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 before...read 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 own...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 is...so 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 overwhelming...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.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Start of Back to School Fun!

As the next weeks unfold, there will be lots of fun stuff going on in the blogging world!  To kick things off, my friends and I over at Upper Elementary Snapshots are offering up a series of back to school tips and freebies for you--and a pretty nifty giveaway as well!

A Math Workshop Tip from
The Teacher Studio!
Many students come into the intermediate grades with an already established "dislike" of math. Building a climate where problem solving is seen as fun and exciting is a key way teachers can make sure students are using their time well in math workshop--and that students are willing to shift their attitudes!  Balancing practice, instruction, games, and challenges makes sure students stay engaged and excited about math all year long.  Remember that exploration and discovery are just as important as getting a right answer--so put your students in positions to try math...to talk about math, and to have FUN with math!  Check out this easy back to school multiplication game to use to build fluency and more.

It is even differentiated with two different levels. It has color pages to laminate like this--but also the black and white version if you don't have color ink.  ENJOY!
For more tips and FREEBIES, make sure you visit all 12 of our blogs! You can use the links below to help you get there faster.

Also, don't forget to enter for a chance to WIN one of our AWESOME prizes in our "Back to School" Giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
That's not all!!!  Watch this week for ways to collect even more goodies from all of us at Upper Elementary Snapshots!  We are going to be doing some special promotions through Facebook and Instagram too!  Make sure you follow us to hear all about the fun!!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Texts on Tuesdays: Twitter for Professional Development. Try it!

Today's Text on Tuesdays is going to be a little different...instead of focusing on a book or journal, I want to talk to you a little bit about what might be the most powerful professional development opportunity available to you, Twitter.


So when I first signed up for Twitter a few years ago, I did it because I was curious.  It took me a few different attempts at playing around with it before I started to see its potential--but when I did, I realized the tremendous impact it could have.

For those of you who DO use Twitter professionally, I'd love for you to leave your best suggestions below--and for those of you who haven't tried, I'm going to try to convince you to give it a try.

First of all...the basics.

1. Twitter is a "real time" social media experience.  Unlike Facebook, the big "thing" with Twitter is the 140 character maximum.  "Tweets" are meant to be short and quick bursts of information or ideas.  You will find lots of links on Twitter--to professional articles, blog posts, and so on.

2.  To connect with people and groups on Twitter, people use "@" and "#" symbols.  "@" attached to a username is like a "tag".  A reply is a response in the form of a post to another user, usually to answer a question or in reaction to an idea that has been posted. To reply, type in the '@' sign followed by the username, i.e. @username and then follow with your message. If you want to make sure I see tweet, for example, write your tweet and type @fourthgrstudio in the message.

A "#" ("hashtag") can be inserted into your text to allow people to search for things and helps to organize Twitter. You can use commonly used hashtags such as "#education", use the hashtag of a particular chat (more in a minute!), or--like some people do--to express a point.  

"I just ate six pieces of pizza. #noselfcontrol #dietstartstomorrow"

Most people on Twitter truly use the hashtags to help connect with people using similar hashtags.  See the image below for a screen shot of parts of my most recent two tweets.  You can see I used #edchat and #elemchat and #4thchat...people following those hashtags are more likely to see these tweets because of that. This becomes important because if you only have 12 followers, the chance of anyone seeing your tweets is slim!  It's a little lonely when you first start Twitter because you wonder if ANYONE is seeing your tweets--and they may not be...YET.


Go into Twitter with the idea that you want to learn from others, share with others, and interact with others.  Here are a few suggestions for getting started.

*Find amazing people to follow.  Big name authors, researchers, and organizations tweet often and tweet meaningfully.  When you see something you like, "retweet" it!  This will let your followers see that you value it and helps spread your reach on Twitter (which builds followers along the way!).  If you want to "favorite" a tweet, it makes it easier to go back later to find it or read it.  I do this a lot when I see something I want to read but don't have time.  

