Making Pretty Things

I know, I know.  It’s been too long.

I’ve been busy with school, you know, but I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to work on disallowing my job being the all-encompassing end-all in my life.  That’s not to say that I don’t LOVE my job.  I do but I want more.  I need more or else I’m going to fizzle out.

I want to make pretty things.

Here’s what I mean.


This was one of those magic moments where the picture in my head looks like the end product.


For those who don’t know, this is a line from a Regina Spektor song.  It’s my go-to single lady (and that’s okay) line.  I started with the quote and then worked with the idea of having the fantasy coming out of the book like the story being bigger than the pages.


This design started the other way around.  I had the vision of the encircled deer and then was thinking, “huh, this looks peaceful.”

So, that’s all I can show for now because some of my other designs are being used on Christmas gifts and I don’t want to ruin any surprises.🙂

Thanks for reading and looking.  I’ll try to be better.

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Music PBL Night

MusicPBL Night

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a big deal in my district.  All teachers are expected to do at least one project each year.  This was my first year doing a project and I chose the Science of Sound.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to create the entire unit on my own.  I used Aileen Miracle’s Science of Sound Unit and added to it to make it cohesive with the PBL mindset.

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It really is great and so full of awesome resources.  I definitely encourage anyone looking to make cross-curriculum connections in the music room.  I won’t go into detail about the unit since it is Aileen’s product and I don’t want to steal her thunder but I encourage you to check it out.

One of the main ideas of Project Based Learning is for students to have the opportunity to show what they have learned.  Since the final project of the series was to create a functioning instrument out of recycled materials, that was the basis of our PBL night. PBL Night.005

Students had to name their instrument and tell what family it belongs in.  Here are the rules and rubric used for the project.

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Of course, I wanted other activities that went with the Science of Sound idea.

My absolute favorite was the Instrument Petting Zoo.  I won’t claim it as an original idea but it was a blast.  I borrowed extra instruments from the band director as well as instruments from my own classroom and set them out with QR codes with information about each instrument.

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Students (and parents) enjoyed being able to touch and experiment with the instruments.  Don’t worry, I took the mouth pieces and/or reeds off.  I also had a very trustworthy teacher pal whose job it was to make sure everyone was being somewhat careful.  It was a hit!

There were two boomwhacker stations.  The first one had sheets of boomwhacker music (maybe I’ll get tech-y next time) for participants to play familiar tunes on the boomwhackers.

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The second station requested students to hold a boomwhacker to their ear.  Did you know you can hear the sounds of the room with the tone of the boomwhacker?  Crazy, huh?

At this station, students could experiment with recycled materials as speakers for a cell phone.  The kids got a kick out of it.

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The final two stations (only one shown) are activities taken directly from Aileen’s Science of Sound Unit so students could show their families what we did in class to build up to their final project of creating an instrument.

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Finally, here is the map I created to show where each station was in the library.

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Anyway, it was a great night.  There wasn’t a very big turnout but I think that’s due to it being a new idea and very out of the box. My first informance was earlier this month and it was light in attendance as well because people just don’t know what to expect but word gets around.  Plus, it’s great for our programs for parents to see what we do and teach outside of performances.  That’s just my thought, at least.🙂

Thanks for reading,

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Curriculum Mapping: Cohesive Planning for Effective Instruction; Part 4: Building Your Lessons

This is Part 4 in the Curriculum Mapping series.  Check out Part 1: Curriculum Evolution, Part 2: The Nitty-Gritty Details, and Part 3: The Big Picture.

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In Part 3, I discussed using your district’s yearly calendar to begin to map out your year and the method to planning where to sequence units within the school year.

Now, we’re going to look at actually creating the Year-at-a-Glance document.  Here is a template for you to use.

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Now, that you have your sketch of the year and units, it’s time to put that information into play creating the actual lessons for the year.  Go back to the Curriculum Outline you came up with in Part 2 and order the objectives within each concept of your units.

For example, in the sample concept unit below, I would start with identifying the steady beat and move to show the steady beat and no steady beat.  From there, I would continue steady beat instruction with playing unpitched percussion instruments on the steady beat.  I’d transition into rhythm instruction by differentiating between beat and rhythm.  From there, we would work on one and two sounds on the beat (reading, writing, composing, performing, listening, etc.)

