Tuesday, December 15, 2020

8 FREE Classroom Resources for the Week Before the Holiday Break

A holiday poem...

'Twas the week before Christmas                                                                                                When all through the room                                                                                                               Not a creature wanted to be conferring                                                                                       Except via Z....

Yeah...that's all I've got. 

My apologies to Clement Clarke Moore. 

And to you, dear reader. 

If you're also running out of steam and creativity this wild week before break, do I have a deal for you!

Today I'm showcasing 8 FREE classroom resources you can use this week, and a few can also be used when you get back from winter break. Whoo hoo!

Because your recess, lunch time, or maybe patience is increasingly short this week, let's get right to the business at hand!

Time for Winter BOOM Cards™

If you have students who could use a little extra practice telling time to the nearest minute, this deck is for you! There are fifteen interactive digital task cards that ask students to tell time using an analog clock.


Winter Multiplication BOOM Cards™

This is a great set for intervention time or homework. Each of my students has always had a small dry-erase board in their desk, and they use that to work the problems before selecting the correct answer on their BOOM Cards™. Fun, easy, and simple--just the kind of thing we need before a break!


Christmas Computation BOOM Cards™

This computation sampler is a terrific way to get kids to review and/or sharpen their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills!

And now for the ELA folks...

Winter Common & Proper Nouns

Y'all, I never knew that common and proper nouns were such a big deal. I've always just taught them once in the beginning of the year and maybe reviewed them for two minutes before the big ole tests. HOWEVER, I had created a Halloween freebie on this very topic in October, and I still had huge amounts being downloaded well into December. Obviously, there was a need for a winter theme. And besides, friends don't let friends use Halloween resources in December. πŸ˜‚


Singular & Plural Possessive Nouns

Sometimes I wonder if we as a society will ever collectively learn the difference between plurals and possessives, let alone singular possessives and plural possessives. And don't even get me started about a uniform decision on the infamous nouns ending with S...

This resource is my feeble attempt at some semblance of word peace. (No, that's not a typo. WORLD peace would be a bit much to expect from fewer than 20 cards.) And no, there are no nouns that end with S in this deck...it's the holidays, folks. No need to add fuel to any arguments amongst grammarians out there.



Simple Subject & Simple Predicate

I had made a set of complete subject and complete predicate cards back in October, but I hadn't followed up with a set for simple subjects and predicates. This is a quick, easy review of the subject with a couple of instructional cards included.



Simile or Metaphor BOOM Cards

This is an oldie but a goodie! My very first set of BOOM Cards! Some kids really struggle with determining the difference between similes and metaphors, so it's always good to review them periodically.



And now, for a NON-digital resource!

Every year, I used to be caught off-guard and totally unprepared when the first student gifts started arriving. I know, I know...the holidays are the same time every year, but I just felt a little presumptuous assuming I'd get gifts. Anyhoo, that's an issue to be worked out in therapy, but I did finally come up with a solution!

I created these holiday thank you notes (although they can be used anytime throughout the year) that I can DOWNLOAD if and when I receive a gift.

And now, you can, too!
Holiday Thank You Notes

 Unlike my other free resources, this is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can print out the versions with minimal color or simply print the blackline masters onto the colorful paper of your choice!

❆❆❆❆❆❆❆❆❆❆❆❆❆❆❆

Happy holidays, everyone! I hope you have a terrific week with your students, and may you have a December to remember!

Until next time!


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Using Real-Life Skills in Your Classroom for the Holidays

 Happy Tuesday, everyone!

It's certainly beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go! Whether you celebrate the holidays in your classroom or not, there's no denying that the excitement is contagious. Why not capitalize on that eagerness and add a little festive fun to your learning environment!


We all know as educators that learning is especially meaningful and engaging if students see the relevance in it. Add a spark of holiday spirit to the mix, and well, the days just seem to be a little smoother...and sweeter.

πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

Today I'd like to offer five tips for incorporating real-life skills into your classroom during the days leading up to the holiday break.

1. If possible, find a holiday tie-in. It is almost Christmas after all, and what better way to be relevant in students' lives than to focus on what they are currently interested in! 

  •    *Incorporate reading and writing assignments around the season.        
  •       Design and describe a gingerbread house, ugly sweater, elf, present, etc.     
  •       If a character in your book gave a present to another character, what would it be?   
  •       If you could give a character in your book a gift, what would you give him/her? 
  •     *Make math meaningful and merry!
  •     Instead of a page full of addition problems, have students use sale flyers. 
  •     Create a North Pole map using distance and scale.
  •     Create a Winter Wonderland theme park.

 Do you have students that don't celebrate the holidays? No problem! Find a theme that interests everyone and tie your classroom work into it. It's all in the presentation...if you're excited, they'll be excited!
  • *Possible non-holiday themes
  • Winter Wonderland
  • Gnome
  • Yeti for Winter Break
  • Practice with a Cactus
  ....You get the idea!


Don't feel like you have to reinvent the wheel or create a bunch of new assignments to accomplish this. Check out sites like Teachers Pay Teachers or Boom Learning℠ for ready-made resources--many of them are FREE!

