June 2016 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
Hello! If you are a subscriber to my newsletter, some of the content of this blog post will be familiar (and if you AREN'T a subscriber, this would be a great time to subscribe--all announcements of upcoming Facebook Live sessions will done through that newsletter channel.).  The craziness of the end of the school year is past me--so  now?  It's time to WORK!  I have been asked over and over by readers to offer more in the way of staff development.  They love reading my blog posts and using my resources--but they want something more interactive.  I am thrilled to say--IT'S HERE!

If you haven’t heard of Facebook Live yet, you NEED to check it out. SERIOUSLY. It’s the best FB addition I have seen in a looooong time!  Some of you might have seen some of my Periscopes--but I really believe this platform is WAY better for all of us!  Just tune in, watch, listen, comment, and learn!

I have loved blogging and sharing ideas with educators since 2012...and I have CRAVED a forum where we could be more collaborative.  Facebook Live is the key!  I plan to share important and relevant professional development that can immediately help you in your classroom.  In addition to 25 years in education, I have a masters degree in curriculum development and pride myself on being a leader in our field--and I want you to take some risks and try new things in your classrooms too!
Are you interested in any of the following?
  • Math workshop tricks and organization
  • Assessment strategies
  • Using technology to improve instruction
  • Increasing problem solving skills
  • Classroom organization and culture
  • Great read aloud ideas for intermediate grades
  • Making sense of homework options
  • Improving student engagement and learning
  • AND MORE!
Here is YOUR chance to add on to the list!   I won’t be able to discuss any new ideas tomorrow, but I will put it on my list for the future.  I am excited to dig into some of these topics and have great discussions with other intermediate teachers who love to learn and think deeply about best practices in education.  Just leave your suggestions in the comments, and I'll add them to my list!

Please join me tomorrow, Friday, July 1, at 9 pm EST/8 pm CST, at my FB page (Just CLICK HERE) for my first FB Live video! This will be a quick one to get the discussion started and make sure we are all able to access the live feed. Please invite your teacher friends to join us. The more collaboration, the better! The best part is that this is free staff development and networking--and summer is the perfect time to get your brain rolling with new ideas.

One of the great things about watching a FB Live video is you can post and “chat” with other viewers while the video is playing. It’s a great way to connect with new teachers and share our best ideas.! Remember, you can click here to go to my FB post to share with your teacher friends to let them know when to join us. To encourage people to speak up, there may even be some live giveaways during the broadcast.   I hope to see you tomorrow!

P.S. If you can’t join me live, you can still access my video by clicking on the “VIDEO” tab on my FB page.  See you tomorrow night!
It's time for "Monday Made It" with Tara over at 4th Grade Frolics so I thought I'd share a little bit about what I did this past week.  Make sure to click the image above to take you to a bunch of other great ideas!  Last week I showed you some pics of my son's graduation gift...what I didn't show you was the front step of our house (a door we RARELY use...that's my excuse) where I neglected to notice that the the flowers I planted were a little...ummmm..."unwelcoming"?  Totally a "made it" fail.  How embarrassing.

I am trying to reduce clutter at my house this summer and my bathroom drawers were a hot mess.  I found a few craft containers meant for beads, snapped the lids off, and put one or two pair of earrings in each spot.  I have three of the trays in a drawer and I now can easily see what I have and where the pairs are!  It didn't take long, but it made a big difference!
 What's a Monday Made It without food?  I have to say...my son LOVES banana pecan muffins--but I just don't seem to be able to coordinate having both overripe bananas and buttermilk in the house at the same time. When the stars align, we get jumbo muffins.  The stars aligned--much to Max's delight.
 I have a big goal this summer--and that's to convert some of my favorite resources into Google compatible resources now that my classroom is 1:1 with Chromebooks.  This week I took my "Writing Task Cards: Creativity Task Cards" resource that I LOVED using last year and made some changes to make them work with Google.  I love being able to cut and paste and "send" a few cards at a time to my students!  This year I am going to project cards on the Smartboard to use to teach and model--and then when it's time to practice, I'll send my students a few cards to try.  Like with the original cards, I plan to have the students start working in pairs, doing lots of sharing, and then, finally, try some individually.

Anyhoo...I am still learning how to get more efficient at making these digital resources, but I know I need to get creative so I can really maximize those Chromebooks next year!  I was pretty productive this week and got both the dialogue resource done AND my "unworksheet" precision practice resource for multiplication.  I even blogged about it HERE if you are interested!  Hope everyone has a great week and thanks, as always, to Tara for the great link up!