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Of course, there will never be enough TIME so you’ll probably have to combine objectives.  I know I have.  Also, some objectives take longer than others so judge best for now and reevaluate as necessary.  After you’ve sequenced your objectives, match the appropriate standard strand so that your lesson will be administrator approved.  It also allows you to customize your lesson to the objective and standard rather than attempt to customize the standard to fit the lesson you want to use.

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So, now we’re going to build the lesson.

DISCLAIMER REPEAT: I’m not the end-all be-all music teacher and am no expert in anything.  I’m just sharing what I do in hopes that it helps someone else.

Okay, so the left column on this next slide is how I organize my lessons so that everything is included.  I don’t always use every single box for every single lesson and, note, I over-plan lessons like mad (because I’d rather be OVER-prepared than underprepared).

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Now, have you ever been in this situation? You find something really cool.  It might be a pin on Pinterest or a Facebook post and you totally want to include in your lesson plans BUT it doesn’t really fit with what you’re teaching right now.  So, you put it aside for when you can use it next month or year or whatever.  If you’re anything like me, you’re totes not going to remember what that cool idea or resource was if you even remember something existed you were wanting to remember at all.

Well, with this spreadsheet, you can immediately plug in the idea or resource as you find it and put where it can logically go.

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Here is an example of what a lesson looks like:

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This lesson is from Kindergarten’s unit on Sound Explorations and this specific lesson is for Found Sounds.

We start with the Trashin’ the Camp song video from Tarzan.  I ask the children to look for items that are used as instruments but aren’t and, after we watch it, we go around and share what we saw.  It serves as an intro to finding musical sounds in nontraditional musical objects.

You’ll see it’s underlined in the screenshot above so that I can go directly to the link without having to search for it or have any youtube ads on the side.  Here’s what it looks like when a video is on instead of youtube.  Since you can save the link and save yourself some trouble later (with the searching and ads) your lesson plans are the perfect place to keep that link.

The “Focus Activity” for this lesson actually comes later in the lesson instead of close to the beginning because, first, we read Listening Walk by Paul Showers and then go on our own listening walk.  You can see the “I Can” statement (that’s what the children see on the board), the objective and the standard (for the administrators to see).  I include both the “I Can” statement and the objective for both audiences.

You can see the rest of the lesson elements.  The two PBS activities are really great for the children to get to play with different found sounds.  I use the Stomp Kitchen scene as an additional listening selection.  We finish with a simple assessment about timbre (they don’t know that vocabulary work yet) but they can sort sounds based on timbres even if they don’t know the exact word.

Of course, you’ll have to customize to fit your situation with the following questions:

How many students do you see at a time?
That will depend on long thing’s take.

How long do you see each grade level?
30 minutes is a big difference from 45 minutes or 50 minutes.  Trust me, I’ve done all those.  I’ve even done 22 1/2 minutes.

How often do you see your students?
22 1/2 minutes stinks but, if it is everyday, then it gives lots of great review and the ability to go over activities and concepts very frequently.

What technology is available?
I’m spoiled rotten now but, in my first school, I had a CD player as my only technological item.  I’m not saying you HAVE to have the tech to be a successful teacher.   Of course not but you do need to take it into consideration.

How much space to you have?
This is important to consider for games, centers, and movement.

Curriculum Mapping Presentation.024Finally, a note on keeping track.  I use a secondary page like the one seen above to show what each class has done because I’m totally not going to remember.  This serves not only to keep track but also as documentation to show what worked and what didn’t in each lesson.  Because I use cloud storage (specially Google Apps), I can edit this from my phone, iPad, laptop, anywhere with an internet connection to keep track of the lessons.

And that’s it.  I sure hope this helped you in your planning.  Like I’ve said before, it is not the work of a day or even a year but the work of many years and many minds to try to find the best solution for organizing the school year.  If you have any questions or want anything else explained further (because I sometimes accidentally assume people can read my mind).  You can also contact me miscellaneouscara at gmail dot com or at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.  Finally, here is the handout for the presentation.

