Aww, cute little owl.... pellets

If you've ever seen an owl pellet, you're probably thinking "ewww" rather than "aww".  But hey, if I weren't up for a little grossness in the name of science, what kind of teacher would I be?

Actually, I love owl pellets. We dissect them every year during the last week of school during our study of habitats and life cycles. After all the yelling and gagging and other sounds of disgust are out of the way, the kids dig right in (literally) and end up loving every minute of it.

So what is an owl pellet exactly? A lot of people think it's owl poo. Wrong. I would not, under any circumstance, no matter how dire, handle owl umm... excrement. That would be crossing the line from dedicated teacher to crazy person.

Owl pellets are like big hair balls... the kind your cat leaves on your nice new carpet. Now let me reassure you, owl pellets may look nasty, but they are perfectly clean. Unless you have a large colony of owls in your yard, you will likely order pellets online from a company that collects, cleans, and packages them for you. They arrive sterilized and dried out. Not gross at all. Here's what one looks like...

Portrait of an Owl Pellet

Now, this is no ordinary hairball. Inside the owl pellet are all sorts of treasures and you never know what you'll find until you start digging. So get out your little skewers and start dissecting! Whatever the owl ate will be evidenced inside... moles, rats, insects, other birds... it's all right there. You'll find bones, fur, and even teeth. Quite fascinating actually!

Most companies that sell owl pellets will send along a handy bone chart for your students to refer to. They love figuring out what their owl ate. Here are some of my students working hard on theirs...

Don't they look studious? If you look closely, you can see the bone charts they used. I also gave everyone gloves to ward off any possible parent complaints.

This activity can easily span several days. I like to start by showing the class a wrapped pellet and having them guess what's inside. They NEVER EVER guess correctly. Then, we watch videos about owls and the food chain. You can find tons of them on youtube (don't forget to preview for appropriateness!) Just for fun, you absolutely MUST watch the Owl Pellet Song!

This year I also created an Owl Pellet Journal to use during our owl study. It has pages for students to complete before and during the dissection...

owl pellets
Owl Pellet Lab Journal

The dissection itself can take an hour or more, depending on how engaged your students are. I usually find myself having to make them stop because the bell is about to ring. If you've spent a few days learning about owls, the dissection becomes an exciting culminating activity!

If you decide to try this activity with your class, I recommend buying the largest pellets you can afford. The big ones run about $2 each. I have had good experiences with www.carolina.com and www.obdk.com.


Christmas in July!

I just discovered a big Christmas In July sale going on over a bloghoppin and thought I'd join in (yeah, yeah, I'm late... very fashionably though)!  Check it out...


Since I'm late in joining, I've put a whole bunch of things on sale today, instead of just one. Take a look. You might just find something you need for back to school!



Back to School... Getting Ready

They say time goes by faster as you get older. If you're a teacher, time goes by faster as the weather gets hotter. It's a strange phenomenon that I like to call the "Evil Summer Time Warp". Can it possibly be the end of July already? Come on, people!!

Okay, okay, so I need to do a little back-to-school planning. Have you ever seen the show Doomsday Preppers? Well that's normally what I'm like by late July.... a little bit overzealous and slightly crazy and misguided.  Instead of planning for the immediate and probable future, I start worrying about what I'll do next March when my class has spring fever.  I could probably have my own show called...

I'm really going to try to focus on actual back-to-school stuff this year. So, here it is... 5 things I'm doing THIS WEEK to get ready, announced publicly so I actually have to do them...

