Monday, August 24, 2015

Creating a Climate for Problem Solving

Check out today's post over on "Primary Chalkboard"!  I share some of my thoughts about getting a year of problem solving started--and how a few key phrases can go a long way toward making a difference!  (Grab the freebies while you are there as well!)

Just click the image to take you there!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Math Workshop Tips!

Today I am blogging over at "iTeach4th" and would love for you to stop by and check out some of my math workshop tips!  Just click the image below to take you there...

Friday, August 7, 2015

Back to School Bash Day 3: Reader Tips!

It's DAY 3 of my Back to School Bash...and if this is your first day here, scroll down for the last few days of posts to learn more about what you might have missed on days 1 and 2! Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter if you haven't already...just check out the upper right corner of my blog to sign up to get exclusive freebies, teaching tips, special deals, and more. But now...

Today is my FIRST installment of "Reader Tips", a new feature on my blog where I work to collect some of the GREAT expertise from my readers on a certain topic. My first question was simply a request for back to school tips--and I think you'll agree with what you read below! If YOU want to contribute to my next "Reader Tips" post, check the end of the post for the link to click to fill out the form. I can't include everyone's ideas--but I would love to hear from you! So ready to roll? Read on!

Tips about building culture...

Jessica from Arizona writes..."On the first day of school, I have my students write me a letter about themselves and things they think I should know about them. It gets them writing, helps me get an initial writing sample, and gives a lot of insight into their lives and perspectives. Even if students do not share deeply, this exercise communicates that I care about what they have to say and want to build a relationship with them."

"Always great your students at the door. I'm not sure if that's necessarily "back to school" but is something that should be implemented starting Day 1. I always tell my kids they can give me a hug, handshake, or a high five before entering the door. It really helps monitor their attitude as they enter and if I see a student is already having a rough morning, I make an effort to have a mini conference with them where they can share what's going on if they'd like to. With those special students, this has really made a difference and it's clear to them that you care and are invested in their overall well being." (shared by Mrs. Bathman, grade 4/5 teacher)

Sarah from Kovescence of the Mind says, "Don't spend the first day going over rules, Dos and Don'ts. Have something fun and engaging. Hands on activities that get students back into gear."

"Enjoy the moments of new discovery. The details of routines and expectations will fall into place as your students see that you are there for them and want to share learning together." (from Mrs. T, 16 year teacher)
Tips about management...

Celeste writes, "Always make at least 5 extra copies of your class information packets and keep them handy. They are good to have for students who join your class during the year."

Becca (blogger at Chalkboard Creations) says, "In order to save as much time as possible on the first day of school, I print my students' names and all the subject areas on address labels. Then, when we are getting our folders and binders ready, I just hand each child a sticker with their name and the subject for them to label their belongings. I also have address labels printed with their user name and password for our school's online lesson plans. This way they never lose their password!"

Jen, another fourth grade teacher writes, "Stocking your classroom with books can be expensive. There is no way to be able to buy them all so I always try to utilize my local public library to "try out" new books and expose my students to favorites as well. I spend some time a week or two before school starts checking out books that I can put on display for back to school. These books often become favorites for my students and it helps me to know what new books to buy to add to my library at a later date. Teachers spend a lot of money on supplies for going back to school, but using the public library is free - it doesn't add to our already tight budgets!"

"On the 1st day of school, hang a brightly colored fabric for a backdrop and take 1st day of school pictures in ABC order. I use these pictures for a multitude of things. First I'll upload all of the pictures to my computer and rename them to the student name, recording their number 1st (01 Mike, 02 EmmaT, etc.) so it stays in ABC order. That night use the picture to memorize student names, quizzing yourself on their names with the file names hidden. This always makes me better prepared for Day 2 knowing most, if not all, of their names.