2. Use recipes for reading and math assignments. My kids love anything to do with eating, cooking, or reality TV. Given the number of cooking shows there are, I know they're not alone in this. During math intervention time this month, we have our own friendly group competition that the kids have nicknamed "Chopped." I have the kids broken up into small groups, and then I give each group copies of my favorite recipes. (They are holiday recipes for December, but they don't have to be.) They then work together on dry-erase boards halving the recipes (hence, the "Chopped") or doubling, tripling, or quadrupling them. Oh, what fun they have! 

After class, many of the kiddos ask if they can take the recipes home so they can make them. Umm...YEAH! Cooking at home with their families is another great math lesson and they don't even know they're doing it. See what I did there? My evil plan to sneak in homework and extra math practice worked! Muhahahahah!

Recipes are also great for my reading intervention class. They teach sequential (or step-by-step) order, and students need to read details very carefully. Sometimes students will ask if they can bring recipes from home to add to my files, and of course, I say YES! What a great way for students to share a piece of their lives and their culture with the class!

I have also noticed that recipes are a great way to expand vocabulary. Students learn the names of ingredients they've never tried before, and they discover some new cooking terms along the way, too. The cookbooks I added to our classroom library last year have quickly become a big hit!


3. Have students generate lists. This is kind of like number one, but with a different twist. I find that many of my kiddos who don't like to write are actually fabulous list makers. I also discover that my students who aren't very organized writers benefit from this greatly. Because after all, most pre-writing is just list making and organizing your thoughts. 

Plus, making lists is a life-long skill that keeps all of us on track, no matter what our age.

Examples of lists we create in December:
  • Christmas list (obviously)πŸ˜‰
  • Santa's Nice List (nope, we don't do naughty) Haha!
  • Shopping list (either gifts we want to give OR grocery shopping based on a recipe)
  • Character traits of a character in one of our novels
  • Things we're grateful for
  • Qualities we admire in others
  • Things you would have to pack to go on a trip
  • Favorite songs, TV shows, books, etc.
  • Things we have have to do today, this week, this month, etc.
Lists are an excellent way to organize our thoughts and our lives! 😊


4. Play games. Games are a great way for students to learn social skills such as taking turns and losing (and winning!) gracefully. They are also a terrific way to reinforce and review academic skills because they're FUN and our minds remember fun things. Games can be the most engaging link students have between school and home. Often times parents will comment that their child learned a game in class that they are so excited for their whole family to play. How many worksheets can we say that about? 

My students think that BINGO is the greatest thing ever. We play multiplication BINGO to celebrate everything--birthdays, Christmas, everyone turning in their homework--you name it, we celebrate it! Learning multiplication facts is fun when it's presented as a game and a class tradition. Trust me, if I forget to get the BINGO set out for some occasion, I hear about it. 

We also play Around the World, Hangman, 20 Guesses, Who Am I?...and many more. I hope that my students will always reflect back on our year together as a time of FUN and learning.


5. Give more time for independent reading. During this hectic time, I try to work in a little extra downtime for my kiddos so that they can unwind reading a book of their choice. To me, this is a life-long skill. I don't want my kids to think reading is an isolated activity that you only do at school. I want them to know the thrill of finding those extra moments to sit quietly and inhale a good story. I want them to get into the routine of reading every school day so that they continue it throughout the winter break.

During the years I've taught middle school, I've given my students the first fifteen minutes of class for this treat. My elementary kiddos get the first fifteen minutes following lunch recess to settle in with their books. Those who might complain about it at the beginning of the year usually are the ones who want more time by Thanksgiving.

In December, I dim the lights slightly and project a virtual fireplace on the screen. There's something about the sweet crackle of a fire that just lulls everyone into the reading mood!  I dearly hope that this is a real-life practice that many of my students take to heart well into their adult years.

πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

I hope that you have found a few helpful hints that you can incorporate into your classroom. May the next two weeks be some of the merriest of the year for you and your students!

Until next time!


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Teaching Figurative Language

Top of the morning to you on this Tuesday after Thanksgiving. I hope your week is off to a wonderful start, and I want to wish you a very happy December!

I don't know about you, but December always seems a little bittersweet to me. There's the nostalgia of past Christmases, the realization that my time with this group of students is nearly half over, and the awareness that this is the last month of the "leisurely" stretch of our pacing guide.


RRRRrrrrrkkkkk! And just like an irritating scratch on an old vinyl record, the holiday mood is rudely interrupted by the thought of heavy test prep when we return from the holiday break.

But wait! Instead of being the proverbial party pooper, I'm here to offer tidings of comfort and joy! I'm about to offer you a sweet little nugget of wisdom that enables me to enjoy my two weeks off without dreading January.

Here's my best kept test prep secret: I start preparing my kiddos before we leave on break.

No, I'm not the grinch, and no, the kids don't mind. In fact, they don't even know that we are doing test prep. I strive to make it a December to remember, and the holidays lend themselves beautifully to fun activities--especially those revolving around figurative language.

I don't know about the tests your kiddos take, but our reading tests are pretty heavy on figurative language. If the kids don't have that down by the time they test in March, their chances of doing exceptionally well are pretty much slim to none.

