my father turns 86 and will hopefully spend his day relaxing and watching bowl games in his "man cave" to warm up before our beloved "Bucky" plays tomorrow!  The last day of every year is a time for many of us to stop and reflect on the year gone by and to look ahead.  As my father has gotten up in years, it has been easier to let my mind start wandering...will this be his last birthday?

I found myself doing the same thing as I went to write today's blog post...almost becoming sad on a day worth celebrating!  SO--no more!  Today I am going to focus on the positive and do some quick reflections and quick "look aheads"!

  • Despite horrific things happening in our world, I am never disappointed in the way so many people react...whether it be acts of nature or acts of man, GOOD will triumph if we all do our part to make the world a better place.

  • Despite the stresses of the Common Core and "change", great things are happening in our classrooms and schools.  Let's continue to support our teammates and students as we work through the "rough spots" of this transition.  No, there aren't enough resources, money, or technology to do it right.  It's ok--one step at a time.  Worry about what you can control...(feel free to remind of this at any time)

  • Technology is making the world a smaller place and opening opportunities for many of us!  Let's not forget to put down our technology once in a while...there are real humans out there that enjoy us (for the most part!).

  • I went back and reread my blog post  Running on Empty to remind myself of how much I, personally, have learned in recent months.  I need to do a better job helping my students see that--no more "deficit model" for them either!  

  • There are so many cool ideas (spend a few minutes surfing Pinterest or blogs if you doubt me), so many amazing books, so much new information that it is almost overwhelming. I hereby VOW to not let myself get overwhelmed in 2013 and will, instead, savor one AMAZINGLY FANTASTIC idea at a time without thinking "Oooh...maybe it would have been better if..."  Admit it--you do it too--you are a "collector" of ideas, right?  
So...may each of you look back on your 2012 and savor the glorious moments and find the silver lining in the moments that are less perfect.  May you continue to learn and grow in the new year but take the time to reflect on how far you have come and not dwell in what you didn't accomplish.  And, finally, remember to take some time for you and your loved ones.  It may seem as though there isn't enough time in the day--but there is always time for them.

Peace to you all...and thank you for ending 2012 with me--and I hope you stick with me in 2013!


I know I have written about quite a range of topics since the beginning of this little blog, but recently I have seen a number of blog posts (here included!) about goals/resolutions for the new year.  Returning to school in January can be a great time for goal setting--and a great time to revisit some of those "back to school" things we do automatically in the fall.

I have been doing this teaching thing for 20 years now, and one thing I know to be true is that there are just some things that some students don't do naturally.  You would think they could walk in a a book without getting distracted...know to not peel off the nametags on their desks.  But they don't--at least some of them don't.  We need to explicitly teach them what we expect!

The push for better reading behaviors has dramatically changed reading performance (and enjoyment!) in my class.  For the last 5 years or so I have explicitly taught my readers what effective readers do...and it makes a difference.  If this is new to you, let me know--I could blog about it later.  It is a big deal--a REALLY big deal!

But today I want to talk about how I am going to go back and revisit MATH behaviors when we return to class next week.  The Common Core has thankfully included a set of 8 mathematical practice standards geared toward raising the level of rigor in the classroom--and require us to explicitly teach students how to be mathematicians.  The image above is an anchor chart I have hanging in my room.  We are going to work ourselves back through the list with a series of activities in January.  I am not so naive as to think that my initial instruction on this 4 months ago was enough for all my students.  We continue to talk about them throughout our lessons, but it's time to tighten the focus again.

So...if the idea of "Math Behaviors" is new to you, I encourage you to spend some time snooping around the Common Core.  The math practice standards are explained in somewhat technical language.  I have made this "math behaviors" anchor chart to be a little more student-friendly, and I have also posted mini-posters that state all 8 practice standards in kid-friendly language.  I have a few versions in my TpT store if you think they would help you.  So--another challenge for all of much "explicit instruction" have you given your students on what you expect from them in math class?  It's time for me to dig back in--would love to hear any ideas you all have for teaching math behaviors over the next weeks. 

I had a "wee hours" brainstorm when my feline friend woke me frightens me that the first thing I think about when awakened at 3:00 in the morning is my blog but...I think I might try a "Five on Friday" posting on Fridays...a list of 5 "somethings" that are worth thinking about...worth looking into...worth trying in your classroom...or worth doing for yourself.  So--we'll see if I can follow through!

Today's "Five on Friday" focuses on creativity, something I really and truly believe we have consistently avoided addressing in the schools as a critical component of teaching and learning.  In order to truly prepare our students for a world we cannot even imagine, we need problem solvers and creative thinkers...not just number crunchers and formula followers.  Let's set a collective goal to be more mindful of pushing students beyond the expected--and it might mean WE need to change how we ask questions, what activities we ask students to do, and how we spend our minutes during the day.

Below are five of the MANY different ways people can try to work more opportunities for creative thought into their classrooms.  Please feel free to add on via comments!

