Wednesday, November 29, 2017

peek at our THANKSGIVING week

Hey peeps!

Short weeks before a break are just hard. They seem to drag on like 2 full weeks. Everyone is ready to be on break, the schedule is all sorts of jacked up, and there is some assembly going on every 5 minutes.


I knew 2 things for sure. We couldn't do math stations (without a full week) and we needed to do something fun....with candy.

This is not Thanksgiving related so it's a perfect activity to use any time of year. If you teach multiplication/division concepts and/or you like Skittles this one is for you.

I put my students into groups (I used their math station groups but you obviously group however you like.) The beauty of this activity (and any good activity) is that it can be so easily differentiated by the amount of Skittles you give each group. Not only more or less but also giving some groups a number that will be hard to share "equally" and have them grapple with remainder.

After my students were in groups, I told them their task. They were to make a dozen cupcakes (i.e. 12). In their bag they already had the cupcakes ready (awe, paper cupcakes!? yeah, but REAL SKITTLES!) Each cupcake had to have the SAME amount of Skittles. 

I passed out the bags. The bags included a dozen cupcakes and varying amounts of Skittles (36, 48, 72, or some odd numbers like 61 and 17). The bags also had recording sheets for each student. All they needed to bring was a pencil.

Groups got to pick a spot around the room. You may want to tell your students to spread out as they will need lots of room to "work on" their cupcakes. 
First, I had students count out their cupcakes (12) and their skittles so they could write in those amounts. Then, I told them to start "baking". 
I walked around to facilitate. Students could divide the skittles however they wanted as long as each cupcake had the same amount. They needed to write down how many "leftovers"/remainders they may have had. Then, they would write the division problem and corresponding multiplication problem. For some groups, it was easier to start with multiplication which was fine.

After they filled in one row, they weren't done. They were challenged to put a different equal amount into each cupcake. (for example, a group that had 36 skittles may have started by putting 3 in each cupcake resulting in no leftovers. They could then try 2 or 4 in each cupcake and they would have a remainder which makes the division & multiplication equations a little more challenging). 

The most interesting part of this activity was when one group decided to play around with zero. That led to some really good discussions about multiplying or dividing with zero. The concrete representation really made sense to them. I love facilitating during activities like this because we really dive deep and I can easily differentiate.

I hope you try this activity out in your own classroom and let me know how it goes! It worked perfectly for a short week before holiday...which is coming again soon!

Want the activity? Click on any picture above or right HERE

:) Happy HOLIDAYS!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Subtraction Strategies For The WIN

Hey again!
You know how I'm big on strategies? No? Well, you should.
I'm big on them.
My kids know this. We talk a lot about how we can memorize math but if we someday forget it, what will we do? We need a strategy to fall back on. It's just SMART.

Last post, I covered how I cover multiplication strategies with my class. Well, today I'm gonna take us "back" I the curriculum and talk about the subtraction strategies I use with my class.
Something shocking to me when I moved into third grade was students lack of understanding with addition and subtraction. They seemed to vaguely remember some kind of rules they had been told but they either used them incorrectly or not at all. Every. single. student.
Even students that were "high" math kids and had great understanding would botch computation problems by trying to use some abstract RULE they had been told and simply couldn't recall or understand. When presented another way, these students could get the problem easily.
They had been ingrained with some arbitrary rule of how to do math. A rule that ditched place value, threw out number sense, and was made by one person one time.
And it took me 9 weeks to erase that.
9 week of frustration but my students finally starting valuing getting an answer that made sense over doing "big kid math" (please don't perpetuate this - looking at you 2nd grade teachers).

Here are 2 strategies I guided my students toward and how they ran away with them. Why two? Because I introduced them and using one of these ways,  every student in my class could subtract. Every student.

Open number lines are my love language. I remember learning about them in college and it was a whole new world to me. YES. This is how I do math in my head and I bet it's the way a lot of you do to. Chances are you've heard of an open number line but for those sleeping beauties, here is the gist.
You draw a number line. You know, that line with two arrows on either end (because numbers go on forever). Put the number you want to start with on one end and the number you want to end at on the other.
Now, before you introduce these you need to make sure that your students understand subtraction is the difference between 2 numbers (it's literally called finding the difference). In fact, that little minus symbol means in between. I relate this to book pages. If someone tells you to read pages 35-72 you don't just read 35 and 72, right?
NO. You read those and the pages in BETWEEN. To find the difference, we have to find the numbers between. Start at one number and count up to the second.
There are two ways to put this on your number line. Let's do 74 and 35 as an example.
You can put 35 on one and and 75 on the other and count up.
OR you can put 75 on one end and 35 on the other and count back. Counting up makes sense to me and is how I introduced it at first but changed my mind about that when I had a few students who thought it made more sense the other way. I think because they relate subtraction to getting smaller. Either way works so let students find what makes sense for them.
Once you have your line set up, you can start doing jumps. At first, I have students use 1 jumps. They soon discover this can take forever. So we start circling over ten of the little one jumps and doing 10 jumps. Make sure your students have a firm grasp on adding or subtracting 10 from any number (pull you your hundred charts!). Later, students can do any jumps that make sense to them (5s, 2s, 20s, 100s,).
In our example of 74 and 35, I would start at 35 and do 3 ten jumps to arrive at 65. From there, I could do 9 one jumps and reach my goal - 74. The 3 ten cups and 9 one jumps make 39 jumps. 39 numbers from 35 and 74.
A lot of students stick with ten and one jumps and that is FINE. Tens and ones make sense, they're familiar and students have worked with them before. I wouldn't stress making kids move toward other jumps until they're doing problems in the hundreds or thousands.
Here is an example I show my kids. They help me fill in the boxes under each jump. Then, we see how many jumps it took to find the difference.

