The Story Behind the Logo

I'm excited to be linking up with Art with Jenny K. today.  She posed a great question...
What's the story behind your logo?  

I love learning more about teacher-authors on TpT and I'm nuts about graphic design, so I'm even more excited to read others' stories about their logos.  I wish that I had a super cool story about the design of my logo to share, but alas, it's just a classic tale of trial and error.

It began with the decision to name my TpT store Brain Waves Instruction.  I had a few other ideas like Flourish Files and Teacher's Pet, but I finally settled on Brain Waves Instruction because I liked the idea of my resources activating brains in other teachers' classrooms.

Next, I tried to design a logo that looked like some actual brain waves.  It looked like this.

I liked it, but I didn't love it.  So, I tried these guys...

None of them worked.

That's when I paired it WAY back and created a single, simple wave.

Since creating the logo, I've had fun changing the wave colors to coordinate with different products and seasons - like an orange logo on a Halloween resource.

Like I said wrote, the logo design process was truly just trial and error.  A year after I created it, I'm still happy with it.  Maybe the moral here is that simpler is better.

Off to read about all the other TpT logo inceptions!

Celebrating Martin Luther King Day

MLK Day, Martin Luther King Day Lesson, MLK Activity

Like a lot of teachers, I love to teach students to analyze a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to celebrate MLK Day...however, it's not his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.  Don't get me wrong, I love King's "I Have a Dream Speech."  I mean, it's amazing.  However, I've found that by the time students get to me in middle school, they've been exposed to the speech several times.  So, instead of teaching King's most famous speech, I like to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. each year with a short unit on King's speech, "What is Your Life's Blueprint?"  

MLK Lesson

Have you ever read or heard the speech?  If so, you know that it was given by King just six months before his assassination to a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia.  In his speech he asks students to consider their life's blueprint.  Their plan for success in life.  Then, he outlines a few elements that should be part of their blueprints including a strong belief in their "somebodiness", determination to do their very best, and a strong work ethic.

Every year when I read the part where he says, "If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures.  Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music.  Sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera.  Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry," I tear up a little bit.  His message is so beautiful and so very important.

In my classroom, students study the speech with a 2-3 day mini-unit that has students building historical background on segregation, Jim Crow Laws, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Civil Rights Movement before reading the speech.  Then, students read a biographical passage on Martin Luther King.  Finally, students do a close reading of the speech as they first react to the speech, then make connections and analyze the speech, and ultimately reflect on the speech.

MLK Day Lesson

The interactive elements designed for the unit certainly keep students motivated and engaged.  However, I truly believe that King's timeless message is what helps my students appreciate and honor Martin Luther King each January.  His message is clear...

It's a message worth teaching year after year.

If you'd like to learn more about the Interactive Notebook Resource or would prefer a more traditional version of the mini-unit, you can check them out here (interactive notebook) and here (student packet).

Here's another way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in the classroom!  It's a 5-day unit that addresses many critical ELA skills as students develop a deep understanding and connection to Martin Luther King, Jr.  The unit is based on a nonfiction passage about King.

While studying about King, students practice critical skills including reading comprehension, identifying nonfiction text features, participating in group discussions, analyzing a quote, cooperative learning and writing.

Teach students all about Martin Luther King, Jr. with this set of fun and engaging lessons!

The activities are interactive, engaging, and educational.  If you'd like to learn more about the Martin Luther King, Jr. mini-unit, you can check it out here.
 Martin Luther King Unit

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

And if you get a chance, please...

Lucky Liebster Award

My TpT friends, Jackie at Room 213 and Sherri at Literary Sherri, nominated me for a Liebster Award for newbie bloggers.  It's an award that is given to bloggers by bloggers, and I'm psyched to be answering the 11 questions associated with the award.  So here goes...

1.  Why and how long ago did you start blogging?  
The blog you're reading this moment has been in existence since early 2014.  I started it to share ideas with middle school teachers.  However, I spent a couple of years blogging on a fun collaborative blog with my friends on Naptime Notebook.  It's a blog filled with crafts, recipes, travels, and lots of fun adventures.  You can read our most popular post about my son's Lego closet here.

2.  What is one word that sums up the heart of my blog? 
I'm breaking the rules here (such a rebel) and giving two words...MIDDLE SCHOOL.  My heart has always been in middle school, so it makes sense that my blog's heart would be there, too.

3.  Is there something you learned late in your blog journey that you wished you knew before?
Yes, when I first started blogging I never assigned "properties" to each of my images.  Now, when I have a blog image, I make sure to title it with key, searchable words and phrases.  