These pictures can also be used for various beginning-of-the-year activities and projects for display. At the end of the year I'll take another picture to include in my end of the year slide show. It's fun to see how much students have grown and changed over the school year. This year I even had one student wearing the same thing for both pictures, which was funny to see." from Megan, a reader from Chicago

Ms. BBZ, grade 2 teacher, reminds us, "Remember that simple is better! So many of us like things to be cute and beautiful and perfect, but that's not always the best use of time. Be purposeful with the ways you spend your time. If your to-do list is full of "cute" stuff, stop and ask yourself whether all those things are going to make an impact on kids' brains, or just their eyes. :) And then with the time you save, do something for YOU!"

I am constantly looking for ways to make my blog more "interactive"--and I hope some of you will make suggestions for my next "Reader Tips" post--all about your best read aloud ideas.  Want to share your favorite read aloud book and what makes it so special?  Have a suggestion for how to make your read alouds more meaningful?  Just click the image below and send me YOUR contributions--and you might see yourself "published" on my blog! back to school items are on sale through August 9, and the rafflecopter continues for a few more days. Thanks for stopping by...and come back tomorrow for the final day of my Back to School Bash!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Back to School Bash Day 2!

I promised some more fun this "Day 2" of my Back to School Bash has a number of products that are great for back to school on sale for you through August 9.  This is a special little bonus to help you with your planning!  
So what's on sale?  CHECK these out!

Don't forget to check out YESTERDAY'S POST for details about signing up for my newsletter (or check out the easy sign up in the right corner of this page).  Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Teacher Studio's Back to School BASH!

OK...first of all...if you are like me, you forgot to buy something during the sale.  I do it EVERY year-I promise myself I will be organized enough to get everything in my card ahead of time, and it didn't happen.  (Believe me, I spent plenty thought!).  In case YOU are like ME, I extended my sale one more day.  I can't get you the "bonus" discount from TpT, but my store will stay on sale one more day.

But I wanted to do more...I had to do something FUN to kick off the school year.  I know all of us are SO stressed--so let's make sure to take some time out over the next weeks to "play" a little!  Here's how this will work...

I have several days in a row with something FUN and special just for you...while these days are going on, I am going to have a HUGE giveaway going on as well.  This giveaway is a great chance for me to say "thank you" to all of you for following me, for sharing my ideas with your friends and coworkers, and for continuing to be encouraging and supportive of me and my lil blog!

This giveaway is also going to be my final big push to get people signed up for my newsletter--and the first issue will be coming out shortly so this is my chance to get as many people on board now as are interested so they don't miss the back to school edition. goes!  Click the image below if you missed the first sign up for the newsletter.  It's a way to get 3 entries into the giveaway!  I am really excited for this new way to interact with my readers, offer best practice teaching ideas, exclusive freebies, classroom tips, special deals not advertised anywhere else, and more! You even get a special freebie just for signing up!
So...without further ado...Here are the details for the giveaway!  You can enter in as many ways as you want--none are required.  If you want to share daily, you can come back and do will give you more entries!  Share with friends on email, on Facebook, on IG, or on Twitter.
Seriously...I'm pretty excited about the I'm thrilled to be able to give prizes to FIVE are the prize packages!
  • One winner of a new Kindle Fire HD
  • Two winners of $50 worth of your choice of Sit Spots
  • One winner of $25 worth of your choice of Sit Spots and $20 from Teachers Pay Teachers and $20 from my store
  • One winner of a $25 Barnes and Noble gift card plus $20 from my store
I hope you stop back all week to find some more back to school fun each day!  There will be teaching tips, freebies, sales and more!
(A remember, raffle entries are moderated and entrants not following rules will be disqualified)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, August 2, 2015've probably heard. It's a back to school sale!

It's true...the bizarre cycle that is our lives continues!  We meet a new group of students, learn about them, lose sleep about them, work 18 hours a day for them, then they leave.  We get a few weeks in the summer to recover and revamp and refresh and rebuild.  And then we start again.

