Saturday, August 1, 2015

Back to School Blog Hop!

I'm trying hard to NOT be in denial that it is August. I'm not actually sure where the summer went. But here we are and back to school season is in full force. I haven't officially counted the days I left until school begins. But it's less than I would like to believe.

Luckily, I'm joining up with some incredible upper elementary bloggers for the Upper Elementary Back To School Blog Hop! It makes all this going back to work nonsense a LOT easier to deal with!


Throughout the hop, we will each be sharing some great back to school tips and freebies! Make sure you hop all the way through to take full advantage of everything these wonderful ladies are offering. Oh and did I mention there's a giveaway?? Make sure you enter at the end of this post!


Be Prepared: But it's ok to not get carried away. This has been a long time coming lesson for me. Every year when it's Meet The Teacher night and my room is still a huge disaster and the bulletin boards aren't done and the desks aren't just right or I have to shove a pile of stuff into a cabinet, I stress out. Like tears and sweat stress.

But last year, one of my teammates laid this little gem on me. "No one knows what it's SUPPOSED to look like. Do the important stuff and don't worry about the rest!" I was floored. Of course kids and parents don't know that I meant to have 5 more posters hung up or the library reorganized. I figured out what REALLY needed to be done before they walked through the door and everything else was just gravy!

The things I absolutely get done? I put out bins (read: empty cardboard boxes) to collect shared supplies. I write a note on the board directing students where to put the supplies they have brought. I have nametags on desks. I make sure the ugly bulletin boards are covered with paper and a border. I have a table with handouts for parents to take with them, and a bin of pens in case they want to fill anything out right then. I think that's pretty much it. Everything else is extra at that point!

Full disclosure: I like to make it look nice. But I have figured out that if the library bins don't have labels on them just yet, that no one notices (or will care!) on Meet the Teacher night.


Handouts: I mentioned handouts above. I usually just have a little table with all the handouts that parents might need before school starts - an information sheet about me, school calendar, extra school supply lists (just in case), and directions to sign up for Remind 101. I saw a great idea recently to have parents fill out a Google form with their information...which I am totally going to try to do this year!

I created an editable Instant Information form for you to fill in with your information and hand out to parents this school year! Quick and easy! Click over to download it from my TPT store. :-)

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/EDITABLE-Information-Sheet-for-Back-to-School-Night-1996943

Wait, don't go yet! We are also giving away some TPT money to spend before school starts! Make sure you follow all these wonderful folks to get as many entries as possible!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I hope your back to school season is smooth and fun!! Make sure you hop over to Tammy's blog to get some zen into your teacher life!

http://literacylovescompany.blogspot.com/2015/07/upper-elementary-back-to-school-blog-hop.html
 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Math Tips: Asking the Right Questions

One of my favorite parts of the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice is the attention paid towards getting students to actually think about the mathematics they are being asked to work with. 

That being said, after I read the Standards for Mathematical Practice, I sat back and wondered, "Exactly HOW do we support kids to do this kind of thinking?" I could have the greatest, most engaging math problem in the universe, and if I just threw it at them and walked away, I knew the results could be disastrous.

At the time, I was participating in some pretty amazing PD through my district and a local university. It was all about math and how we could improve students' learning and understanding in a variety of ways. One of the things we discussed was questioning.

Once we started having conversations about questioning, I knew that the questions I asked students (and they asked each other) could potentially be the key to the kingdom of having a deep understanding of mathematical concepts.