4.  What is your favorite pastime other than blogging?
I love home decorating and design!  

5.  How many hours a week do you dedicate to your blog?
Well, probably not enough hours.  I'd guess a couple.  However, I'm planning to post more often in the coming months...fingers crossed!

6.  What category of blog posts do you like the most?
Probably classroom management posts.  I love sharing ideas that have helped me to create a structured and super fun classroom. 

7.  Where does your blog inspiration come from?
Actually, a lot of my products in my TpT store inspire a blog post.  For instance, my love of infographics led to me creating an infographic product which led to a blog post confessing my love of infographics.

8.  Which of your posts are you most proud of?
This one...

9.  Is there a post you've been planning to do, but you've been postponing?
I have a running list of possible posts, but there's not a post that I'm necessarily avoiding or postponing...they're just in the que.

10.  What is your favorite aspect of blogging?
If you're a blogger, you already know this, but blogging can be a lot of work.  My favorite part is always pressing 'PUBLISH'.  It makes all the work seem totally worth it.  

11.  Which idea from my nominators' blogs would I like to try?

I'm nuts about Room 213's blog post about Getting More Engagement with a No-Hands Policy.  In it, she provides several ways to increase student attention during instruction.  It's a must-read!

Literary Sherri fulfills her namesake is this great post about simple ways to help struggling readers.  Check it to see how you can make resources more accessible for struggling readers.

Finally, I'd like to nominate the following blogs/bloggers for the Liebster Award:

If you'd like to accept the Liebster Award, here are the next steps...
1.  Follow the blogger that nominated you.  Give a shout-out with a link back to this post.
2.  Answer the same 11 questions above.
3.  Nominate 11 blogs of your choice that each have fewer than 200 followers.
4.  Let your nominees know that they've been nominated and provide them with your link to a post so that they can accept it.
5.  Send your nominator a link to your post so that she can learn more about you as well!

Thanks for reading and especially for the nominations Jackie and Sherri!

Teaching "A Christmas Carol" - A Favorite Holiday Tradition

I'm linking up with the Secondary Smorgasbord today, and I couldn't be happier.

There are a bunch of secondary teacher-authors participating. So, be sure to check them all out at ELA Buffet's blog and Desktop Learning Adventures. This month's theme is TRADITIONS. I thought I'd share one of my favorite instructional traditions for this time of year.

If you're a middle school teacher, you know that there's a wonderful (and complicated) dance that goes on in the middle school classroom. It's a tango between elementary school and high school.

Middle Schoolers are caught right in the middle of this dance.

In the classroom, I've found that students yearn for many of the elements of an elementary classroom - crafts, interactive projects, centers, and stories. Yet...they feel an intense pull to be "over" those things and act more high-school-ish. With that in mind, I love to teach units that tap into the learning that they loved when they were younger and disguise it into a unit that seems much more sophisticated. That's where my yearly unit of "A Christmas Carol" comes in. It's the perfect combination of fun and rigor. It's a traditional story that I love to make a yearly tradition in my classroom.


In the end, we have a lot less of this...

And a lot more of this...

It's a tradition worth keeping!  If you'd like to give it a try in your classroom, you can check it out here.

Infographic Freebie

There’s something about an infographic that makes my heart sing. Maybe it’s the little icons sprinkled across the page.  Or the graphs with pictures?  Could it be the bold colors and unique typography? It's probably all of that and the fact that an infographic is a super fast way to present complex information.  It’s like taking a vitamin instead of eating the entire salad.

My love of all things infographics got me thinking that it would be fun for students to create one of their own.  But, since creating an infographic can be kind of time-consuming, I figured I could make a template that students could populate with information.  The problem was, I wasn't quite sure what information students should present with their infographics. And then it occurred to could create an infographic about their year.  Kind of like a ‘Year in Review’.  So, that led me to create this new freebie:

First, students complete a reflection about their lives.

Then, they fill in their infographic with information from their reflection.

The end result is a classroom full of personalized infographics.  
For an infographic-lover like me, what’s better than that?

If you’re interested in this fun and FREE resource, just click here:

The Power of the Positive Phone Call

I don't know about you, but I totally geek-out about classroom management ideas all the time.  I love implementing ideas, systems, and procedures that help to successfully manage a classroom.  I spend a lot of time setting standards and procedures in my classroom each day/week/month/quarter/year.  Why?  Well, I obsess over classroom management because I believe that without it, even the best lesson taught by the best teacher is absolutely meaningless because if the students aren't engaged, behaving, and paying attention what's the point?  

There’s a lot that goes into classroom management, but one of my favorite tools for reinforcing great behavior is the 
Positive Phone Call.  