Check out this recent tweet...do you see at the top how I retweeted this blog post from my friend Donna over at Math Coach's Corner? I wanted my followers to have access to it...so let's peek at the bottom of this image.
There are a few symbols at the bottom of every tweet...the arrow on the far left is a "reply" button.  If I wanted to reply directly to Donna, I would hit that button and tweet something like, "Great blog post--thanks for sharing!"  Because it is a reply, I don't need to mention her name or anything...it goes right to her.  Remember that Twitter is very public, however, so others will see that I replied.

The next symbol with the double arrow is the "retweet" button.  This post had 8 retweets at the time I screen shot it...that means 8 people saw the tweet and wanted their viewers to see it too.  The star is the "favorites" button.  That can be used to acknowledge that you appreciate the content--but also marks it for you so you can go find it again.  The ellipsis offers more menu options--but we'll stick to the basics today!

3.  So finding tweets that are meaningful to you is one way to use Twitter as professional development...but another very exciting thing to try is "Twitter Chats".  This is much like a conversation you might have via Facebook or texting--but with the possibility of many, many people being involved.  Because of this, chats can sometimes move VERY quickly and can be overwhelming.  Many people try them and then give up because they are overwhelmed.  Don't give up! Here are my suggestions to get you started.

*Find a chat you are interested in...and "lurk" for a few sessions.  Just watch other people, read the tweets, and get the feel of it.

*Use Tweetdeck or Tweetchat (free) to step a little bit "outside" Twitter to keep your chats organized.  When you chat, you will be using a hashtag to keep everyone in a "room" where everyone is chatting about the same thing.  Most people use Tweetdeck, but if you are nervous--try Tweetchat.  It will ask you to put a hashtag into the first screen and then you will ONLY see the tweets with that hashtag.  By using it, you will not have to enter the hashtag for each tweet you write during a chat.  Remember, the hashtag is what keeps information together.
This is the page to enter your chat hashtag...

Here is what an ongoing chat looks like.  You type your chat into the "Tweet into" box.  Do you see how the #edchat is already there for you?  All the "stream" of the chat will follow below...and big chats will move fast.  Sometimes you need to just sit back and read.

*Make sure to follow people you find in the chat that seem interesting.  This is a great way to find new people to follow--and for people to find YOU once you feel confident participating!

*Make sure you pay attention to the format of the chat.  Most chats use a Q/A format.  For example, the moderator will tweet out a question in a format similar to this:


Q1:  What do you feel is the number one thing you can do to improve morale in your school?

When people want to reply, they will reply in a format like this:

A1:  I plan to send encouraging emails to new teachers.

This way people will know what question you are discussing...because the speed of the chat may start to get the questions all mixed up!

So...I know this is a lot of information if you are new--but I can't stress enough about how much AMAZING information I have learned from Twitter.  I have had Twitter conversations with famous researchers and authors--opportunities I would NEVER have had in any other situation.  On Twitter, everyone is an equal, and I really see that "big names" who are active on Twitter really and truly want to interact with their followers.

Want to give it a try?  Here are my recommendations.
1.  Set up your account.
2.  Find a small group of people to follow so you can get the "feel" of it.  My recommendations?  Try these to get started...

@Fourthgrstudio (that's me--and you can tweet AT me with questions!)
@NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)
@ASCD 
@teachthought

By just following a few organizations, you will start to see the flow of tweets, can try retweeting and favoriting, and then can start to see other people/groups to follow.  Once you find people to start to follow, you will see who THEY follow and can pick and choose from them as well.

Remember, Twitter is all about interacting...so retweet often, favorite things, and even reply to someone who posts something that is extremely meaningful.  When you are ready, consider a chat...and I'll do a follow up post soon with some suggestions about good elementary teaching chats--and maybe I'll even do a "practice chat" for anyone who is interested!  Let me know in the comments if that is something you might be interested in!