The beauty of number lines is if practiced enough, they help kids improve their mental math skills. This is something you should model for your students. Every time we work on a subtraction problem, I show my kids how you can do tens and ones jumps in your head (recording on your hand or a sheet of paper) and arrive at your answer.


Let me paint you picture. You have a student in from of you trying to subtract 53 and 27. She remembers that she absolutely positively has to start with her ones (eye roll) so she looks at 3 and 7. She writes 4. What do you say to her?

Don't tell me.
I got it.

"You CANNOT subtract 3 from 7. If I have 3 dollars could I give you 7? Exactly, no"

Don't believe me? Ask a middle school algebra teacher who is MAD at you right now.
Teach your kids the concept of negative numbers. TRUST ME, it makes way more sense to them than the regrouping thing.
I am not just saying this. I have done it with low kids and high kids. And this is how.
First, we talk about the concept of negative numbers. Like, if you needed 7 dollars but I only had 3 I could give you the 3 NOW and owe you 4 later. Next time I get more money, I will take the 4 out of that and give it to you. This means I owe you 4. Negative 4 (-4)
Together, my students and I build a number line that includes negative numbers to -10 and positive numbers to 10. We play around and we practice. Soon, students realize that any subtraction problem FLIPPED is the negative same number. Like, 5-3 is 2 and 3-5 is negative 2. See how this helps us to get negative answers quickly? But students need to arrive at this conclusion.
Once they've played around, we apply the concept to larger subtraction problems.
Let's go back to our original example. 53 minus 27. First of all, I let students start with the tens. You know, we really might need to borrow or take away so it's good to know what we are working with. Even in standard algorithms this is good. Anyway, we start there. 50 -20 is 30, right? So we write down 30. Then we look at ones. 3-7, students look at the number line and see that this will be -4 (or realize that 7-3 is 4 so the opposite is negative 4 - let them work at their pace). We have our 30 so let's take the 4 from there. That will give us what we need. 30 - 4 is 26. The answer is 26.
I know, I KNOW. This was another mind blower when I thought of it. It makes sense for any subtraction problem as long as you keep the place value. WHY HASN'T SOMEONE SHOWN ME THIS?!
I love this strategy for a lot of reasons. It retains place value so kids aren't thinking about digits only, it introduces them to negative numbers (algebra teachers will praise you - don't tell kids you can't take a bigger from smaller!) and it plain makes sense to kids.
They totally get the idea of negative. Of owing something. It's a real life thing.
At first, I too was skeptical about this method. I used it often with my high kids but wasn't sure about my lows. One day, I decided to just go with it. And guess what? They got it. They write themselves a little negative number line right there and miss way less problems. I saw our computation scores go up big time when I introduced this to them.
If you have students struggling with subtraction, I urge you to try out one of these ways. If you use diligence, you might be surprised how much your students grow with understanding.

Here is a free sheet that you can use to help your kids practice using expanded form and negative numbers to subtract. :) Click to download. 

Happy Teaching! 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Multiplication Strategies For The WIN

Hello blogosphere!
Long time, no talk.
I'm not good with introductions so I am going to dive right into the content (which is what you came for anyway, right?)
In 3rd grade, we are knee deep in multiplication and LOVING it (not a joke not an exaggeration - we LOVE math in my class!)
One of the major complaints I hear from colleagues, other teachers, and even parents is that their kids just aren't GETTING their facts. And when I probe or dig deeper, they usually mean they aren't memorizing them.
Which, could be a problem.
But is most likely the symptom of a problem.
Other teachers that get this stand up and say things like
"My kids totally GET multiplication. They draw out their groups and count them up."
This is better. I totally believe that students should understand multiplication anything before they more toward memorization. I am all for circles and stars, the 4 ways to show multiplication (number lines, skip counting, etc. - we use all these in my class).
BUT (did you see that coming?) at some point students need to move toward strategies (hopefully mental) that help them arrive to facts without the need for drawings or number lines.
Rote memorization will get them to recall but it is not a strategy.
Do I need to say that louder for the people in the back?
When I was researching these strategies, something that often happens to me came up. I was learning strategies that were never taught to me as a kid. And I was getting better at multiplication - as an adult!
For example, a strategy for x9 would be to multiply the number by 10 and then take that number away. Here is a visual I use to show my kids.
We fill in the bottom part, 6 tens is 60. Then I tell them to "turn the tens into nines". They cross out one block from each ten. That leaves us with 60 - 6. Eventually students begin to notice the pattern (20-2, 30-3, 40-4, 50-5, 60-6, etc.)
I NEVER learned that. Well into my college and adult life I would try to count by 9's all the way up to the answer. Was if effective? Usually, yes. Was it annoying? YES. I struggled with my 9 facts and now I get this quickly. 
My kids do too.
Intrigued? Good. I'm going to walk through all the strategies I use with my kids and include visuals for how I introduce them. AND they are in the order I introduce them to kids. Good, yeah?
Oh, AND there are some freebies at the bottom so your class can get started with multiplication strategies tomorrow.