Five on Friday:  Creativity Counts!
1.  Have students "write from a word".  This is one of my favorite ways to spend a half hour!  Simply think of a word or phrase that is particularly meaningful to your class or events happening in their lives.  For example, last week we had a blizzard and on the day before the storm was expected to hit, we wrote from the word "SNOW!".  Students wrote about everything from how to build a snowman, what they would do on a snow day from school, about how much they loved to play in the snow, and even a poem about snow.  I give students 15 - 20 minutes to write--but the key part of this activity is taking 10-15 minutes to share as a class all the wonderful ways writers "tackled" the challenge.  This is a time for you to point out all the ways students approached the task.  I often ask them to brainstorm other ways that they could have written about the word...sometimes they come up with really creative ideas that they just didn't feel "safe" writing about!  Other words I have used this year very successfully..."mad"..."math"..."Shredderman" (from a read aloud)..."family"..."cursive"...

2.  My second way to encourage creativity continues from above...."brainstorming".  Brainstorming and list making are wonderful ways to involve ALL the students in your class--not just those who always have the right answer!  Remember to teach the expectations about brainstorming...that there are no "bad" answers...that we just keep adding to the list...that everyone needs to listen to other ideas because it might trigger new ideas!  We have brainstormed everything from problem solving a recess problem to what we wanted to learn about the skeletal system to books we have loved that others might want to read.  The sky is the limit--and you can get a TON of "bang for the buck" in only 10-15 minutes!

3.  I am an art teacher at heart, so I am always looking for ways to incorporate art and visuals into my teaching which leads me into the next two creativity explorations.  Number three is "Squigglestorming"--I's a form of brainstorming.  (See how creativity begets more creativity?!)  This is one of my students' favorites and this blog post has reminded me that we haven't done it for a lonnnnnnng time.  Squigglestorming   simply asks students to take a squiggle (can be generated on a reproducible, drawn by another student, or anything!) and turn the squiggle into something!  I have included a sample below...after you give the students 10-15 minutes to draw, have them leave their masterpieces on their desks and do a "gallery walk" to see all the different and creative ways their classmates tackled the squiggle.  This is a GREAT time to remind students about how to give compliments...."I loved how Taylor made the background..." or "It was such a good idea to..."

4.  Another version of squigglestorming is a "Think outside the box" activity.  I have posted an example below in case my explanation is too wordy or obtuse.  Give students a copy of a sheet filled with blank circles--or so they THINK!  Ask them what they see on the page.  Most likely they will say "20 circles" or "dots" or something along those lines.  Give some wait time...and more...don't jump in.  I like to pause and say, "Really?  I don't see that at all..."  Hopefully SOMEONE will get the activity rolling by saying, "Well, it COULD be a snowball." or "It COULD be an eyeball." Simply smile and nod.  Give them time to fly--see how far they can step outside the box.  If your class simply can't get started, you may need to be "that person" who nudges with one of the suggestions above.  Sit back and be prepared to be wow'ed.  I am always thrilled to see some students who might not always be the most successful at academic challenges take off on this.

Don't judge...I didn't have any student samples so I did my own.  The students will do better.  I promise.

5.  If you are still with me...WOW!  Thanks for sticking with my first "Five on Friday"!  I may need to rethink this idea if they are all going to get this long!  My final idea for incorporating more creativity into the classroom is simply "Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."  What do I mean?  We know that modeling for students is critical.  It's hard to write a quality opinion piece without seeing quality opinion pieces.  That being said, have you ever walked outside an art room or a classroom and looked at 24 absolutely identical projects and wondered why they all had to be exactly the same?  Make sure that sprinkled in with all your great modeling, that you DO provide times for students to work without models.  My favorite example--which sets the tone for the rest of the year--happens in my first week of school when we decorate our writers' notebooks.  I ask students to bring in fun papers, stickers, magazine photos, family photos, images printed off the computers, and so on--and they "create" covers for their notebooks.  The only rules?  They must have their name clearly visible, and they must make sure their "stuff" doesn't hang off the edges so I can cover the covers with contact paper.  We take an hour and the kids work together, work alone, share ideas, experiment, and--then--celebrate their beautiful handiwork.  The kids are so proud of their work that they don't even want to turn them in to be covered!  No rules.  No format.  No uniformity.  Lots of pride.

And there we have it--my first "Five on Friday!  Sorry for the length...apparently I had more to say about this topic than I thought!  Have a wonderful day--and think outside the box a little yourself today!  :)'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!


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. 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.

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

(NOTE:  Try these problems with your teacher can learn a LOT about their 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 kiddo working on finding "equal parts" on a number line moving from 0 to 1.

Really?  Back to school already?  It's hard to believe, but I am starting to let thoughts of the new year trickle into my head.  Most of it involves ALL the things I want to do better in 2013...I want to keep my papers more organized...I want to be better planned "unit-wise"...I want to gather more meaningful data about my kids...I want to feel less "frazzled" all the time.