Sorry if this was overwhelming...but I think it's time for teachers to realize that we need to open our minds to new ways of learning.  I am CONSTANTLY sending tweets to my administrators with great information I find on Twitter!  What do you think?  Are you ready to give it a try?  Let me know how I can help...feel free to ask questions and I'll do my best to answer them...and let me know if you sign up and I'll be your latest follower!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Thoughts for new teachers...surround yourself with those who help you grow

A few conversations I have had lately coupled with some new connections I have made with other bloggers has led to this post...we are living in difficult times in our field--there is no doubt about it.

These days, new teachers are leaving the field at a rate of 50% – decreasing the teacher population while the student population increases. Brian and Eric of Wise Guys have used their combined experience of 40 years in the classroom to help tackle that problem, by writing an e-book to motivate new teachers along with creating a large resource guide to equip new teachers with the tools they need for success. They also created a free ebook for more established teachers to start this new school year off strong.

So as I thought about what thoughts run through my head when I see new people leaving the profession...when I see seasoned teachers becoming disillusioned with our field...when I see the stress that fills our schools--I think it comes down to one key fact:

We can put ourselves in situations that help us grow and stay positive.

I can remember hearing all the "old teachers" in the lounge when I first started 20-some years ago...they would smile knowingly at me and say, "Just wait until you've done this for a while--you'll see what we mean."  I can remember thinking how I never, EVER wanted to get old and crabby and negative.

But guess what.  It happened. 

As the years went on, my confidence grew and I began to notice all the little things that I didn't like...the decisions I thought were wrong...the frustrations with school/district/state mandates...frustrations with students or staff members.  I got my master's degree and my expertise grew even more.  And with that expertise, I found myself becoming cynical.  I found myself not just listening to the complaints of others but actually engaging with them.  It was a nasty cycle, and I felt my satisfaction levels falling.  

I don't remember when it happened or how it happened, but I somehow  was able to recognize that I wasn't liking the emotional drain this negativity was having on me and I made the decision TO MAKE THE DECISION to  avoid the pitfalls of negativity.  We can choose what we listen to...what we tell ourselves..what we let bother us.  We can train ourselves to look at the bright side of every situation and to focus on our students and bettering ourselves rather than wasting energy focusing on the negative.  If we always seek to improve ourselves and improve our craft, we will continue to find fulfillment.

So, what advice do I have for teacher--experienced and new?  Surround yourself with people who make you better and lift you higher.  Put yourself in situations where you can learn, grow, and celebrate all that is GOOD about our profession.  In recent years we have seen so many social movements...."pay it forward" or random acts of kindness.  These are conscious choices we make--and we can do the same thing in our teaching world.  I love the way Oprah put it...
If each of us creates a network of people who care about what they do and go to school each day with a growth mindset, there is no limit to the impact we can have.  The Wise Guys are hoping to help new teachers with some of the nitty gritty details about the first years of teaching--and if  we can all help lift each other up, together we can impact the lives of thousands and thousands of children and adults and the bumps in the road will be navigated with ease.

To celebrate the launch of The First Year Teacher Ebook and Resource Guide, Wise Guys are giving away $100 in gift cards to Teachers Pay Teachers plus copies of the book and guide in exchange for signing up for their newsletter.  For more inspirational stories, head on over to the Guys’ blog to get linked to others’ First Year Teacher reflections at http://www.creativityinthemodernclassroom.com/

Friday, July 17, 2015

I am SO excited! My newsletter sign up is OPEN!


I have been thinking about.  Pondering.  Worrying about.  Learning about.  Doing EVERYTHING about creating a newsletter--

except creating a newsletter.

Finally, I think I have it figured out  I think I am ready.  I think it's going to be AMAZING!

So here's the deal.  I have wanted ways to share cool stuff with my most loyal of followers...freebies that aren't on TpT but might relate to a blog post.  Ideas that I have that aren't really worthy of a full blog post--but I think are worth sharing.  Updates on products so you know when new products are released and when I have updated products.  And, my favorite, a way to provide special sales and deals occasionally to my readers! Stay tuned for more about that...