Once the holiday break hits, I like the majority of my students to have figurative language down pat. They can define each of the devices, find examples in literature, and incorporate it in their own writing. 


Whether I've taught 4th grade or 8th grade, my methods are the same. And so I'm offering this simple phase...

See what I did there? Any Nat King Cole fans out there?

Okay, back on track. Here are my tried and true methods for teaching figurative language.

1. Go over the definitions...often. Kids can't identify or effectively use what they don't know. In fourth grade, we work on math facts like it's their job (which it kind of is), but we also go over figurative language definitions, too.

For example, when they're standing in line waiting to go in from recess, I will ask for someone to tell us what we call a comparison between two unlike things using "like" or "as." (The added bonus of standing outside a little longer certainly doesn't hurt.)

I also have figurative language mini posters displayed in a prominent spot in our classroom, and we refer to them often. I like to change them up to match our seasonal decor, so I have LOTS of different sets. (I believe they are all listed in this sub-section of my store.)


The information listed on them is exactly the same, but the backgrounds are different to match our decor and mood. When I was in college, one of my professors told us that the average bulletin board is only effective at capturing attention for two to three weeks, max. Isn't that the truth? How many displays do we walk by in our schools and we don't even pause to read them anymore? My classroom is so teeny, tiny that every square inch of that baby has to be effective real estate! By changing the posters often, that area catches the kids' eyes and they take the time to read the information, even if they already know what it says based on the previous versions. 

BTW, the pineapple version is my favorite. 🍍

2. Give students LOTS of practice finding examples of figurative language.

Once my students have the definitions down, we start applying that knowledge by looking at sample sentences. You can use worksheets or you can create your own sentences. I turned some of my sentences into a gallery walk that my students just LOVE doing at the beginning of the year! (It is available here if you're interested.)


Once the kids are comfortable and consistent with identifying examples in isolated sentences, it's time to move on to excerpts from REAL literature!

Again, I have many samples I have pulled over the years for students to practice on. In order to share all of these great examples, I have created other figurative language gallery walks (available in my TpT store), and interactive sets (available in my BOOM store at Boom Learning℠).  πŸ˜€

As I mentioned earlier, the holidays are the perfect time of year to practice finding examples of figurative language. Many traditional songs, stories, and movies contain a treasure trove of these gems!

I can't tell you how thrilling it is to have a fourth grader come back from music class just ecstatic that they discovered alliteration in "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Walking in a Winter Wonderland!" Of course, I let them think that no one else has ever made that discovery and that he/she is an absolute genius. 

And then the race is on, my friends. The. race. is. ON! Those kids are going to find examples in print and media no matter what. One mother reported to me that the family has learned so much about figurative language because her child feels the need to point out every. single. example in every song played on the radio. LOL 

(Side note: We also do "Music Monday"--or "Tune Tuesday" if we forget--most weeks. That little adventure deserves an entire post of its own, so stay tuned!)


3. Require the use of figurative language in writing assignments. This isn't a legalistic intention at all, but like many newly acquired skills, if students aren't made to use it, they won't. I ask students to include at least ONE example of figurative language in any narrative writing that we do, and they need to highlight or underline it. That's an easy enough requirement that anyone can do and many choose to do more. This practice teaches kids to apply the devices effectively and to balance its use in their writing. Nobody wants to read a whole page of figurative language strung together, but everyone can appreciate the well-placed example that helps illustrate a point.

The 7th graders in my district are required to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens each year. We always have a lively debate after reading it if Dickens effectively used figurative language or if he overused it. Most kids point out the extremely verbose passages about the marketplace as their evidence...

By the by, have YOU noticed all the examples of figurative language I've strung throughout this post? πŸ˜‚

πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„

I hope this gives you some practical ideas and some hope about the upcoming test season. My students absolutely LOVE using figurative language and that offers me a thrill of hope as this weary woman rejoices during the holiday season.


Until next time, friends!


BTW, if your students are currently reading the very verbose work by Mr. Dickens, I have culled FIFTY-SEVEN examples of figurative language from that little novella of his. They are arranged in order by stave, so it's a fun activity to do after each chapter. I have a standard set available here and a two-pack differentiated pack (one set has helpful hints underlined) here.



Monday, November 23, 2020

Gigi's Pumpkin Pie

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go...

Oh, grandmothers! Where would we be without those lovely, giving souls in our lives? They have the age and the life experience to give us such excellent care, advice...AND family recipes!

Whether you have the week off or you're still teaching, Gigi's Pumpkin Pie is an easy to make crowd-pleaser that you can whip together Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. 


For those of you thinking, "But I don't like pumpkin pie," let me tell you, neither did I until I tried this one. (Gigi was my grandma by marriage.) It's really more of a custard pie, and Gigi once told me that lots of folks admitted they hadn't really cared for pumpkin pie until they tasted hers. 

The secret is that one can of pumpkin is stretched to make two large (or three small) pies, AND it is best eaten cold the next day.


For generations, grandmas and teachers have always shared their knowledge and talents freely with others. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to honor Gigi's memory by sharing that recipe with all of you.  

