Hi! I’m Sue from the TpT store Science for Kids by Sue Cahalane. I love reading the posts on the TpT blog, and I’m so excited to be a guest blogger today! I decided to write about how I get through my day as a full-time elementary school science teacher — a day that consists of doing science activities, then science experiments, then more science activities (back-to-back to back, all day every day!).
Science is the only subject I teach; I love what I do, and I’ve been doing it for a loooonggg time now. I have a couple of things that have made my life as a science teacher so much easier, and I hope that by sharing some tips, I can help or inspire you!
A Typical Day
I teach children in grades PreK-4, ages 3-11. On a typical day, I have five classes but they’re never the same grade. That means, periods 1–5 may look like this:
Period 1 – Meet with grade 4
Period 2 – Grade 3 arrives
Period 3 – Hello Kindergartners!
Period 4 – Here come my grade 2s!
Period 5 – Firsties ready for science!
When I first started teaching, I used to come in early to set up and then leave late because I had to clean up and put everything back in its place. It was exhausting and so time-consuming. Then I realized something: In every class, I have 18 little helpers — why am I not asking them to help set up/clean up our science activities? The answer was because only I knew where everything was. So one summer, I decided to fix that. And it has changed my life as a teacher! It took just three steps: purge, organize, label. I spent a few days on it but once it was completed, it was life-changing.
It’s a system that is easy to keep in place, and it is a huge time-saver. I’ll never go back to my old ways! Now I come in about 30 minutes before my day starts and leave within a half hour after the final bell rings. I can even grade papers at school and not at home, and I have time for myself and my family. Woohoo! Here’s how I did it:
STEP 1: Purge
I’ve been a science teacher for over 20 years. The amount of books and science supplies I had amassed was staggering! I mean, I literally felt like I had a weight on me — all my stuff that I just couldn’t part with because… maybe someday I’d use it. Perhaps I’ll need 50 rulers someday, I thought. Or 100 rocks for my rock collection. Maybe I’ll pull up that old solar system poster that has Pluto labeled as the 9th planet. Perhaps I’ll need 100 re-usable cups. Or 100 balloons. Science worksheet books from 1990. Picture books I haven’t read to my kids in a decade. I was always aware deep down that I would never need any of it. But I just couldn’t part with my stuff. It was stifling me, and it was eating up all the space in my classroom!
A book that helped me tremendously was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering & Organizing by Marie Kondo. This book made me realize we must live with only what we need, and we need to learn to part with the things we just don’t use. We all know this but the book gave me an actual plan for how to carry out the idea.
I spend over 40 hours per week in my classroom. It is truly my home away from home. My classroom was a mess, and once I fixed that, I was able to breathe and think clearly. I picked up every single book, item, and school supply — and I asked myself, “Have I used this in the past year? Does this make me happy?” In her book, Marie Kondo suggests we ask ourselves if each item “brings us joy.” If the answer was no, I donated it or tossed in the garbage.
It was very hard to part with some things, but Marie Kondo says in her book that every item has a reason. And one of the reasons may be to teach you never to buy or accumulate things you won’t need or use. She suggests holding the object in your hand and saying, “Thank you for teaching me to never over-purchase rulers!” or “Thank your for teaching me not to save things I haven’t used in the past five years!” Those simple suggestions gave me license to throw out or donate about 10 garbage bags filled with stuff. The sense of clarity I experienced once I was cleared of so much junk was overwhelming!
STEP 2: Organize
I use disposable cups all the time when I do science experiments with my kids. I had cups in my storage closet, cups in drawers, cups on shelves. Why did I have everything all over the place in my classroom?! Because I didn’t have an organization system. Once I got rid of tons of stuff, I put everything into groups and organized my drawers, cabinets, and storage closet.
Here’s a Christina Scalise quote that I love: “Organization isn’t about perfection; it’s about efficiency, reducing stress and clutter, saving time and money, and improving your overall quality of life.” Sooo true.
STEP 3: Label Label Label
Once I had everything in its place, I put things that my kids use constantly in a place where they could reach them. I then labeled each drawer or cabinet with both words and a picture. Need scissors? Yellow butterfly drawer. Crayons? Pink butterfly cabinet. Graduated cylinders? Blue butterfly drawer. Now my little ones can clean up after their science experiments and put everything away. In no time at all, all my students know where I keep things. This means they can set up and clean up an activity all by themselves. I stop about five minutes before the period ends and have everyone clean up. Everything is put back in its place — and not by me alone. I have 18 little helpers speeding the job up for me because they know where everything belongs. Time saver!
Now when I walk into my classroom, I feel like I’m in a place that is reflecting my mind — peace, calm, no clutter, clarity. When I come to school early, I’m not frantically setting up for my five science experiments that day. I’m using the time to reflect on my goals — what do I want to make sure my little ones take away from today’s lessons? What standards am I meeting? How can I improve upon this lesson and make it more meaningful? I would rather spend time improving my science instruction than setting up and cleaning up for the day’s activities. To this day, I have never once said to myself, “Oh, I wish I still had that collection of 100 seashells!” I kept 10 of the best ones and use those to teach my ocean lessons.
Behold the Bujo
I’m excited about a new organizational tool that I’ve been using not only for my daily to-do lists but for keeping other personal lists and staying on top of my school and TpT goals. It’s called Bullet Journaling — have you heard of it?
The book is called a Bullet Journal or BuJo for short. All you need is a blank notebook and a pen. You use it for anything you want — calendar, any kind of list (food, gift, books to read, etc., yearly goals). Really anything can be put into it because it’s your journal. The lists can be bulleted or boxed, and every time something is accomplished, the bullet is crossed off. I love that it keeps everything in one nice spot, it’s a place where I can doodle and harness my creative side, and it’s so nice to look at that I don’t get all stressed out when I see my endless to-do list.
If you are the type of person who makes to-do lists, loves to doodle or read/draw inspirational quotes, and loves trying to get and stay organized… then this if for you. I love to draw but really never give myself time to sit down and sketch like I used to. I’ve been doodling in my bullet journal, and it’s nice to get back in touch with my creative side. I also have all my most important tasks on hand at all times, in one cute little book. Here are some pages from my BuJo:
I hope this post has provided you with some helpful ideas and inspiration! Wishing you a wonderful 2016.
Sue Cahalane is an elementary school science teacher in central NJ near the beach. She has an M.S. in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and completed three years of graduate work towards her Ph.D. in the same areas. She was a research scientist at Schering-Plough pharmaceutical company and left to complete her teaching certifications in the areas of general and science education. She has been teaching hands-on science for over 20 years and says she has the best job on earth! Her hands-on lesson plans can be found at her TpT store, Sue Cahalane from Science for Kids.