So, instead of tackling those HUGE things (and--speaking quite frankly here--I'm really not sure how much improvement I am going to make in those areas), I have instead begun dabbling in some "fun" things to do with my class in those first few days back.  I have put together a little set of 5 "New Year" activities that are ready to go for me in those first few days back...a writing prompt, a "goal" sheet, a just-for-fun word work activity, and two math projects.  The first is simply a sheet where the students will use all four operations plus parentheses to find ways to make 2013.  The other I am more excited open-ended problem where they are given $50 to spend on planning a New Year's party for two kids.  The list of available supplies (decorations, food, drink, entertainment) is provided in "menu" format, and the students have to decide how to spend their money without going over.  I haven't decided yet if they will do it alone yet...I think it really lends itself to partner work.

Anyhoo...I am hoping to dig into more "intense" work as the next few days unfold--but I had to start with something kind of fun.  If you are interested in the activities, they are available in my store, but I think you see how easy they would be to create on your own.  Here is a link to the preview if you want a closer look at how to get started.

My "back to school" activities

As my family prepares for the first "stop" on our "holiday family tour", I just wanted to stop by the blog to wish each and every one of you a safe and joyful holiday.  Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, this time of the days get longer and we are writing more appointments on the 2013 calendar than the 2012 a time to stop, reflect, and be grateful.  So even though my fudge didn't turn out quite like I wanted, even though there have been some family "issues" related to scheduling, even though our family won't be fully together this Christmas...we are so very lucky.  

Enjoy your time together...savor the moments.  And when someone brings fudge to one of your gatherings--give it a try, even if it might not be the best.  (I would also NOT recommend that you give suggestions for improving it--just sayin')

See you on the 26th!  
Each year, I pick out a new ornament for my boys...something that symbolizes something from the passing accomplishment...a new hobby...a milestone...a favorite...a trip.  This year one son got a grilled cheese sandwich ornament (yes...they exist) and the other, a suitcase.  This blog isn't the place for my reasons why...but every year it is fun to look back at the ornaments and reflect on all that is special about each child and the year as it comes to a close.

As I sit and stare at our tree today, I can't help but think of so many things--how lucky I my boys are both we have so very many "things" it was actually tricky to select ornaments this year.

It got me thinking...what ornament would I pick for myself to symbolize this year?  A little computer to represent my new blogging venture?  A camera as I continue to work to refine my skills in that area?  A 3-ring binder to reflect all my "Common Core" documents?  A dove to symbolize the peace that I hope for in our schools and world?  It's hard to say...

I do know that it is important to reflect not just at the close of the year but all the focus on how lucky we are are and how much we have.  I need to be better about appreciating all the good in my life--even when things seem beyond challenging.  As we move through the holidays, I wish all of you happiness, joy, and peace...may you reflect upon how lucky we are.  I'd love to hear...what ornament would best represent your year?  Let's see how creative you all are!  Let's see if we can get a bunch of people to post their ideas--let's inspire each other!

As technology connects those of us across the world, let's hope for peace, joy, and love for us.  Happy Holidays to all of you.

It's time for me to start thinking about goals for the next year...and I figure if I DON'T call them resolutions, maybe I have a chance!  It can be overwhelming when you start to think about things in life you could improve or change or I am going to start a list of things that I think will make me happier and healthier in the new year.  Now that I have a week or so away from my classroom, perhaps I can get a head start.  I'd love to hear any goals YOU might have!  Maybe you can inspire me!

  • I would like to get a clearer "yearly plan" for school so that I feel more organized with my resources, etc.  I already have some ideas for things that will help me in my classroom--and they  may end up in my TpT store if I can make that happen!  I especially want to work on some enrichment opportunities for some of my very capable little buggers.
  • I would like to start exercising again.  I had been doing pretty well...but...ummmm...well...
  • I would like to find a better system for organizing all my files on my computer!  If my computer were to crash today...oh my.  That's all I can say.
  • I would like to learn how to make/market my own clip art.  I really love creating but need to find a website or something or someone who can clue me in on how to market it!
  • I would like to purge the house of some of the "extras" that make it cluttered and less user friendly.  
  • I would like to start eating healthier...this may be the 20th year for this goal.  Stay tuned.
Like I have told my students, it's no good to set a goal if you don't have a plan--so that will be part two of this project...THE PLAN!  When we return to school in January, my students are going to work on setting an academic goal for themselves...and I'm going to join in.  I created this resource to make a display outside our classroom...I think it will be fun!

Let me know what YOUR goals are for the new year--or maybe even for your break from school.  For now--it's off to finish up shopping and to make batch #3 of caramel corn.  (Note:  The caramel corn interferes with goal #6. I realize this. Don't judge.)

Today as the students came in from their final recess of 2012, I had a new book and a candy cane on their desk as a small gift.  After reading with them for the last 4 months, I have a pretty good handle on their interests and their abilities so it was fun to "shop" for books that I thought they might like.