I also want to encourage you to write down those beloved family recipes!

Gigi's Pumpkin Pie

1 cup of sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 heaping tablespoon of flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15-oz.) can of pumpkin 
3 cups milk
4 eggs

1. Mix dry ingredients together in large mixing bowl. 

2. Add canned pumpkin. (NOTE: This is NOT canned pumpkin pie filling. This is plain ole pureed pumpkin.)

3. Add three cups of regular milk. Nope, it's not canned milk...just straight from the fridge milk.

4. Break eggs in a small bowl and beat. Add to the pumpkin mixture and mix thoroughly.

5. Prepare two large pie plates (or three small plates) by placing unbaked pie crusts into each. Flute edges and use a fork to poke holes in the crust. Pour filling in.

6. Bake at 400 degrees for the first 15 minutes. 

7. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees for the remainder of the cooking time--usually 40 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the pies comes out clean.

8. Cool on the counter top for a few hours, and then cover with foil and place in the fridge overnight.

*******

I have to say that this pie is one of my favorite things to have with a cup of coffee for breakfast the next day! Yum!


 I am thankful for your company and your friendship in this journey called life. God bless you all, and may you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Using BOOM Cards™ for Instruction

 Happy Tuesday morning, friends!

I read in the newspaper yesterday that over 80% of the teachers in my state felt overwhelmed or stressed by current teaching conditions. I get it! Frankly, I'm surprised those numbers aren't even higher. 

Some educators are expected to teach in-person in a school setting which is stressful due to possible COVID exposure, among other things. Others are struggling with being strictly online and all the stresses that go with it: spotty internet service, student attendance/participation, lack of resources, etc. And still others are trying to delicately balance a hybrid approach with both online and in-person learners.

Compound Words: Two Truths & a Turkey Tale BOOM Cards 

Oh my goodness, I can't even! It hurts my head and my heart just thinking what educators are currently going through.

While there are no easy answers and definitely no one right way to do things, I thought I would share something that I started doing last year during quarantine that was a lifesaver for all involved--students, parents, and myself.

I have previously discussed my love of BOOM Cardsand how engaging they are for my students. (If you missed that post, you can read it here.) Before we were quarantined in March, I mainly used these interactive digital task cards as a math center for practice AFTER my instruction.

Missing Divisor (Fall Edition) Boom Cards
And then came online learning. Folks, can we still be friends if I confess I am not good at juggling multiple things? Especially juggling things while 25 fourth graders and their parents and their grandparents and their younger siblings and their pets are watching on a computer screen? Oh, the anxiety!

Let's just say switching from my slide or video presentation to our practice work was usually NOT a seamless process for me. In fact, I dreaded the instructional part of online learning. When I was trying to change gears, kids (or adults!) would want to start talking, there would be computer glitches, etc. It can be tough to manage transitions in person let alone online--can I get an AMEN?!

It was also difficult to find quality online resources that aligned well with the lesson I just taught. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and so it was for me. I decided then and there to create my own BOOM cards with a little mini lesson included.

Whoo hoo! My life is changed forever!

Let me just give a quick rundown of the benefits from these handy little decks.

1. Whether I'm teaching online or in-person, my lesson with built-in questions is ready to go! I don't need a separate slide presentation or to waste valuable time (or suffer potential embarrassment, haha!) juggling multiple platforms. It's all right there.

Thanksgiving Synonyms (Using Context Clues)
2. If a student is absent during instruction, the mini lesson and the directions are included with the practice work. Parents and paras have commented how helpful that feature is for them. Students also appreciate being able to review concepts before they begin the work.

3. Educators using the hybrid model of instruction can easily use these decks. Students working in class or at home have the exact same resource available to them to help with lesson equity.

4. No trees have been harmed during the making of these lessons. This is a huge benefit to teachers and administrators...and trees. Paper (also known as $$$ ) isn't wasted and neither is valuable time making copies. There is no hassle trying to get work to students who aren't physically at school, and lessons can easily be assigned online.

5. Lessons are self-grading. Need I say more? Teachers have enough on their plates this year, and this is a HUGE timesaver! Reports can also be easily generated on the Boom Learningwebsite so teachers can track progress.

6. Students receive immediate feedback. Folks, this is a biggie! I believe with all my heart that the most effective instruction requires immediate feedback. Why do a worksheet with 25 problems if you're doing them all wrong? If a student tries a question or two on a Boom deck and misses them, they know to stop and ask for help.

**********************

Prime & Composite Numbers

I'm sure there are more benefits, but these are the main ones I've encountered so far. I do have to put in the disclaimer that while most of my BOOM decks have instructional slides, not all of them do. For example, a lot of the math fact practice decks do not have them due to the specific instructional vocabulary and methods many schools have in their math program. Please check out the previews to see if the teaching slides are included.


Whether you are teaching remotely, in-person, hybrid, or homeschool, I hope this post gives you some helpful ideas for making your life easier and less stressful. Please take care of yourselves, sweet friends, because if no one else has told you this today, YOU matter!

Until next time!


