Sunday, September 25, 2016

Making Partnerships Work!

Today is my day to blog over at Upper Elementary Snapshots, and I'm chatting a bit about the importance of teaching students how to work in partners.  Want to read more?  Check it out by clicking the image below!  Thanks--and have a great day!
classroom culture

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Building your classroom community in the first days of school

classroom culture
 first 6 days of school...and we have been working hard to learn some routines, get to know each other, and establish some positive classroom culture "vibes".  I thought I'd share a few snapshots of some of the things we did to build our new community!  

Of course, there were tons of things we did that I haven't included...lots of anchor charts about expectations, shared picture books, body breaks (thanks, GoNoodle!), and more...but each of the things I have pictured did SOMETHING to move us forward in our attempt to build our classroom family. We have started talking at length about "growth mindsets" as well--and a post will be coming soon about that!

The first thing I want to establish early on is collaboration--in my class, we work together ALL THE. TIME.  Asking students just coming off of summer break to work in groups is not always I always start by establishing partnership expectations.  We talk about how to work to invite your partner to to make sure we know how to help and ask for help, and so on.  This simple "making words" activity was a simple way for partners to work together and practice that "give and take".
cooperative learning
Another skill we work on in the first days is learning how to go up to someone and ask a question.  For some more introverted students, this is really challenging so we have a discussion about how we can help shy people feel safe in these situations.  We practice using language that "includes" rather than excludes and also practice asking questions.  This "bingo" type activity helps students practice going up to other students and asking simple questions.  ("Do you have a cat?" "Do you have a brother?") and then when they find a "match", that person colors in the matching shape.  I walked around and coached students who were struggling with the interactions.  
building classroom community
This is a part of a building classroom community resource.  Click HERE to see this one and the other activities included in it.
 Another key part of our first days together is a discussion about work quality.  We worked together to make an anchor chart entitled "What is quality work" where we talked about neat printing and coloring, careful spelling, rereading our work and so on.  To practice, we working on making back to school "pennant glyphs" to display outside our classroom.
community in the classroom
This project is another part of my resource with ideas to build classroom community.  Click HERE to see more.
 Getting to know each other also involves acknowledging our own traits!  One morning's "warm up" activity was called "put yourself on the line".  I do this throughout the year as a way to get students to express their opinions about different topics...they actually line up according to their beliefs.  This activity was a little different in that I put two cards on opposite ends of the line and asked students to stand by one of them--or somewhere in the middle. We did it three times...we put ourselves on the line for the following ideas:

shy ------- outgoing
rarely participate in class ------- participate a lot
leader  --------- follower

We came back together as a class and had a discussion about these ideas--and how they impact learning and how we need to understand and appreciate each other.  We talked about positive leaders and negative leaders.  About ways to participate in class--even when it's hard.  How to help shy students feel more comfortable--and how to not be overbearing if you are outgoing!  I am hopeful that all students have done some thinking about their role in our "family"--and how to make sure they can help others feel valued as well.
classroom community
 Another activity we worked on was jigsaw puzzles...because it gave us a time to practice making "strategy suggestions" and then trying them.  Some groups decided to sort by color, others worked to find all the edge pieces, and so on.  We used this as a time to practice our "helping" stems where we talked about how to offer help, accept help, politely refuse help, and accept help graciously.  We worked cooperatively to put together 10 puzzles!
back to school
 By the fourth day, I felt we might be ready for a big challenge--working as a team to get Chromebooks set up and organized.  I know many teachers get everything all set up ahead of time--but I ask students to figure out how to keep their crates organized and cables clear.  It seems they have more ownership when they put the time in ahead of time instead of me doing it.  It was NOT an easy challenge, but by the time we were finished, all 4 crates were assembled and the "Chromies" were charging so they could be used the next day.  WHEW!
Chromebook organization
 Because I wanted to really set the stage for a year of reading in my class, I had desk groups each take a tour of my classroom library, learn how to care for it, and then browse through my thousands of books and start to generate a list of books they are interested in reading.  Want to see more about how my classroom library is organized?  I have a video tour HERE.  Students got SO excited to see all their options and to grab their first book.  We are off are ready to read now!
reader's workshop
This form is from my "Getting Ready for a Year of Reading" resource.
Next week is our first full week, so we will be really digging into content and more routines--but I definitely feel like we have gotten a great start on our classroom culture and that students can tell that we are going to have a great year.  Thanks for stopping by!  Stay tuned for updates soon!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Getting Ready for Independent Reading, Library Organization, and More!

reader's workshop and book organization
Today is my day to blog over at Upper Elementary Snapshots, and I hope you'll stop by to check out today's post about classroom library organization and more!  Just click the image above to visit!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

5 Great Ways to Use Math Games for Math Workshop: Organization tips and ideas

math intervention

One of my goals for this summer was to figure out some systems for keeping my math workshop materials organized and accessible. I didn't get everything accomplished that I wanted to, but I made some headway.  Let me tell you my thought process and what I did!