  •  HORSE Folders - Last year I used a variation of Christina Bainbridge's HORSE folders. I added a few extras like a vinyl pocket for test papers and other things I need parents to see and also a data section for student to track their progress on standards. THIS WEEK I will buy sticker labels and print them for my folders. If you don't know about Christina's folders, you can check them out here.
  • Back to School Letter - Normally I spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to craft the perfect letter to parents. The one from the previous year never seems to suffice. But this year, THIS WEEK, I will write my letter and get it done quickly. Want to know why? Because I'm looping with my class and that means they already know all of my rules and procedures. Woo-hoo! My letter will be a brief welcome back and reminder about a few things. Done!
  •  Nails - That's right, as in fingernails. THIS WEEK I am getting my nails done. This counts, you know. You can't start school with bad nails and mine are bad! All this stress I've had trying to sell one house and buy another has ruined my manicure. This must be remedied before school starts!
  •  School Night Dinners - I'm sure I'll be revisiting this topic throughout the year because it's my personal nemesis. I can never seem to figure out dinner. I don't plan ahead and then I end up getting take-out way more often than any respectable person should. So THIS WEEK I am going to compile a list of easy to make dinners, crock pot recipes, and freezer meals. I'm going to start here with my personal hero of the kitchen... The Pioneer Woman: Freezer Cooking!
  • Meet the Teacher - Unlike my usual back-to-school letter that takes weeks for me to craft, I put absolutely no thought into Meet The Teacher day. In fact, I normally arrive at school that morning in total shock that people will be coming into my room and appalled that my fellow teachers have laid out lovely spreads of cookies and juice and cute little goodie bags. But not this year, no sir! The wonderful thing is that these people have actually already met me numerous times (looping, remember), so they won't be surprised when I'm ill-prepared. However, THIS WEEK I am printing out all the cute little meet-the-teacher signs I made. I think the parents might faint when they see how organized I appear. It will be an illusion, but shocking nonetheless. Take a look...


So, that's what I have planned for THIS WEEK. Whew, I better get started!  Please link up your back-to-school preparation blog post below!


Throwback Thursday... Again!

I can't believe it's Thursday again already! This summer is flying by which makes me a little bit sad.

Debbie over at Crockett's Classroom has a great blog post and linky with thrifty ideas for the classroom. I thought this would be a great opportunity to revisit another old post from my old blog. Take a look at this one from July of last year...

Classroom Decor & More
I'm going to let you in on a little secret... my husband has a nickname for me. It's not Sweetheart or Honey Bunny or Hot Wife. It's "The Mad Starter." He has called me this for approximately 25 years, since we were friends in high school. Now what kind of nickname is that, you ask? Apparently an entirely appropriate one, even if I hate to admit it. I seem to have some kind of adult onset ADD which causes me to start one project after another without actually finishing any of them. If you don't believe me, please scroll down to the post about my kitchen cabinets. I have almost the bottom part done now, several weeks later. Okay, so what's the point of this? Well I'm onto another project. But it's an IMPORTANT one! I have to get my classroom organized and pretty. If you'll recall, I had to move to a new building on the last day of school. Everything had to be stuffed into the closets so they could put in new carpet and paint. So, now my room is a blank slate and this my chance to start from scratch, to make it look just right.  First step is decor... I (along with my partner teacher) have decided on a black and brights theme. We painted most of our book shelves black and I bought these great bins from Really Good Stuff in the lime green color...

We also have a collection of these baskets from the dollar store which we'll use for our easy readers...

Then I got 30 (that's right, THIRTY) of these awesome stacking baskets on clearance from Really Good Stuff which we will use for our centers and supplies...

I even made some super cute labels to hang on them...

So today I'm making organizers for our chapter books. Because I'm cheap thrifty, I've taken the awful, hideous cardboard things that came with our leveled readers and am painting them lime green. Here is what they looked like before...

And this is how they look after a little spray paint...

Much better, right? You can see I didn't quite get all the way back on the inside but I think it will be okay.  They will be full of books anyway. My plan is to put these (I have about 6 of them) inside my long black book shelf and organize our chapter books by series. The lime will look great on the black!

So that's my project for today. Unfortunately, I've run out of paint and will have to get more tomorrow which means my husband will be calling me "The Mad Starter" again tonight.


Now here's a look at how those organizers ended up looking in my classroom...