Awesome mockups created by Coffee Beans and Children's Dreams

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Why Computation Needs to Be an Essential Part of Elementary Math Class

 Every once in a great while, I like to watch a late night police drama. As a teacher, this doesn't happen very often because I usually fall asleep in my chair by 9:00 p.m. and I generally have other things to do. But when I do make the occasional effort, I love solving a good mystery before the so-called experts weigh in on things at the end of the episode.


Probably my favorite line from any of these shows goes something like this: "Please just stick to the facts, ma'am (or sir)." This is usually uttered by some grizzled old detective who has learned the hard way over the years that the facts, coupled with a little bit of theorizing on his/her part, are what it's going to take to solve the crime.

This is exactly how I feel about math instruction. I know, I know, it's not a popular stance in current trends, but please just hear me out.

If you read my last post, I described how I found myself teaching fourth grade math after years of teaching middle school ELA. What an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Imagine my surprise that as a college-educated woman with 20 years of teaching experience, I basically knew very little about fourth grade math. (Please note the heavy sarcasm.)

Oh, I knew how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide just fine. And as the the mother of two, I can divide any after school snack into equal fractions when given a semi-sharp cutting tool. You know, the things that help you lead a somewhat productive adult life for the past few decades.

HOWEVER, I soon learned I wasn't quite as equipped to show what I know on the theory side of things. I'll admit, I learned a lot, and I imagine this is how many parents feel when their kids bring home math homework. 

BUT--and this is a big but--do we emphasize the WHY and the HOW over the actual practice of DOING?

Before I ruffle too many feathers, I do realize it is extremely important for students to learn the why's and how's of mathematical skills and concepts. I also believe it is important for them to have equal, if not more, time to put those skills to practice. And I also believe those two beliefs can coexist peacefully in a math curriculum.

For example, if coaches spent most of their time teaching their players different plays and very little time practicing skills, how successful would that team be? You need to have some standard skills down in order to effectively execute those game-winning plays.

For yet another example, every one of my 9 and 10-year-old students could tell you why and how to drive a car in modern society. Most could tell you the basics of how to start the car, put it in gear, steer, and stop. BUT if given the opportunity to actually drive themselves (and boy, would they love that!), most could not successfully do it because they do not possess the necessary skills...and driver's license.

And that, my friends, is where most of the kiddos in my particular area are at when it comes to math. They can explain how to solve almost any kind of mathematical problem, but when the rubber hits the road, they don't have the basic skills to correctly complete the problem themselves.

I think we've all experienced as educators, and possibly as mathematicians ourselves, times when our students knew exactly what to do but didn't arrive at the correct answer. Why? Because they made a silly error with addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. 

What's the solution to this problem? In my opinion: practice, practice, practice.

And here's where my math coach and administrators would faint. 

As a middle school teacher, I had the privilege of being on a team with one of the best math teachers I have ever met. We had a waiting list for parents wanting their kids on our team because of her. (I like to think the rest of us made our contributions too, but we all recognized she was pretty phenomenal at what she did.)😊

It didn't matter where our kiddos were in math at the beginning of the year, by the end of May, they were math rock stars. In fact, many of the kids finished their year with high school level test scores. Wow!

I once asked her what her secret was and she simply replied, "Weekly computation practice. It doesn't do any good for them to learn advanced mathematical concepts if they don't have a firm foundation to build on."

Why are the really effective things in life so simple? While this may not have been an earth- shattering revelation, it certainly has turned things around for many math students, my own kiddos included.

If you're convinced that computation practice needs to play a bigger role in your classroom, why not start today?! During our math intervention time, we have played games, worked on flashcards, taken timed tests, worked problems on dry-erase boards, and the list goes on and on. My students' favorite way of practicing math facts has to be BOOM Cards™. I have slowly been adding different computation practice decks to my Teachers Pay Teachers store and my BOOM store if you'd like to check those out.

Thank you, friends, for hearing me out on this not always popular opinion. I will hop off my soap box now, but I'd like to leave you with one final thought. I mentioned at the beginning of this rather lengthy dissertation (sorry, not sorry) that I lived most of my adult life somewhat successfully knowing basic math skills and a little bit of theory.

My question for you is: Would the reverse have been equally true? Would I have been able to lead a semi-successful life knowing mostly mathematical theory and not mastering basic skills?  (Okay, that's TWO questions, but I think they're good ones to ponder.)

I hope you'll agree that our students deserve a balanced approach.

Until next time...





Sunday, September 27, 2020

My Journey into Fourth Grade Math & Why My Math Products Came Into Existence

 Two summers ago, I came back to my hometown with two goals in mind: First, to check on my mother, and secondly, to sell a house I've owned for years. And like an epic Hollywood movie, that's when my life took a sharp left-hand turn.

When I arrived in town, I discovered that both my mother and the house were in worse shape than I had anticipated.  I knew that neither was going to be a quick fix, and I would most likely be spending the next year in my hometown. 

I tell you all this because my next move was one that I really don't think I would have made without that little backstory. You see, I had happily spent the past 17 years teaching middle school English, and I LOVED it! I loved the content, I loved the kids, and I loved that I knew what to expect each year.

Enter that famous quote about the best laid plans of mice and men, and you won't be a bit surprised to learn that the only job opening in my little town was for fourth grade.