My plan is to send out newsletters only about once every other month...if you are like me, you do NOT want your mailbox full of stuff all the time.  I figure if I keep it only 5-6 times per year, you will really appreciate the freebies and other special things that come your way.  It's a way for me to give back a little...plus ask for your input, share new ideas, and more.  In fact, this newsletter is going to be so interactive that YOU can actually get your ideas published in some future blog posts.  I am super excited to make my blog a place where ideas are shared and we can all learn together.  So...if you are interested, now is the time!  There will be an introductory series of emails just to confirm that you really want to be a part of my mail list, and then sit back and wait for the back-to-school edition coming in August!

To sign up, 

Thanks so much for being such loyal followers and friends.  I hope that you enjoy the content I provide for you in this "extension" of my blogging life--and I look forward to hearing from you! (And watch for something REALLY big coming soon!)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Engineering in the classroom!

Today is my day to blog over at iteach fourth.  I'd love for you to stop by and see what I am sharing today about some engineering activities I use in my classroom. Just click the image above to check it out!

Watch for some VERY exciting announcements coming soon about some new things with "The Teacher Studio"!  I think you'll like them!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Blast from the past....Number Lines

BLAST FROM THE PAST!  This post originally appeared in December of 2012...and I hope you find the information thought provoking!  I've added a little more to it--but the original is one of my most viewed posts!
Well...it's time to start thinking about upcoming units in my fourth grade studio--and I wanted to share with you something I have been doing more and more of this year with great results.  I challenge you to think about how you can incorporate this simple strategy into your math instruction over the upcoming months.


As you all know, number sense is critical for students as we work to develop well rounded mathematical thinkers.  It isn't enough to be able to DO math, students need to be able to UNDERSTAND math, to reason about math, to talk about math, to explain about math, and to be able to apply math.  One thing that I have noticed is that my fourth graders (even my mathematically best and brightest) are very computation based.  They quickly learn algorithms and solve problems but sometimes the trickiest questions trip them up. consider the following number line I presented to my students earlier this year.


My question--"What number would go by the blue line?"  Trust me, I truly thought this was an easy one...a "no brainer"...a "warm up".  What happened was astonishing!  My students (especially the mathematically best and brightest!) all started yelping about how easy it was, blah blah blah.  When I asked for the answer, I got the following:


It's so easy!  It's 2,000 because 5,000 - 1,000 is 4,000 so you take half of that!

and

It's so easy!  It's 2,500 because the number line goes to 5,000 and the blue line is halfway!

Fascinating, right?  So...needless to say...we changed our course for the day and tackled number lines and thinking about numbers.  We created all sorts of similar number lines...we changed the starting and ending numbers, we changed the "blue line", we tried fractions and decimal, we tried adding in negative numbers.  Most importantly, we LOOKED CLOSER (see earlier post!!!) and really started paying attention to number lines.  We have amazing discussions--truly amazing discussions, and I am convinced many of my students are changed because of it.  We have continued to work regularly with number lines, and I can honestly say that simple problem has dramatically deepened students' mathematical understanding.



 So...my challenge to you is this:  How can YOU incorporate number lines into what you teach in math?  What other ways can you use them?  I actually use number lines as exit slips...I give problems similar to the one above and ask students to explain their thinking.  I'll even give problems as open ended as "Design a number line that accurately shows me where 0.35 and 2.5 would be. Explain your thinking."  Another favorite--have students build a number line with a "mystery blue line" and exchange it with a partner.  Have the partner write the missing number and explain their thought processes.  The two students need to come to agreement about what number should be there.

A few questions for those of you already using number lines...
*Do you always start at 0?
*Do you ask students to find missing numbers in all different places on the line--including BEFORE the first number listed?
*Do you vary the intervals presented?
*Do you encourage students to use number lines to model their thinking when solving problems?
*Do you ask students to explain their thinking when marking places on a number line?
*Do you ask students to both plot points on number lines--and to identify values for points that YOU have placed on the line?
*Do you talk about negative numbers?
*Do you explain why number lines have arrows on the ends?