First of all, I really wanted to focus on getting my intervention resources  in a usable state--I have SO many games but I was always having to go dig for them and I just wasn't being efficient.  For me, these games are super important because I use them in so many ways.  I thought I might share them with you in case you haven't been using your games as flexibly as you might be!

1.  As whole class review opportunities

I will often teach a math game to my class if I want them to use it during math workshop to review or practice a skill.  This is a great way for students to play games together that may not get to work together often because of different skill levels.  I sometimes play games in this way at the end of a unit--or to "spiral" instruction where I want to keep working on a skill from previous units.

2.  As intervention lessons

Using games as true "learning activities" in intervention groups is one of my favorite things to do.  For one thing, students who need remediation and intervention probably didn't learn the concept during the initial lesson--so reteaching in the same way makes no sense.  Using a "game" format where I can play with the group, coach, instruct, and have fun is a perfect way to provide good, targeted instruction and really see what students can and can't do--in a fun and engaging way.

3.  As small group skill practice

Similarly, if students don't really need reteaching but might need additional practice, having small groups who need work on specific skills or strategies play relevant games ('learning activities") to reinforce the skills is a great way to keep them focused and on task.  Similarly, when students play games, they are working cooperatively, using math talk, all while practicing necessary math skills.

4.  As replacement homework

One thing that has become painfully obvious to me over the years is that students who struggle in math, struggle with math homework--and for a number of reasons.  First of all, often the math homework (although I don't give much and I tend to give review work as homework...but that's another post!) is simply too difficult.  If a student is performing several grade levels below expectation, even review work is not appropriate.  After all, we certainly don't want students practicing math INCORRECTLY, right?  Similarly, many students who struggle don't have the support at home to help...either because the family doesn't have the skill set to assist (math has changed quite a bit since people our age went to school!) or any number of other reasons.  Certainly motivation is a problem as well...and the last thing we want is our frustrated students to get MORE frustrated.  What's an easy solution?  Send math games home!  What a perfect way to build relationships with home, provide that fluency practice that is needed, and actually get students feeling good about doing homework!  Check out below for some ideas about how to organize this so you don't lose track of your games.

5.  As fluency work

Finally, some skills just need constant reinforcement to build fluency and automaticity.  We want our students to know their math facts and other critical math skills instantly--like "sight words" in reading.  Once we have taught students strategies, they need lots of reinforcement to build those connections in the brain so they cement the knowledge.  Working on games is an engaging and meaningful way for students to build that fluency.

Keeping organized is key--don't waste time looking for materials! try to get a handle on the dozens and dozens of games in my collection I started to make some labels that show the game name, a photo, and the skills that the game works on.  
structuring decomposing
I actually made TWO copies of each label--one to stay in the bag, and one to use as a "check out card"--perfect for sending home for homework!  
math game organization
math game organizationSome of my games I stored in plastic zip bags...and just use smaller bags for small pieces.  I love to keep all supplies in the, dice, counters--whatever is needed so no time is wasted--whether I am using the game for a group or students are grabbing it to play.  The less "transitions" and places to move to get settled, the less management issues we have.
math workshop organization
 The zip bags work great...but I wanted to find a way to use something more durable so that I can send games home and have them feel more "professional" and less likely to be thrown away.  I was at a workshop and got a free sample of a "Seat Sack" by and my brain started turning.  I know lots of teachers love these for reading groups (especially in the primary grades), but I thought they were perfect for math games!
math game organization
 I contacted the company and got a bunch more and I am LOVING how durable and easy to use they are.  All the pieces for the games fit perfectly and they have that awesome sliding pocket at the top for me to put the game labels!  I am hooked.  I can grab a bag to use with an intervention group OR know I can send the bag home with everything remaining safe inside!  The company was super easy to work with and the bags came really fast.  DEFINITELY looking forward to having something more substantial this year because I really want to increase how much home/school math work I do.  