Stay tuned for some up and coming math posts to get your wheels turning!
Combining Problem Solving and Computation
I think it would be hard to find someone who would argue with the following statement:

All students need to learn how 
to compute efficiently and precisely.

I mean--I sure can't argue with it!  I think the discussion comes in when we talk about how we expect our students to get there. Take these practice pages for example.  I use them.  In fact, they are part of two different resources in my TpT store!  But what purpose do they have?  WHEN do I use them?
There is a time and a place for computation
Want to see these resources?  Click HERE and HERE.
Here's what I believe to be true.

Teach with Intention


Computation fluency comes as as result of carefully planned lessons that help immerse students in hands on, meaning-based learning.  That means students don't learn how to "cross out the top number and take away the bottom" unless they have spent a great deal of time learning how our base 10 system works...how we can "trade" amounts from place to place, and so on.  I have heard the term "bare number" problems in reference to problems that are presented in numeric form with no "meaning" behind them, and I think we need to be mindful of how early we introduce these bare number tasks.  If you are familiar with CGI math (Here is a post about it if you have not!), you will know that CGI is based on the assumption that students can solve increasingly complex problems when presented in the form of a real world situation.  A child who may not understand the bare number task of 15 + 7 very well may be able to solve a problem (sometimes with physical manipulatives) that is worded in the form of a real problem such as, "Becky has 15 jelly beans.  If her mom gives her 7 more, how many does she have now?"  The simple act of MODELING with counters can help build this understanding.  This is especially true as the numbers get bigger and the math more complex--we need to build solid math understanding before asking students to do practice sheet after practice sheet.

Use Practice Sheets Appropriately


There is a time and a place for practice sheets--and it happens AFTER students know how to do the math!  Practice sheets are great for working on fluency, precision,and organization--but if a child is struggling with the math, handing them a page of six to ten double digit multiplication problems is probably not the best decision.  I also use sheets like this AFTER students know the math to use as an assessment tool.  I also use sheets like that AFTER students know the math as homework to practice that fluency and comprehension.  Because I believe students need to know the math, this may be a time when I don't send the same homework home with all students.  There is nothing more frustrating to a student and his/her family than to get homework home that they don't understand.

Use Best Practice Math Strategies and Instruction


Math is not fill in the blank.  Providing students with the opportunities to explore numbers, play with numbers, and develop their understanding is key.  Doing it alone takes opportunities for learning away.  Consider doing computation work collaboratively.  Students can discuss, coach, share ideas, check for accuracy, and deepen their understanding.  Math doesn't have to be a solitary activity!  One of my favorite things to do is provide the opportunity to have students work together on activities that aren't fill in the blank--AND provides computation practice!  After all, PRECISION is key; I sure don't want my students to understand HOW to add, subtract, multiply, and divide--but not be able to do it precisely time and time again.  

Use Problems with Multiple Solutions


Another great way to combine problem solving and computation is to provide students with problem opportunities that have multiple solutions.  This task card is one example--there are multiple sets of numbers that will work.  Another way to provide this experience would be to provide students with a solution--for example 320--and then ask them to come up with as many different multiplication problems as they can that work.  This is a GREAT way for students to start to look for patterns in math...they may start with 32 x 10--and then start to experiment until they find other solutions.

Differentiation is Critical


Consider differentiation.  Many activities can be done by ALL students at THEIR level.  For example, one thing my students love is to roll dice to create problems where they practice their computation.  I'll often give students 5 minutes of "warm up" time where they grab dice and a partner or trio and "roll problems".  If I want them to do multiplication, some might roll enough dice to do 1 x 2 digit.  Others 1 x 3--or 2 x 2--or 2 x 4.  Similarly, some might use dice labeled 1-6 while others use dice with larger numbers.  Helping students know exactly what their "just right" practice level is takes some coaching but is worth it. (And having a nice big dice bucket is fun too!)  The cards pictured below are another example...there are three levels of cards.  All students in the class could be having the same practice experience--but at their own "just right" level.