1. x0 and x1
I highly suggest you lump these together because the time it'll take your kids to catch onto x0 will be laughable (if not, there's a bigger problem). 
For these, I do use the good old circles and stars method (linked here if you have no idea what I'm talking about). We fill in an organizer (I do this for each multiplication fact we go through) until students get the pattern and can express it. Then, I add it to our anchor chart. 

2. x2
From there, we move onto x2 or as we call it in my class - DOUBLING! (My kids love to shout this out for whatever reason but it sticks!) This was the point I realized my students were desperately behind on their doubles facts (ahem, why they are important!) but through our x2 lessons, they got them down. I would suggest going over them a lot or learning the rap (at least show it). Maybe that'll be just enough to trigger kids memory and get them used to DOUBLING. Again, we fill in an organizer and I hope that students begin to notice all the numbers are EVEN (we add any valid notices to the anchor chart). Now, anytime there is a x2 problem, I just point to the 2 and the kids say "DOUBLE it" and they're all over it. 

3. x5
I go to the 5 facts next. This is a natural progression because kids know how to count by 5's. This is also a good time to pull out your old clock and make some good connections (in case you forgot, analog clocks count by 5's.)
I give each student a clock on a paper (well, we actually do it on Nearpod and iPads but you could use paper) and we go around the clock counting by 5's. I then show students how the clock actually gives them x5 answers. If the problem is 4 x 5 we can look at the 4 on the clock and see the 4 really stands for 20. 4x5=20. For this reason, my kids call the 5 facts the clock facts. They love to take their clock and do a quiz, quiz, trade asking other students x5 facts. 
We add to our chart that all of these end with 0 or 5.

4. x10 
Multiplying by 10 is about the same process - students know how to count by 10's (we hope) and groups of 10's. Again, we do enough until I hope students begin to notice that you keep the number and add a 0. I only want that connection to happen after I am sure they understand they are counting by 10's/groups of tens. 
All of these end with 0.

5. x9
I do the 9's strategy right after the tens because we use our tens to do it! Again, I use base ten rods like in the picture. We create tens, turn them into 9's and figure out the problem. Students arrive at the idea that it's just the number x10 minus the number (20-2, 30-3, etc.) so we add that to the chart. 
My students also noticed that all the 9's facts are similar in this way
(x2, x9) 18, 81
(x3, x8) 27, 72
(x4, x7) 36, 63
(x5, x6) 45, 54
They don't and won't quite understand why this is yet but it's a great thing to notice AND they begin to remember that all 9's facts have those digits. Some of them even do the "lower" fact and then just reverse it. Whatever works and makes sense, ya'll!

6. x3
After the 9's it gets a bit tricky. When it comes to 3, 4, 6, and 8 I suggest using VISUALS. Like, a lot of visuals.
The 3's strategy basically works like this.
You double it (remember that kids!?) and then add ONE more group.
when I first taught this, I began to realize my kids could internalize that but they had no idea why. OOPS. This is when I started using visuals and BANG! Lightbulbs everywhere.
7. x4
x4 works much the same way. Except this time, we just double and double again.
Which for whatever reason, is really fun to my kids. 
I teach my kids (in addition and multiplication) to connect numbers with those triangle type things and put the answer underneath. This is useful when they are adding a lot of numbers because they can't keep all of those in their head (until later). 

8. Squared numbers
I put this one in because it's just FUN. My kids have practiced and practiced and practiced arrays. They understand that multiplication facts can be expressed in rectangles (rows and columns). So, I challenge them to find all the multiplication facts that make SQUARES. We use inch tiles to do this. Kids think all the even numbers are going to produce squares and quickly debunk that theory. At the end, students generate the list - 1, 2, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc.
I tell my kiddos that these are called (you'll never remember it, it's SO hard) - Square numbers (my kids didn't fall for this...I use it too much..)
 I usually write these on the board (1x1, 2x2, 3x3, etc). I teach my kids that when someone wants you to square something, you need to multiply it by itself. The answer will always be a square number.
It's a good concept for kids to understand and buys me a day before getting into dreaded x6.

9. x6
Times 6 is just. plain. hard. There's little way around it. Hopefully, kids can use one of Theo there tricks to find the problem but that still leaves 6x7 and 6x8 (7x6 and 8x6). ARGH!
There are two ways people teach the x6 strategy.
Double, double, double
triple, triple (double, one more and double, one more)
If your students are master doublers or master triplers I would go with whichever one you think would work for them. Again, this one takes a LOT of modeling and visuals. SHOW students how 6 can be broken into the 2 groups of 3 or 3 groups of 2. 

10. x8
Double, double, double, double? YIKES.

11. x7
x6 and 1 more group
just use the other number's strategy (my go to! lol)

Hopefully by this time, your students have internalized some of these strategies and are moving toward doing the multiplication in their head. Believe me, when practicing these students start memorizing naturally. If not, they have a strategy. That is what it's there for. 
I want to preface (again) that students should have ample time to understand what multiplication is and practice it with groups, number lines, skip counting, and repeated addition. These strategies will come in handy after students have built a great understanding of the concept.

Happy teaching!

Oh, you thought I forgot your freebies?! Never ever.

I included a Keynote and Powerpoint (whichever floats your boat) of the strategy practices I use with my kids.
At the end of each strategy section there is a printable practice page.
If you just want the practice pages for your kiddos, I'll leave a link for those too.


