July 2016 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating

It's TIME!  The official Teachers Pay Teachers Back to School Sale "boost" is happening today!  I am revisiting this post from earlier this month to celebrate. I try to not do shameless product plugs...but at these sale times, I do like to showcase some of my favorite products you may not know about.

I have also published a new freebie if you want to grab it as well!

OK...so now some of my absolute favorite resources...

My number 1.  My fraction unit.  This unit literally took months and months and was a true labor of love as my students and I worked through it.  I believe it to deepen true understanding of fractions at a level no textbook I have seen provide, and I love that you can use it as a complete replacement unit or use parts of it to supplement a textbook.  

With it, my fraction word problems, and my fraction sorts, you have a month's work of quality fraction explorations.  Thanks to a loyal follower who suggested I bundle them!  I would say my fraction unit is my favorite. 

 Then it gets tricky to choose...

Another set of "favorites" are my word problem bundles because I am PASSIONATE about getting our students to do more problem solving and whether or not your have a series you love, a series you despise, or no series at all--we ALL need to have more word problems on hand to use as class warm ups, cooperative problems solving, stations, and more.  My bundles of word problems are pretty popular and I have gotten lots of feedback about what a time saver they are.  Here are a few!
Another thing I feel pretty passionate about is helping students learn to be independent readers and book lovers!  These two resources have been helpful to hundreds of teachers who are looking for new ways to keep their kids reading, to track their reading, to build excitement about books, and to realize that reading is a personal and enjoyable experience.  

I know lots of you have used my concept sorts over the last year, so I had to include my latest one. If you haven't tried using concept sorts--either that YOU have made or that you got from me...you seriously HAVE to try.  It is so much fun--and you can see how much more deeply your students will think about the topics.  I have more in the works--but this one is a GREAT one for back to school because it really gets them thinking about the concept of "equals"--the foundation of SO much math work!  There are also fraction, multiplication, geometry, and angle sorts available so far in my store--and a bundle as well!
In staying with a math theme, developing number sense is SO important--and many students move to the intermediate grades with a less sophisticated understanding of our place value system than we would like.  Using number limes in an open ended way has really helped me both see where my students' understanding is AND help me create lessons and practice opportunities for them. Last year I created a resource using the numbers 0-1,000 and it was a perfect thing for first quarter.  As the year went on, I realized that I wanted to do more with the higher numbers, so this resource was born!  It is a challenge for many at first, but you will see their understanding grow as you work through these and share ideas as a class. I have both sets available and on sale.
Along the same line, I feel pretty strongly about helping students learn to tackle challenging problems--even problems that may have more than one answer--so that they learn the trait of perseverance.  So often students are unwilling to take risks when they come to my class OR math has always been so easy for them that they don't know what to do when they encounter something tricky.  Thus, "Perseverance Problems" were born.  In my class I used them in a few different ways--from cooperative problem solving exercises to challenge work for some of my top students.  This is definitely one of my favorites--so check it out!
Another product line that has made a HUGE difference in my classroom is my Thinker Tasks.  These open ended problems area great for whole class, small groups, or fast finishers.  They are all differentiated and students can work at their own pace--some doing just a bit of it, and others taking full advantage.  There are 7 different products in the line now--and a bundle of all 7 at a reduced price.  See what you think!

Using formative assessment is SO key to making good instructional decisions.  I found myself CONSTANTLY creating exit and entrance slips to go with my lessons--so I created this resource as a time saver!  Each one has a whole bunch of "empty" slips for you to use to tailor to your lessons--almost like graphic organizers.  New to this?  I have given suggestions for use for EACH one!  Check out the preview for me.  I use these ALL. THE.  TIME.
Finally, last year I was complaining to my friend about how my students over the years seem to lack the creativity they had years ago and we chatted and put blame on everything from TV to video games to our textbooks and so on.  I went home that night and decided to do something about it! Over the next months, 6 different "activities" were born and all 6 of them are included in this bundle.  This is rapidly becoming one of my best sellers--and my students LOVE them!  See what you think!
I also am in love with my latest line of novel studies including one for the AMAZING "Fish in a Tree" book.  Have you read it?  If not, I highly highly recommend it!  