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Curriculum Mapping: Cohesive Planning for Effective Instruction; Part 3: The Big Picture

This is Part 3 of the Curriculum Mapping series.  Check out Part 1: Curriculum Evolution and Part 2: The Nitty-Gritty Details.

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In Part 2, we looked at the details such as disassembling the standards, creating objectives, and sorting those standards/objectives by concepts to create units.

Now, we are going to take that knowledge and place it in the big picture.

Sketching the year gives you the ability to gain as much foresight as possible for the upcoming school year.  It is a lot easier to plan when you know where you’re going.

Curriculum Mapping Presentation.016First, I look at the district calendar.  Above is this year’s.

Then, I date each column (in an spreadsheet) with the weeks of the school year noting events such as holidays, staff development, early releases.  From there, I plot where the performances can go because you don’t want to schedule a performance the day of a state assessment or immediately after a holiday.  You also want to make sure that your performances have plenty of time for preparation.  These are the first units that I plot of the “map” and align as many of the standards as can be mastered within the performance unit.  Hint: it’s usually the expression objectives that get covered.  Also, make sure you plan your performances so you don’t get yourself into trouble during the year.

Curriculum Mapping Presentation.017Since you’ve already made objectives from the standards, you can map out how long concepts and units will need to be for mastery realizing that there is never enough time to get there for every single concept and unit.

Some answers about some pieces in the above slide:
–BOY is code for Beginning of the Year which is used for rules and procedures (very important) and reviewing concepts from the previous year).  You’ll notice that 5th grade’s BOY unit is much smaller than 3rd, 4th, and 6th.  That is because of the PBL unit that is next.  5th grade will review deeper after the PBL unit.
–Speaking of, PBL stands for Project Based Learning.  Every teacher in the district is supposed to do at least one project a year.  My fifth graders did the Science of Sound which I’ll cover in another blog post.

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After plotting BOY units and performances, the idea is to sequence the remaining units to maximize your time and build upon skills through the year.  In 1st grade and up, I start with notation (rhythmic then melodic then both) because I think it is of great importance but there are other music teachers and scholars who disagree.  That’s okay with me.  You do what you want to do and what is best for your students and situation.  Kindergarten doesn’t even start reading notation until way into the second semester (although they hear the songs and sounds, we don’t put words and concepts to them).  Pre-k doesn’t read notation at all because we focus on experiencing and experimenting with music.  I have a lot of leeway with pre-k because the standards for pre-k are unnecessarily vague.

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Aligning units, as much as you can, will help with planning and preparing…..especially if you are one who changes out bulletin boards (Psst!  A secret: I don’t).  It does help with the “musical mindset” if you align your units somewhat.

Finally, feel free to make adjustments as needed.  Nothing is set in stone……nothing……Any part of this process can be amended if you get into it and decide you want to change something….anything…..

Are you information overload yet?  Are you Ready for Part 4?  See you then!

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Curriculum Mapping: Cohesive Planning for Effective Instruction; Part 2: The Nitty-Gritty Details

This is a continuation of my Curriculum Mapping series from TMEA 2016.  If you missed Part 1: Curriculum Evolution, click here.

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This is Part 2: The Nitty Gritty Details and that is exactly what we’re going to dive into.  Note: this is the first details section.

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A couple years ago, I had the privilege to serve on the Review Panel for Instructional Materials for the new TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that came into effect last year (2015).  On the first day of the panel, we were trained in how to review the submitted materials.  Part of this training included identifying the “breakouts” within each standard as seen below.

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Luckily, we didn’t have to do all the work ourselves.  It was done for us and I have the breakouts for four of the grades here so you don’t have to do all that work either.

Disassembling the standards is necessary to really understand everything the standard is addressing.  It is important to look at the words that normally wouldn’t catch your attention: and, or, including, may, etc.

After you disassemble the standards, you can sort the breakouts by concept: pitch, harmony, beat/rhythm, composing/creating, form, expression (tempo, dynamics, articulation), timbre (vocal and instrumental), creative expression, historical/cultural/societal relevance.  These are my concepts but you don’t have to use those specifically.

Curriculum Mapping Presentation.014The concepts become your units.  Of course, some concepts are going to be interwoven throughout every unit during the school year (creative expression, historical/cultural/societal relevance) and some will be used as a stepping stone for others.

