Saturday, July 4, 2015

Maps and I start my school year I just got to experience that feeling where a HUGE project that was started a year ago is FINISHED!  Seriously--I may have actually twirled in my office.  About a year ago, I started jotting down some of the fun projects I do every year in September to kick off my mapping unit.  I do not like to use a lot of fill in the blank worksheets (shocking!), and we don't have a textbook that covers these things.  I dug in, bought some clip art, and started the project.

And then I stopped.

It was too big.  Too huge.  Too frustrating.  I closed it down...opened it up a few months later and tried to get going on it--but quit again.

Here's the thing...I love this unit.  I love these projects.  I know they improve my students' understanding about the world, our country, and even their state.  They love the projects...the art...the challenge activities.  I love having everything all together--from bulletin board letters to essential questions to vocabulary cards!  SOOOOOO....

I opened it up last week and worked and worked and worked.  I got frustrated.  I called and whined to my friend.  I whined to some online friends.  I got no sympathy--so I got back to work.  And....


It's finished!  250 pages of blood, sweat, tears, and a LOT of soda, Cheetos, and frozen Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls.  So what in the world is it?  250 pages you say?  Yeah...make sure you read this.  It DOES have 250 pages--but 100 of them are state pages...2 different map options for each of 50 states.  So it REALLY is just about 150 pages...some of which are bulletin board letters...some are lesson ideas...some are reproducibles...some are full of photographs...some are maps.  I am really hoping the preview gives a clear vision of what is included--I certainly don't want people to feel misled!

So...I thought I'd show you a few things I have included--and then I invite you to download the preview for a bit more information.  To start, the resource is organized into sections with divider pages like this:
I have a section with mapping basics like using a compass rose, vocabulary, and so on.  I have a section about world geography (continents/oceans), a section about landforms, one about U.S. geography, and then a final section with some resources to explore your state geography.  Each section has lesson ideas, assessments, interactive notebook ideas, and more.  The resource is "art heavy" because I really think students can learn so much more by MAKING maps than by simply looking at them!  Here are a few of my favorite projects from the resource!
Seriously...we spend a week inventing our continents to make our "world". The amount of creativity, teamwork, and effort makes this one of my FAVORITES!
OK...I know interactive notebooks are "trendy" right now...but I have a HUGE problem with a lot of the cut, paste, and color resources out there that really aren't anything more than glorified worksheets.  This resource has some selected interactive notebook ideas sprinkled throughout...but only in places where I feel they help the resource....
This is another of  my students' favorite activities...we learn more about our STATE geography as well as the states/bodies of water that border us.  Keep it simple, or go into more depth.  We hang these outside our classroom and get TONS of compliments!
If you want to try some things that are a little bit new and different, this resource might be for you.  If you are looking for an easy, make a bunch of copies, and let the students work independently--this is probably not for you! it the link.  See what you think...hopefully the preview and the description paint a picture for you.  There are lots of great projects to use at the start of  the year--and to get students working and talking together.  If you are interested, I will keep this on sale until I leave for Vegas on Tuesday!  More about THAT later!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Math Is Real Life: A River Locks System!

It's the first Wednesday of July which means it's time for our monthly linky - Math IS Real Life!! If you want to see how the linky works, or just want other real world math ideas, check out our Pinterest Board of all the posts so that you can look back and find some great ideas and REAL pictures to use in your classroom!
If you are linking up, please include the below picture AND a link back to all four of our blogs - feel free to use the 2nd image and the links listed below!


A monthly REAL WORLD math blog link-up hosted by

During my last week of school, we take the students on a local field trip where they get the chance to learn a little bit more about the history of our town.  One stop along the way is a visit to the "locks", a part of a 39 mile long system along one of the main rivers in our state.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with locks systems, "locks" are controlled areas of rivers that allow boaters to safely navigate extreme variations in elevation. 

The elevation change from the beginning of this 39 mile long system is 180 feet...which may not seem like a big deal, but this is about the same drop as Niagara Falls--just spread out over a longer distance.  These locks allow the boats to go around the dams and travel safely.

