their teacher, and you still have an obligation to give them a quality education.

5. Set Boundaries
Being available does not mean that you are obligated to respond to parent emails and phone calls at 10:00 pm or on weekends. If you choose to do that because it works for you and your schedule, great! Just remember that you are not constantly on-call, and it is okay to set aside personal time when you are not available. If you need to schedule a set lunch and planning time during the day in order to ensure you don't get burnt out, do it. Whatever works for you, just don't forget to take care of yourself. You can't pour from an empty cup.

Stay tuned for more tips on distance learning, and remember to breathe. We will get through this together! Even in the midst of the unknown, keep teaching with heart and passion!




Friday, March 20, 2020

Connecting with Students During Distance Learning | Distance Learning Series #1

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique

This is such a crazy time for the world of education! Having heard of some school closings around the country, I was prepared to possibly not see my kids for a few weeks as I sent them home for spring break. When, just a few days into spring break, I received word that our governor had shut down schools in our state for the rest of the year, I was devastated. I wasn't ready to say goodbye forever! Those kids are my babies, and the two months I thought I had left had already felt too short. This abrupt end was too much.

I grieved for a bit, and now, I am ready to move forward. They are still my students, and I will still teach them. Of course, we are working on changing our approach so that our students can still receive an education while we are all under quarantine. It will look different, it will feel different, and we may not like the change, but we will all get through it together.

I am going to be publishing a series of posts on distance learning, including activities for parents to do at home, as well as tips for teachers. This seemed like the best topic to start with, as first and foremost, kids should feel loved! Kids always, always need to feel loved, but even more so in times like these. Things are scary and uncertain right now; even little ones can pick up on these feelings from the adults in their lives. We need to do our part to be a stabilizing force, and to make sure the kids know there are grown ups in their lives who love them and are thinking of them.

Fostering relationships with students is vital to a solid education in the best of times, but it is going to take a lot more effort in this kind of setting. Here are some fun ideas to help you connect to your students in spite of the distance.

1. Send them a card
Kids LOVE getting mail! Sending each of your kids a sweet little note to say you're thinking of them will make their day.

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique

Of course, cards and postage can get expensive, and if you don't have any on hand you may not want (or be able) to go to the store right now. E-cards are a fantastic option! Several sites offer a few free e-cards; I found some adorable ones at Kisseo (this post isn't sponsored by them or anything; I just did a search and liked what I found there).

2. Make them a personalized word search or crossword puzzle
I just made one of these for my class using their names and uploaded it to my ClassDojo page, and they were so excited! I'm going to make one for each of them individually with their own interests and message it to them.

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique


There are many sites out there that will generate word search puzzles. My favorite one so far is The Word Search, because it is easy to use and lets you set the difficulty (such as if you want words to go backward or diagonal). You can download and save it to be printed, or it gives you a hyperlink where the kids can go to play it online. The great part about playing it online is that after the kids solve the puzzle, they can click "play again" and it will rearrange the words. The puzzles are public, though, before they are deleted after 30-60 days, so don't use any identifying information like kids' last names.

3. Audio record a personalized message and send them a QR code to hear it
You could record a message to your whole class, to individual students, or both! Do you know how much fun the kids would have scanning the QR code and hearing you talk to them?
The easiest way I have found to do this is to record the audio using an app on my phone or computer, and then upload the file to Google Drive. (You automatically have access to Google Drive if you have a Gmail account, which is free to set up!) Then you click on your audio file in Google Drive, and click "get sharable link". Highlight and copy the link that shows up, and paste it into a QR generator, such as QR Stuff. It will generate the QR code, and you can save it as an image and send it in an email or upload it to your digital classroom. You could also just send the link without the QR code, if the kids don't have access to tablets.

4. Record yourself reading a story to your kids
Get your webcam up and running, and read some of your favorite stories to your kids. Upload the video to YouTube. You can set it as "unlisted" so that only people with the link can watch it, and then send the link to your students. Many platforms also allow you to upload a video there, as well.

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique

Ask the students for suggestions on other books to read--they would love to hear you read some of their favorites!