1. Have a Plan: This was probably the hardest one for me when I first started shifting my thinking about using questions more effectively in mathematics. How was I supposed to know what questions to ask? To begin with, I found a few "go-to" questions - I especially liked "How did you figure that out?" and "Why do you think that idea is working?" Each time I planned a lesson, I kept a few of these types of questions in my back pocket to help kids extend their thinking. I even put them up on posters or cards at the back of the room to remind me! When you know what questions you might ask ahead of time, it helps you to bust those bad boys out when you are circulating around the room or working with a small group of kids.
2. Think Like Your Students: After you make a list of the questions you want to use, start thinking about what answers kids might have. Think BIG, because you know they will say exactly what you aren't expecting! I've even made plans that go something like this: If So-and-So says _____, then I will ask _____. Be prepared for lots of answers, but don't get thrown off if they say something you didn't think of! Sometimes, I have to take a minute to think of how I want to answer or what I want to say, and that's ok! (Don't tell anyone, but I've even said things like, "I don't know if I completely  understand your idea yet. Can you give me a minute to think about it?")
3. Don't Rescue: As teachers, we HATE to watch kids struggle. It's painful and we want them to get it! But, I'm here to tell you, it's ok to let them struggle. That's where the real learning happens! Questions are a great way to fight the urge to jump in and rescue a child who is struggling. Use your questions as a way to push their thinking, especially when you just want to give them the answer or tell them the next step. Ask them a great question instead, so they can come to the idea on their own.

Here's a hilarious video about what NOT to do:
 
4. Let Them Lead: The best kind of questions are the ones where they get to take the lead, not the ones that lead them to the answer. (See video above?) I always know I've asked a leading questions when the answer sounds like a question! It gets to that point where the student is just saying what they think you want them to. A question that gets them thinking in the right direction, does just that! Gets them thinking and back to working on the task at hand. The more open ended your question, the more thinking will happen!
5. LISTEN! Last, but not least, LISTEN. Once you've asked them a great question, really pay attention to what they are saying in response. It can be really hard when you have a great toolbox of questions ready to go, but be prepared to just take the time to hear what they have to say. It's the most important part of the questioning process, in my opinion!

I hope that if this is a new idea to you, it will get you started! If you are already using questioning as a great instructional strategy, I hope it maybe gave you a new idea.

If you are looking for some ideas for questions to ask, you can check out these Questions to Encourage Mathematical Thinking Posters that are in my store.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Questions-to-Encourage-Mathematical-Thinking-POSTERS-1974519
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Questions-to-Encourage-Mathematical-Thinking-POSTERS-1974519
I also made these in black and white to save ink!
I would love to hear your favorite question you use during math, so make sure and tell me in the comments!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Seasoned Sages Sunday Blog Hop

I will never forget my first year as a teacher. I got a job late - and when I say late, I mean 3 weeks after school had already started. I was lucky though - a friend a knew a principal who was looking for a teacher, and that helped me get an interview. It turned out that the job was a split position - the morning at one school and the afternoon at another. It was one of the hardest years of my teaching career - even harder than the year I taught 36 4th and 5th graders in one room while having a sub once a week while I was mentoring teachers in my building. Well, ok. Maybe they are tied.

Anyway, the main reason I made it through that first year and even considered continuing as a teacher was the amazing support I got from the instructional coaches in both buildings. I know that not every new teacher is so lucky, so today I'm happy to be able to pay it forward (many moons later) and participate in the Seasoned Sages Sundays blog hop.

Sundays blog hop graphic copy.jpg

If there is one thing I feel like I handle pretty well in my classroom, it is management. My classroom is (usually) a good place to work, take risks and feel supported. (I think my students would say they feel this way.)

I have done a lot of the usual classroom management things: clip charts, flipping cards, and even points on the board, but I have found that none of these things are particularly effective unless you have some underlying classroom foundations. And that's where my tip comes in:


When I was a new teacher, I didn't really understand this idea. In fact, I don't think anyone ever talked to me about it. I thought respect meant that I was the only person in the room that got a say. I thought it meant classroom control. I thought it meant that everyone was quiet all the time. I remember feeling really panicked if kids were talking at all in my classroom during my first couple years of teaching. I felt like if I let anything go that I would lose complete control of the class. Boy, was that exhausting! (Side note: You know those back to school dreams you start having around this time of year? Mine are ALWAYS about an out of control class that I can't seem to get to listen to me!)

What I learned was that in order to get respect, you have to give it. I know that sounds simple. But it changed how I ran my classroom.