To allow boaters to travel this distance, a set of 17 locks was created 150 years ago to allow the boats to move from one elevation to the next.  The dams along the river allow the communities to harness the amazing water power of the river.

Check out the pictures below of the students being able to operate the locks (this is the second largest manual locks system in the country!)...students were fascinated with how they could open the doors to fill the channel with water, and then to open the OTHER door to watch the water drain and lower the water level so the boats can safely exit at the new elevation.  Each lock lowers the elevation of the water about 10 feet.

These are some pretty substantial gears! 

The students were able to open the gates to begin the process of equalizing the water levels...
You can really see the changing water levels on the top right picture...the students were fascinated to see how much water came pouring through those gates!
The students had all sorts of great "math" questions on our trip...from how many boats can fit in the locks at how much does it how many gallons of water are in there (sadly, the locktender couldn't tell us), to how long it takes to navigate the system. It was a great math/science experience for everyone!

Don't forget to check out the other MIRL posts below! Check back over the next few days - more will be added!!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Texts on Tuesdays: The Reading Strategies Book and More!

It's time for another "Texts on Tuesdays" post!  Today I would like to share with you two books by a leading expert in reading instruction, Jennifer Serravallo.  She has written a new book ALL about reading strategies so I knew I had to have it.  When I saw the description, I knew I also wanted to have her "Literacy Playbook" for grades 3-6, so I read that one first.  

The Literacy Playbook is all about collecting meaningful data to guide reading instruction--and how to do both.  I think what struck me the most was how Serravallo focuses on a whole gamut of reading assessment ideas--and she pays particular attention to reading "habits" and stresses how important it is to be mindful of those along with other assessment tools.  It's hard to teach a child to read when s/he struggles with focus or picking "Just Right" books.  The book addresses the four steps of her process--collect data, analyze data, interpret data/establish a goal, and create an action plan.  Each step is thoroughly explored and should give you plenty to think about.

So after I read "The Literacy Teacher's Playbook", it was time to dig into the next book--the one that is literally FULL of lesson ideas, "The Reading Strategies Book".  Whether you are working with emergent readers or readers working to deepen comprehension, this "toolbox" of reading lessons is so thorough--there really is something for anyone who teaches reading.  From anchor chart ideas (with real pictures!) to "teacher talk"...these 300 (yes, 300) lessons are perfect for whole class, small group, or individual conferences.  Many of the lessons are familiar friends, but the way the book is orgnaized makes it all worth it to have it in one place--especially the way the lessons are organized by "goal".  Each lesson even gives recommended reading levels that are the best fit!  I love that I can get ideas for lessons for my universal instruction AND lessons for my intervention groups in the SAME RESOURCE!  

Here's the next best thing--I contacted the author and asked if she would be willing to answer a few questions for me and for my readers and she agreed!  My interview with her follows below--I hope you enjoy her added tidbits!  Have you read either book?  I'd love you to chime in below with your thoughts and ideas...and if you have any other questions for her I just MAY be able to get some answers!