My scope for all grades is available here if you are interested.  Again, these are Texas standards but you’ll get the idea even you can’t use it.  Also, feel free to alter it to serve your needs.

The next step is to write the objectives for each unit which can be done simply by adding the words “Students will” or “I can” to each breakout.

For example: Identify beat using iconic representation


Students will identify beat using iconic representation.


I can identify beat using iconic representation.

Each place I’ve taught has different expectations for how teachers write their students’ objectives out.  Currently, mine does not care but I do it anyway for my own knowledge of the goal of the lesson.  I’ll also (try to keep up with) writ(ing) it on the board for students to read and know what our learning will be focused on.

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All of the objectives put together, sorted by concept, creates what I like to call a Curriculum Outline because I can show this a parent or administrator and they have (somewhat of) an idea of what is going on in my classroom.

Have you ever been in this situation:

It is Open House or Meet the Teacher and you have a gaggle of parents and students coming into your classroom.  Some you’ve met before and some are brand new and asks a version of this question: What is my child going to learn in music this year?

It seems so simple but it isn’t.  There is so much that goes on within each year of instruction and I can’t keep it all in my head.  I can’t just recall it out of thin air.  I can give a vague answer but it is better to be able to point the parent to where they can find the information or hand them a printed copy if available.

I’ve presented this document at the grade level orientations and had copies to hand out. I have them on my school webpage for parents to check out if they are perusing the school site.  Of course, if they know nothing about music at all, it will probably seem like nonsense.  It’s okay, it will be a very organized and educational blob of nonsense.😉

What comes next? You might be asking.  Well, stay tuned for Part 3!

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Curriculum Mapping: Cohesive Planning for Effective Instruction; Part 1: Curriculum Evolution

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Back in February, I presented on this topic at the Texas Music Educator’s Association annual convention.  I’m posting an overview of the presentation here for my faithful readers.🙂

But first………

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I am no master musician, music teacher, curriculum builder, or anything but I do love to learn and improve.  This presentation is the culmination of trial & error, continuous improvement, and the minds of others instead of just myself.

I started teaching in the Fall of 2006.  I knew I was supposed to teach the TEKS (the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) but, other than that, I was clueless.  Anyone else in that boat?

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Luckily, there were more experienced music teachers willing and able to get me through those first years of survival.  This was the first my first “road-map” of what to teach.  We won’t got into detail about those years…….

A few years later, I was in a different district and the choir director for the high school wanted all the elementary music teachers to teach the same thing at the same time (which, as a side note, is a great thought, however, that is a whole other discussion that I won’t go into this minute).  We were giving a list of skills and vocabulary to be taught to each grade level for each of the six weeks.  It obviously was not a perfect document or set-up, ergo the inclusion in the evolution rather than the culmination.

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Fast forward just a year later and I’m in another new district.  This time, it is the head of Curriculum and Instruction that wants everyone, including fine arts and PE, to create this Year at a Glance document.  This is the template that was given to me to create my own versions for each grade level.

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Although this document seems to work for everyone else, it seemed lacking to me.  Vague.

Then, I met a fellow music teacher who also lived in Texas and taught in the same city as me.  We became fast friends and worked well together fleshing out ideas.  It was her idea first to spread out the concepts across weeks of the school year like a calendar.

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Curriculum Mapping Presentation.008She probably would have expanded her idea even further and presented on it herself if she hadn’t tragically passed away soon after this.

Curriculum Mapping Presentation.009This is what my lesson plans looked like around this time.  My goal was to create a document that would house, not only a Year at a Glance, but my lesson plans as well.

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This is what that document looked like. Below is what it looks like now.

Curriculum Mapping Presentation.011Intrigued?  Want to create your own?

Stay tuned!

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Product Review:4-Beat Rhythm Blocks

Kelly Parrish recently asked me to review her 4-Beat Rhythm Blocks (Connected) and she was so generous!  She sent me a class set of these blocks with quarter note, quarter rest, beamed eighth notes, and sixteenth notes.

