September 2015 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
Check out today's blog post all about "growth mindset" over at...

I have even included a few video clips that REALLY impacted me when I first started reading about this over a year ago.  Check it out and see what you think!

My friends and I decided to give our followers some "Tricks" and some "Treats" as we move into our fall planning.  We have put together a little ebook full of some wonderful teaching tips and freebies to help you out!

I have included an addition fact fluency game--perfect for students who need a little extra review or to use with an intervention group.  I even send copies of it home as replacement homework for students who need something at their level to replace the homework that I might give the rest of the class.  The game has two level as well--adding 2 numbers and adding 3 numbers.  Enjoy!

Super easy rules--all you need is dice.  Students work to build fluency and get lots of turns in a short period of time.  I laminate a few of these colored boards to have on hand for review stations, for intervention work, and to send home as alternative homework for students who might benefit more from this than our regular homework.

Use the black and white version if you want to have the students write directly on the sheet--also great for sending home for more practice!

Differentiated--using three dice is a great way to further deepen fluency.  Students look for the two numbers that "go together" the most easily and then add the third number.  

So click the image at the top of this post--or the cover below to grab YOUR free e-book from your friends at UES! 

As we have been building more and routines into our days, I have been working on starting to improve the QUALITY of our partnering and small group work.  It has been interesting to watch, for sure--which students take charge...which ones sit back...which ones are off task...which ones don't know how to get started...and which ones rush through their work.  Now that I have a better understanding of my how my students work, it's time to refine the process!  I decided to break out my first open ended challenge since it has a back-to-school theme...and really played it up with the students.  You know..."This is really tough stuff--not all fourth graders can handle math like this." and "I thought I might have to wait to get started on this--but I think you might be ready."

Gentle mind games are ok--right?

So...they were able to convince me that they could, indeed, handle the challenge--we got started.  I started by talking a little about back to school shopping and asked them to think about what KIDS think and what PARENTS think about it!  We had a great discussion about prices and costs and discounts....and trendy supplies that have glitter and name brand shoes and so on.  I then set the stage for their problem--and then explained that this would be a cooperative activity.  We brainstormed a list of what makes a group run smoothly--and what gets in the way (off task behavior, "hogging" supplies, being silly, etc) and then set some goals for our project.

1.  Stay on task.
2.  Everyone participates.
3.  Ask for help when needed.
4.  Read and reread directions.
5.  Challenge yourself.

I reminded them that sometimes the right answer is less important than the process--and that their teamwork and cooperation were more important to me than a perfect answer.  I paired them up, made sure they were clear on the task, and sent them on their way.  My job? 


So as I walked around, I noticed a few things...first of all--
 Seriously!  Students were REALLY AND TRULY talking about the problem...about the math...about the "real world" of back to school shopping math.  I seriously couldn't stop smiling.  Even my most struggling students had an "I can do this" spirit and were trying to make sense of the problem.  For a few, a scaffolded by taking one element out of the problem--instead of having three stores to shop at, I had them only shop at one. This really streamlined the process for a few.

As I walked around I also noticed that pairs were really going back to the information pages and reading and rereading and talking about the content.  I had ZERO students say, "I don't get it!" or "I don't know what to do!".  They really worked as teams to try to get started on the task.  
 As I walked around coaching as needed, I was pleasantly surprised at the "stamina" my students showed me...many students were able to sustain focus for a full hour of working on this problem.  Those that were losing focus were quickly refocused with a quick discussion about their progress and a few guiding questions to get a little traction.
Overall, I was extremely pleased with their first MAJOR attempt at cooperative problem solving. We still have work to do, of course, but the climate has been established...and they seemed to feed off the idea that I was asking them to do "REALLY CHALLENGING MATH".  It was just a good reminder to me that students can rise to the occasion if we put them in  position to be successful and give them engaging, meaningful work.

Want to check out the problem we worked on?  Here it is!  Check out all the other "Thinker Tasks" in my store--and watch for some new ones this year!
There are a bunch of other Thinker Tasks in my store as well--including a bundle of them all!
Today is my day to post over on Elementary Chalkboard, but I thought I'd give you a sneak peak!  Without giving away the nitty gritty details, let's just say that I am suggesting that we, as teachers, may need to do a little leg work before expecting our students to be masters at accountable talk.  Want to see what I do? Just click this image to take you right to my post!
By the way...just a reminder that if you haven't signed up for my free newsletter, just click in the upper right hand corner of my blog!  My next one comes out soon and, as always, will be an exclusive freebie only available to followers!  Thanks for stopping by...
What's that?  That's right--it's time for another...
As we have finished our preliminary math assessing on students, I have found several students who are missing some key number sense concepts--so it's time to get to work!  I thought I'd share a super easy and effective tool I use with my students who are showing that they are not fluent with their number sequencing forward and backward.