One other task I wanted to accomplish (and I'm partway there!) was to organize my games in "clusters" if I want to work on place value skills, I can grab those games to either use in groups or to use as a part of math workshop.  I thought YOU might like this convenience as well, so I have (so far) made 3 bundles of four games...and I made the tags to go in the storage bags as well!  These are all Dollar Deal games so they are available individually as well, but you can save a bit by buying 4 at a time and you get the labels as well if that is something interesting to you.  If it looks like this is something people are interested in, I'll start creating more bundles!  I'd love to hear your feedback!

math intervention games

Interested in taking a look?  Here are the first three bundles!

Thanks for stopping by...and don't forget that another round of my problem solving webinar is open!  Just CLICK HERE to register.

Monday, August 15, 2016

More Webinar Sessions Now Open!

Creating a climate for problem solving and growth mindset
Oh my goodness...I am so overwhelmed with the positive feedback from my first three sessions of my webinar.  I have had countless people asking if I would please do more sessions since they missed the first three--so I have agreed to do two more in a few weeks!  I am having so much fun sharing the work of Jo Boaler and other experts on how to make your math classroom a fun, research-based, and engaging place for you and your students.  I am humbled by your feedback and motivated to continue the work to bring you more webinars in the future.  Here's what a few people had to say after the first round of webinars...
Teaching math
Professional development teaching math

So even though it is an absolutely crazy time of year, I have decided to offer my webinar 2 more times--on 
Thursday, August 25 at 8 pm central 
and on 
Sunday, August 28 at 3 pm central.

I am excited to reach more and more teachers and get them excited about if you have a teacher you know who might be interested--or even a principal who might like to learn more about the power of creating a climate for problem solving and the importance of understanding the concept of growth mindset and best practice--I'd love for you to share the link with them!  I will most likely have more sessions in September, but with the start of my own school year, I am not ready to schedule them yet, so these two dates will be my last for a little while.

CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP or copy this link (  to share with others who may be interested.

A reminder that the freebie related to the webinar is available by clicking may find it a useful place to take notes and keep track of some of the information presented.  It certainly is NOT necessary but feedback on it has been positive.

If you missed the original information...this one hour free webinar talks about the work of Jo Boaler and the importance of establishing a climate of excitement in our math classes, trends in "best practice" in teaching math, how to organize your math block to maximize the minutes you spend "targeting" instruction at just the right level for your different students, and how to design and use real world math tasks in your classroom!

Finally, I have had a number of attendees ask for the link to the Jo Boaler book I reference in the webinar, so I have included an affiliate link to Amazon below if you want to check it out.  It was such a game changer for me...and only about ten bucks!

Finally....I just want to give you a little preview of some upcoming blog posts...about math workshop organization...back to school ideas...getting a year of reading started--and more!  Hope to see you back here soon.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Classroom Must Haves: Things I Can’t “Picture” Myself Teaching Without

It's getting close to that official "back to school" day for me, so my friends over at Upper Elementary Snapshots and I thought it would fun to host a fun series of posts and a giveaway to celebrate!

Each of us will showcase FOUR things we just can't "picture (Upper Elementary SNAPSHOTS--get it?) teaching without!  So here we go with my collection...

First of all each of us is showcasing a favorite school supply or classroom tool--and I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Sketch smelly markers...but when I make my anchor charts, I have found that some of the Mr. Sketch colors fade under fluorescent lights.  I tried the Sharpie brand chart markers and INSTANTLY fell in love.  I have included two affiliate links below if you want to check them out.  I usually order the first ones (the are an "add on" item for other shopping orders) or you can order the bigger set.  I just love them.

Here are a few anchor charts I made with them...super clean lines, lots of ink, super nice.

So here are the links if you want to check them out...

Our next "Showcase" item is a favorite book...I wanted to share Fish in a Tree because it is my beginning of the year read aloud but I JUST mentioned it in a blog post so I thought I'd share a book I got last year and read with my class--and now am going to read AND make a back to school bulletin board with...the book is super cute.  "Only One You" is a short picture book with quite a punch. The illustrations are so bright--but what I love most is all the inspirational quotes.  I am going to have each student make a "quote" of their own...we will type them up in fun fonts, then make our own fish projects to display.  Stay tuned for the final project!