Now, I work at a 1:1 school where every classroom (including mine) has a class set of iPads.  We have tech out the wazoo and are expected to use it so I was skeptical about introducing a learning tool that was zero tech but, you know what, the kids loved them!  I forget, with all the technology available, the simple pleasures of hands-on activities.

I used them with Kindergarten and First Grade.  We didn’t use the sixteenth note sides of the blocks because that is a skill for a higher grade.

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Kindergarten is working on a unit including steady beat, beat vs. rhythm, identifying a quarter note as ta, and beamed eighth notes as ti-ti.  The rhythm blocks were perfect for practicing with them.  I projected a rhythm on the board (using the techy-ness) and students reproduced the rhythm using their blocks.  Then, we said the rhythm together and students tracked the rhythm on the beat.  While some students were finishing reproducing the rhythm, the ones that finished were encouraged to practice the rhythm using their inner hearing (fitting in another standard).

Kindergarten Standards (TEKS) for this activity:
K.1.A: Identify the differences between the five voices including inner voice
K.1.E: Identify beat, rhythm using iconic representation (we advance to the first grade standard of using the standard notation 1.2.A)

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First grade started the same activity but then extended it to composing 4-beat rhythmic patterns.  We used the quarter note, beamed eighth notes and quarter rest as a review activity.  Students are currently within a unit of melodic patterns of Sol-La-Mi but we review the rhythms of the songs as well as the melodic notation for each lesson.  This was an excellent hands-on activity.

After reproducing patterns, students paired up to, first, compose a rhythm by themselves and perform it using their inner voice.  Then, students quizzed their partner on their created rhythm and performed their partner’s rhythm in return.  Usually, in Quiz-Quiz-Trade, students then switch rhythms but, instead, students swapped partners and created another rhythm to quiz their new partner on.  Does that make any sense?

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First Grade Standards (TEKS) for this activity:
1.2.A Read, write, and reproduce rhythmic patterns including quarter notes, quarter rests and paired eighth notes.
1.4A Create short, rhythmic patterns using known rhythms

Again, the kids LOVED the hands-on activity!  In fact, here are some kid quotes:

“I like the blocks because they are fun and really math-y.”

“I like the blocks because we can make different rhythms and they are really fun.”

“You can change the rhythm.”

“I liked putting the notes in order.”

“I like the quarter rest.”

They are 6-7 years old.  That’s my disclaimer after the fact.

Anyway, if you want your own set of connected 4-Beat Rhythm Blocks, you can get them at Kelly Parrish‘s Etsy Store: Rhythmically Yours.

Thanks Kelly for being so awesome and allowing me the opportunity to use these blocks with my students.  It was definitely a success.

Thank you, readers, for reading my review and checking out Kelly’s store!

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Zaption Update

Due to the upcoming TMEA/TI:ME Convention this week, I updated my Zaption presentation.  I thought “If I’m going to do a presentation about an interactive learning tool, I should probably use that interactive learning tool.”

Don't Just Watch Presentation edit

Click the image above to watch (and participate) in the presentation.

After this part of the presentation, I’ll be giving a demo which doesn’t have slides because we’re really going to go through the program.

Then, we go back into Zaption to end with tips and reflections.


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Cara’s Favorite Sites for Graphics

I have a pretty distinct style when it comes to what I create.  My stuff doesn’t usually look like other people’s creations.  I think part of that has to be the graphics I use so I decided to share my favorite sites for purchasing graphics.  Yes, I said purchasing graphics.  Now that I have a store and sometimes do presentations, it’s important (and more legal) to purchase graphics and fonts and follow those terms of use (which could be a whole other blog post in and of itself).

1.) PixelScrapper Digital Scrapbooking

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I absolutely love PixelScrapper because of their incredible commercial use policy.Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 6.38.25 PM

Like scrapbooking kits at a physical store, the graphics are in kits and sets of kits are in bundles.  It is so easy to mix and match this way!

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You can also search single graphics to find something specific you’re looking for.

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As you can see, the graphics in this site are more stylized and “floofy” which I realize isn’t a word but, oh well.

Finally, they offer a lot of freebies for personal use and have a monthly themed blog train.