Check out these cards and see if you can see how they provide HUGE amounts of computation practice along with much higher level thinking and the opportunity for great math talk with partners or small groups!
Using Math Problems with many solutions
Multiple Solutions for Enrichment Problem Solving
Think of the number sense and problem solving a task like this takes compared to "Solve 45 x 62."  Both work on multiplication.  Both expect precision and fluency.  But this is asking the brain to do FAR more math!  (I hate to break it to you...it's also FUN!)  I absolutely love sitting back and watching students work on tasks like this--to hear their thinking, to see their strategies, to notice their misconceptions or areas where I could help them be more efficient.  I challenge you to find ways to give your students these opportunities--times when you can practice computation in a "non-fill-in-the-blank" way!  Sit back and watch and learn and see where to go next.
Hands On Problem Solving Activities
Earlier in the year I use the same type of cards for addition and subtraction practice...and my students LOVE them.  There are a ton of different ways to use both sets of cards..from intervention, to practice, to whole class challenges--and all meaningful ways to build computational fluency and precision.  Here they are if you want to check them out!  I'd love to know what you think about today's post...and any other ideas you have for raising the level of rigor with regards to computation!
One thing my district has been really giving a lot of attention to in recent years is number sense-especially the concept of "structuring" numbers.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, I have shared below a small excerpt from the following article:

Structuring Numbers 1 to 20: Developing Facile Addition and Subtraction David Ellemor-Collins & Robert (Bob) Wright  (Click HERE to read more!)


"In early addition and subtraction in the range 1 to 20, students can progress from using strategies involving counting by ones to using more facile strategies that do not involve counting. Researchers recognise this progression to facile addition and subtraction as critical mathematical learning, yet many low-attaining students do not make the progression successfully. There is a pressing need to understand how low-attaining students can progress to facile addition and subtraction, and to design instruction that facilitates such progress."


What we know to be true is that there is plenty of resource to support explicit teaching of "number"--starting with subitizing, then moving to structuring numbers to 5, 10, and eventually 20.  What IS "structuring", you ask?  Structuring numbers refers to the ability a student has to combine and partition numbers without counting.  When you ask a child to list a "way to make 7", we want them to be able to instantly say, "6 and 1 or 5 and 2 or 4 and 3 or 7 and 0".  If they need to think about it or count, they aren't "facile" with their structuring and this foundation needs to be strengthened.

This may seem like an odd thing to work on in the intermediate grades when our curriculum is filled with fractions and geometry and huge numbers and division...but this understanding that numbers can be broken up into parts and can be combined is the foundation of all of these!  Don't we want our students to understand that 7/8 is the same as 2/8 and 5/8?  Or that 1.1 is 1.0 + 0.1...and 0.9 + 0.2?  Or that a right angle can be made from two angles that are 40 and 50 degrees?  Or that 1,000 is a combination of 400 and 600--and 200 and 800..and so on?  This is what is at the heart of structuring, and students who didn't "get it" with lower numbers are going to struggle with the more complex concepts.  This idea of structuring is the foundation for addition and subtraction and, eventually, algebra concepts so we have to make sure they are securely grounded in the concept.

If you want to see how your students handle this, do a quick interview!  Ask them the following questions...

"Tell me all the ways you know to make 5."

"Tell me all the ways you know to make 10."

"Tell me all the ways you know to make 13."

"Tell me all the ways you know to make 20."

What are you looking for?  Can they do it quickly and do they sense the "pattern"?  I love to notice which students are random with their answers and which students "get it"...that 5 is 5 and 0, 4 and 1, 3 and 2...some might even ask "Do you want me to do their 'other' fact?" or something similar (3 + 2 AND 2 + 3).  It tells you a lot!  Do they need their fingers?  Are they obviously counting in their head?  If they are, they may benefit from some intervention work with structuring.  This is certainly not something we would expect ALL intermediate students to need--this is a concept that should be incorporated into math instruction in the primary grades, but as you and I both know--sometimes students don't get it when it is first presented...for a whole myriad of reasons.

There is WAY more to structuring than I am covering here...but I thought I'd give you a little something to think about--and a place to get started if you want to read more.  If it looks like there is a great deal of interest, I can add in some more posts throughout the summer!
Using bead racks (rekenrek), linking/unifix cubes, or ten frames to show the "ten" and physically manipulating to make one more and one less, using base 10 blocks (usually down the road a bit), and other place value tools can be VERY helpful in letting students explore these ideas and really see and feel how numbers can be split and combined.  If you don't have some of these tools in your intervention box, grab some!  Hmmm...maybe I see another blog post coming up!