Yep. Quite a difference there. Now I had taught elementary school once upon a time in the 1990s, but I thought those days were behind me. However, school was going to start in two weeks, I needed a job, and so I embarked on a new adventure.


I have to tell you in those two weeks, I got pretty excited about the fun possibilities that fourth grade presented. I could read Little House in the Prairie, Charlotte's Web, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the kids! We could play multiplication and division games together! Oh. My. Goodness! The art we could create on Friday afternoons! Oh wow! This was going to be great!

Those of you who currently teach fourth grade and are grounded in reality know that my joy was shortlived. 

On my first official back-to-school day, I was handed FOURTEEN (!) huge binders and told that was my math curriculum for the year. What?!? Oh, and there were four large spiral-bound teacher manuals that comprised my ELA curriculum. These two subjects were what my kiddos would spend roughly 85% of their day on. Oh, and if I happened to be feeling the need for any kind of control, here was the grade-level schedule that I needed to strictly adhere to.

Oh boy, Toto...we aren't in 1999 anymore.


Now for someone who hasn't taught math for a decade or two, it would seem reasonable that a prescribed curriculum would be just what the doctor ordered. (See what I did there? Prescribed...doctor? Yeah, I've spent too many years in middle school. Haha!)

However, this prescribed math curriculum took quite a bit of prep time for me because it was mostly theory. Pages and pages of theory. Theory that I was was expected to know and deliver the next day.

And that in itself is not a bad thing. I learned a lot about math that I was never explicitly taught, and I like to think that learning the daily scripts help prepare me for my future movie career or at least a part-time gig on a soap opera when I retire.

But when did the kids put all that theory into practice? For all the pages and pages in that curriculum, there didn't seem to be a lot of student practice, in my opinion.

That's when I found out about this little thing called intervention time. A forty-minute slice of the day where the kids worked on a specific skill each week. And oh, there weren't any prescribed resources for this.


Y'all, this was such music to my ears! After nearly twenty years of creating my own lessons, my soul dearly needed to do some creating! I wasn't too worried about the ELA intervention time because I had tons of resources I had created over the years that I could adapt. 

Math was another story though. Somewhere in the past two decades, seventh grade math became the new fourth grade curriculum. I'm not kidding! I didn't learn about prime and composite numbers until I was in an advanced math class in middle school. Do we not believe in Piaget's findings anymore?!?

Anyway, I needed to find a way to get my kiddos to understand complex ideas and practice simple mathmatical skills. Every night I would pour over the math lessons my kids were expected to do and break them down into manageable skills. The next day we would practice them in small groups and then independently. I would take notes on what worked, what didn't work, and what needed tweaked. I also noted what types of lessons engaged the majority of my students and what were epic fails. I then took all of this information and began creating resources over the summer when I had the extra time. And trust me, I've only just begun to make the long list of resources!


And there you have it, folks, the story of how I began my unlikely journey of creating math resources.  It took a lot of time, research, and kid-testing, but I am so glad to have the experience of doing it. Because the vast majority of my students LOVED doing BOOM Cards™,  that's where I've concentrated my efforts for now.

Also, because I've taught middle school for so many years and have had to monitor countless study halls, I try to make my resources appropriate for an extended age group. If you're a seventh grader who hasn't mastered your multiplication facts for one reason or another, you don't want to be caught doing "babyish" looking practice. I try to find bright colorful clip art that my elementary kids would enjoy and that a middle school student could also appreciate. 

In my next post, I'll be discussing the importance of computation practice in math class. I hope to see you then!



Sunday, August 9, 2020

Another Picture Book Lesson for the First Week of School: Chrysanthemum

Happy second week of August! I'm back with another picture book lesson that I LOVE to use the first week or two of school. 

In my last post, I shared how I use a picture book to introduce the first writing assignment of the year. Today, I want to show you how I introduce our first sharing assignment of the year. 


Please notice I didn't say the other "s word"--speech.  Shame on you, what were you thinking? I can tell you've taught middle school, my friend.πŸ˜‰  In my experience, the word speech conjures up all sorts of negative connotations in 8th graders' minds. They panic, procrastinate, and play hooky just to avoid doing a simple sharing assignment.

This leads me to wonder...what happens to us as learners as we grow up? Most preschoolers I know LOVE show-and-tell and can hardly wait until it is their turn to share. Fourth graders love the spotlight as they share experiences and their work. But something happens in middle school when students are called to share in front of the class. For many students, this is not a pleasant experience.

Folks, this is where we as teachers need to step up our game. The first speech sharing assignment we do has to set the tone for the entire rest of the year. We need our kiddos to know that this is a safe place to share and be heard. We tend to spend a lot of time teaching kids the speaking part of these assignments (make eye contact, don't read from your notes, etc.), but I think teaching students how to be good listeners is just as important, if not more so. Because of this, I do a lot of introductory work to set the stage.



To create a safe sharing environment, I have my kiddos work through different scenarios as I pretend to be the speaker...um..ahem...sharer. For example, we pretend that I am very shy and I dare to make eye contact with you, when you suddenly lean over to ask your friend if she wants to go grab a soda after school. What am I, as the speaker, probably going to think?