5. Record yourself singing, rapping, dancing, using puppets, telling jokes, being silly...anything that feels like you!
You are the magic in your classroom, and that magic could easily get lost in a digital setting. Do whatever makes you feel in your element, and record it! This could be lesson related, or it could just be you connecting with your kids; both have value. Upload the video just as you did for your read aloud in #4.

6. Create a digital scavenger hunt
These are so much fun, and can be as easy or complicated as you want. You could create one in Google Forms, use an app like GooseChase, or just type up a list and post it in your classroom platform.

8 Creative Ways to Connect with Students During Distance Learning | Apples to Applique
GooseChase has lots of pre-made scavenger hunts you can customize!

Yes, this could be used as a fun way to complete assignments, but you could also just use it as a way to build connections with students, with no set academic purpose. See who can come up with the most creative answers to simple questions like "Find something prickly", or "Take a picture of something falling". The sky is the limit!

7. Have a virtual talent show
If your kids all have access to tablets or laptops, have them all record a short video of something they are good at and share it with the class. Kids always love showing off their mad skills!

8. Have virtual contests
Tablets and laptops are also required for this one, but you could have contests like "Best Music Video", "Best Commercial for Macaroni and Cheese", "Best Dance Moves". The kids could upload their entries to your class platform and enjoy connecting with one another.

I would love to hear any other ideas you have for continuing to build solid relationships with students while teaching virtually.
Stay tuned for more posts about distance learning; we'll make the most of this together!

Keep teaching with heart and passion!




Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Show It! Number Talks

Show It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique
As I mentioned in my last post, number talks are my favorite way to practice math concepts with my students. They almost seem too good to be true, being highly engaging for the kids and incredibly meaningful, as well as no prep.

The first installment in my line of number talks was Subitize It!, which makes a good place to start since many kids have some background knowledge with subitizing (whether they realize it or not).
I just released the second installment, Show It!, which is also a great one to begin with!

Show It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

With Show It!, students use any method they choose to represent the number on the screen. They can use pictures, ten frames, or tally marks, as well as addition or subtraction sentences.

Show It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

The various ways students can show the number makes this number talk perfect for differentiation. My higher level students love coming up with more complex addition and subtraction equations (in fact, one of my firsties even surprised me with a multiplication equation this week!). My lower level students choose simpler equations or methods like tally marks. Since everyone shows their own strategies, everyone is able to participate at their level and feel successful.

Show It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

Number talks have given my students a lot of confidence in math, and I have been amazed at their growth. I can't wait to release the rest of my number talks soon! Until then, you can find Show It! here in my shop, or here in my TPT store.

Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Subitize It! Number Talks

Subitize It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

Number talks have become my absolute favorite way to practice math. They require no prep, my students love them, and most importantly, they allow students to engage with numbers in a meaningful way.

I love how number talks develop mental math skills, give students the opportunity to show and explain their thinking, and the chance to learn from their peers. It is amazing to see the number of different strategies they can come up with for the same problem--often, they come up with strategies I didn't even think of!

Subitize It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

Subitize It! makes a great starting point for introducing number talks. Kids usually have some kind of prior exposure to subitization of some sort, just from using dice or playing with dominoes.

When I use Subitize It! in my classroom, I display a slide, and then give students silent think time. When they are ready with a strategy, they know to show me a quiet thumbs-up in front of their chest. I opted for this procedure rather than hand-raising, because I didn't want the students to feel pressured if they noticed a friend was finished thinking before they were.

After everyone has had adequate think time, I call on a few students to show us their strategies. They circle the groups they saw on the board, and write number sentences to represent what they saw. They get SO excited to show off their own unique ways to solve a problem! I think for some of them it has become a competition to see who can come up with the most creative strategy to arrive at the answer.

Subitize It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

Subitize It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

Subitize It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique


This is a fabulous way for kids to really start putting the meaning behind the numbers; so much more effective than the old memorize-and-drill methods that were used when I was in school. I am thrilled with the number concepts my students are developing; they are able to manipulate numbers in ways that show me they truly understand what the numbers actually mean, instead of merely repeating rote facts.