I tried to push them a little...I told them that I didn't pick books by authors they tend to read now...I didn't pick topics that they tend to read now--but that I took what I knew about them and picked something special.  For example, I have a small group of kids who have poured through the Percy Jackson books--for them, I picked a Gary Paulsen adventure and explained that I thought they might like to follow a different type of character on a different type of quest.  For another student who has been obsessed with reading Andrew Clements books, I selected "Strider" by Beverly Cleary and told her that I thought she might like to see how another author helps us get to know a main character, something both of these authors do so well.

Part of the joy of teaching reading is teaching students about the habit of reading--how we select books, how we maintain our focus through books, and how we think about the books we read.  I have to admit, I go a little overboard.  My classroom library is my pride and joy...I stopped counting at about 4,000 books...and I want my students to always have a little piece of that "book love" in their hands and in their homes.  For those of us who are fortunate to have grown up with a love of books and easy access to them, this might seem mundane.  But for some--like the one today who said, "You mean I can keep this one forever and ever?"--you never know when our love of books can spark something in a child.

May each of you find some beauty in a book over your winter break...and may you continue to get to know your students (and yourself!) as readers in the coming months.

Happy Last Day of School!

So...I was right.  Snow Day!  So--what do I do in between rounds of shoveling?  Make more homemade caramel corn?  Wrap presents?  Clean a bathroom?  So many things to do--and here I sit!  The beautiful snow (sure wish you could train it to only fall on the grass!) makes me think of how much fun the kids are going to have at recess tomorrow--then winter vacation!

One of my main goals over vacation is to develop a more organized way for me to keep track of problem solving activities for my kiddos.  Teaching problem solving is SUPER important to me, and when the Common Core was first released and I learned of the Standards for Mathematical Practice, I was thrilled! "Finally!", I thought, "We can teach CHILDREN instead of teaching a MATH SERIES!".  It has been an interesting journey so far, and I know each year will get better.  One message I am trying to share is that helping students develop problem solving strategies is critical in our classrooms.  I think many people hear the term "problem solving" and equate it to "word problems".  I think this does our students a disservice.  To me, problem solving simply means "I can apply what I have learned about math concepts and apply them to new situations."  So--when I ask a child to explain to me why architects have to be good at geometry, this is problem solving.  When I ask a child to prove to me that 32 + 27 < 7 x 9, this is problem solving.  When I ask a child to find a way to spend less than $10 at a restaurant when given a menu, this is problem solving.  What about asking students to find all the possible ways to break a $20 into change?  Can word problems be problem solving too?  Of course--but they are not the only way to help our students become better problem solvers.

I have been working with my team to find more ways to infuse problem solving into our math block...and we are pushing each other as professionals.   It has been as much fun watching our staff learn as the children!  If you haven't begun to dabble in the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice, I beg you to do so--if you work together as a team, they can truly be a game changer for your kids.  Attitudes about math, problem solving, and number sense are through the roof in our wing!

Teaching students to think is just as important as teaching them how to find common denominators--and the Standards for Mathematical Practice are a fantastic way to make sure that we are keeping the PROCESS in mind--not just the math content.  Remember--problem solving does not just mean word problems...problem solving is an attitude, a state of mind, a habit to nurture--and it starts with how we design our math instruction!

Look for dozens and dozens of problem solving resources and Standards for Mathematical Practices resources in my store if you are interested!  

Not sure if any of you have noticed this, but we seem to be being asked to do more and more every year...teach more "stuff", learn new curriculum, assess more, report more...and much of what we are being asked to do is really good "stuff"--REALLY good!  However, if you are like me, you may also have noticed that they have not added a 25th hour to our day (YET!), so somehow we need to get better at adding "stuff" to an already crowded day.

I have been working hard to find ways to be efficient with my teaching...I connect my reading and writing wherever possible, I try to incorporate informational texts and nonfiction instruction with my content areas, and I try to work math into ANYTHING we do!  One thing I would like to get better at doing is teaching technology skills meaningfully.  We teach keyboarding intensively at the beginning of the year to help the students be better ready to navigate the other things we do.  I teach a series of word processing lessons so they can effectively communicate their ideas.  This year one thing I did was to teach some word processing skills in a review of our electricity unit--and you can see a few of the products below.  The students had a blast, loved helping each other, "oohed and ahhhed" over each other's ideas--and learned a lot of tech skills in the process.  

How did I do it?  Simple...I showed the students how to do the following by modeling how to:
  • insert text boxes
  • insert "shapes"
  • draw different types of lines
  • make shapes transparent
After the minilesson, we headed to the lab.  The only direction?  

"Using what you now know, make a representation of a complete electrical circuit."  

Best 45 minutes in the computer lab this year--hands down.  So...when we feel overwhelmed with how much we have to do, let's put our brains together to think about how we can accomplish more than one task in meaningful, engaging activities.  Work smarter, not harder, right?  Anyone have any other successful tech/content ideas to share?  I'd love to hear them!