HERE WE GO--an interview with Jennifer Serravallo

1.  How do you recommend teachers who are in a more traditional, textbook-based literacy instruction setting make sure to address the more "affective" sides of reading--nurturing a love of reading, picking quality "just right" books, and so on?
I think most textbook-based literacy instruction includes some independent reading as well as some reading aloud to children as part of the literacy block. What I'd recommend doing is replacing materials for the independent reading with real literature that either comes from the classroom library (if you're lucky enough to have a well-stocked library), from the school or town library, or with books they've brought from home. Often I find the materials that are included with the textbook series are not authentic literature and are often less engaging than books children would select themselves that match their interests. Also, I'd ask teachers to consider the books they love, and the interests of their students, and to select read alouds that will be highly engaging. They can then involve children in discussing the books and teachers can model their own thinking as they read, perhaps using some of the strategies and prompts I've included in the book. These two ideas (changing independent reading materials and changing the read aloud) are just a start, but I often find they are important first steps, and are often doable from a time and schedule perspective.
2. You include a "hierarchy" when choosing goals for students. When you find a student who struggles in many areas--reading "habits", reading fluency, reading comprehension--how do you make those tough decisions about where to start first with instruction--especially when that student is well below grade level?
I use the hierarchy to guide me and almost always start with whatever goal is closest to the top of the list. I'll work on that for 4-6 weeks, then move on to another one. Once all (or most) of the goals are accomplished, that's usually an indication the child is ready for more challenging texts.
3.  When a student is well below grade level in the upper elementary grades, what suggestions do you have to build confidence and willingness to use "just right" texts when the others in the class are reading Percy Jackson and other challenging texts?
A couple of things. One, it's crucial to get to know your kids well (interests, hobbies, favorite TV shows, etc) and know your children's literature in order to match children to books. If teachers are readers who read children's literature, they can recommend a book that has elements of the desired one that are more readable (eg. Secrets of Droon instead of Harry Potter). Teri Lesesne's book Book Ladders can also be a helpful reference for middle school teachers to find like-books at varying levels of complexity. Also, I think it's important to invest in hi-lo books by publishers such as Stone Arch that will have content that appeals to them but written at a much easier level.
4.  I love your focus on writing about reading.  Do you find that some teachers neglect this and have tendencies toward moving students to more difficult texts when their writing isn't quite up to par yet?  What words of wisdom do you have about this issue?
Thank you! I think kids are often evaluated by their abilities to articulate their ideas in writing. I also think learning to use writing as a tool to develop ideas and as a strategy to hold on to thinking could help a lot of children with their comprehension of texts. I think it deserves a place in our curriculum, and also a place in our goal-setting with individual children.

So there you have it!  Two GREAT books for any intermediate literacy teachers...if you want to see more about them, here are the links so you can take a closer look!

Stop by tomorrow for a new "Math Is Real Life" blog post!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Made It: Sub Folder Refresh

It's another week of joining up with 4th Grade Frolics for...
Make sure to click the logo after you read to go to ALL the other great posts!
This week was STILL crazy--so my "Made Its" are minimal.  I love to link up anyway because this linky keeps me accountable all summer long!
This week I decided it was time to update my 7 year old sub folder...I think you'll see why.

I decided to make it a binder instead--so I got started on my updates!

I still have some work to do--I want to put in some true "emergency" plans--in case I just cannot get in to leave plans.  At least it's started!

I've been pretty slow getting going on new products this summer--I've just been so busy with my son and baseball.  I started to update an old product, but it turned into something totally new.  

When I meet with small intervention groups, I always feel kind of "scattered" and unfocused.  I wanted to create a set of learning targets that really applied to all areas of reading...from reading "habits", to accuracy, to fluency, to comprehension, to responding to reading--all areas that could be trouble for students.  I made this set of targets in full page goals as well as in bookmark size to give to students.  I am going to print the full page versions to put in a binder so I can display it right at my group table and then will have each student use the matching bookmark as we work through that skill.  I tried to keep it organized by color coding the background to match the category of goal so the purple goals are related to fluency, the blue ones are related to reading habits, red and green are fiction and nonfiction comprehension--and more!  See what you think!  I'll even leaveit on sale for a few days in case you want to give it a try.  

Thanks for stopping by!  Make sure to click the 4th Grade Frolics button above to check out all the other great posts--and leave some love if you find an idea you think is particularly inspiring!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Texts on Tuesdays: Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics

It's time for another "Texts on Tuesdays" professional book highlight, and today I wanted to share with you one of the most important professional books out there for teachers who really want to be teaching for deep understanding.

As we get more and more on our plates, it becomes easier and easier to look for a quick fix...a "ready to go" resource that will tell us exactly what to do.  Here's the deal--that doesn't exist.  If you are truly looking at your students, their strengths, and their needs--no one book can tell you what to do each and every day.  THAT BEING SAID...

If you are not familiar with the work of Van de Walle, I urge you to invest some time into his work.  Although his book aren't going to give you a quick fix for all your math teaching woes, his book CAN serve as an incredible resource for you as you plan.  Not sure if you are using best practice to teach multiplication?  Pull out Van de Walle and read that section.  In addition to TEACHING you about best practice in math instruction, his books are filled with teaching tips and lesson ideas--both for whole class and to use in intervention groups.