2.) HungryJPEG

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HungryJPEG is a fun site for both fonts and graphics.  I don’t really go there looking for anything specific but I get their emails and always enjoy what I’ve bought.  This site also does bundles but there aren’t as tidy as the PixelScrapper ones.  Some recent purchases:

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Plus, as you can see, you can tweet for a discount.  Yeah!

They also have freebies but you have to “catch” them.

3. DealJumbo

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DealJumbo is a lot like HungryJPEG.  They have even more freebies than HungryJPEG so subscribe to their newsletter.

4.) GraphicStock

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GraphicStock is a website you have to subscribe to.  They have tons of graphics and photos which is a big thing in graphic design right now (or at least the graphic design that I’m seeing).

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I would not recommend GraphicStock if you’re looking for something specific but if you’re looking for something in a theme or a broad search, then it works.

Handy Tip: If you’re interested in subscribing, wait until they have a sale.  They have sales fairly often.

5.) TeachersPayTeachers: Favorite Stores

EduClips creates adorable people clip-art.  Plus, every new graphic set is 1/2 price for the first 48 hours.  Win!



PrettyGrafik Designs has really cute characters and people.  She has pretty specific terms of use though so read carefully.


I like 3AM Teacher‘s Graphics because they are quite unique.  I especially like her Suess-a-like graphics.


Finally, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Designs has great borders.  There are generic ones as well as thematic ones for holidays and such.


I hope this gives you some great ideas for where to find quality graphics.  What are some of your favorites?

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Do You Youtube? Sites & Tools to Enhance Your Youtube Experience

I love Youtube but it really isn’t suitable for teachers to use on the fly. Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 4.50.39 PM.png

Luckily, the above video and side videos doesn’t have anything inappropriate but that rarely is the case for me.  For example, my students wanted to see a commercial using “Carol of the Bells” played by NBA players that they had heard about.  It is a cool video but, the one time I tried to watch it on the fly, there was an inappropriate commercial before the video AND videos on the side that I wouldn’t want seen by my students. I don’t know.  Maybe I’m a little on the censorship side?  It’s only because I don’t want to get in trouble.

DISCLAIMER: Be wary of copyright issues.  Don’t claim anything is your own if it’s not.  These are things I use in my classroom or for personal use.

Anyway, here are my suggestions to enhance your Youtube experience.

1.) Sites to filter out those annoying advertisements, comments, and the like

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Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 4.58.56 PM.png and ViewPure are my two go-to sites for filtering out all that stuff.  Here is an example of what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 5.02.27 PM.png gives you the option to “Dim Lights” like you’re in a theatre which limits the distractions even more.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 5.03.49 PM.png also allows you to download the video which is pretty great for when the internet isn’t dependable and/or you want to embed them in your lesson plans.

2.) Sites to Watch a Specific Part of a Video and/or Chop a Video

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Youtube Time allows you to pinpoint a specific starting point in a video and save a URL to that specific point.

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TubeChop allows you to pinpoint not only a starting point but an ending point as well.  This works well for long videos or videos that have inappropriate scenes.

3.) Sites to Isolate the Audio of a Video Clip

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YouTubemp3 allows you to download just the audio of a video clip.  This is handy.

Screen Shot 2016-02-07 at 4.39.20 PM.png also allows you to download just the audio among the many other options.

4.) My Fav Site for Organizing Videos

I realize that it takes a lot of seemingly unnecessary work to find a video, filter it through a website such as SafeShare or ViewPure, and chop to the part of the video you want BUT, if you plan to use the video more than once, the time is totally worth it.  To organize videos, I use Symbaloo.

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I’ve blogged about it before: here, here, here, and here.  LOL!

I use Symbaloo every day for different purposes.  The board above is my Dance board which the kids adore.

I also use it as my homepage with all my starting links for each day: email, ClassDojo, Gradebook, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

5.) Tools for Creating Lessons from Your Videos

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I’ve spoken and blogged about the greatness of Zaption a couple times but it just really is that great.  Zaption allows you to add interactive elements to any video you find on Youtube, Vimeo, and pretty much any video hosting site.  Plus, you get analytics and feedback from the questions you ask and other features of the video.

There are other sites that do this well but Zaption is my go-to.  There is also:

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So, there you have it.  Hopefully, these sites and tools will help YOU enhance your Youtube experience.  What other tools can you add to this list.

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