Happy Teaching! 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Peek into Third

Hey guys! It's been a minute since my last blog post but honestly, I've been quite busy. Back to school is busy enough but I've also been juggling a new district, new school, and new grade.
And it's been rough. I haven't felt nearly put together enough to even write a blog post about it.
But here we are in October (my favorite month and also HOW?) and I'm finally feeling ready enough to let you in on some routines I use in my 3rd grade classroom.

First, let me share our schedule and then I will walk you through the different pieces. Since the whole day would be the longest blog post of all time, I'm going to break it down into sections.

Problem of the Day is something I display on the SmartBoard and students work on in their math journals as soon as they come in. Our curriculum has problems of the day an often I use those but sometimes I will pull problems I know my students need help with or are going to encourage them to think more critically.
After I take care of morning housekeeping tasks, I try to walk around and just take a quick "temperature" of each kid and how they're doing on their task. Depending on how my class is doing, we go over the problem at the beginning of morning meeting or I pull it into whole group math. 
I will address problems of the day in a whole post soon. (as well as Morning Meeting)
For today's post I want to focus on the Reading portion of our day.

Here is the way I try to break up our mini-lessons for whole group reading
Monday: Mentor text and graphic organizer to practice our comprehension strategy, word sort to practice spelling skill
Tuesday: I use a story from our curriculum to practice the comprehension skill (usually main idea or theme) and have students practice independently/with a partner
Wednesday: Short grammar lesson, genre - we also play a game with our vocabulary words this day
Thursday: I use Readworks passages or our curriculum story to practice "test prep" (I love using QAR) and doing some close read activities together 
Friday: Review games and extra practice

I keep my whole group times short and sweet. I also don't delve into the "deep" things because I see my kids in small group to hit those.

After we do a short whole group lesson or activity, we go into Daily 5. My school requires us to do Daily 5 and we have 4-5 teachers that push-in during this time. I have 2 teachers in my room. So, with both of them meeting a group as well as myself, there are actually very few kids doing Daily 5. My lower kids only do this 1-2 times a week because they see both teachers and me. For this reason, it was hard for me to make a forced rotation schedule that worked for us.
I decided to instead let students have complete choice (gasp!) over what center they want to do at each time. I really went heavy on procedure practice and guess what? It works. 
This is what I display on our SmartBoard during Daily 5. I call students by groups to get to pick. I don't really care how many students are at each center (except listening - which is why I only have 5 earbuds and once they're gone you choose something else). My students know that if they see a teacher they get their stuff ready and get to that spot and if they don't, they make a choice, get their stuff, and find a spot.
Daily 5 is one of our favorite parts of the day.
During this time, I see my bubble kids everyday, my low kids twice a week (they're being seen twice every day), and my high kids twice a week (I desperately wish for more time). I do an intervention program my school has (although I tweak it) for my bubble kids and fluency games with my lower kids (they read with both other teachers so so much). My high kids do novel studies. 

Word work always has 3 choices and it's a mix of our spelling and vocabulary lists. I bought 3 blue tubs from Michaels and I just fill them with whatever choices I want to give them that week. They usually don't know what's in there until they choose one and open it. We do things like vocabulary hunt (use their vocabulary journal to find words that fill certain criteria), word worth (each letter is worth something), create a word search, sorts, and crosswords.
One thing that is always in the tub is Vocabulary Sentence Scramble. I got this idea from The Brown Bag Teacher and I couldn't recommend it more. My kids dive for this center every week and love it. All I do is use colored sentence strips to make sentences that use our vocabulary words, but the vocabulary word is a blank. Then, I cut the words apart. Each sentence goes in a baggie. Students work to unscramble the sentence and then fill in the missing vocabulary word. My students think it's a fun challenge and desperately try to be the first person to figure out and write all 8 sentences (sometimes it takes them all week!). At first I was nice and put capitals and periods and even put the number of letters the missing word had. Over time, I phase out the help and make the students "fix" the sentence in the end by adding correct capitalization and punctuation.

Again, Daily 5 in my room is student choice. I don't tell them where to go and I don't even really tell them what to get done. On Fridays, I will check and star things they did. I also pull out a few amazing pieces to put up in the room but I never really grade it. If they never do a Scribble Story, I'm not going to sweat it (although those are their favorite and I get about 40 a week). When I look up, I see students reading, writing, and working.
It works for us. 

After Daily 5, we reconvene for another mini-lesson. This is when I pull in writing. On Mondays, I do explicit writing instruction. Each week we focus on a type of writing. Last week we did Personal Narratives and this week we are doing How-To writing. Each Monday my students receive a rubric and a pre-writing graphic organizer. During Monday mini-lesson we go over the rubric, grade some examples, and go over the pre-writing paper. I write one and they grade mine (they love this!) Now they are ready to get started writing for the week! The rest of the week, I touch on grammar (connect it to writing), word work (connect it to writing), vocabulary (connect it to writing - see a theme?), and  anything else language related.

After this mini-lesson, my students break into forced rotation stations. They are split into 4 groups (blue, red, yellow, green). 
I love using my Smartboard to display what we are doing because if someone walks in, they immediately know what to do. 

Stations change every other day.
Ipad station usually stays the same - SpellingCity. I will probably only change this when my kids get bored of it - which hasn't happened yet.