His books are divided into grade level bands--K-2, 3-5, and 6-8.  Whether you teach in a Common Core state or have other rigorous standards, the books are  goldmine of helpful ideas.  As you can see, I use mine all the time!  By the way, this is the old cover--the new version has been updated and reorganized, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to bite the bullet and splurge on the new one just so I can see how they compare.  

The first chapter explains some key instructional philosophies which should be the foundation of your math instruction.  The following chapters cover everything from mastering basic facts to fractions to geometric thinking--and more.  What is key is that the book EXPLAINS how students learn, the "big ideas" that are critical to each concept, and misconceptions that may surface.  The books aren't cheap--but I refer to mine all the time.  If you want to see them up close, here are the links.  This is a "must own", in my opinion.  I've had mine for about 5 years and use it constantly.  Thanks for stopping by for "Texts on Tuesdays!"


Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Made It: New Videos and a MMI FAIL

It's another week of joining up with 4th Grade Frolics for...
Make sure to click the logo after you read to go to ALL the other great posts!
This week was a little CRAZY with my son's baseball team making it to the state championship was very exciting--and they came so close to the title!  I did have time for a few "made its" this week despite the chaos.
Last week my "Made It" showed my video about my classroom library organization.  This week I added TWO new videos to my "channel"  If you want to subscribe to my channel, click HERE and then you can listen to my weird voice whenever you want.  This week's videos share about how I take status of the class with my students and WHY I do it, and the second video talks a bit about a different approach to math instruction.  Click the library picture to view that video or the other images to go to THOSE videos. second "Made It" was a total fail.  I saw this cute little chipboard mailbox at a craft store and I thought to myself, "Self, you could TOTALLY decorate that to match your classroom." So my little self bought it and brought it home.  You see, I always have some sort of way for my students to slip me a note about troubles they are having...questions they have...if they want to tell me something that's going on--and so on.  Perfect, right?
The blank canvas... 
The brilliant idea to Mod Podge paper over the top... 
Right.  Those edges aren't a problem.  Sigh.

Must make the inside presentable...right?
 AND THEN...I closed the door to make sure it all fit correctly...took a picture.  And. Left. It. Overnight.
No words needed. 
So this is my best attempt to fix the massive FAIL.  I hate it.  I just hate it.  I am going to leave the craftiness to the rest of you.
So....needless to say--I should stick to what I am better at.  BUYING PREMADE STUFF.  :)  Hope you all have a wonderful week...make sure to stop by tomorrow for a "Texts on Tuesdays" post about about math resource EVERY teacher should have in his/her collection!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bright Ideas: Book Binding!

Today's "bright ideas" post is a super simple one--but for those of you doing tons of professional reading this summer, you may not have thought of this!  Did you know that you can take books to copy centers like "Kinko's" or even Office Max and get them spiral bound?  For a few dollars, you can stop trying to pin down the sides of the book while you work!  This is especially great if you are taking notes.  Gone are the days of using two other books to weigh down the sides--and no more broken spines!

I love being able to fold my books back so each page lays flat--thought you might want to try it if you haven't!  It's a simple bright idea--but a useful one!
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Don't forget to check out all the other "Bright Ideas" posts listed below.  If you see something you like, please leave a comment.  We bloggers LOVE to hear from you!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I Teach 4th! Check out my post today--Status of the Class

Many of you have read my posts about why I find taking "Status of the Class" to be so important.  Today I have shared my thoughts on a new collaborative blog...iTeach 4th!  Click the logo to take you to my post today!
Don't forget to read through to the bottom where I link to my new YouTube channel--with a new video all about taking status of the class and my system for doing so!
Hope you like it!  More videos coming soon...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Texts on Tuesdays: An Interview with Laney Sammons about "Guided Math" and more!