1. Let It Go
From the very beginning, I let my students know that I am not the only one in charge of things. Kleenex box empty? Grab a new one. No paper in the basket? Open up a new package and fill that bad boy up! Stomach growling for your irresistible snack? Go ahead and eat it. I started to let go of the little things - the things that don't disrupt others and let kids have the feeling that they can control parts of their day.

This doesn't mean I don't have boundaries. It just means that I respect them enough as people to take care of things. I have very clear boundaries. For example, they know that my Teacher Toolbox is for my teacher tools! They have their own supplies, so mine are off limits. But feel free to get in the kid friendly cabinet if you need new glue sticks for your table. They know where the line is because I tell them. No sense in making those things a secret!


2. Get To Know Them and Be Real
The other, even more important part of giving and getting respect is getting to know your students.  Older kids especially are masters at knowing how much you care - or how much you don't.

Get to know them. Talk to them. LISTEN to them. Understand them. Let them know that you are all on the same team and you have their back. It doesn't hurt to show them your human side - they love to know you are a real person. Silly, sad, happy, funny...

Fake mustache optional
Sometimes this is simple - lots of kids love to make connections with their teachers. But sometimes it's hard. Sometimes there's that kid (or kids) who doesn't trust adults or doesn't want to make connections. Guess what? Those are the same kids who need great classroom management the most. They can be your biggest ally or your worst enemy. By making the effort to show those students how much you respect and care about them, you will be improving your classroom culture a million percent. I always find that once they know you they will do just about anything for you, if you just ask. (Side note: This, for some reason, does not apply to asking them to behave for a substitute. I have not figured that one out yet.)

This year, I had that student. Every teacher before me told me how hard he was, and how much trouble he would cause our classroom. I got to know him. I enjoyed his sense of humor and I think he recognized that I wasn't judging him based on his past. Now, I'm not saying we didn't have our tough days, but he knew that I had a lot of respect for him and he returned it. The ultimate compliment came at the end of the year. He was sitting at my table working on a project and talking to a friend. He said, "The teacher never likes the class clown." (He meant himself.) I looked at him and told him I was a little offended by that. He made a face and said, "Well, not you. Regular teachers. You're not just a regular teacher." It made all that hard work to get to know him worth it.

As a new teacher, it can be difficult to give up control of those kids in the desks. It can be really hard to get to know the high-flyers who make your life hard. But if you can keep some of these things in mind, you might find that your classroom runs more smoothly!

If you have ideas about classroom management for new(ish) teachers, please add them in the comments! There will also be more blog posts on tips in the rest of this hop.

Sundays blog hop graphic copy.jpg



Monday, July 13, 2015

Viva Las Vegas!!! TPT Conference Adventures


True story: I got lost in the Venetian.

I stayed in a different hotel than the Teachers Pay Teachers conference, and after filling my brain to the brim on Thursday, I got lost. I had no idea how to get out of there. It was NOT my finest moment. (I didn't actually sit down in once place and cry and wait for someone to rescue me, but I was tempted.)

After I got in bed that night, I started getting really down. I kept thinking to myself, "What am I doing here???" I'm a really small seller on TPT and I just was not seeing how I could possibly live up to all the awesomeness I was seeing in the sessions! Once I got over my self-imposed pity party, I thought about what I might say to one of my students.

I think I would say something like, "You, my friend, are here to LEARN. That means you aren't supposed to know it all before you get here! The best you can do is try."

Once I could turn off that negative part of my brain, I reminded myself that some sellers are in a really different place, and that's ok! We all have to start somewhere. And all that matters is that I'm ready to start!

It was a lot easier for me to enjoy the rest of my trip once I got over myself and my own mental blocks about what I should be doing! It was better to take an open-minded learning stance and soak in every minute that I could. And then I started actually having a ton of fun!

If you managed to stick with my story, I'd love to share a few highlights of the trip with you! And no, getting lost in a giant resort hotel would not be considered a highlight!