Subitize It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

Subitize It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique

Subitize It! Number Talks for 1st Grade | Apples to Applique


Subitize It! is the first release in my new Calculate It! Number Talks line, with many more to come! Get it here in my shop, or here in my TPT store.

I know you'll love watching your students blossom with these number talks as much as I have!
Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Three Little Pigs: A STEM Story

The Three Little Pigs: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique

I've shared more than once about my growing love for STEM activities. Watching my kids problem-solve and coming up with creative solutions to problems is just so satisfying. One of my absolute favorite ways to incorporate STEM lately is through STEM Stories. I shared a post recently about Jack and the Beanstalk: A STEM Story, and promised I had more in the works. I am excited to announce that the second installment, The Three Little Pigs, is ready!



Just like Jack and the Beanstalk, this is an original rendition of the classic story. The book itself can be printed and bound to be used for years.

The Three Little Pigs: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique

At designated points in the story, reading stops as a STEM challenge is completed.

The Three Little Pigs: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique

For each challenge, there is a planning sheet for students to map out their designs, as well as a reflection sheet, which is completed after testing their designs.

The Three Little Pigs: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique


Of course, the extra-fun part about The Three Little Pigs is that the kids get to test out blowing their houses down!

The Three Little Pigs: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique


If any of your students prove to be amazing architects and construct straw or stick houses that aren't easily blown down, don't worry! That's my favorite feature of STEM stories--the outcome of the STEM challenges determines the path the story takes. Using a format similar to a choose-your-own-adventure story, the text guides your readers to the page appropriate for their outcome.

The Three Little Pigs: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique


Just like with my other STEM Stories, The Three Little Pigs includes 3 STEM challenges.

The Three Little Pigs: A STEM Story | Apples to Applique
Using a toy pig can add to the fun!
I include lists of suggested supplies, but these can be adapted depending on the level of your students and the things you have on hand. Of course, for this particular story, straws, sticks, and bricks of some type are a must, but it is up to you how many other materials your students get to use. You can make the challenges more difficult for upper elementary students by giving them a shorter time limit or access to a limited amount of supplies. For younger elementary students, I suggest a longer time limit and access to a greater variety of supplies. Adjust it however you think is best to meet the needs of  your students!

I hope you have a blast using this STEM Story with your students. You can find it here in my shop or here in my TPT store. Stay tuned for more STEM Stories coming soon!

Keep teaching with heart and passion!

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Escape from the Farm! A Subtraction Breakout Activity

Escape from the Farm! A Subtraction Breakout Activity | Apples to Applique

Subtraction seems to be a tricky concept for a lot of kiddos to grasp. For some reason, adding groups together seems more natural, but when it comes time to take away, kids can get stuck. I've been trying to work more engaging subtraction practice into my math block. My kids are obsessed with escape rooms, and so far I had only made one for addition, so of course I had to create one to practice subtraction!

Like my other escape rooms, this one sets the scene by starting with a story card and a clue.

Escape from the Farm! A Subtraction Breakout Activity | Apples to Applique

A storm blew down a fence and some of the farm animals escaped; the students' job is to help the farmer get the animals home safely and repair the fence.

First, they round up all of the chickens and put them back in the correct chicken coops by matching the subtraction equations to the differences. This whole group activity gets them up and moving as they work to find the classmate with their match. Playing a few rounds of this activity gives students the chance to practice several different equations and add to their math fluency.

Escape from the Farm! A Subtraction Breakout Activity | Apples to Applique

Next, they help find the lost sheep as they play a dice game with sheep counters and practice writing number sentences.

Escape from the Farm! A Subtraction Breakout Activity | Apples to Applique

Then, they help the farmer check out the rest of the animals and farm buildings as they do a write the room activity. They complete the subtraction problems and then find the pictures around the room to check their work.

Escape from the Farm! A Subtraction Breakout Activity | Apples to Applique

Finally, they help the farmer repair the fence by completing a subtraction puzzle.