To say "thanks" to all the hard working teachers out there, Teachers Pay Teachers is throwing a huge sale on August 3 and 4...and I am joining in!  There are so many amazing products on sale, and I'm joining up with my new "Chalkies" friends to share!
Today I am highlighting a few of my products that you might not want to do without this year--and this would be a great time to stock up.

So this post is going to be 100% self-promotional. I had to decide what some of my favorite products are...and it was tough!  What ARE my favorites?  I had to do some real thinking about it!
Because it is the big back to school sale at TpT, I thought I'd use this post to highlight some of my favorites and tell you why.  Again...I'm disclosing up front that this is totally self-promotional.  SIGH.  Here goes.
My number 1.  My fraction unit.  This unit literally took months and months and was a true labor of love as my students and I worked through it.  I believe it to deepen true understanding of fractions at a level no textbook I have seen provide, and I love that you can use it as a complete replacement unit or use parts of it to supplement a textbook.  

With it, my fraction word problems, and my fraction sorts, you have a month's work of quality fraction explorations.  Thanks to a loyal follower who suggested I bundle them!  I would say my fraction unit is my favorite. 

 Then it gets tricky to choose...

Another set of "favorites" are my word problem bundles because I am PASSIONATE about getting our students to do more problem solving and whether or not your have a series you love, a series you despise, or no series at all--we ALL need to have more word problems on hand to use as class warm ups, cooperative problems solving, stations, and more.  My bundles of word problems are pretty popular and I have gotten lots of feedback about what a time saver they are.  Here are a few!
Another thing I feel pretty passionate about is helping students learn to be independent readers and book lovers!  These two resources have been helpful to hundreds of teachers who are looking for new ways to keep their kids reading, to track their reading, to build excitement about books, and to realize that reading is a personal and enjoyable experience.  Both have been updated since last year...
I know lots of you have used my concept sorts over the last year, so I had to include my latest one. If you haven't tried using concept sorts--either that YOU have made or that you got from seriously HAVE to try.  It is so much fun--and you can see how much more deeply your students will think about the topics.  I have more in the works--but this one is a GREAT one for back to school because it really gets them thinking about the concept of "equals"--the foundation of SO much math work!  There are also fraction, geometry, and angle sorts available so far in my store.
In staying with a math theme, developing number sense is SO important--and many students move to the intermediate grades with a less sophisticated understanding of our place value system than we would like.  Using number limes in an open ended way has really helped me both see where my students' understanding is AND help me create lessons and practice opportunities for them. Last year I created a resource using the numbers 0-1,000 and it was a perfect thing for first quarter.  As the year went on, I realized that I wanted to do more with the higher numbers, so this resource was born!  It is a challenge for many at first, but you will see their understanding grow as you work through these and share ideas as a class. I have both sets available and on sale.
Along the same line, I feel pretty strongly about helping students learn to tackle challenging problems--even problems that may have more than one answer--so that they learn the trait of perseverance.  So often students are unwilling to take risks when they come to my class OR math has always been so easy for them that they don't know what to do when they encounter something tricky.  Thus, "Perseverance Problems" were born.  In my class I used them in a few different ways--from cooperative problem solving exercises to challenge work for some of my top students.  This is definitely one of my favorites--so check it out!
Using formative assessment is SO key to making good instructional decisions.  I found myself CONSTANTLY creating exit and entrance slips to go with my lessons--so I created this resource as a time saver!  Each one has a whole bunch of "empty" slips for you to use to tailor to your lessons--almost like graphic organizers.  New to this?  I have given suggestions for use for EACH one!  Check out the preview for me.  I use these ALL. THE.  TIME.
Finally, last year I was complaining to my friend about how my students over the years seem to lack the creativity they had years ago and we chatted and put blame on everything from TV to video games to our textbooks and so on.  I went home that night and decided to do something about it! Over the next months, 6 different "activities" were born and all 6 of them are included in this bundle.  This is rapidly becoming one of my best sellers--and my students LOVE them!  See what you think!
I also am in love my new new line of novel studies including one for the AMAZING "Fish in a Tree" book.  Have you read it?  If not, I highly highly recommend it!  