Reading station: 
Monday/Tuesday: They listen to the Wonders curriculum story of the week (and read along). This way we don't take precious class time to listen to it but they have still heard it so we can talk about it.
Wednesday/Thursday: My students log on to and do their assignments. They love that it gives the immediate feedback and I love that I can assign them all different texts (so they're on their level) and the questions are deeper than simple recall (seriously recommend!) Some of the questions are even short response so my students have to think deeply.

Writing station: (a writing rotation lasts 2 weeks)
Monday/Tuesday: students complete their graphic organizer and illustrations for their writing
Wednesday/Thursday: students complete their first draft
Monday/Tuesday: Students use colored pencils to edit and revise their writing (make it better) and write a 2nd draft
Wednesday/Thursday: Students finalize their draft and publish it on SeeSaw.

My table:
Monday/Tuesday: I teach the vocabulary words at my table, students fill them into a TIP chart and put them in their TIP chart folder (school required activity but I like it)
Wednesday/Thursday: Since students have listened to the curriculum story of the week, they come ready to talk and answer questions about it. I write questions (higher level, open ended) on index cards and we just dive in. With only 5-6 kids I know each student is engaged, not just passing by. I can also differentiate the questions and supports for each group. 

Specials breaks up our stations nicely and I have the board up ready for them to come right back in and get started in their 2nd station. 

I love our reading block because I really feel I get to dive deep with each kid. By seeing them in smaller groups throughout the day, I am able to know that they're paying attention and I can take notes on who needs more help.

That's it for reading! Please be sure to check back for the post on math and problem of the day/morning meeting!


Thursday, May 4, 2017

math instruction ready to retire

Retire: Key Words
I cringe when I see an anchor chart (no matter how cute) for mathematical key words in a classroom. First of all, there are many strategies in which to approach any word problem and to reduce kids to one because of a certain word can actually hinder their natural process. Also, it's straight up misleading. Take, for example, these two word problems.
A. Bob had 3 apples and Judy had 5. How many do they have altogether?
B. Maggie had 3 bags and each bag contained 5 apples. How many apples does she have altogether? Students who have been trained that altogether = addition are robbed of looking at this problem for what it is rather than simple words within. There are many instances where addition (adding up to) can be used to figure out "difference" problems (difference is often associated with subtraction).
Word problems are important (though not as important as we think) but the whole reason they exist is to get students to dig deep and really understand math in the real world.
Hire: Understanding/Explanation Of Problems
Instead of introducing key words, practice modeling what a problem is truly asking you. Have students dig to the root of any problem they come across before they start using any computation.
I like to have students explain to me what the problem wants from them in order to get a solution. No numbers, no computation, just truly telling me what answer (or kind of answer) they are looking for.
Don't believe me? Just read this quote from
teach a student to problem solve

Retire: Double Digit Addition/Subtraction Algorithm (traditional)
I will let you know this is my number one pet peeve (yes, even higher than the key word anchor charts - at least they're cute.) There is no, absolutely no reason you should be teaching students (especially young students) the traditional algorithm for double digit addition and subtraction. Yikes! Let's look closely at some reasons why.
  • It robs them of important place value understanding (which will only confuse them later - ahem, regrouping)
  • They can and will forget it and have no understanding to fall back on so they can figure out a problem.
  • It is not the strategy that comes naturally to everyone - heck, it's probably not the way you add bigger numbers in your head.
  • There are so many better ways. SO MANY.
Hire: All the other ways that actually lend to understanding and retain place value
The number one question I get on this blog or from my Instagram is how I have kindergarteners doing double digit addition (with understanding!).
Here it is, people.
I did not teach it to them. They have a great number sense, a fantastic understanding of place value (a top priority to me B.O.Y.) and they understand it. We never ever did a lesson on it. They saw the problems on a test (not created by me) and we had a discussion about strategies they could use to figure those out and they ran with them. They all figure it out differently.
Teach your kids to count by tens from any number and they will have a pretty solid way to figure out double digit addition (with or without "regrouping").
  • Hundred chart - your kids should be SO FAMILIAR with this it's like seeing their name
  • Open number line - don't underestimate - a LOT of kids understand math this way - this is the way I do math in my head and when I finally learned about open number lines, my mind was blown. My students do open number line problems at recess.
  • Stretch the numbers out (place value addition) - always retain place value - MUST
  • Count on (mental open number line)
  • Build the numbers and put together (concrete)
Retire: Timed Fluency Practice (any computation)
Computation is one of the least important parts of a real mathematician's job (hello 2017 and constant calculators!) and yet is the number one aspect pushed in elementary math. I'm not saying fact fluency isn't at all important, but it simply isn't as important as understanding. Students need to be able to do so much more than spit out facts. They need to reason, understand what a problem is asking of them, solve creatively, accurately, and efficiently. Do you see how all of these things are not accomplished with a sheet of isolated problems?
Furthermore, the speed with which a student can regurgitate facts is simply not important. I would much rather my students have multiple strategies to solve a computational problem than be able to memorize them. As long as students have understanding, the fluency/memorization will come.
Timed tests do nothing to help us assess our students' understanding and they certainly don't help students with their understanding.
Also, timed tests are a very high stakes activity and competitive in nature. This perpetuates a negative stereotype of math - prompting kids to believe that if they aren't fast, they aren't good. Again, this is not true.
Hire: Fewer problems that promote understanding
Instead of a whole sheet of problems, give students a word problem, logic puzzle, or challenge that involves the computation you are covering. You only need a few problems to assess student understanding and will also not stress students out. Also, cut out the time component altogether. Let's think about the message we are sending to our kids.
Some great ideas for activities that get kids computing without pressure are

  • Math magic (those pick a number, add 5, double it, subtract 2, blah, blah that are all over the internet. Kids think they're fascinating and they will work hard on computing to find a number that might not work)
  • Open-ended tasks (my favorite is to give an empty equation with a number answer for students to complete)
The challenge is for students to find multiple ways to complete the equation. I had a student give up "manipulative play time" to figure his out in more ways.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

the story of how I quit my dream job

Fair warning: this is less of a teacher post and a more personal post so if that's not your thing - feel free to move along and I won't judge you.