Escape from the Farm! A Subtraction Breakout Activity | Apples to Applique

The variety of activities in this escape room are sure to be a hit with your students, while the incorporated movement and collaboration add to the level of engagement and learning.

Find Escape from the Farm here in my shop or here in my TPT store.

Keep teaching with heart and passion!




Tuesday, January 7, 2020

How to Set Up a Fairy Tale Castle Dramatic Play Center

Note: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of my links, I'll receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for your support!

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

This has been one of my all-time favorite dramatic play centers. It's the kind of thing you set up and then watch the kids come in and stare at, wide-eyed.

Yes, it took a little bit of time to set up. I actually did it on a parent-teacher conference day, working on it when I had a gap between conferences. The kids' faces when they saw it made it totally worth it! The good news is, it was cheap to set up, too! I had almost everything on hand, and the things I needed to purchase were inexpensive.

First, I cut long sheets of brown butcher paper and cut out square shapes at one end to form the crenels and merlons for the battlement. (That's the toothy-looking part at the top of castles. Yes, I learned some new words and wanted to use them.) I attached these to the wall. My dramatic play area happened to be in a corner, but it would work just as well on a flat wall space.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

It proved more difficult than expected to wrap the paper into the corner, and my corner looked choppy and horrible (I forgot to get a picture). So I improvised and added a beanstalk. For that, I just twisted and wrinkled a long piece of green butcher paper, and then attached it to the walls. However, I should have waited to do that until after the next step.

Initially, I was just going to put up the brown butcher paper with the battlement cut out and call it good, but once I had it up, I just wasn't loving it. I decided it needed bricks, but there was no way I was going to attempt to freehand draw them somehow. Then in dawned on me that a car washing sponge would be the exact right shape and size to paint on some bricks.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

I found one similar to this at Walmart for a couple bucks. I mixed white and brown tempera paint and brushed it onto the sponge, then printed a simple brick pattern. The corner proved to be a pain with the beanstalk in the way, so if you recreate this in your classroom, I suggest putting up the beanstalk after painting the bricks.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Painting the bricks went by much faster than I anticipated, and I was so pleased with the results! The spongey texture was perfect!

Next, I cut some football-shaped pieces from light green construction paper and drew some simple veins on them with a green marker to make leaves. I stuck them up randomly on both sides of the beanstalk. I also cut a cloud out of white butcher paper.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

It was definitely starting to have more of the look and feel I wanted!

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

To add to the fairytale castle feeling, I decided it needed a stained glass window in the middle of the brick wall. This ended up being so much fun to make! I grabbed lots of different colors of construction paper and cut them into random shapes. Then I drew the window shape I wanted on a piece of white butcher paper.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique
It's a little difficult to see the diagonal lines at the top of this, but they're there!

I glued the colorful shapes all over the paper, overlapping one another and the edges of my window.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

I didn't want there to be any white space left in the middle. This part took a little more time than I thought it would, but I made a pretty big window.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

When it was all covered, I cut through all the layers to get a clean line for my edges. Next, I cut some strips of black construction paper and glued those all around the perimeter to make a frame. I think it would also work to use something like black electrical tape around the edges, and may be faster.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

After it had dried pretty well, I attached it to the middle of my castle wall.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Then, because I can never seem to help myself, I decided it needed one more thing: sconces. Those were quick and easy. I just rolled up 2 pieces of brown construction paper...

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

...and then stuffed them with orange and yellow tissue paper after hanging them on either side of the stained glass window.
How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

There, that was the effect I was going for! I love it when the picture in my head actually materializes.

For some play accessories, I ordered some royal robes for the kids to wear, and then I hit up the Dollar Tree. I bought some "crystal" glasses and silver plates, which made everything look fancy, but only set me back about $5 total.

How to Set Up a Fairytale Castle Dramatic Play Center | Apples to Applique

Some other fun accessories would be knight and princess dress up clothes, stick horses, plush dragons...anything you can think of!

My students had hours of fun in this area, acting out stories we read during our fairytale unit or making up stories with their own imaginations. It was a delight to watch them.

I would love to hear about fairytale dramatic play in your classroom!

Keep teaching with heart and passion!