"Huh?" you might ask.  By the time students get to third and fourth grade, we make a lot of assumptions about what they know and don't know--and being able to count forward and backward is one of them.  When we started assessing this, we realized that many of our struggling students were missing some key concepts--and being able to count backwards was one of them.  When it comes to overall number sense and, especially, subtraction--the ability to fluently move forward and backward along a number line is crucial--especially when crossing the "decade".

How can you assess it?  Just ask students to count for you!  Try starting at 17 and counting to 25...try starting at 54 and counting to 71...and then go backwards.  Try 15 down to 1.  Try 34 down to 19.  Try 78 down to 65.  Students should be able to do it with ease--if not, consider spending some time working on this fluency.  Would you believe that last year one of my students did not "use" 13?  She skipped over it completely when counting forward and backward.  This could cause a few problems, don't you think?  Today I thought I'd share the first step that I take when I find a kiddo who is NOT fluent with their number sequences.

Step one--simply fold a piece of cardstock to make this contraption--it's a folded piece with an extra "lip" to tuck the little doors in.  I hold the edges with paper clips so I don't have to hold them.  Mine was a 12 x 18 piece of cardstock--and that lip is about 1 inch.
 I then cut more pieces of cardstock into 3 x 18 inch "trains" that I wrote number sequence on...first 1-8, then on the back of that one 4-12 (so it crosses the "10"), and so on...teen numbers.  Numbers in the 20's...and so on.
 Then I work with my strugglers--only about 5 minutes each day.  I ask series of questions related to "before" and "after".  I start by having the student flip a door...and then the questions are asked until all the doors are opened.  I don't do all before or all after--I mix them up.  In fact, I don't do the numbers in order--I might ask, "What number comes before 11?" and then follow it with "What number comes after 12?"  I want to be watching to see if they are confident and if they can do it without hesitation.  When I feel they are ready to move on, I make a new train with larger numbers--especially focusing on the decade numbers.
I even move into the hundreds to really check for solid understanding.  After we get really good, we start working on "What number is 2 before __?" and so on.  This strategy is great to use with counting by 10's and 100's as well.  
So...this is a great intervention for the upper grades or a teaching tool for primary grades.  It's a great way to ease into similar work with a 100's chart (or a 110's chart) as well.

One thing that has happened over the last few years is an increased focus on reading a balance of informational and fictional texts.  We try to work in informational reading as often as possible--both with specific units and by weaving instruction and experiences into content whenever possible.

As we dig into our mapping unit, I wanted to see what kinds of experiences my students had with "informal research"--no real structure, just an "exploration" of sorts.

Here's what I did.  We are starting to talk about maps and globes (see the bottom of the post for my unit if you are interested in seeing more), so I gathered all the books in our library about the continents, printed off my interactive notebook continent flaps, and sat back and watched!  
Here's what I learned:

1.  My students had a pretty good understanding of the "features" of informational text (thanks, primary teachers!).  Students were able to list off lots of features of informational text and talk about how they help them understand and learn from what they read.  Yay!
 2.  Another thing I learned is that many of my students REALLY enjoy the research process.  The only direction I gave was to use the books to learn what they could about each continent--and to record their learning in their social studies notebooks.  I was thrilled to see that many of my students spent the entire 45 minutes (we will do another 45 minutes Monday) digging into the books and really working to record key information.  It was nice to see good stamina from so many so early in the year.
3.  One thing that surprised me a little bit was that students didn't seem to be grabbing information from the non-text areas of the books.  Although they were able to LIST the many text features such as captions, maps, graphs, and so on--very few students were using these features to collect important information.  Once I stopped the class and brought this to their attention, I started to see... 
...students using the OUTSIDE of their flaps to record important geographical features, cities and so on.  