What do you think?  Do YOU use number lines?  How do you use them?  Let's share our best ideas here!


(NOTE:  Try the pink problem above with your teacher friends...you can learn a LOT about your own mathematical understanding!  We had a teacher who had her eyes really opened about number sense when we tried these at our team time!)

One student working on finding "equal parts" on a number line moving from 0 to 1.
UPDATE:  I had SO much feedback about this post...it led to me making some resources to help teachers.  Here they are if you are interested!  Warning--these are NOT easy and require a great deal of modeling and math discourse!
This resource uses numbers up to 1,000.
This version extends the work up to one million.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I want YOUR best back to school ideas!

As you may or may not know, I spend last week in Vegas with a ton of other TpT sellers for an amazing and rejuvenating conference.  I cannot tell you how excited I am for the changes coming soon to TpT and to my own blog.  Have you ever been to a class where you get so many ideas that your brain simply feels full? Well..that was me.  My mind is just swimming--but I am excited to start organizing some of my thoughts and getting myself organized!  
My days were packed morning until bedtime--but I did take one evening to go take a stroll along the Strip to see the amazing (and interesting, at times!) scenes.
One thing that I have had in the works is now ready to roll!  I know I have so many readers who do so many different jobs in education...some are teachers, some are bloggers, some are stay-at-home parents, reading specialists--the works!  For months I have been wanting my blog and my Facebook page to be more interactive so people can learn from EVERYONE--not just me.  So my first step toward this new goal starts NOW!  Think you'd like to help me out? Then check out the image below.  You can simply click the image to fill out a form to share one or more of YOUR best back to school ideas so that other teachers and parents can learn from you.
That's right!  A new feature is coming soon on my blog--and YOU get to be a part of it!  I know so many of my followers have SUCH good ideas...and I thought it would be a lot of fun (and EXTREMELY HELPFUL!) for us all to learn from each other!  Watch for more of these opportunities coming soon--but for NOW, I am collecting ideas about back to school tips and ideas.  

I won't be able to share ALL of the tips I receive, but if you are interested in contributing to this little project, I'd love for you to fill out the google form and share your best ideas!  Feel free to share the link with your friends as well..it's a great way to share with teachers worldwide!  You can click the image above or HERE to submit your tip.  Thanks for stopping by!  I will be closing submissions for this post on July 21.  
Hope you can participate!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Texts on Tuesdays: CGI Math


One thing that I know to be true is that sometimes we need to hear/see/read things more than once before they really sink in. This week's "Texts on Tuesdays" is a throwback to a post from LAST summer...with a few changes.  If you aren't familiar with CGI math, I can't suggest enough that you dig in and learn as much as you can--whether you teach primary or intermediate students, understanding how students learn to problem solve is so important.  So--without further introduction--here is a post originally published LAST July!  Enjoy.

For today's "Texts on Tuesdays", I thought I would share some resources that you might be interested in if you ARE wanting to learn more about how children learn to solve problems.


What is CGI?

Cognitively Guided Instruction is an approach to teaching math developed at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1980's and early 1990's (yes, this is when I was there!).  It is based on using students' own thinking as the foundation for instruction...in other words, teachers base what THEY do off what the students already know.  The researchers (Carpenter, Fennema, and more) base their work on the assumption that students come to school with a certain amount of informal understanding about numbers and math.  The teacher's job is to learn what students know already, build upon it, and help students make connections between real-world math "stories"/experiences and--eventually--the abstract symbols we use to represent math (like +, =, etc).

This is VERY different than how math is traditional taught where we start very early by teaching the abstract symbol ("+) and then try to attach meaning to it.  In other words...we need to teach math IN a REAL WORLD CONTEXT well before we introduce those abstract symbols!  By immersing students in story problems from the day they enter our schools, we can better help them understand math and help them to be better problem solvers with better number sense.  The implications for us as teachers is that we need to become experts in "reading" our students, learning what they know (see why mathematical discourse will be so important?!?), and then making smart educational decisions for them.