One of my struggling students came up with this beauty!
These were too great to not display!  The kids were SO proud!

This kiddo found the arrows and used them as part of her labeling system.

I’ll never grow up.

Shhhh….seasoned teachers know this.  You don’t utter it aloud--EVER…but I am relatively confident that blogging doesn’t count as "aloud".  If it does—don’t tell me.  Here’s the deal…I THINK WE MIGHT HAVE A SNOW DAY THURSDAY.  That’s right…shhhhhhhhh.  Perhaps shocking to some of you—but truth be told, teachers probably look forward to snow days more than students!  For those of you who live in warmer climates, I’m not sure what the comparison is…but teachers in my building today walked around with that knowing glow—the one that says, “If you don’t say it, I won’t say it!”

Is it that we don’t want to be with our students?  That we don’t love what we do?  Absolutely not.  I think, deep down, what it simply means is that there is a little piece of everyone one of us from age 2 to 102 that relishes surprise.  That revels in “this wasn’t supposed to happen but I sure love it!”.  That savors those happy little moments in life that we didn’t ask for…maybe don’t deserve…but befall us anyway.  It’s a way for teachers to feel like a kid again—to have a “freebie” where ANYTHING we accomplish is better than we would have on a normal day!  It feels guilty almost—like we aren’t quite sure we deserve it but sure are glad we got it!

So how do we capture this feeling all year round?  I think we need to tap into our inner child.  Laugh at stupid knock knock jokes.  Be mystified that our body produces more than a quart of saliva in a day.  Stop and watch the caterpillar cross the sidewalk—and make sure it arrives safely on the other side.  Lay on the floor and read with the kids.  Lick the frosting off first. 

Being a grown-up has its perks…but letting ourselves remember what it is like to be a kid makes us better teachers, parents, and human beings.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

(and all of you in the path of the storm…be safe)
Today as we returned to school trying to grapple with "normal", we continued our attention on "looking closer".  We have been learning different strategies in both math and reading to "look closer" at text, at numbers, at patterns, and more.  I want the students to work HARD at making sense of their not just sit back and let it happen around them.

In reading we are focusing on informational text...and we are reading.  And rereading.  And discussing.  And rereading--and I am beginning to see some "habits of mind" develop.  Today the students were reading articles from National Geographic Explorer magazines.  If you can find ANY money in your budget to get a class set (or even enough for partners to share) for a year, I could not recommend a resource more.  I subscribed for several years and saved all the class sets which I can use year after year--you won't be disappointed.  As the students were reading, they were coming up to me and showing me things they noticed, asking amazing questions, finding vocabulary words that we have seen in other places...all things that we have discussed as we have practiced "reading closer".

So today, I tried applying it to our science class.  We are deep into our studies of the human body, right now focusing on the skeletal system.  We are lucky to have a life sized model of a skeleton, so today we "looked closer" and worked on scientific drawings.  I encouraged students to really look at the shape of the bones, how they connect, their size, to consider their purpose, and so on.  As they drew (with a few chuckles along the way..."Check out my looks like a lima bean!" and "My cranium looks like a rock!"), I "listened closer" and heard some amazing scientific discussions about the body, the skeleton, and the concepts we had covered on previous days.  They had a ball, worked together to "coach" each other, and solidified their learning.

Ask students to look read "closer" think deeper.  They can do it--we just have to show them how!

Looking closer...this student was very focused on making sure he drew the hip correctly...he wanted to show the ball and socket joint accurately!

So cute...and very motivational.  It's kind of our "class pet" right now!

Tomorrow many bloggers are making their blogs "silent" in honor of the tragedy in Connecticut.  So often we  grasp at straws when faced with horrible times.  We all handle tragedy differently...and so will our students.  So, today, I have just a few VERY random "thoughts" I wanted to share.

  • Tomorrow I, too, will have my blog go silent--not because it makes a difference to the world or takes away any of the pain, but because it recognizes that each one of us is a small piece of the big machine.  Every piece matters...even the parts no one sees or hears.
  • Tonight my give away has been so much fun to meet new followers!  I will contact the winner tonight by email and will announce it on the blog on Monday.  Thank you all for participating.
  • Hug your families and friends today.  They matter.
  • Be ready to tackle the news on Monday with your students.  Be mindful of the ages of your students...and know that deep down, students just want to feel safe and loved.  We can do that.
  • As the different stresses in our schools continue to layer upon us, take care of your coworkers.  Remember we are a team...and teammates pick each other up, especially when times are tough.
  • Want to follow my posts from your phone?  Consider the FREE app "Bloglovin" to follow me and your other favorite blogs.  I have put a "follow" button on the right side of my page.  
  • As we go into our last week before the holidays, remember to savor the moments with the children--even when they are fidgety and talkative and unfocused.  This time of year is magical for them.  Dig deep and find the patience to smile with them.  (This point is primarily for me...I will reread it every day before I go to school--smile)
One of my favorite quotations is from Anne Sullivan, one of the most impactful teachers ever...