And finally, my "Maps and Globes" unit is done...this is how I start the year and it is full of projects, creative thinking, interactive notebook components, assessments, and more.  I am super proud of the level of challenge--AND the level of fun!

You may also know I have a TON of math games...I have started bundling them together in sets of "like" games to make planning easy.  They even have labels included for labeling bags or bins!  Here is one...there are 3 sets so far and more on the way!

So...this is just a small handful of the many products in my store...and after the sale is finished, this post will be hidden from view!  If you end up purchasing any--I'd love to hear what you think!  Stop by my STORE or my FACEBOOK page and check things out!

fish in a tree

As we move into the start of a new school year, of of my FAVORITE things to think about is what books I will be sharing as read alouds with my students.  Although I have a few "must reads" that I do every year, I am always on the hunt for new ones as well.

When thinking about what makes a really outstanding read aloud, I asked people on my Facebook page to chime in their THEIR ideas about what makes a really good one.  Let's see if you agree!
fourth grade novel

An amazing read aloud, hooks them in the beginning and keeps them hooked by relating to their lives and giving them great imagery! (Jenn, 4th grade, from CA)

I love a read aloud that involves adventure and excitement. Two of my favorites are Sign of the Beaver and The Indian in the Cupboard. Both of these books also help facilitate discussions with our Native students. (Amber, 4th grade, New Mexico)

Cassie (@casdahl) writes, "A good read aloud requires three things.  1.  A relatable storyline/characters.  Students need to be able to make a connection with the book.  2.  Time.  A good read aloud takes time.  It is not something that can be rushed or squeezzed in.  Discussions need to be had, feelings need to be shared, and predictions have to be made.  3.  Purpose.  You (and your students) need to know WHY you are reading the book.  Having a purpose can set your brain up to be more aware during reading and you can take so much more away from a book!

When it's a beautiful read!  I tell my students that books are like music, and different for everyone, and som books just feel good to yoru brain like some music speaks to some of us.  So I love to read them books that I really love to hear read.  On of my favorites is "Savvy" by Ingrid Law.  (@kategraym on IG)

On IG, @adventurasinamath says, "I love read alouds that have strong main characters that show them life through another person's point of view.  I like a variety of characters such as: strong girls/femails (Esperanza Rising, True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle), boys dealing with emotions (Wonder, Stone Fox, There's a Boy in the Girls Bathroom), and characters in tough situations (again Stone Fox, again True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Numer the Stars).  

I think when the kids can relate to the storey and really embrace and feel the emotion that goes with it, then it's awesome.  With this comes character development and change over time and solid talking points.  It does what books should do, take you to another place.  (@marielogue15)

I certainly can't argue with any of those!

For me, I have different "types" of read alouds.  I often use pictures books for "teachable moments" and mentor texts.  I may even read these books more than one time...once for the story, and then again to "study".  Often I will read them the FIRST time without showing my students the illustrations so they can practice "seeing" the story...then they confirm their ideas in a second read.

"Just in time" read alouds are fun too...might be an article or a cartoon or any other text I find that applies to what we are doing or studying...this is a great way to model "tuning in" to texts.  I love it when students take ownership of this idea and bring in their own texts to share!
fourth grade novel
Probably most PERSONAL, for me, is the selection of read aloud novels that I use as the foundation of my literacy instruction for the year.  Because I do SO much referring to these books with my reading and writing work--and because I can't read aloud for 2 hours a day--I need to choose these carefully.
Although we do have one text in our grade that we ALL read (The Tiger Rising), we have the latitude to choose whatever texts we want that support our curriculum.  I have a few questions I ask when considering a text:

1.  Is it LIKELY to be a new book for most of the students?  Not that we can't reread texts (I always ask students if they have ever watched an episode of a favorite TV show more than once!), but with SO many amazing books to share, I like to find things that I know they didn't hear in third grade.  