The THIRD thing we are highlighting is a product from our own store...and this was hard for me to pick.  I would have to say that one of my favorite resources for back to school time is my perseverance resource.  If you have followed me for any length of time, watched my FB Lives, or have attended my recent webinar series, you know that creating a culture of math "excitement" is super important to me.  This resource is one of the things I use at the beginning of the year to help set the stage for challenge and perseverance is...

I use it to start the year and teach how to work with partners...and that not all problems are easy....and that not all problems have one answer.  These are all new for some students--especially the very capable ones!  

The FINAL "Must Have" we are all sharing is a FREEBIE!  Who doesn't want something free, right?  I thought I'd share a freebie of mine that you might not have's a sample of how I tend to make my word problem resources--with three different formats.  This freebie can let you give one a try and see what you think!

After you've downloaded my freebie be sure to visit each of the blogs below to add 12 more FREE RESOURCES to your own collection of things you can't picture yourself teaching without. Afterwards swing by our collaborative blog, Upper Elementary Snapshots for lots of great content and ideas you can put into practice in your own classrooms as well as a chance to win gift cards to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Teachers Pay Teachers so you can stock up on your own Classroom Must Haves.

Thanks for stopping by--and go visit all these other posts to check out their favorites!  (And don't forget to enter to win at Upper Elementary Snapshots!)

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Want to join me for a FREE math webinar?

problem solving teaching

A free webinar?  

Tell me more!

So...I have had an interesting summer with diving into new ventures...I reluctantly tried Facebook Live--and loved being able to talk with people around the world about math...but there are some real limitations with it. 

1.  I do NOT like my face being the main thing people see when I have so many OTHER things I'd rather they look at!  It is super hard with FB Live to "show" I started searching for a better way to do it.

2.  Facebook Live has a "delay"--so if a participant asked me a question, there would be a 20-30 second lag before I would see it.  It makes it challenging to have a true "conversation".

3. People would often tune in late (which is fine--and they can watch replays)--but it sometimes makes it hard when they join in partway through the conversation.

Now this doesn't meant that I won't be doing more Facebook Lives--but it means I made the decision to look for a DIFFERENT way to connect with teachers to provide interesting and relevant staff development--and I think webinars are the way to go.

Webinars are a way for me to do a "presentation" of sorts...where I can share information, pictures, ideas, research, and classroom applications--and can allow you, the viewer, to have a forum for learning, asking questions, and getting new ideas for the classroom.

So...if you haven't been to a webinar before--it's simple.  You sign up (it's free),  you get an email reminder about it with a link to join, you click the link, and listen!  There is no microphone or anything needed on your end...any questions you have simply get entered in a "chat" format.  It's super easy.

Think it sounds interesting?  I decided that SO many people were interested in my Facebook Live videos about math workshop that I would start there and build from that.  So...what will I be "webinar-ing" about?

Topics Covered:

What does brain research say about learning math?

Working with a growth mindset is so critical in math, so let me give you some great information about what the experts in the field say about math instruction.
brain research growth mindset

What is "Best Practice" in math instruction?

(There is some pretty solid consensus about what we need LESS of in our classrooms and what we need MORE of--and I'll tell you more about that.

How can we better reach ALL students during our math block?

Math workshop does NOT need to mean "centers"--and I'll tell you what options you have.

How can we get started grouping students differently to maximize our instructional impact?

There are some simple ways to organize our "minutes" during math to get more targeted instruction--so students spend a higher percentage of their time getting what they need.

How can we think about problem solving differently in our classrooms?

We all use word problems in our classrooms to help students become better problem solvers--but there are other options as well.  We'll talk about looking for "real world" problem solving opportunities.

So...if this all sounds intriguing to you, I'd love to have you join me!  There are three times to sign up for at this time:


Tuesday, August 9 at 6 pm central

Thursday, August 11 at 8 pm central

Sunday, August 14 at 3 pm central

***UPDATED with 2 new sessions!***

Thursday, August 25 at 8 pm central

Sunday, August 28 at 3 pm central

Just CLICK HERE to reserve your is limited, but if everything fills up, I can certainly open new sections.

I made a little "Freebie" that can be printed as a note-taking guide for the webinar.  Is it not at all needed, but it might be a useful tool for you.  Just click the image below to grab it.
See you there!