It's time for this summer's second "Texts on Tuesdays", and I am THRILLED to be able to share with you some words of wisdom from Laney Sammons.
If you are unfamiliar with Laney's work, she is the author of a number of professional books for math teachers--including "Guided Math" which gives teachers everything they need to better understand the framework of "Guided Math", its components, and the strategies needed to successfully begin to implement this approach in their classrooms.  Laney has also written "Building Mathematical Comprehension", a book that makes the important connections between how students learn literacy and language and how relevant this is to math instruction.  Her book "Guided Math Conferences" is geared toward providing teachers with better tools to help them maximize their conferring time.  Links to these three books follow the interview, and I encourage you to check them out!

Some teachers in my district did a book study on "Guided Math" a few years ago, and I know it was a game changer for many teachers and gave them the nudge to start to break away from whole class instruction and try a new approach.  That being said, change is hard and sometimes our fear of big change keeps us stagnant.  My first question to Laney was as follows:

"I think when many people here the terms "Math Workshop" or "Guided Math", they may panic a little and believe that changing from their current practice to a new format is simply too daunting. What advice would you give a teacher who is just trying to dip their toes into restructuring their math period?" 
Laney Sammons: Anytime we attempt something new it can be a little daunting.  This is especially true when we know the importance of what we do in the classroom.  Our work impacts so many young learners.  We want our work in the classroom to be both effective and efficient—for the sake of our students and for our own sanity.
My first advice would be to those who already use Guided Reading in their classrooms.  Although there are differences, knowing how to establish a workshop structure and teach students routines and procedures are essential to both Guided Reading and Guided Math.  Try to incorporate the same routines and procedures for both workshops.  Build on what you are already doing.  
Next, especially for those who have never implemented Reading Workshop in their classrooms, it is important to envision how you want the Math Workshop to operate. Talk with other teachers to see what kinds of routines and procedures that they have established.  Remember, you can’t teach your students how to behave in a workshop setting unless you know what your expectations are.
Once you have developed routines and procedures, take time to teach them.  Share them with students and provide lots of practice time.  And, when you actually begin, do not hesitate to call a halt to it if students are not following the established routines.  But, don’t give up.  Reteach and practice again.  Students enjoy math workshop and, given the chance, will do what they need to in order to keep it going.
Finally, do not feel as if you have to dive in all at once.  Believe that you and your students can do it. Give it a try. Modify what is not working, if needed. And, give it another try.  Make it work for you and your students.  It is well worth the effort.
"In your book "Building Mathematical Comprehension", you give many different strategies for infusing more opportunities for language use during math.  Many math "experts" today are suggesting anywhere from 50-60% of our math instruction time should involve student discourse. What are your thoughts about incorporating written and oral language into 
math class?"
Laney Sammons: As you would expect from having read my book, I think mathematical discourse is hugely important for many reasons. New studies have emerged linking the understanding of mathematical vocabulary with mathematical proficiency.  For those of us who have been involved in literacy instruction as well as mathematics instruction, that is hardly surprising.  Discourse provides experience in understanding and using appropriate mathematical vocabulary.  Sometimes just understanding mathematical terms opens the eyes of students to an awareness of new areas of mathematical thinking.
Also, when you consider what we have to do to before we share our mathematical thinking, that in and of itself is of such value.  We have to listen to the comments of others, review what we know about a mathematical topic, consider how what we know applies to what is being discussed, choose what ideas we will share, organize our thoughts so those ideas can be put into words (either written or spoken), and then finally share our ideas with others.  So, without even considering other beneficial aspects of discourse—such as listening to the ideas of others and learning about different points of views, engaging in discourse positively impacts learning.
Mathematical discourse is promoted throughout the Guided Math framework, especially through math huddles conversations, small-group lessons, math conferences, and balanced assessments.
My belief in the value of mathematical discourse by students is why I am convinced that small-group instruction is so valuable. With small-group lessons, students assume a much greater responsibility for sharing their thinking—through both “turn and talk” (but closely monitored by the teacher) and sharing mathematical thinking with the group as a whole.  The teacher teaches with less talk while students are expected to engage in not only hands-on learning, but also minds-on (expressed orally or in writing).  Teachers pose carefully crafted questions to encourage students’ mathematical thinking, learning, and communication. Students who are reluctant to speak in a large group setting are frequently much more willing to talk in this more intimate setting.
In order to encourage mathematical discourse and build a community of mathematicians in our classrooms, we have to explicitly teach our students how to converse.  Many of our students never engage in these kinds of conversations outside the classroom.  They have to learn to be respectful of each other, to actively listen (not just be quiet when someone else is talking), and to respond with relevance to the ideas others express.