And finally, my "Maps and Globes" unit is done...this is how I start the year and it is full of projects, creative thinking, interactive notebook components, assessments, and more.  I am super proud of the level of challenge--AND the level of fun!
There!  I could keep going, but I am already embarrassed about this completely product-based post!  To make up for watching this week for even more amazing deals and opportunities.  I have already added several things to my cart for the big sale tomorrow...hope you can find some great things for your 2015-2016 school year as well.  (DON'T forget to use the BTS15 promo code!).  Finally, don't forget to provide feedback on all your previous purchases to earn you points toward NEW purchases. I have some catching up to do in that area!  Want to check out some other great deals?  Here you go!

Back to school fun continues!

Today I'm partnering with the iteachFourth blog and the Back to School in a Flash Link up that's hosting an amazing giveaway with $90 worth of products...
So today I am going to share one of my "must have" items that I use ALL THE TIME in my classroom...and I have heard from countless teachers who agree!
I have used entrance and exit slips for years...and I found myself scrambling all the time to create them.  A few years ago I decided to make some blank forms that could be used in any situation--and then even added in a ton of suggestions for ways to use them.  I have gotten SO much feedback saying how using these slips has changed the way people teach assess, and reteach and that makes me SO happy!

I also have a set of the same slips as "exit" slips--and a bundled set of them together!
When I think of one item on my wishlist, I think I have to go with this A-MAZE-ING set of fun frames from Whimsy Workshop!  I use skinny frames like this ALL the time when making products, parent letters, sheets for students, and so on.  I have had this on my wishlist for months and can't wait to snag it!
Want to win some amazing stuff to get YOUR school year started?  Check out the rafflecopter below!

From your friends at...

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What Refreshes Me As a Teacher....

OK...let's be honest.

We work in a highly stressful field.  (Sorry if this is news to you...Maybe stop reading now...)

We have to be "on" from the minute we walk through the door until the minute we leave.  We go home and think about our students...about our planning...about the events of the day...about tomorrow...about the immense responsibility placed upon us.  We lay in bed and our mind races with ideas that we need to harness, with worries about our students, with problems we need to solve.

We are constantly searching for new ideas...buying new tools to make us more effective...finding ways to make a difference.  And we get tired.  Really, really tired.

It's easy to pay attention to the headlines--the ones that talk about the high stakes testing we face.  The ones about the dismal state of education in America.  The headlines that are quick to point out every flaw in our profession.  And, again, we get tired.  Really, really tired.

In fact, the weight of all this is driving teachers out of our field at a ridiculous rate.  Good teachers.  Great teachers.  Difference makers.  People like us.

We need to figure out how we can make our profession safe and sane again...and, in looking ahead, we need to continue to seek out ways to attract the best and brightest to our field when the future is uncertain at best.

So what do we do?  I think it starts with taking care of ourselves...keeping ourselves "refreshed" in these stressful times.  Although we are each responsible for nurturing this "refreshment" in ourselves, the more we can do to support each other, the better--so today I offer up 8 pieces of advice that I am going to really focus on this year for myself to make sure that I keep myself "refreshed" for my students, my coworkers, my family, ME, and for the good of the profession itself.  So here goes!

1.  Keep notes from students and parents.  Keep them close and read them often.

I have seen some teachers that keep a box for these items...some just shove them in a drawer...some use a folder.  No matter what system you use, I encourage you to hold onto those post it notes, cards, or emails that can provide you evidence in your "darker hours" that what you are doing makes a difference...I keep some of these posted around my desk and some in a drawer that I pull out as inspiration.  Similarly, I really try hard to PROVIDE some of these "bright lights" for students and teachers I work with...we never know how a quick little note might be exactly what someone needs to get through a tough day/week/year.