Yesterday, I quit my dream job. Not teaching (phew) but the place. I resigned from the only place I had envisioned being; the place I worked for and towards through 4 years of college. Its the school I attended, my mom worked at for 12 years, and somewhere I basically grew up. It's a place where I subbed and met "my kids". On my worst days in college, I could get through knowing I would see their faces and someday be part of their journey.

It's the place I got to teach my first class. To nurture my LOVE for teaching math and see kindergarteners amaze me. They are my kids.

This was the place I saw myself staying for years, visiting students I had in elementary at the high school I once ruled [ha!]. This was the place I imagined bringing my own children - watching them move through classes of teachers I love and respect. I would know they were safe and in a place - my place - a home.

Yesterday, I left my home. Because it isn't really my home anymore. 

A few of you know the struggle I've been facing making the decision to leave based [mostly] upon a school wide reform the school is adopting. It's also due in part to being under appreciated and beaten down all year long. I don't really want to get into it much...because I've made the decision.

A few months ago, I went to a job interview. The principal was amazing and you could tell she had so much respect for her teachers. It was a tough school, in a tough area (something I'm not unfamiliar with) and she was truly turning it around. Her staff loved her and the interview went perfectly. She gave [both my mom and I] us a tour of the school and the more she talked, the more pull I felt. In the moment, I grew more and more excited - it was really out there...somewhere that could be the place I could truly teach. If not there, then somewhere. It had to be and has to be. 

I left on a high. Then, I went home and threw up.

Okay, not really but I did have a pseudo-meltdown. 

I laid in my bed and thought about my students that I would be leaving. I thought about the neighborhood I learned to drive in and the Sonic that was run mostly by kids I graduated with. Then, I thought about never driving there again. Not seeing those kids walk the high school hallways and graduate in the colors I did. After all, even if it no longer is and no longer even resembles my home...this place used to be home.

Anyone who knows me IRL knows that I am a fiercely loyal person. It's not always a bad trait. Leaving something, like a job in this case, feels like plain old giving up. It took me a long time to be able to look at it like the self-care that it is.

The truth is, I am leaving a comfort for something extremely risky. I am leaving a small district for a very large, urban one. If I even end up there, it will truly be my first year of teaching because I know nothing. I entered last year knowing so much about the district - I knew the procedures, the school layout, the staff, everything. I knew the good and the bad which made it much easier to handle.

But now, I know nothing. It could be a bad decision. It could be that this school is not any better - that I won't have instructional choices or there won't be good support. It could be that the testing is overwhelming or the demands even higher. It could even be that I don't get rehired because their budget cuts are even heftier and they are closing down schools...

It could be bad.

It could be.

And yes, I could get through the year and move on but then my resume would read "2 years experience at 2 different places and looking for something else again" - doesn't that scream hire me!?

But yet, this is my city and these are the kids I love. If I can't be where I truly want to be...I have to be somewhere. And this could be home. 

It could be.

I like to think I'm some awesome, rebellious, risk-taker but if I truly self-evaluate I am anything but. I'm terrified in every way and thoughts, continuous thoughts, keep rushing through my brain. Deep in my heart, I know things will be okay. I know that. I know that my husband has a good job; I could always do something else; I could suck it up and try a suburban school down the line; I could go back to school; my parents will support me; nothing is permanent...I know that. 

But, yesterday I quit my plan. I quit home. And I have dreams about someone telling me it's all just a joke- LOL no reform - you can stay! 
It's where my heart is. It will always be in some way.

But I'm leaving. I'm going out in the big wide world to find some kids who need me and teach them. Because I know I can and I need to surround myself with people who believe that too.

 It's so easy to me... yet it's the hardest thing I've ever done.

Thanks for getting through this post - 

Happy teaching.

Monday, March 13, 2017

how being a kindergarten teacher will make you a better parent

Let me preface this post by saying I don't have kids. Just a 4 year old goddaughter I'm very close to and a 1 year old dog. Mostly, this post is supposed to comical and light-hearted so please call of the dogs and have fun.

I spend my days with other people's children. All day long.
And over that time, I have gathered more than a few pieces of advice I'd like to give myself when it comes to my own children. This is not a parent bashing post. I know being a parent is the hardest, toughest, most underappreciated job next to teaching ;). I also know kids will be kids sometimes despite a parent's best efforts. But, for are some ways that I think being a kindergarten teacher will make you a better parent.