Thanks to Jessica and Melissa from The Elementary Entourage, I'm linking up with the Viva Las Vegas Linky Party!

http://theelementaryentourage.blogspot.com/2015/07/viva-las-vegas-tpt-conference-linky.html


First: FRIENDS


I met so many amazing people in Vegas. I feel especially grateful that I got to hang out with Mercedes from Surfing to Success a TON! We really got to know each other and had a great time learning together. I also met Kristin from A Teeny Tiny Teacher, which was like meeting a celebrity for me. I tried not to sound like a goober when I talked to her. It was also great to meet Melissa from Wild About Fifth Grade, Deb from Crafting Connections, Emily from I Love My Classroom, and Stephanie from Falling Into First. I also met Chandra from Powerpoint Gaming and Kelly from An Apple for the Teacher. PLUS (I told you it was a great week!) I got to hang out with lots of my Colorado girls - Sara, Cecelia, and Kristen to name a few! I know there's more that I'm forgetting. I couldn't be happier to have met all of these awesome people that will no doubt make me a better teacher. :-)


Second: LEARNING

First and foremost, I learned that I have a lot of work to do!! I got tips on how to be a better blogger, how to create amazing resources for my buyers and how to be myself even when it's really, really hard. Watching Adam Freed during the keynote speech actually got me a little misty eyed! It is amazing to see what kind of a company TPT really is and what kind of a community it fosters.


Not to mention I attended amazing sessions with people like Erin from Lovin' Lit, Stephanie from Falling Into First and Lindsay from Beyond the Worksheet. It was so inspiring to hear from sellers and to think about how I can apply their ideas into my own blogging and creating.

Third: HAVING FUN


It was so fun to win an awesome t-shirt from Watson Works Edu (those girls are so funny and sweet!), a fabulous bunch of clip art from Glitter Meets Glue Designs AND I even got to do a little sightseeing when the conference was over, thanks to my hubby who flew out on Friday night. :-)

Fourth: GROWING

It is worth noting that I am a country mouse, through and through. I live in a rural area, and while Denver isn't THAT far away, I usually prefer to hang out in less city-like places. I don't catch cabs regularly, or walk through crowded streets. I like my wide open spaces. I live in a very quiet area and I like it that way!

But in Vegas? You need to be a city mouse, people. I know it's way out there in the desert, but I really had to dig deep and find my inner city girl. Once I did that? Things seemed to go more smoothly and I enjoyed myself!! In fact, I am REALLY glad I got to go.

I can't wait to see what's in store as I start collaborating with new friends, applying what I learned and remembering that sometimes you have to dig deep to find your inner strength!

Make sure you head over the The Elementary Entourage for the Viva Las Vegas linky party and see what else was going on in Vegas this past week!

http://theelementaryentourage.blogspot.com/2015/07/viva-las-vegas-tpt-conference-linky.html

Friday, July 3, 2015

Whatever Wednesday - Math Shifts Continued!

Hello all!! This will be the second post in a short series about MATH! Hooray! (If you aren't as excited as me, just play along!)

Last week, we started talking about the 3 key shifts required by the Common Core State Standards.

The first shift was all about the focus and you can read about it {here}.

Today's post is all about shift #2: COHERENCE.


Has this ever happened to you?

It's halfway through the school year. You've already taught a great unit on addition of whole numbers and your class did pretty well. You feel great about their understanding and now it's time to start on your unit about adding fractions. When you start teaching your lesson, the confused look on your students' faces tell you that they have no idea what you are talking about.

Teacher Meme - Giving Instructions

Even though it's frustrating, this feeling isn't new, right? Every time you start to teach a mathematical idea, your students treat it like it's the very first time, even if they've been taught it before. As the teacher, you know there are connections to what's been previously taught, but most students act like every day is completely brand new and relates to absolutely nothing they've ever seen before. (I'm not blaming the students or the teacher here! It's just something that happens!)