How does it work? just call up a student’s parent and say something really nice about their child.  That’s it.  OK, it’s not rocket science, but it is one of the very best things I do to build positive, productive relationships with my students and their families.

Why does it work?  It works because it’s all about relationships.  It’s disarming for a parent to receive a phone call from a teacher.  It’s even more shocking when you say, “I’m calling to tell you something wonderful about your child.”  Every parent wants to hear good things about their child and every child wants to be recognized for doing good things.  

I do have a few tips and tricks that have worked for me...

1. Make it a standard practice.

Generally, I make positive phone calls once a week. I've created a tracking sheet just for positive phone calls and other positive communication with parents. I reference it when deciding which student to highlight. It's also great as a parent contact log when meeting with an administrator or even during parent conferences.

CLICK HERE for a FREE PDF of this log

2. Recognize a variety of students, but not too many at once.

When making my weekly calls, I like to choose boys and girls, over-achievers and kids trying their very best. I also only call 2-3 parents per class. This helps keep the positive phone calls novel and special.

3. Report out specific and genuine positive behaviors.

I make it a point to share very specific reasons for calling parents. It's nice to avoid generalities like, "Your son is such a nice kid," and say, "It was so impressive when Josh volunteered to help a student that was absent catch up on the material he missed," instead.

4. Be prepared to leave a message.

A lot of times parents don't pick up the phone when I call. That means that I'm often forced to leave a message. I've learned the hard way (imagine very long, rambling messages) to write a quick script for leaving messages.

5. Vary the way you report good news.

While I love making positive phone calls, I also like to switch up the way I share good news about students. Sending home postcards is super quick and easy. I even love sending parents a quick email every now and then, too.

My favorite day to make positive phone calls is on Fridays. Talking to parents about their kids and recognizing the really awesome students that I have sets the tone for a great weekend. I also love the secret smiles exchanged between the students' whose parents I called and I on Monday mornings. It sets the week up for success. It’s pretty great!

Thanks for stopping by!

Mary Beth

Meet and Teach e-Books!

Literary Sherri and Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy and I have been super busy compiling 3 FREE Meet and Teach e-books profiling SECONDARY teacher-authors and sharing print-and-teach resources from 25 TpT stores in each e-book.  The e-books center around ELA, Math & Science, and Humanities (Social Studies, Art, Foreign Language, and more ELA).  In them you'll find a 'meet' page completed by each seller that includes responses to 5 prompts.  You'll get to learn a bit about each seller like their favorite book or things that make them happy.  Then, each seller provided you with a 1-page resource that you can use in your classroom tomorrow.  These e-books are filled with awesome teachers, little insights into each sellers' life, and resources that are easy to implement in your classroom.  They're pretty amazing.  Of course, you don't have to take my word for it, you can find them here:

ELA e-Book
Humanities E-Book

Math & Science E-Book

 Download each free e-book and you'll get a chance to meet and teach resources from these teacher-authors: 

Lesson Extenders to Save the Day (or lesson)

If you’re like me, sometimes the timing of a lesson goes completely wrong. 

There have been moments in my classroom where a lesson went really well…and then…it ended early.  There have been times in my classroom when a lesson went completely wrong…and NEEDED to end early.  There have even been fire drills, assemblies, or periods of time after state assessments, when the classroom had “down time” – otherwise known as “let’s-act-crazy-time” in the mind of a middle schooler.  Sometimes the unplanned-for-minutes can be filled with homework or reading an independent novel, but more often than not, I found myself playing an educational game with my students. 

Recently, I compiled some of my students’ favorite games into a single resource.  I call it my ‘Fun in Five’ pack and it’s perfect for pulling out and occupying students’ minds when a lesson ends early and soaking up every instructional minute with students.

You can find it here.

They work great in my middle school classroom because they’re all simple.

They don’t require any prep.

They cross multiple disciplines.

Some even encourage team work and cooperation.

Oh, and the best part is that they’re FREE for you! 

If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can even compile them all together into a set of lesson extenders.  I just copied the activities on colored paper and then glued each activity onto a piece of colorful scrapbook paper.

school games, learning game, classroom fun, lesson extensions

Then, I put them through a laminator.

classroom fun, learning games

 Finally, I punched a hole in each corner and used a clasp to hold them all together.

lesson extenders, fun in five, classrom games, educational games
They’re perfect to hang on my white board and I’ve even left them behind for a substitute.  Oh, and if your observation lesson ends a little early, you can always use one of these lesson extenders and show off how prepared and smart you are J. 


I hope you find them as useful as I have.  There is one warning though, the Paper Airplane Challenge lesson extender is a huge hit!  Be prepared to get a lot of requests for that one!

Thanks for stopping by!
Brain Waves Instruction



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