1. You will know essential skills to teach your preschooler...because you've seen kids who don't have them.
Guys, I'm not even talking ABCs and 123's...I'm talking BASIC. When I started teaching kindergarten, I remember having to sit my kids down everyday and show them our center tubs. They were atrocious. Things were tossed in there, not in the right baggies or boxes and pieces of different games were strewn about. After having 5 come to Jesus meetings in a week about this - I took a step back and realized...I was lecturing them but it wasn't working. These kids didn't know what I meant by neat and tidy. The next week, I literally dumped all the games out and one by one showed them exactly how to put a game away when you're done. I showed them how I put the games into baggies with all the pieces and put it away nicely. We role-played scenarios in which you're playing with a friend and it's time to clean up - what do you do? They practiced. Guys, we spend a whole morning on this.
The next week, we only needed one come to Jesus meeting.
This is one example. I'm talking flush when you use the toilet; how to use a tissue to actually blow your nose instead of wiping snot around; how to put a marker lid on and wait for the popping sound.
Best believe my preschoolers are going to practice these skills in my house. Their kindergarten teacher is going to use them as the good example!

2. You will never ever ever EVER buy your 5 year old shoes with laces....unless they legitimately, every time, ON THEIR OWN know how to tie them.
Just, trust me. Velcro all the way. You will never subject another teacher to the torture. We will all be better off for it.

3. You will never ever buy a romper for your kindergartener.
This goes hand in hand with 2. Trust me, I know they're cute. But unless you're willing to come up every time your kid needs to use the bathroom, leave it in the store.

4. You will know what is normal development...and when to seek help. Plus, where you can get it.
I have seen kids who I know need help because they're struggling beyond the normal disequilibrium. They are very behind...but their parents don't see it.
Maybe they are the only kid in the house or the oldest and the parents don't have anything or anyone to compare them to. They don't want to believe anything is wrong. Have you ever had a conference in which you pull out another student's work (anonymously) to show a parent in comparison to their child and see a face of shock? Then, comes the helplessness. The cool thing about our job is we can identify needs and refer parents to help (or give them tips for home!). The cooler thing is if you have your own child with a struggle, you'll identify it, know that the "stigma" is sometimes less important than the help the child needs and can get.

5. You will teach your kids to respect their teachers....even if you don't like the teacher.
Your kids might seriously hate you for this but in the long run it will make them better people. Let's face it - we live in a world where someone is always going to be in charge of you. You go from having a parent to a teacher to a boss and it's important to know how to respect them. And don't ever think a [good] teacher's kid is ever going to get away with being disrespectful. Even if the parent has to close the door and rant, they are going to make their kid apologize for any behavior and they won't bash you in front of their kid. Mostly because teachers have a tight community and understanding. Everybody dumps on us and we definitely don't need any more.

6. You will never name your kid Skyline (or Kaylsea, Killian, Phiroshus...).
Enough said.

7. Your kids will never be able to use an excuse or emotional appeal.
You've heard EVERY excuse in the book. You've also heard every appeal for trying to get out of something. Like, how badly can an elbow hurt? And you know how to diffuse a tantrum in 0.8 seconds. This is another one your kids might hate you for but society (and even they) will eventually love you.

8. You love kids and you understand them really really well.
I mean, why else are we doing it? I run into people all the time who say they don't like kids. I totally don't get that - I mean, I barely like adults! But it is true that kids think in their own way and they even communicate in their own way.
You'll be the parent who can always decipher their kids early spelling or analyze their scribbling. You'll be able to comprehend chopped up sentences or whole conversations given through half chewed cracker crumbs. Plus, you'll have amazing patience with your kids because 9/10 they're not nearly as bad as some kids you deal with in your classroom. OR, you'll have patience because you feel oh so lucky to have them and to be in the great situation you're in because you know kids who aren't so lucky...
After all, kids are kids and you love kids.

I think teacher's kids are pretty lucky (coming from mom was my PK teacher!).
And I think teacher parents are even luckier.

So, what do you think should be added to the list of reasons being a kindergarten [or any age] teacher makes you a better parent?

Thanks for reading! Happy teaching!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

stations/guided reading

Happy Spring! I am currently on Spring Break and loving it. 
Today, I wanted to share how I set up my small group guided reading and stations time. :)

I like a "learning buzz" in my classroom at all times. That means, students are not sitting quietly at their seats doing independent work. From day one, I have kids collaborating, moving, working together, and talking. The person who talks in your room the most is the person who learns the most. Because this is a precedent from day one - it doesn't even phase the kids at my table. It's a controlled chaos in which I know kids are learning.
I have 6 stations in my room and they are color coded.

1. Red - Teacher Table - where I meet my guided reading groups (more about grouping in a minute)

2. Blue - Letter & Word Work - depending on where kids are they work on letter recognition or word work skills here (beginning of year more letters and mid-year moving to words). Each kid has a list of letters or words they will work on based upon data. When they master those, they move on. I mix up sight words and words using phonics skills, depending on what the kids need. Some things we work on here are:
  • Letter sorts
  • Word sorts
  • Write, stamp, decorate
  • Rainbow write
  • Roll & Read
  • Play-doh words
  • Building words with magnet letters or felt letters on felt board
  • Writing our words on white boards

3. Yellow - Buddy work - one page usually reviewing skills from last week that kids complete together. They have the whole week, each time they're at yellow, to complete it and it's about one of the only worksheets we do. After they are done, this is the station with reading games that have retired from my table so they choose one of those.

Here, kids are playing sight word towers - they turn over a word and if they can read it, they take the blocks. At the end, tallest tower wins.