This is where coherence becomes your new best friend! Coherence is the intentional linking of topics and thinking across and within grade levels. It's overcoming the idea that mathematics is a set of disconnected procedures and rules, and helping students see how mathematical ideas are interconnected. Coherence allows students to see that each standard is "not a new event, but an extension of previous learning."

Some very smart people created learning progressions to help design the CCSS for mathematics in a coherent way.

For example:
In third grade, students are introduced to interpreting products of multiplication by thinking about equal groups of a certain number. i.e. 4 X 5 is the same as 4 groups of 5 objects each. (This is 3.OA.A.1, in case you were wondering!)


Fast forward to fourth grade, and students can use what they learned about equal groups in multiplication to help them start to think about how to multiply fractions with a whole number. This foundational understanding about equal groups of whole numbers can apply to "groups" of a fraction. i.e. 3 X (1/6) is the same as 3 groups of 1/6. (This is 4.NF.B.4.A!)

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Basketball-Fractions-Clipart-Over-20-Graphics-609278
Click the picture to buy the great basketball clipart from Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Designs!
I LOVE that the same representation covers this type of problem with whole numbers and fractions AND it's easy for kids to transfer that underlying concept from one year to the next. I think this is especially true if we put the problem into a context (read: word problem) but that is a post for another day! 

This is just one example of how coherence appears in the CCSS for mathematics. We could even extend this example to show how this concept supports fifth graders when they begin to learn about multiplying two fractions.

Remember those confused faces from before? With a combination of focus and coherence students can start to see mathematics as a set of interconnected concepts and ideas, instead of a bunch of disconnected topics and tricks. Lessons are extensions of their learning from previous grades and earlier in the year, and hopefully the look of "I've never seen this before" will be a thing of the past. :-)

I've linked up with April from Grade School Giggles for

Whatever Wednesdays

Want to learn more? Check out the resources below for more information.

Achieve the Core: VIDEO - The Importance of Coherence in Mathematics

 Achieve the Core: Shifts in Mathematics - At this link, you can find information about the major work of each grade level, and general information about the Shifts.

Core Standards website: Key Shifts in Mathematics - You can read more about all 3 Shifts here.

Are you working towards having a Common Core aligned math classroom? I would love to hear about your experiences with the 3 shifts in the comments or through email!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Whatever Wednesday - Shifts In Mathematics

Hello all! Today, I wanted to write about something near and dear to my heart....math. I know that actually sounds crazy. But I am a math person. And an elementary school teacher. Sometimes those things don't go together, but for me they do. You can read a little more about my math journey {here}.

This past year, I worked hard to turn my classroom into a Common Core classroom. Especially in math - because it's my favorite thing!

Once I started working towards becoming a Core Advocate, I learned about the 3 Common Core Shifts for Mathematics. These shifts completely opened my eyes!!

http://www.corestandards.org/other-resources/key-shifts-in-mathematics/

The shift that really spoke to me was the first one - FOCUS.



This shift stood out to me because it's basic premise makes. so. much. SENSE. And it's exactly what teachers like me have been saying for a long time.

"We try to teach WAY too much."

"There's not enough time to teach EVERYTHING in the standards."

"Kids don't remember the important things from year to year and I feel like I'm starting over!"

"The curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep."

I know I've said ALL of those things. And said them over and over for a very long time. So when I first heard about the shift towards FOCUS, I thought that my head might fall off from all the nodding. I was completely flabbergasted that this idea was finally being addressed!

This shift takes us away from a "mile wide/inch deep" and pushes us as educators to narrow and deepen how we spend our time in the classroom. The call for focus wants teachers to give a majority of their time to the major work of their grade. I know I had to repeat this to myself many times. You mean, the CCSS WANT us to slow down and spend real, actual time teaching things that will move kids forward? And you are telling me that we should NOT spend time on things that aren't important for that grade level?

Doesn't that make so much sense?? We already knew that we didn't have time for EVERYTHING that the previous standards wanted us to do. We knew this. So the CCSS allows us to spend our time on the things that REALLY matter to student learning.