Do you have a thrifty idea for the classroom? If so, head on over to Crockett's Classroom and link up!


The Magic Pen Pot

It's no secret that I became a teacher because of my school supply fetish. Every year I spend hours organizing my supply closet, putting everything in pretty little baskets with matching labels to show what's inside. Then, I round up all my teaching buddies and force them into the closet to view my masterpiece. Really, the supply closet is probably my favorite place on earth, next to Office Depot. Oh, how I love to shop for office supplies!

Now, what's the point in admitting this crazy obsession? Well, I discovered something that might help some of you other teachers out there. You know those days when you come to school and realize 1) there's a full moon or 2) tomorrow is Halloween, Christmas, spring break, or something other craziness-inducing holiday, or 3) your class has just gone off the deep end for no good reason at all? Well, there's a remedy and it's called...  special pens.


Normally, I hoard my special pens, hide them in my desk where no one else can get to them... especially my colorful gel pens. But then I realized that my student love them almost as much as I do. Whenever I bring them out to grade papers or write notes, I see their longing gazes and envious glances. One day it dawned on me to use these magical pens to my advantage... as a bribe, if you will.

Now, whenever one of the above mentioned days casts its evil spell on my little lovelies, I just pull out "The Magic Pen Pot"... a fancy ceramic pot full of the most glorious, colorful, and smelly gel pens. Some of them smell like cherry, some like grape, others like lemon. It's like a smorgasbord! The children's eyes pop out, their mouths immediately begin to water, and I nonchalantly announce, "I think I'll let the hardest working student use my magic pens today."

TA-DAH!! That's it! That's the solution to all of your teacher woes. As soon as the class realizes they might get to touch those special pens, they sit up straighter, start writing neater, and work like the rest of their lives depend on this one assignment. It's a miraculous transformation! And you know what, usually a lot of them earn the right to use those deliciously smelly, colorful pens. So I pass them around, giving each kid a certain amount of time with them. It makes their day, it improves mine, and somehow those magic pens make their work a lot better too.

Do you have a special way of motivating your students to work better or harder? I'd love to hear your ideas!


Throwback Thursday


Thanks to Katie at Mind Sparks for starting this great linky idea! We're digging up old blog posts and bringing them back for a second go-round. The post I'm revisiting is one that I wrote on my first blog, "Making Waves in 2nd Grade." It's all about my favorite read-aloud ever...

I don't know about you but the hardest part of my job right now is teaching writing. The kids either love to write and won't stop...even when they've gone wildly off topic... or they won't even pick up the pencil. One of my goals this year is to really build their vocabularies and hope (pray, fingers crossed) that it transfers to their writing. But I've done the explicit vocabulary instruction, the "colorful words" charts, etc. and decided someone else could probably do a better job of it. And who might that be, you ask?  Edward Tulane. More specifically, Kate DiCamillo, author of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

I decided to jump straight into really good chapter books as read-alouds... chapter books full of challenging vocabulary. Edward Tulane just happened to be the first one I tried and wow, did it pay off.  First of all, the kids were totally captivated by this book. I even had two little ones cry in the middle of it (not that I want to make my students cry) and they begged, yes BEGGED, me to read it as soon as they got to school every morning.

But the vocabulary... that's the best part!  We talked about all of those big words and we practiced using them and they put them in their writing notebooks. And guess what...I'm seeing them in their writing, along with other fantabulous words we've come across in books.

So, first I'd like to suggest reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to your class. But I'd also like to ask for your suggestions. Do you know any really great chapter books that will challenge our kiddos to think harder and deeper?  Leave me a note if you do. I'd love to hear what must-have books are on your read-aloud list.

Edward Tulane Comprehension Pack

Thursday Threebie

I hope all of you are enjoying a relaxing summer! I've taken a break from blogging to create a Facebook page. Hop on over to enter my first Thursday Threebie giveaway! Just click on the picture to get there...


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