As teachers we must also learn about the different processes and strategies that are typically used by children to solve these problems, and the various stages that students go through as they develop their math knowledge.
Ok...I know this was wordy and I STILL didn't convey the essence of CGI...if you are intrigued, I am including links to a few articles that you may find interesting!  I seriously wish I could convey it better...but if you are intrigued, I hope you might find some of these resources interesting.

Interesting Article about how CGI is making a difference in an at-risk school

CGI article explaining more about what it really is!

I love this book...if you really want to learn more about CGI, I think this is the book to get.  It's a little pricy, but on Amazon I did see used ones for about $10!  I put the link below so you can check it out.

So...CGI is really critical in the early years...but for ME, as a fourth grade teacher, I feel I need to backtrack with some of my strugglers to give them some of these experiences.  I worked to organize my thoughts and created some problems to create an "intervention" group of sorts...and as I kept going, it grew and grew.  I wanted sets of word problems that were "real world"...I wanted students to be able to select "just right" numbers to use--so different levels could use the same problems...I wanted BIG sized problems to use for teaching.  THIS was born!

Here are a few snapshots!
Blank pages to glue problems to use as assessments...the rest of the problems got glued into math journals
Students pick the numbers that are the right size for them...
Full sized problems to use as teaching tools
Love watching how students solve the problems...and then use as a part of our mathematical discourse

So...I had great success with helping my students recognize the six different types of addition problems when I worked with them in small groups, so I have gone ahead and made the same resource with subtraction  and now multiplication and division.  I hope you find these useful for either large group instruction, small group intervention, or even one-on-one coaching.




Anyhoo..thought I'd share!  I really hope you take the time to read up about CGI...there are tons of articles and sources out there...especially if you teach primary grades or struggling mathematicians!  Keep on learning, everyone!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Monday Made It:: Name sticks, t-shirts, dice mats, and geography!

Thanks a million to Tara for hosting this great link up week after week!  Make sure you click the logo below to take you to ALL the great posts this week!

OK...I can't lie.  I was going to bail on this week's MMI...I leave for Vegas tomorrow for the big TpT conference and I didn't think I could squeeze in the time.  I did it!  I even got myself packed for 5 days in a carry on bag--probably my biggest accomplishment!  Other accomplishments? Here goes!
OK...this doesn't really count because I didn't make it myself...but I designed it and ordered it!  I made myself a luggage tag, jumbo button and this SLICK t-shirt from  A Plus Images.  They have the CUTEST teacher t-shirts--not just customized ones like mine.  Bedazzled...grade level...inspirational.  Love!

Every year I use popsicle sticks to draw random partners, trios, and groups.  In fact, I probably make my groups with these "people pickers" about 75% of the time.  It saves times, ensures students learn to work with EVERYONE (yes, even boys working with girls), and that no one is last picked.  This year I thought I'd paint them.  Why?  I do not know.  I made a HUGE mess...and not even sure they turned out that cute!  They are done though--and made 4 extra for changes in roster and added students because I am NOT dragging out that paint again!
Last year I bought a few fun pieces of felt for dice rolling to keep things quiet and controlled.  I wanted to get some more but the store was out...so I bought some foam.  It was so boring so I thought I'd decorate it.  Stupid idea.  I tossed the first one that looked like a Pre-K project and then just added some accents in the corners.  Why?  Because I had my paint box out from project #2 above and it felt like the right thing to do.  Should. Have. Left. Them. Plain.



OK...this was my BIG made it of the week...really of the last YEAR.  I seriously started this project a YEAR ago and quit and started and quit and started.  I wrote all about it HERE if you are interested in reading more...but let's just say that I have FINALLY gotten all my mapping projects and ideas put together in one place! I love incorporating art, research, and challenge into whatever I teach--so I hope this resource doesn't disappoint!  I am leaving it on sale until I leave for Vegas!