2.  Make your work environment a happy place for you and all who enter

I know you have probably seen pictures of classrooms that "wow" you...Pinterest is riddled with them.  If that makes you happy--go for it.  But what I really mean by this is to make sure that when you walk through the door of your classroom, you have something there that provides you with happiness or calm.  Whether you have family photos, walls covered in your favorite colors, inspirational quotations, a comfortable chair that you use...make your "office" a place you want to be.  For me, having colors I love, a shelf with my baseball bobbleheads and family photos, and other signs of my "Brewer Fan-ness" put a little bit of "me" in my room--and my students love it as well.  Remember, your work space doesn't need to be Pinterest-ready--it just needs to be "home" for you and your students during the many hours you are there.

3.  Make personal connections with the people you work with.

As our lives get busier and the expectations grow, I've noticed teachers started to pull back from each other.  We work through our lunches.  We close our doors so we can focus.  Depending on how your schedules work, you may find that you rarely see many of the people you work with.  When we forget to nurture our relationships with our coworkers, we isolate ourselves and forget some important facts.  One, we are NOT in this alone.  Two, when we aren't connected with our coworkers, we may miss important information...about their lives, their successes, their struggles.  In our attempts to get our jobs done, we may be missing out on one of the most important elements of our profession--the caring and nurturing of learners, young and old. This year I am committing to working less over my lunch break and making sure I am giving my coworkers the attention, care, and compassion they deserve.  We all want to feel valued...and I know that I need to slow down and make sure my coworkers know I care about them.  Because I do--I really, truly do.

4.  Make personal connections with the students and families you work with.

Along this line is our responsibility to our students and their families.  As we rush through our weeks trying to make sure that we cover the standards, prepare for "the tests", get our planning done, our assessing complete, meaningful feedback on writing samples, get our learning targets posted on the wall...we need to stop and remember why we are here.  We are here to help our students learn and grow. In order to do this, we need to actually KNOW our students and families.  Ask for input. Set goals together.  Let the students get to know you and make an effort to get to know them.  My students always know that I love pizza.  They know I struggle keeping my desk clean.  They know about my family.  My cat.  My love of baseball.  They also know that I deeply care about them and THEIR lives and their learning.  It isn't something you can fake.  It isn't something you can just "say".  It's something you have to live every day.  I like to make sure I stand at my door every day as my students enter...I greet them by name, look at their face, ask them a question, notice something--and I know that every day we start with a connection...not a direction or a lesson.  A connection. It fuels me and reminds me why I do what I do.  This is where I notice a sad face and can learn about the death of a pet.  It's where I notice new glasses.  It's where students can share a celebration from the night before or ask me a question to set their mind at ease.

5.  Take risks and try new things.

When I was a child, I was extremely shy and timid. I was a competitive gymnast--not a great sport for those lacking in courage!  I worked hard, but I never quite maximized my potential and the stress I found myself under resulted in the decision to quit when I was about 14 years old.  Years later, I would return to the gym where I trained and competed as a coach.  One of my first days back in the gym, my former coach said something along these lines to me, "You know, you were so talented.  You let your fear of failure get in your way of success."  Of course, I was shocked.  How could he say that?  Of COURSE I wanted to be successful.  After much reflection I realized he was right.  I spent so much time trying to NOT fall off the beam, that I didn't have enough energy left to stay ON the beam.  That fear stifled my joy and love of the sport.

I think the same is true for us as teachers...sometimes we are so afraid to stray from what we have always done, that we miss the opportunity for amazing growth and excitement.  We are worried that our lessons will flop.  That our coworkers will question what we do.  That our administrators will doubt our abilities.  As you move into this next school year, I challenge you to find ONE way to push yourself in a way that you never have a book to your class that you've never read.  Try a new cooperative learning strategy.  Take a risk using technology.  Model for your students that taking a risk has rewards.  After all, we want our students to be able to feel like our classroom is a safe place...a place where taking risks is celebrated and success is measured not in scores and grades--but in new learning and accomplishments.  Trying new things and sharing them with our teammates and our students CAN be refreshing...and can lead to an amazing culture for learning and growth.