"My heart is singing for joy this morning!  A miracle has happened!  The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed."
--Anne Sullivan

So as we as teachers, parents, and humans try to tackle this horrific tragedy, let's grasp on to all that is positive. Go out and make a difference...we can change the world, one child at a time.

What words does one say?  There simply are no words to describe the events that unfolded today.  I hope there is some way for the families of those lost today to find a glimmer of hope in the days to come...for the community to find some comfort somehow as they unite together in this most tragic of days.  

It is easy to become consumed by the news...the tweets...the images.  I refuse to let the evil in the world take more of me than it deserves...there are enough victims already.  Educators, parents, strong and find the good in the world.  It's out there...even when it doesn't seem possible.  Hug your loved ones.  Hard.
We are deep into our study of informational texts...with a focus on "feature articles".  It was so fun today to sit back and watch the students immerse themselves in the beautiful National Geographic Explorer magazines I brought out...they read alone, they read together, they came to show me things...and they just had time to read to learn about some of the coolest topics.  Who WOULDN'T want to read about poisonous animals or pirates or how volcanoes form new islands?!  No worksheet to fill report.  Just. Read. To. Learn.

Simplicity can be very powerful.  Don't you think we make things too complicated sometimes?  Don't get me wrong...this is all in preparation for a pretty substantial writing project, but today--for 45 minutes--we just savored learning because it was really, really, cool information and nothing more.

In honor of simplicity, I now end this entry--maybe my shortest one ever!


It was a pretty low key in fourth grade today--for a once in a hundred year event!  The kids were pretty excited about 12-12-12 day...and we tried to incorporate some fun throughout the day...we wrote number sentences with ways to make 12, we brainstormed "Top Twelve" lists...but the most influential part of the day came with a team activity where trios were give 120 seconds to try to list 12 items in a fruits, famous people, authors, and so on.  Their "challenge" was to see how many categories they could "complete" as a team.  The kids had a blast--and I enjoyed a little eavesdropping while they worked.

"Isn't a pumpkin a fruit?"
"Does SpongeBob count as a famous person?"
"Is New England a city?"  (This group was trying to complete their "cities" category using only pro football teams)
"Can I put myself down as an author?"

Very fun indeed.  But the most important part came at the end where we talked about how they think they would have done on this task ALONE, and all but one very confident young man emphatically declared that the team was far more successful.  I probed for answers.

"I got stuck and my team helped me out."
"B's mom travels for work so we used a bunch of her cities."
"W is a football freak so he knew lots of athlete names."
"I don't write very fast so it helped that A could do that."

Wow.  Powerful stuff for a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds.  Don't get me wrong--we acknowledged the "glitches" involved with teamwork as well, but the kiddos definitely agreed that all our practice this year has paid off--working in teams is getting easier.  We grown ups probably need to remember that too, don't you think"  ;)  Happy 12-12-12 to you all...
Writing some of our "Making 12" equations...

Excellent cooperation...this group had it together!
Helping out a teammate...
Today was one of those days when I sit back after "my people" leave and am just grateful for the wonderful group of kids I have...

Earlier in the day one of my petunias wasn't feeling well...knowing she isn't a complainer, I talked to her a little bit and started filling out a pass to send her to the health room.  As I was writing, I heard her softly say "I'm dizzy..." turned and watched her eyes roll back and she collapsed.  Fortunately, I was able to catch her and ease her to the ground.  Only a few kids were nearby--I sent one across the hall to get help, another to get pillows from the reading area...and for the next 15 minutes, my students carried on with their small group work, minded their own business, and let me work with other staff to take care of the ill child.

No one freaked out.  No one commented.  No one interfered.  After we got her safely on her way home, we talked and I told the students how proud of them I was--that no one panicked (included myself in this one, thank you very much!), no one was a nuisance, and everyone who needed to pitch in, did.  I told them how nice it was to be able to count on them to continue with their learning when I was indisposed.  "Well, we knew right what we were supposed to do!" said one.

And that's what struck me...when kids know what to do, they can do it.  We have worked hard to get our classroom community to the point where they DO know what is expected and they can take care of business.  I believe it was Richard Stiggins who said "Kids can only hit a target if they can see it and it is holding still."  (or something to that effect) and I know it to be true--for academics AND behavior.  I'm still bringing them cookies tomorrow.  They deserve it.

(And my little petunia is home and resting fine...looks like a bug and nothing more)


As we near our winter break from school, I am going to try my best to squeeze in one more of our new math units--this one on basic decimal concepts.  I knew the students had been introduced to decimals last year, but I was certain that it wasn't going to do us any harm by going back to the beginning.  Way back.  Like..."What IS a decimal?" back.  Just a note--good call on my part.  ;)

What I discovered was that the students really had no clue about what decimals are...why they are they are written--or anything mathematically important at all.  "Fine," I think.  "Let's start at the very beginning..." and off we went.