2.  Does it read aloud well?  This is a tricky one--and one that you can only figure out by reading aloud! A few years ago, I had read the book "The 100 Cupboards" over Christmas break and LOVED it...I thought all my students who were so into Harry Potter would love it--but the book was SO descriptive and the "action" was more emotional than physical...my students had a very hard time staying with it.  We powered through--but I knew that it was a MUCH better "read to self" book--and all students I have referred to it since then have loved it.  It just didn't work well as a read aloud, at least for me. 

3.  Is there something about the book that will connect students to our curriculum?  Now don't get me wrong...there are books to read just for fun.  "The Willoughby's" by Lois Lowry is a great example.  I COULD find some literary merit in it (and we do talk about the AMAZING vocabulary in it)...but mostly we just enjoy it.  That being said, I like to find books that I can connect to our literary units (when we write historical fiction, I want to immerse them in historical fiction), when we build classroom culture I want books with characters that we can talk about about learn from...and I also love to find books that help make connections between topics we study.  We do a huge immigration unit--so  I love to find texts to help paint a clear picture of that era for students.

4. Is it a text that will "stretch" the class--both in terms of the literary elements AND the themes involved?  I spend so much time working with students on "just right" books for their independent reading--but read alouds are a time to stretch students.  Finding books with symbolism, rich language, complicated plots, and interesting character development can be modeled and discussed with ALL students--even struggling readers.  This gives them practice thinking deeply about texts when they may not be able to access texts that are as rich when reading independently.  A few years ago I had a student whose independent reading level was "Henry and Mudge".  Now don't get me wrong--Henry and Mudge are great--but there certainly is very little deep thinking or interpretation to be made.  Watching this student  SHINE--and I mean like ROCK STAR SHINE--in our read aloud discussions helped me to see the depth of this thinking, built his confidence, and helped his classmates see him as a reader...something that he desperately needed.

There are a few read alouds I use almost every year--and as new amazing books get written, my list evolves a little bit.  I will always read "Wonder" at the end of the year.  Always.  I time it so I finish it on the last day of school--so we finish our school year with Auggie.  I absolutely love the books "Flutter" and "The Eight Keys"--for totally different reasons.  "Flutter" is a story of family...of growing up...of adventure...and is AMAZING for teaching symbolism.  "The Eight Keys" is a bullying story--but also speaks to growing up and discovering who you are--and how you treat people when you are figuring it out.  It is a GREAT book to compare to "Fish in a Tree", and students very naturally see the connections in many of the characters.

There are a few other books that make appearances...I ALWAYS read at least two historical fiction books--I always introduce the genre with Sarah, Plain and Tall (a perfect tie to our curriculum AND it's a quick read) and then choose from a number of different other texts depending on my group.  I always read aloud at least a few "first books" in a series or books by prolific authors...I've read from the Shredderman series many times...Andrew Clements books many times (Last year's group got "No Talking" for good reason!), and I've read books like "Among the Hidden" and the first Hank Zipzer book as well. I've read classics like "Bridge to Terabithia" and "Tuck Everlasting" and books that many people haven't heard of--it's fun to "try on" new books with groups!

For the last two years, I have started the year off with "Fish in a Tree".  I love this book for SO many of the reasons mentioned above by teachers around the world.  It hits home with so many students...and later when we read "The Eight Keys", my students make SO many connections between the characters and events in these two texts. I've put all my thoughts together in a resource that has helped a ton of teachers really "dig deep" into this book.  Check it out if you are interested.   If you HAVEN'T read "Fish in a Tree", I cannot stress enough what a powerful text it is, especially for grades 4 and 5.
novel study

Thanks to everyone for chiming in with their ideas--I'm sorry I couldn't publish them all--but I had dozens of ideas shared!  Hope you are all staying cool...  
problem solving
I know I talk about problem solving and word problems a TON, but I wanted to share briefly today about possibly "rethinking" the term problem solving a little bit.  If we are wanting students to be able to make sense of the mathematical world around them, word problems can certainly help provide "real world" contexts for applying math.  My students solve word problems DAILY, and I am a huge believer in giving students a variety of rigorous problems to work on independently and collaboratively.  If you are short of word problems, check out the zillions I have in my store by clicking on the "word problem" custom category on the left side of my store!