Or I am telling the emotional tale of my grandmother naming me as she is on her deathbed, and you start to giggle because someone made a face at you. What am I, as the speaker, probably going to think?

After working through several of these lessons in empathy, I inform my students that they will earn speaking sharing AND listening grades. Yep, both are equally important in my classroom. After all, don't we have speaking AND listening standards? 

Also, every administrator I have ever taught for has commented on the safe learning community we have established in my classroom. I believe that is the biggest compliment any of them could have ever given me. And I truly believe it is derived from this lesson during the first week of school.

And this important lesson begins with this important book...

Yes, many of the kids have already heard this book by the time they reach 8th grade. I just explain that this is the year that we learn to read like writers, and we have a different purpose in our reading. They buy it, and we move on.



In case you missed my last post, here's my routine for picture book reading time:

* I place the book under the document camera so everyone can read aloud. (Sometimes I use Vooks or Epic if I can't locate a copy of the book.)

*I remind students of our reading norms as needed:

1. Everyone pays attention to the book. No one is doing homework, talking, drawing, or sleeping. 

2. I read the entire book the first time with NO interruptions. I don't stop to ask questions or make comments (usually) and students shouldn't either. Most of us don't like our television programs interrupted by commercials, so we're not going to do that when we read.

I love to use different voices for each character in this particular book, so I practice to make Victoria, Rita, and Jo sound especially annoying. πŸ˜‰



Obviously, the social-emotional component of this story has to be addressed because: 1) It's a huge part of the story, 2) It will be an integral part of the sharing assignment that they will do this week.

We discuss that our names are the first gift our parents, and possibly other family members, give us. This makes them very special and personal to us. Because of this, we ALL need to be respectful of EVERYONE'S name and the unique story behind it. We reflect on the effect Chrysanthemum's classmates had on her and how that's not okay. 

I then share a personal connection of how I named each of my children. I explain the months of agonizing thought and care that went into every part of my children's names. I used family names, combined names, and borrowed the name of a childhood hero.

I tell them quick anecdotes of friends' and family's names. One of my college roomates was named by her mother pointing to a name in a baby book. My sister-in-law was named after her grandma's favorite soap opera character. A high school classmate was named after his dad's favorite baseball player. Finally, some families are like the Duggars and like to have all their children's names start with the same letter, and other families are really into alliterative names, so they choose names based on that. 

The kids always enjoy hearing these stories, and they become excited to share their stories, too.

Now it's their turn!

Sharing assignment guidelines: 

Visit with your parent(s)/guardian(s) about the story of YOUR name. It doesn't have to be a long, involved story--it just needs to be YOUR story. Here are some things to consider:

*Where did your parent(s) get your name? A baby book, movie, TV show, song, book, relative, hero, etc.

*Why did they decide to give this name to YOU? For example, did they decide to use this name because you looked like someone named this, did you have a physical feature that reminded them of this name (Raven = black hair; Rory = red hair, etc.)

*Do you know the meaning of your first and middle name(s)?

*Tell us as much or as little as you are comfortable sharing. Your sharing time must be at least one minute.



I usually assign this sharing activity on the first Monday of the year, and students begin sharing on Friday. In addition to interviewing their parents/guardians, I also have the kids write down what they are going to say. There are a few reasons for this.

1. It gives their story some organization. When they write the information down, it tends to have a beginning, middle, and end. If they just get up to speak, they tend to forget something and we get a lot of, "Oh, wait I forgot..."

2. It helps some kids not to be so nervous. If students know they have a paper to refer to (I don't let them read their paper), it helps ease their jitters. Also, sometimes just having something in their hands, helps give them a little added boost of confidence. 

3. It's the first gift I give their parents/guardians at parent-teacher conferences. I collect the paper from each student when they are finished sharing. I then hold onto them until I meet with parents in October. It's a great conversation starter, and I tell parents it's theirs to put into a scrapbook or memory box. I tend to see LOTS of these at high school graduation receptions, and it just makes my heart so happy. 


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PLEASE NOTE: We all know that life isn't perfect. Because of this, not every student is going to be able to tell the story of HOW they got their name. Case in point, *I* don't know why my parents named me my name. By the time I created this lesson seventeen years ago, my mother couldn't remember details other than she just liked the name. That's okay because I still love my name! I share how people mispronounced my name as I was growing up, how I wished my middle name had an "e" at the end of it, and how my initials spelled another name that I loved.

I've had kids in foster care or whose parents have passed away, and we just focus on the positive. We look up what their names mean, if they think their names fit them, famous people who share that name, etc. They still get to tell THEIR story and not one student has questioned anyone's story over the years. No one. We're all so busy getting to know each other and enjoying our stories that no one ever questions how the story is told.



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This activity makes me excited for school start! It is probably the BEST bonding experience I have ever used at the beginning of the year. We get to share a great book, set up our safe learning community, and learn part of each other's story. 

And like Chrysanthemum, I like to think it is "absolutely perfect."