As we started talking about counting, and "wholes" and "parts" and other number concepts, we gradually moved ourselves into a discussion about how to write "parts" of numbers.  We talked fractions.  We talked pictures.  And...finally...we talked decimals.

As things picked up, I started working in some of those more critical things--reviewing the names of the different places (ones, tens, hundreds, tenTHS, hundredTHS, and so on) when the question of all questions came up.

"Why aren't there any 'oneths' in decimals, Mrs. A?"

Other voices chimed in with "Yeah!  How come?" and other generally annoyed comments.  In other words--for the last 3 months I have been working to convince my people that math makes sense--and here they found their proof that math does not, indeed, make sense.

So...why the blog post?  What is my food for thought today?  As I try to do (still working at being consistent with this!) when my students produce brilliant questions, I took a moment to think.  How am I going to handle THIS one?  And, as usual, I am glad I did.  Taking that moment to pause kept me from explaining the "Truth" and gave me the wisdom to say instead, "That's your job to figure out today..."

...and 90 minutes later, they did.

Have a great day everyone--take a moment to pause...let them make their own sense out of the world.  They can do it.

You know, one thing I know about life is that all of us are too busy all the time.  Have you noticed this? We are behind at work, there are always things to clean at home, errands to run...and I never quite feel I am "caught up".  This state of constant "running around" has left me with this nagging feeling of "I'm never going to get caught up!" that pervades my thinking every leaves a shadow over me.  It's exhausting feeling behind schedule all the time.

It occurred to me over the last few days that operating in this deficit model ("I'll never get it all done...I wish I were better at...) is going to wear me down and completely sap the joy out of my life.  I have vowed to shift my more "I'm running behind" and more "Look how far I've run!"

When I think of the last few weeks, I have had some wonderful things happen in my classroom...those small moments where I know a child discovered something new or felt a sense of accomplishment or got through a struggle.  I, personally, have learned so much technology THAT I TAUGHT MYSELF that I certainly shouldn't think about how much more I should have taught the students or how much MORE technology I need to learn!  Instead, I am going to let myself simply be excited that there is more out there for me for me to tackle...and I'll get to it when I can.

What triggered this for me?  Oddly enough, an article I read from Twitter about teaching writing!  I'd love for you all to take a look at inspired me as both a blogger and a teacher about what writing is all about--and what writing is not.  I know I use too many may have noticed this as well...and I put too many things in quotation marks..and I don't do any prewriting (probably why my posts aren't always to the point)...and I probably haven't changed the world with a single thing I've written here.  But I have been writing from the heart and enjoying it...and there isn't a single 5 paragraph essay among them.  If you want something to think about--check it out!  Have a wonderful Sunday, everyone.

"I'm not a good writer" article
Tis the season to find ways to keep the learning moving forward while the students minds are on other, far more fascinating things.  For the 3rd (maybe 4th?) year in a row, my class has joined up with Jen at

for another year of her wonderful Holiday Card Exchange.  Each year, Jen spends countless hours collecting and organizing classroom data from ALL over North America (and beyond I believe!)  to create groups of classrooms who design, make, and send holiday cards to each of the other classrooms on their list--and one to a children's or veteran's organization as well.  This year's theme:  snowglobes!  The learning that happens throughout this unit is so inspiring...the students have an "audience" to create for, we have a real-world opportunity to pull down the map and talk about geography, we review how to address an envelope, and then sit back and wait for our cards to arrive--and more lessons to teach as they do!

We hang a large map above our lockers and "pin" each location as the card arrives.  We read each card as a class (including the data sheet each classroom sends along), pass the cards around, and then hang them up around our map attached to their pin with a string.  "So THAT'S where North Carolina is?"   "How far away does our farthest card have to go?"   "How does the post office know where to take these?"  ...all comments overheard yesterday while the students created their cards.  Each day the students anxiously await the arrival of the mail to see what surprises come our way.  If you haven't visited Jen's site--I can't recommend it enough.  She runs a variety of interactive projects throughout the year for all grade levels--my class has participated in a number of different ones and they are all superbly orchestrated.  Take a look--and put some of her projects on your "to do" list!

Here's one...
Check out this version...     
And one more...
 So...if you can't beat 'em--join 'em!  Make the most of every day...lots of little lessons were taught yesterday as we worked to make our world a little smaller--and a little happier as well.

Hey everyone!  I discovered a new app on my iphone today called "Bloglovin" allows you to follow and get updates from a whole host of blogs--from education to weddings to ANYTHING!  I have put Fourth Grade Studio on it, so if you sign up, you can follow from your phone!  This old dog has learned an awful lot of tricks in the last few weeks!

See the link below my "grab my button" on the right side of the blog!


So today was one of those "I know I should have this lesson more planned out" sort of days, but I just didn't quite have it together.  I knew my objectives...take the information my kids' research teams had been collecting for the last few days and get it ready to share with each other by tomorrow.