6.  Always be ready to learn something new--and to talk about it with your students.

Similarly, nurturing within ourselves (and, eventually our students) a love of learning can keep our passion for education alive.  It IS refreshing to hear about all the amazing new ideas, books, research, and resources that are available to help us do our jobs better.  Of course, with this onslaught of information--complicated by social media and the accessibility of information on the internet--can come stress as well.  It would be easy to get caught up in the "hunt" for new information and forget about the application of it.  It is also easy to become overwhelmed with the hundreds of new websites, blogs, professional resources--and to begin to feel like we aren't doing enough...we aren't "current" enough...we aren't "savvy" enough.  Remember, learning should be exciting, invigorating, and REFRESHING.  If it isn't, rethink your approach.

One of my favorite things to do with my students is talk about books. I do book talks with them...I constantly add to our classroom library and share about these books with my class to try to entice them.  But what my students find MOST interesting is when I talk about the books I am reading on my "grown up" books.  I talk about my book club that I am in--and about our discussions and debates.  I talk about articles I have read and news stories I have seen.  I want me students to see me as a learner--and I love to watch them start to reciprocate.  Nothing makes me happier when I see a student take an idea I share with them and go off on their own and continue the learning.  THIS is what teaching when you start to feel like your days are routine and mundane, ask yourself "Am I modeling REAL learning for my students?".  Share what you learn...share your learning failures ("Oops--I just realized I spelled that incorrectly.  Let's fix it...") and you will feel your classroom culture grow--and your stress level drop.

7.  Take care of yourself physically and mentally

OK. I'm not going to lie.  This is NOT my strength.  I don't eat well.  I don't drink enough water.  I certainly don't sleep enough.  I don't exercise enough.  I have a lot of life stress.  I drink too much soda.  I could afford to lose a few quite a few  some pounds.  I get it.  I know I need to do a better job--and by doing that, I will be more able to manage the stress that I face at work.  I think sometimes it seems so this year I am committing to make some small tweaks and see what I can do to start making a difference.  I need to remember that it isn't about being perfect...its about getting better step by step, every day.  I need to do a better job of tuning in to my body and stress--and listening to the messages being sent my way.

8.  Reflect on what "balance" means for YOU

I often have people say to me, "How DO you do it?"  Yes, I teach full time.  I blog and create resources (also full time). I have a family. I have a special needs child.  I don't sleep much.  (See #7)  But the thing is--it is working for me.  I never miss a baseball game.  I am prepared to teach every day.  I try to maintain a blog that is useful to other teachers.  But this is MY balance.  It is something that only I can structure.  When I feel one area of my life is falling out of balance, I need to pick up on the clues I am given ("Why don't you get off the computer and come watch this movie with us.") or the clues I discover on my own to give me the hints that MY balance is out of kilter.  I don't nap. My friend goes home and takes a short nap every day after school before she continues her night.  Whatever it is--it is YOUR journey to navigate. What we all need to remember is that when we start to push the balance, we sometimes start to miss those little clues.  Build in time to reflect this year--make sure you are keeping the right balance for you.  If you are feeling a huge amount of stress, something must be off...find it and and work on it.  (Note to self...reread #8 many times this year.  Many many times.)

9.  Pay it forward

There isn't much more to say...this year I pledge to keep myself "refreshed" so I can do a better job of paying it forward to others.  It is so easy to fall into the negativity that surrounds us in our schools and communities.  If each one of us can do our part to be our best, we can take some of that positive energy to "pay it forward" with our profession.  Encourage a student.  Collaborate with a peer.  Mentor a student teacher.  Do your best to bring the positive back into our noble profession.  We can't sit back and wait for someone else to do. it

And when times get tough...order pizza.  Pet your cat.  Take a night off from school work.  Watch a movie.  Take a walk.  Stay refreshed.  We need you.