I thought I'd share a few games I use to help me when I'm either pulling students for an intervention group or want the students I have worked with to continue to practice.  Students LOVE these games...and they are a great way to EASILY teach a concept and provide a way for practice.  I will even send copies of the game home as replacement homework for these students.  The first one I use with students who are working on structuring to 10...and then I have a second version that goes to 20 when they are ready.  Make sure you don't rush it!  The game is called "Block Out" and the goal is for them to roll dice and look for combinations of numbers to "block out" each number, 1 to 10.  This forces them to really see how numbers can combine. I play it with them a LOT at the beginning to model my thinking.  You might here me say things like, "I got a 1, 3, and 4.  I know that 3 and 1 make four and 2 fours is 8." or "I got a 2, a 2, and a 6.  I know my answer will even because all my choices are even." (I might even ask my "partner" to help me come up with ALL the possible answers for that one...like 1 + 2 is 4, 2 + 6 is 8, 2 + 2 + 6 is 10.  This models for them how they need to be flexible with their thinking!  Once they have really mastered "10", I bring out the manipulatives again and we explore the numbers between 10 and 20.  When they are ready for "bare number" tasks--we play "Block out 20"!
Another great structuring game is "4 in a Row".  This game is PERFECT to use with intervention groups or individual students who do not yet add 9, 10, or 11 fluently.  It can also be available for math workshop or stations for students to build fluency once they are independent.  Helping students “see” this is so important.  Consider using base 10 blocks, linking cubes, bead racks, or other “hands on” manipulatives where students can really see how adding 10 impacts the tens place…and adding 11 impacts both the tens and the ones.  Adding 9 is tricky for some students…showing them how
adding 10 and then “snapping off” a cube to show the “one less”.  Using bare numbers (no visual model or manipulatives) should really only happen after students have used these hands on materials to build their understanding. Too often we ask students to “memorize” their facts before they understand the structuring concepts involved! Use this game to TEACH, then let students continue to play it to practice fluency!

So there is a little background on "structuring"--and I can certainly blog about some of the more "hands on" materials and even some "make your own" ideas if people are interested.  Thanks for stopping by, and let me know if you would be interested in more information about this topic!


Happy Summer, everyone!

It has been the BUSIEST spring of my life with my baseball playing son finishing his senior year of high school!  I thought I'd share a little bit of what I have been working on in June in my few spare moments so I have hooked up with Tara at 4th Grade Frolics for my first "Monday Made It" of the summer!  Make sure to click the image below to take you to the link up to see all the other great ideas people are sharing this week!


The main thing I have been working on this spring has been survival--surviving the end of the school year (I finished June 9), finishing the baseball season (We finished last Tuesday with a loss in the State Semifinals), finishing my son's senior year/graduation, and FINALLY--his grad party on Saturday.  I thought I'd share a few things I made to make the day as special as I could!  It was a great day...although certainly bittersweet.

The party.  First o all, it seemed silly to spend $9 on a banner when I could make one, right?

Ummmm...several hours later and probably $5 worth of ink and card stock, world's LONGEST congratulations sign was born.
 I hung it on one wall of the garage with a bunch of photos...on the right I used red ribbon and strung all his school/formal pictures...from 3 months to 4K to senior pics! I mounted the pictures on black card stock and used a silver pen to write his age on each.  Everyone loved to see how he has changed in 18 years.  The other candids are some of my favorite shots from the last 18 years--many with friends.  I bought some cheap black mats online and just taped the photos to the back.
 I had to rent tables and chairs because we have none!  I used red and white (his high school AND college colors!) and these funky little dot garlands I found on clearance at Target to make the tables into a baseball theme.  More photos on each table, of course--as well as collages on little easels everywhere.
 My son is a "candy guy" so I made a candy buffet for his friends...to eat during the party and then had a stack of take out containers so they could take some "to go" as well!

 I didn't want to buy a cardboard box for his cards so I just tied a ribbon around a basket I already had and used a little chalkboard sign I found in the Dollar Spot.  I can't tie a bow but finally convinced myself that I just had to live with it.

With temperatures pushing 90 degrees and so much food that you should ALL have come, we had a great day.  I am so blessed that my son had an amazing high school experience with great friends and family.  It was quite a celebration.
Because I've been so busy, I haven't had much time for working on school things...but I am trying to get more intervention materials ready for the fall, so I did get one new game ready to roll.  Tomorrow I plan to blog a little about what "structuring" is and how important it is for our students.  This game is meant to help reinforce those concepts so stop back tomorrow and learn more about it!


Thanks as always to Tara for hosting this fun link up...and I am excited to be back blogging a bit more regularly now!  Happy summer to all of you--and for those of you not quite finished yet, the end is in sight!
Back to Top