One of the biggest complaints that teachers "in the trenches" face is making sure students who are not working directly with the teacher ARE  doing meaningful work.  Your books are full of great ideas, but how would you recommend that teachers go about evaluating whether or not these independent or collaborative activities are meaningful ways for students to spend their math time?
Laney Sammons: I think there are two issues here.  One is whether the tasks themselves are meaningful and the other is whether students are held accountable for the work they do independently during Math Workshop.
Addressing the first issue—I believe that math workstation tasks should focus primarily on building computational fluency and on the review and maintenance of previously mastered concepts and skills.  These are meaningful tasks that are valuable to student learning.
We never seem to have enough time for activities and tasks that help students build computational fluency, and students can often complete them independently. So, they are ideal tasks to be assigned at a work station.
Math Workshop is not the best time to assign continued practice on a new concept or skill.  By assigning practice to help students review and maintain what they have already learned rather than practice newly taught topics, teachers avoid having students becoming frustrated and wanting to interrupt small-group lessons or completing the work incorrectly.  If these learners could already complete the work for the current lesson independently with accuracy, it would obviously not be the focus of the current lesson—so why should we expect students to successfully engage in this kind of work independently in Math Workshop?  There were times when I was teaching, if students demonstrated mastery in a small-group lesson, that I would ask students to finish up their current work independently (if I was convinced that they had mastered it) and then join Math Workshop, but it was not an assigned workstation task.
Assigning practice and review workstation tasks offers additional benefits. Instead of interrupting instructional sequences with periodic review of previously mastered standards, students can practice them on an ongoing basis providing what Marzano refers to as distributed practice.  It is this kind of practice—coming back repeatedly—that leads to understanding in students’ permanent memory.  For learning, it is more effective to practice in smaller chunks spread out over time than to complete one big chunk of practice and then move on.  Instead of assigning all the practice problems at the time a lesson is taught, teachers can have students work with those that will allow the teacher to best assess student learning and save the others to be assigned periodically as independent work during Math Workshop.
I believe that with mindful attention to the assignment of math workstation tasks, they are meaningful and worth the effort by students.
To address the second issue—it is obvious that students must understand that they are accountable for being on task during Math Workshop and for doing their best.  In addition, teachers need to be able to assess the work of students.  
Are students completing the work they are asked to do and are they completing it with accuracy? Some tasks, such as the distributed practice tasks described earlier, might be graded, but what about games to reinforce math concepts and skills or other less documented tasks?   One method of accountability that I have found to be useful is having students record their work in a math journal or recording sheet.  Even games can be recorded turn by turn.  For example, if students play Addition War with number cards, students would record the cards drawn and how the sums compared with each turn (e.g., 5 + 9 > 8 + 2 or 14 > 10).
At the end of Math Workshop, these logs recording the work of students might be placed on top of each student’s desk open to that day’s work so that the teacher can check it briefly for accuracy and to ensure that enough work was completed.  Instead of checking it at the end of the class, some teachers have students turn in their logs open to the appropriate page, and then quickly check it at the end of the day.  
If teachers notice that students have not completed enough work, they can follow-up with those students. Likewise, if they notice many errors, they can check to see if students have misconceptions or if they just weren’t taking the work seriously and doing their best.

I would like to give a huge "thank you" to Laney Sammons for taking the time to answer my questions and share her insight with all of us.  I hope her thoughts got you thinking about your math instruction--it sure got my brain humming!  Interested in learning more?  Check out these links to Laney's books!

I'd love to hear from you about how YOU got started making some changes in your math instruction.  Feel free to share your ideas in the comments. Thanks for stopping by "Texts on Tuesdays!"