In fact, the standards ask us to spend 65-80% of our time during the year on the major work of our grade level. 


Let me give you an example. I teach 5th grade, and I have taught 4th and 3rd grade in the past. When I started really looking at the focus that the standards ask for, I read my 5th grade standards over and over, trying to make sure that my instruction was aligned. I found something shocking, people. Mean, median, range, and mode...NOT in my 5th grade standards. I kept looking, because I was sure I was just missing something. I mean, I have a whole unit in my resource devoted to measures of central tendency. But it's just. not. there.

So what does that mean? It means I can let something go. Thank you 6th grade teachers!! My students will be learning about measures of central tendency, but not until 6th grade. I can use that time to focus on the major work of MY grade: multiplication and division of whole numbers and fractions! All that instructional time, back to the focus of 5th grade. WOOHOO!

So, let's do it!! Let's get rid of the "fluff" that won't give kids a solid foundation moving forward and only devote our time to what's actually in the standards! Let's give them the focus that they deserve. Let's spend our time digging deeper into mathematics and mathematical thinking, and less time speeding through a million skills and standards.

From the Common Core website: "This focus will help students gain strong foundations, including a solid understanding of concepts, a high degree of procedural skill and fluency, and the ability to apply the math they know to solve problems inside and outside the classroom."

Couldn't have said it better myself...

I'm linking up with April from Grade School Giggles for her Whatever Wednesday link up! (Yes, I know it's Friday.)

http://www.gradeschoolgiggles.com/whatever-wednesday-week-1/

If you would like to learn more about the Shifts here are some resources for you:

Achieve the Core: Shifts in Mathematics - At this link, you can find information about the major work of each grade level, and general information about the Shifts.
 
Core Standards website: Key Shifts in Mathematics - You can read more about all 3 Shifts here.

Achieve the Core: Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool - This is a tool you, or your district, can use to determine in your resources or textbooks are Common Core aligned.

What steps are you taking in your Common Core journey? Or what questions do you have? Leave comments or questions below. Let's start a dialogue to help us all improve our practice!


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Dare to Dream BIG

I'm excited to be participating in the second week of the TPT Seller Challenge! This week, the challenge asked us to think about our dreams, and dream BIG. I can't resist sharing some of the things I hope to accomplish through this journey, so I'm linking up with The Peppy Zesty Teacherista, Third In Hollywood, Sparkling in Second and TeachCreateMotivate.


1. One of the things I adore about this community of bloggers is the ability to share ideas, resources, stories and more across the world! I love getting ideas from other teachers, and sharing my little bit of the world with others as well.

2.  This is a dream that seems far away at the moment. I hope that by participating in the blogging and TPT community that it might help me get there....eventually. A little background: My husband read the book Drive Nacho Drive. This book is the inspiration for our dream...we would love to take a year or so off from working and drive from our home in Colorado to the tip of South America. We love to travel anyway, and this book truly showed us what an amazing journey that could be. We both have dreams about saving up enough money to not have to worry about anything back home while we are on our trip...it's a pipe dream for sure, but hey, I'm dreaming BIG here!

3. I think that TPT has helped me to examine my practices as a teacher. I love learning from others and seeing how they use the products they create. I hope to be able to learn and grow from them - to improve my own practice AND to be able to create products that teachers can easily use to grow as well!

What are your dreams?? Whether they are TPT dreams, blogging dreams or dreams for your future, I want to hear them! Leave a comment and then link up your own Dare to Dream post at one of the blogs from the lovely ladies below!

http://www.thirdinhollywood.com/2015/06/tpt-seller-challenge-week-2-dare-to.htmlhttp://www.teachcreatemotivate.com/2015/06/dare-to-dream-tptsellerchallenge-week-2.html
http://www.peppyzestyteacherista.com/2015/06/tpt-seller-challenge-dare-to-dream.htmlhttp://www.peppyzestyteacherista.com/2015/06/tpt-seller-challenge-dare-to-dream.html