Instead today I want to take a peek at a few phrases lifted directly from the Standards for Mathematical Practice--and even if you do not teach in a Common Core state, I am hopeful that you will embrace these 8 essential "best practices" for math instruction.  Take a peek at these two phrases for just a minute.

"Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt."


"Mathematically proficient students check their answers to problems using a different method, and they continually ask themselves, 'Does this make sense?'"

As you can see, at no point does this say "word problem"...consider the following problem.  This is certainly not a "word problem" as we typically think about them...it's more a mathematical "situation" where students are asked to find a way to use what they know about numbers, addition, subtraction, and estimation to find a solution (or more than than one!).  Let's cross check it with those two phrases from the standards.

Do you see what I mean?  This problem is a perfect example of a problem that provides students with a ton of opportunity to apply what they know about math--without a word problem!  (By the way...this is a part of my perseverance freebie in my store.  Just CLICK HERE to grab it and try it with YOUR students!)

I want to show you another way I try to help my students understand that problem solving is far more than simply solving word problems.  Because I start the year reviewing the addition algorithm, finding a way to kick that skill up a notch--in a way that will challenge even my "gifted-est" students was a goal of mine a few years back...I wanted something that would give TONS of math practice, have multiple solutions, be perfect to work on alone or collaboratively, have multiple levels, and need NO teacher assistance.  Sounds easy, right?

It wasn't--but once I got going, I found something that I thought would work--and it was MAGIC!  Not only did it accomplish all of the above, but it gave me a perfect opportunity to work with my students on having a growth mindset  (need to know more?  CLICK HERE!).  Many of my top students come in not super used to struggling...and it really and truly is an essential skill to learn how to manage.  Let me show you what this involves.  First of all...the thought of writing this blog post made me realize that I hadn't changed this bulletin board in 3 years.  So that had to happen first.  From this...(wish you could see how faded it all is!)
addition and subtraction
 To these fantastic plates (by they way, I've never seen a Star Wars movie.  Ever.  Any of them.)..
bulletin board
 To a new color palette...
addition and subtraction
To THIS!  I am SO much happier now...and feel I can continue with the blog post now!  
problem solving enrichment

OK.  So what IS this, anyway?  This is my "Mind Boggling Math" board...a perfect activity for the start of the year (and then for students to work on all year at their own pace).  The only "skill" they need is addition with regrouping--and perseverance!

Students use this board--which can be displayed in your room or just handed out as a printable--and the numbers on the board are used for a variety of different problem solving tasks, each of which is differentiated.  The five main activities have a part 1 which is more computation based--and that's all some students try.  It takes a fair amount of work to solve them...and I love having students use each other (and calculators at times) to check their work.  The second part of each activity is far more open ended and asks students to create their OWN solution,based on what they did on the first part.  It asks students to think about addition in a far more sophisticated way!  They need to estimate...and guess and check..."trade" numbers to make things work ("Hmmm...436 was too high, so let me try the 367.") and  really develop their number sense AND computation skills.
addition and subtraction enrichment
For students who manage to solve all of THESE challenges, there are more...all giving students a chance to refine their addition skills WHILE PROBLEM SOLVING...and continually thinking about their approaches to the problems.  Trust me--there can be some pretty substantial frustration with some students!  I love how we work as a class to talk about having grit and perseverance--and also how to support each other as we work through tricky learning situations.
math enrichment
 I do have a few students for whom these are still a little too much--so made a 2 digit version too and can make calculators available as a scaffold--that way they still get the problem solving experiences without the computation issues--I can work on the computation separately.  This is a GREAT way to build that culture for math learning in your classroom...and because it can be done so independently (once you have talked through it), it can be a great way to find time in those first weeks of school to pull some some groups, pull students one at a time to assess, or just walk around and coach and observe.  See what you think!  I already have mine printed and ready to put into my students' challenge folders.  While my students work on this, I plan to pull them one at a time to do their fact interviews to help me get a handle on what they might need in terms of intervention in that area.