I debated about a mini report...about writing an article...a powerpoint...and then decided that this project was worthy of about a 45 minute time for the kids to take a 12x18 piece of paper and make a research poster--nothing more.  So...I gave the kids simple directions:
1.  You will be teaching someone from your poster so include the most important things they need to know about your topic.
2.  You must include a title, headings, and a small glossary (we have been working on identifying "technical vocabulary")
3.  You must include at least 2 examples of graphics/drawings/charts with captions and/or labels
4.  You must work neatly, accurately, and use correct mechanics and spelling
5.  You will be teaching your partner tomorrow--but you cannot READ your poster.  You must teach from it.

I told them nothing more...and sent them off.  I got the questions you would expect--and some you wouldn't!
"Can we use the books we used for our research?"  Yes.
"Can we work together?"  Yes.
"Can we make bold words?"  Yes.
"Can we keep them when we are done?"  Yes.
"Are we going to be graded on these?"  No.
"Did I draw this dolphin upside down?"  (Seriously.  This was one of my questions today.  My reply..."What do YOU think?")

And for the next 45 minutes I wandered around, asked questions, "noticed" things, found experts and directed other students their way, and celebrated.  The students took such ownership and used each other, the informational texts, and their own notes to create wonderful teaching tools to use tomorrow.  They begged for another work time so they could make them just a little more "professional" ("professional" is a big thing in our room!), and--of course--the answer was yes.

I had no idea going into our "informational text workshop" today how things would unfold, but I left school today knowing that good things happened--because I got out of the way.  

As a follow up to yesterday's blog entry, I spent some time last night reflecting on the time my students and I spend in readers' workshop every day in my classroom.  I've been doing this teaching gig for a long time...20 years...and I have seen the whole language movement and basals and guided reading and literature circles and--the list goes on.

What I know to be true is that children learn to read by reading.  Not doing worksheets.  Not being the "Artful Artist".  Not memorizing the 6 vocabulary words magically woven into the story.  Students learn to read by reading, and it is our job to help students unlock that special magic that allows them to read for joy and understanding.  Students need to learn to select books they sustain reading for extended periods of talk about books with others...and to really think about what they read.  I think many of us entered the field of teaching because we "get" that!  We derive pleasure from text and thinking deeply.  It has become painfully obvious to me over the years, that this is not a natural "unfolding" for many students; they need a coach to help take them on this journey.  We need to sit together with kids on the floor up to our eyeballs among piles of books to help them find those books that are just right fits for them...books that will keep them moving forward toward deeper understanding of text.  It may not happen without us.

If you aren't familiar with the readers' workshop model, I challenge you to spend some time digging in to the topic...I can honestly say this deeply personal connection to students and readers changes lives--for teachers and students.

If anyone is interested in seeing one way I help keep track of what my students are reading, I have posted my reading workshop management system in my store...I would be happy to explain what I do in more detail to anyone who is interested.  What do YOU know to be true about reading?

Strangely enough, my best ten minutes today were spent working with one of my students who is STILL not making good book choices...she struggles with comprehension and is constantly abandoning books.  Today we had a private conference in the reading area where we dug in deep to the books...I would pull a book and she would have to decide "no way", "maybe", or "for sure!" based on all the strategies we have worked on this year.  She is still not independent at this, and I guess I just assumed she was. Never fear!  After only 10 minutes, we created a special book bin ALL for her with 7 "for sure" books and 5 more "maybes"--and off she went to give one a try with a huge smile on her face.  Reminder for me?  We sometimes are teaching lesson after lesson--but forget we are teaching KIDS...take the 10 minutes to dig in and see what's going on!  What were YOUR best 10 minutes today?

Today was one of those "best of times, worst of times" kind of days...from being totally overwhelmed with our new units in language arts to being totally inspired by this video clip.

Do you find yourself trying to to seek out inspiration from others?  Who or what inspires YOU?

I love finding ideas from other teachers that truly inspire me to be I vow to remember that I may not be as good of a teacher as I want to be, but I am better than I was yesterday.

I finally finished!  My new game series "Trilogy" is finally a reality!  I have been simmering on this one for quite a while, and I proud to say that the first edition is complete!  I would LOVE feedback on it, so if you have time, pop over to my store and check it out.  The idea came to me out of a need...a need for intermediate kids to have fun ways to independently practice many of the concepts we teach--but not in the "cute", primary way that so many games and activities are designed.  I hope this "big kid" memory game series will be just such a tool for grades 3-6 teachers like me!  Let me know what you think--and watch for more editions coming soon...I have others in the works!

Much like a typical memory game, students lay out an array of cards and look for matches.  The big difference is that THESE games need THREE matches, not just two!  It adds a level of challenge to the game--and increases the fun and engagement.
Having watched my students play this game, I could not believe the great discussions it generated!  I'd love for you to check them are the covers of a few of them!  You can easily modify them by using less "trilogies" or by having students work in pairs.  Check out these great topics!

Let me know what you think--and if you have other versions you would like to see!