Until next time, friends!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Picture Book Lesson for the First Week of Middle School

Merry Monday, everyone! I hope you all had a fabulous weekend and you're ready to take on the world...or at least your own little corner of it.

Today I thought I'd share a back-to-school lesson I have used for several years based on one of my favorite picture books. If you've read my previous posts about picture books, you know that I normally read them at the end of class and use them for a quick review of literary elements. However, I do occaisonally like to use them to introduce writing assignments. Students sometimes don't make the obvious (to us) connection between reading and writing, so I like to demonstrate that relationship from the very first week.



Although I usually do this lesson with 8th graders, I have also used it with 6th and 7th graders with some minor adjustments.

I say "lesson", but it's really kind of like when your grandma says "recipe"...it's just a loose list of ingredients and instructions that you tweak to fit your taste or circumstance.😊

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Mark Teague puts a spin on the tired, clichΓ© back-to-school assignment most of us grew up doing (and dreading) the first week of school. If you've never read the story, a young boy tells how his summer vacation took an unexpected turn when he was recruited to join a group of cowboys. What starts out as an ordinary trip to his aunt's house, quickly becomes a wild tall tale out on the open range.



I like to place my copy of the book under the document camera so everyone in the room can see the illustrations and the words. This is generally our first read aloud, so I like to set the ground rules for the entire year.

1. Everyone pays attention to the book. No one is doing homework, talking, drawing, or sleeping. 

2. I read the entire book the first time with NO interruptions. I don't stop to ask questions or make comments (usually) and students shouldn't either. Most of us don't like our television programs interrupted by commercials, so we're not going to do that when we read.

This makes me sound cranky, but trust me, if you don't firmly establish the norms, it can become a mess-around time. If everyone knows and follows the rules, everyone can fully enjoy the experience.

Teacher tip: Read through the story at least once so you know when to effectively pause, stress words, etc. This book is written in rhyme, so you'll want to make sure you have the rhythm down.




NOW we get to talk about the book. For the writing assignment I'm going to eventually give them, I want to discuss the following with students:

* Hyperbole. How/what did the author exaggerate to make the story more interesting?

*Tall Tale. We quickly discuss the elements of tall tales and some famous tall tale characters such as Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. We compare and contrast this story with a traditional tall tale. (I also work the term genre into this conversation.) We usually end up concluding this is a tiny tall tale. πŸ˜‰

*Rhyme Scheme. With the book once again under the document camera, we closely examine the text of the story from the beginning. The book is mostly written in an aa, bb, cc rhyme scheme with a pattern of a quatrain followed by a couplet

At this point, my 8th graders are usually thinking, "Holy cow! There's a lot more to that little kids' book than I thought!" And that is EXACTLY what I want them thinking. Muhahaha!

Other topics you could discuss, but please don't ruin the book by pointing out every little thing: 

*The teacher's reaction. Flip through each page to look at the teacher. Have students infer what she is thinking and how her reaction adds to the story.

*Vocabulary.  Discuss the meaning of the following words: wrangler, stampeded, charging, matador, and buckaroo. You could also discuss cowboy attire pictured such as chaps, bandana/kerchief, etc.

*Plot development. Discuss the exposition, rising action, climax, etc. of the story and place it on the plot diagram.

*Visualization.  Explain that readers should "see" a story. Point out how the illustrator shows Wallace envisioning his story as he reads.





The moment of truth! It's now the students' turn to write about their summer vacation using hyperbole AND rhyme! Because someone always asks...wait for it...how long it has to be:

It needs to be at least 4 sets of the quatrain + couplet pattern (24 lines).

Folks, I won't kid you, this is hard for some of them! I give them a week to do the assignment and some really struggle with it. They'll come in before or after school for help, and it's a great opportunity for us to develop a connection.

Between you and me, I like that they find it rather difficult. It sets the tone right away that picture books are NOT "baby" books. Trust me, after this assignment, they never look at our books in quite the same way!

The years that I've taught sixth grade I've just had them incorporate hyperbole into their narrative. They could certainly try their hand at rhyming, but most of them couldn't do it consistently throughout the entire piece.

For seventh grade, I've had them write about their summer vacation using hyperbole and couplets. 

Of course, it goes without saying, I've also added other accommodations and modifications as needed.



If you'd like to read the book but don't want to do the writing assignment, here are a couple of other ideas I've tried:

The great debate. Was Wallace Bleff bluffing about his summer vacation? Have students decide YES or NO, and then defend their position citing evidence from the text and illustrations.  

Some years, this has turned into quite the lively debate! Key piece of evidence for Team YES: the phone booth and Aunt Fern supposedly calling it.  Also Wallace's own words at the beginning of the story: "Your imagination," they said, "is getting too wild..."

Team NO usually counters with the illustration on the last page: the teacher's hasty retreat and the tipped vase. 

Postcard Puzzler. Wallace's postcard in the story gave a few clues about his adventure, but it was rather vague. Have students create a postcard that gives clues about one of their summer events without actually giving it away. (P.S. The stamp they draw on their postcard should also be a clue.)


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I hope this offers you some fun ideas to kickstart your year! Remember that the whole goal is to share a love of books with your students and to enjoy the journey together.

Until next time, friends!