If you want to try that freebie above, just click the image below.
 Here are the three Mind Boggling Math resources I have in my store...the "original", a money (addition with decimals) version, and a grades 2/3 (two digit) version.  See what you think--and if you try it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  What can YOUR students learn about persevering and problem solving?!

I am super excited to start this school year off with a bang in the technology department!  Now that we are 1:1 in fourth grade (Chromebooks), I have a lot of thinking about how to start doing things differently!
1:1 Chromebooks


Chromebook Storage

I use crates with "pot lids holders" to keep my "Chromies" safe.  I keep 6 in each crate, and have my crates in four zones in my classroom.  This is SUPER helpful when all students need to grab their Chromebook at the same time because there is no pushing or shoving or waiting!

Our district labels each device with our classroom name and then a device number...for example "Smith 14".  This makes it easy when we have problems to communicate with the tech people because they know which machine is which (each is barcoded as well).

As I mentioned earlier, I hang a tag off each crate that identifies the students assigned to that crate with their name and device numbers.  If a computer isn't being used carefully or isn't being charged, I can easily see who I need to talk with! printed on a tag with their Chromebook number listed so we can easily keep track of things.
technology storage
Each crate group is responsible daily for keeping their devices charged and their cords organized and so on.  I started the year last year with all of the Chromebooks in one area, but I really loved spreading them out for congestion purposes.  I do have a centralized area where I keep mice (I have 5 for students to use as desired) and headphones (I have 12).  Expectations for each are listed by the storage as a reminder.
organizationchromebook organization

chromebookscomputer organization

technology storage


I require them to be on a surface, not the floor.  I know that not all teachers do this--but our Chromebooks are almost the color of our carpet and...well...I know how HORRIBLE a student would feel if they were responsible for an accident so I make them keep them on a surface.  I have a lot of "places" to work in my room...their desks, extra tables, lots of low "side tables"...so they still have a ton of flexibility of where they work.

I also train my students from the very beginning of the year to use two hands to carry their Chromebooks--and to not carry by the screen.  I also talk to them about having clean hands and not using the machines by food or liquids.

The first day I also show my students how to charge their Chromebooks carefully without jamming the cord in and by pulling the charging cord out gently.  We also talk about "crate management" and the crate group works together to arrange their crate and cords.  It saves ME a bunch of times and makes them much more accountable for it!  If they create a system that doesn't work, they have to revisit it and improve it.

We were pretty lucky last year--only one Chromie needed to go to the hospital and it was an easy fix.  I love the ownership my students had--way different than the year before when they shared.  Love it!


Even though students are usually amazing with the privilege of having 1:1 devices, the more comfortable they get, the more they "forget" or get a little too relaxed with the way they manage their technology.  It's important to be crystal clear with what expectations are--and I even have the students and parents sign an agreement showing that they understand them.  I post the expectations as well right on the side of the crate so there is no doubt about them!  I also send a copy home to be signed by students and parents so that we are all on the same page.

Technology in Action

For me, one of the most important things to consider when moving to a 1:1 or 1:2 classroom environment is really starting to think differently about what you do academically.  I have a long way to go in this area, but I have found a few things that might help get you going!

First of all, using Google Forms is AMAZING!  I have a few other posts sharing some ideas if you are interested in learning more.  Forms take literally MINUTES to create and by sharing them in Google Classroom, you can instantly have students give you information...whether it be a survey, an assessment, or to make a choice.  Click HERE and HERE for a few posts!

To celebrate this exciting "future" in education, I am celebrating by showing some of my Google resources!  Here are a few of them...or you can go to my STORE and click the sidebar on the left in the custom category for Google resources.  See what you think!
problem solving

reader's notebook

teaching dialogue

math task cards

Want a copy of an outline of lesson ideas and a student technology agreement?  Grab this freebie and see if it helps you out!

Thanks for stopping by!  I'd love to hear any of your success stories as well--let's all learn together how to better use these amazing tools!

Want to see MORE great posts about technology?  Check out this great linky! So much great stuff!

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