4.  Another thing I learned from watching my students do this informal research is that students struggle to determine what the most important information is (rather than "cool facts") and also had a hard time recording ideas in their own words.  I definitely have some great teaching points for our first unit!
5.  One final thing I noticed during our informal research is that my students like to work together.  Now--they aren't always WORKING together, but they already have some nice collaborative skills as a foundation.  I can't wait to work to refine them so they can really and truly work productively.  There were only a few students who seemed to prefer to work together; it was good to see this so I can help "coach" them in this area. was a great day of learning for ME--about what my students know about informational texts and research.  I'm pretty confident that my students got something out of it too--they were genuinely excited to be digging into these books and were sharing cool learning with their classmates.  It was a great kick off to the next stages of our mapping unit--with more specifics about world geography.  If you are interested in seeing what else we will be doing during this unit, you can check it out here!
Whew!  I've been so swamped with back to school, football, and life in general!  I feel like my poor little blog is so neglected!  For fun, I thought I'd do a quick sharing session of my first week of school--in anchor charts!  These are in no particular order...and, of course, this is just a teeny piece of our week.
 As we kicked off writer's workshop, we brainstormed a list of what we thought would make our writing times productive...can't lie--the "take risks" one was mine!  #growthmindset
 One thing we are really working on is a part of what Fisher and Frey refer to as the "helping curriculum'.  With this, we explicitly teach how to offer help, politely decline help, accept help, and ask for help.  We practiced by doing challenging word puzzles, jigsaws, and projects.
After getting a tour of our classroom library, we started working on a list of what makes a book "just right" and what makes a book "challenging".  We talked about how personal this is for a reader--and how good readers really understand their own reading habits, needs, and strengths.  We compared getting into the reading "zone" to getting in the "video game zone"--where they can't even hear people calling their name.  If you have that feeling with a book--you know you picked a "just right" book for you!  I had many students who said they have never felt that while my goal is to change that for them this year!
This is a big deal for me.  Before we started a single project, I set the stage for work quality--something we will talk about ALL year.  I really want my students to take pride in their work and internalize that feeling of pride.  Stay tuned as we start passing around our new stuffed peacock to show work that proves we can be "proud as a peacock"!
 Because we work so much in pairs and groups, I felt it was important to talk about the types of actions that can both help and hurt a group.  We talked about previous experiences working in groups and how we can set the stage for a PRODUCTIVE year of group work.
Finally, to start building some math routines, I introduced "Number Talks" to my class.  Very few had done this in third grade so we worked hard to understand WHY we do number talks as well as HOW we do number talks.  Watch for more posts on this as the year unfolds!  I cannot recommend this 10 minute math strategy enough to develop mental math fluency and mathematical discourse.

So...there you have a little taste of what we did our first week--through the anchor charts we made as we went!  

(NOTE:  Some of these are pictures of the anchor charts we made together and others are the "rewritten" ones for display...I really believe that the process of MAKING the content with the students is important--even if you have to add in your ideas like I did on the writing expectations one...if you need to rewrite it for clarity or neatness, that's great--but make sure the students recognize that the content on the chart is the content you worked on together.  Just my 2 cents!)
Today we we tackled day 3 of school, I wanted my students to apply some of the concepts we have been talking about--mostly about helping each other and being receptive to help.  I decided to design a little engineering challenge that would require them to stick to a tight schedule, come up a with a plan, try it out, cooperative, test their idea, then reflect on the process...all while relying on each other for help.

This situation?

Help Harry.

When I first told my students that we needed to help Harry, they looked at me like I was crazy.  (They will soon see that this is not an atypical situation in my room!)  They started looking around quizzically and you could feel the excitement building.  Finally, I caved.  I introduced them to Harry.

Harry is a puffball (We have had 7 of them perched above our Smartboard and no one has said a word!) who needs a new "perch" so that he can see out over the class more safely.  I told the students that I would give each team a bag of supplies and a schedule.  I showed them their supplies (pipe cleaners, about 12 inches of tape, two muffin liners, a piece of aluminum foil, and two index cards) and told them to think about a nice safe place for Harry to hang out.
 After 5 minutes of talking and planning without supplies, I set the timer for 15 minutes and watched the teams get to work.
 I was SHOCKED at the wide range of strategies--and how much "re-engineering" took place so willingly!  We will talk more about that tomorrow...about how important it is to try, test, revise, and test again--whether it is in science, making predictions in reading, and more.
 This group was SO excited about their plan and couldn't wait to see if Harry would be safe in his perch!  (He no worries)
 I loved hearing the cheers echo across the room when the 15 minutes was over and I passed out the "Harries" to each team.  Every single team was able to test, modify, and support a Harry!  
 When the testing and celebrating was over, we took some time in teams to evaluate how we did in all the areas we had talked about before we started.  I was pretty pleased to see how honest they were!
It was a great discussion starter, collaboration teacher, science skill building half hour of FUN!  See what you think...grab the freebie if you are interested and tweak the contents of the supply bag to be whatever you have on hand!  Want to try it yourself?  Just click the image below to take you to the freebie handout pictured above.
Want to see a few more engineering challenges?  Try these!

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