4. Black - Read to self/Buddy read/Library - Essentially, a reading time in our class library. They can also choose to practice their sight word rings here.
5. Green - Pocket chart center - changes a LOT. Sometimes, I throw a pocket chart game with a recording sheet in there, sometimes we have a poem of the week for them to fill in/write.
6. White - creation station - some sort of craft/art that goes with our weekly theme or skills and sometimes a free art time. This is a good way to get everyone a cute art piece to hang in the hall by the end of the week with just a few kids working at a time.
We start stations day one in our room by practicing a station a day. Students quickly know where stations are located (therefore where they should be) and what activities are allowed there. I use a pocket chart that has the 3 colors my groups will go to each day. 
They look at the pocket chart, find their first color and get started. Then, all I have to do is say "switch" from my table and they go on to their second color. We have practiced so much, it's second nature to them. I will get a few stragglers to my table from finishing things which is why I love having some warm-up activities to start with. 

One of my favorites is my fast fluency - each phonics skill has 3 levels of words so I can differentiate. If students see a fast fluency at their spot, they grab a marker and eraser and get started writing and reading. I can follow along to check on their progress.
Check out the -ar, -ay, and -ai packs in my store here

Okay, onto how I group my kids and when I meet them. I do everything digitally through Google drive/docs so I have this on there too.

(sorry for blurry picture - picture of a screen!)
I have 5 fluid groups named after vowels - A, E, I, O, U. Students can change from groups at any time based upon observation and data. 
At the beginning of the year I would see my low (U) group every single day. Then, my school started an afternoon intervention piece for our lowest students and most of my U group went to that. Because they were getting an extra 90 minutes in the afternoon, I dropped them to 4 days a week to see another group in my room. However, if you don't have an extra intervention time, I suggest seeing your lowest kids every single day. They should be reading with you as much as possible.

In an ideal world, I'd see all my kids every day but that doesn't always work. So, I see my low (U) group 4 times a week, my O, I, and E groups 3 times a week, and my A group twice a week. (If you're deciphering the picture: BK = black, Y = yellow, B = blue, etc.)(M1 - Monday first station, etc.)

Everyone goes to yellow and white 2 times a week which means they have 2 15-20 minute periods to finish the one worksheet for the week and their art project. They don't have to sweat being finished and hurrying to finish to move on. At the end of the week, I check for everyone's work in the box. If it's not done, they finish it Friday afternoon before free play. Easy peasy. 

I hope this gives you some good insight into how I have set-up station time in my room. We love our literacy stations and activities and I love getting to read and work with small groups of kids each day. I truly feel this is when the bulk of our learning happens. I also believe students are getting good practice in collaboration, problem-solving, and independence. 

Let me know if you have any questions! Thanks for reading.

Happy teaching!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

math: favorite number

Remember how math is my favorite subject to teach?
I was not lying!
Today, I'm going to tell you about one of my favorite math activities to build number sense. 
Let me preface by saying I don't teach math facts in my classroom. I teach numbers. We dive into numbers every single day - dissect (decompose) them, build them, play with them. And the math facts come. Not only do students start internalizing them, they also understand that big numbers are made of littler numbers and there are many ways to put numbers together and take them apart.

 We use this particular activity as a warm up every single day and have been for a while. It's simple, fun, open ended, and easy to differentiate. Also, you can use it in any grade - just change the parameters or content (4th-5th grade could do a favorite fraction!)

And we call it My Favorite Number.

I either use my small white board [below] or (more recently) our interactive whiteboard [above] to display this activity. If I want students to come up and be a scribe then I will use the white board (we don't have SmartBoards boo!). Otherwise, I try to use the interactive whiteboard and the projector because it's prettier. 

Here's how it goes.
First, I look for a student who's being oh so good to be out special number picker (you can also use your leader of the day). I ask them what their favorite number is. At the beginning of the year I gave them parameters like 1-10 and then 1-20. Today, we have no parameters and my kids will even say numbers like 156. I draw a cloud in the corner and put the favorite number in it. Then, students have to think of a way to show, describe, or make that number.
This is the part I love. Every kids hand goes up because whether they say "30 + 4" or "draw 34 with ten frames" or "uhh....34 hearts?" each kid knows a way to show that number.

The growth I've seen doing this activity is amazing. At the beginning, students were mostly using pictorial representations but slowly and surely they began giving me number sentences (starting out like "uhh,...if you put this 2 and this 3 together it makes 5!")  to represent the number. They also choose larger numbers too. Despite being simple and lacking bells and whistles, the kids LOVE it. I think it has something to do with the way I scaffolded it and the confidence they feel. They are also so great at cheering each other on. They will congratulate a friend for thinking of a really cool or obscure way to represent a number. I see their brains turning (and fingers moving!) trying to think of a way no one else has said yet. We always fill up our board!

100% answers from my kindergarteners in December. 

My kids loved this whole group warm up so much, I took it over into small group. This is amazing because I can quickly give each kid a different number and tell them to give me 5 ways to show it. Assessment, differentiation, intervention, quick, easy (all my favorite words!)

[13: 10+3, base ten blocks] [20: 10+1, 10+10], [8: 4+4, ten frame, domino (4+4), 8 flowers], [22: 20+2, 21+1]

I just love activities that students love, require no paper, are easy to differentiate, and build number sense. And I'm sure you do too! I hope you can incorporate My Favorite Number (fraction, integer, whatever!) into your everyday routine. I think you'll see the amazing confidence in your kids and love it too.

Want a way to start today? Click here for a Favorite Number sheet. You can put this in a center, use it at your table, laminate them, put them in page protectors, or whatever else you want! :) 

Happy teaching!