Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back to School!

Wow, it has been a long time since my last post!  I guess you could say that I took the summer off, and then some.  :)  I am excited to get back to blogging, now that school is starting up again here in Georgia (despite the fact that it's still a million degrees outside!).  I am going to begin with a "Back-to-School" series on classroom organization.  Look for my first post coming soon!  As we start a new school year, I want to hear from you.  What are some things that you are looking forward to about the 2011-2012 school year?  What are some challenges you are facing?  What would you love to do if you just had "five extra minutes"?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Great offer from Scholastic!

Another blog I follow posted this great offer from Scholastic.  Complete a few worksheets, and get free books!  This is a great one to tell parents about.  You could even have the kids do the worksheets and fill out the forms in class!  What a great way to stock up on books for summer reading!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Coke Bottle Fun!

Recently, I saved some 12 oz. Coke bottles and made these sensory bottles for my 2 1/2 year old.  She loves them, and when we were playing with them it made me think...what else could I use these bottles for?  The sensory bottles were so easy (and cheap!) to make.  I started thinking of ways you could do something similar for the classroom.  Here are some ideas I came up with:


  • Any kind of bottles would be great for working on those science observation skills.  Fill them with anything you have around, and have your students make observations about what they see.  How does the liquid move?  What colors do you see?  What is the state of the matter inside?  Which ones make sounds when you shake them and why?
  • If you are studying animals, you could make different animal habitats inside the bottles, and have the children talk about what animal would live inside.  Or, put some food that different animals would eat in each one and have them guess who would want to eat that bottle.  What a great hands-on activity without the mess!
  • Make some bottles together, with different types of liquids.  Talk about which mix and which don't.  Talk about what floats in each one.  I found another lesson idea here.  Or, if you want to do a cool density lesson, check this one out!
  • You could also work on classifying, by using bottles with different things in them and classifying them according to their contents.
  • To compare types of soil, put a different type in each bottle.
Social Studies
  • You could place a rolled piece of paper in each bottle with different descriptions on them, so that the descriptions are visible on the outside.  
  • You could describe people, and have the kids name them.  
  • You could describe places, and have the kids place the bottles on a big map.  
  • You could describe events, and have the kids put the bottles in chronological order.  This is great for kinesthetic learners!
  • For young learners, these are great for teaching numbers.  Simply put a different number of objects in each bottle, and put a sticker with the number of objects on the outside.  This is great for comparing!
  • Put small objects of a certain shape inside, and have the kids tell what shape the bottle contains.
  • You could write math word problems on paper and roll the paper up so the problems are visible from the outside.  Then, the kids can solve them.  Number the tops of the bottles with the problem number.
  • Give the kids bottles with different numbers of items in them.  Have them create their own word problems from the bottles!
  • Fill the bottles with different amounts of sand (or even use a variety of things!).  Have the kids predict how much each bottle weighs, and then weigh them.
  • These bottles make great estimation jars!  Fill with a different item each month, and have the kids estimate how many things are inside.  For even more fun, wash them well and fill with candy...whoever guesses how many pieces are inside can keep the candy!  Or, for homework, give each person an empty bottle to fill at home.  Have them bring their bottles in the next day for classmates to guess how many items are inside.
  • Make up a multiplication game!  Give each student (or group) a bottle with a different number of items inside.  They have to tell how many items would be in a 2-pack, 3-pack, etc. of bottles.
  • For place value, could 100 ones blocks fit in a bottle?  I'm not sure.  But, it would actually be neat to get a larger sized bottle to fit them in.  Then, you could do a bottle with 10 and a bottle with 1.  This would help the children visualize place value better.
  • You could give the kids empty bottles to fill at home, and then make different kinds of graphs with the results.
Language Arts
  • You could fill the bottle with different items, pass them out, and have the children write stories to go with what's in the bottle.
  • Give each child a bottle, and have them write a descriptive paragraph about their bottle using as many adjectives as possible.
  • They could write poems about their bottles!
Can you tell I'm excited about these bottles?  I just love the idea of making something once, and being able to use it over and over!  I hot-glued the tops onto my bottles, and then I wrapped them in electrical tape so they are totally sealed.  This is something you could do, and you'd have the bottles for your lessons from year to year.  How about you?  Do you have any other ideas for ways to recycle something into a great lesson tool?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring Fever!

I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but here in Georgia it is starting to get WARM!  Really warm.  That, combined with the fact that there are 2 weeks until spring break, is sure to make every classroom teacher go crazy!
I always liked this time of year as a teacher because there is a lot of excitement in the air.  By now, you know your students and you're comfortable with them.  You can have fun and relax a little bit.  But, there is still a lot of teaching to be done, and there are lots of distractions.  What are you to do on those days when all everyone (including you!) wants to do is sit outside and soak up the warm sunshine?  It can be hard to strike a balance between requiring attention and appropriate behavior from your students and letting them just be kids and enjoy the springtime!
I always tried to send a note about spring fever home to parents this time of year.  Sometimes, all it takes is a few reminders and/or threats from mom and dad to get your students back to minding their p's and q's.  After all, spring comes with lots of fun activities at home and the threat of losing those is sometimes enough to have a little more self control at school.  However you communicate with parents (website, e-mail, newsletter), you might want to put a reminder in there of how important it is for children to continue to show appropriate behavior until the last day of school.  Suggestions for how to encourage this would be helpful.  You might want to suggest that parents review their expectations for behavior with their children, and what the consequences are if they don't.  Parents may want to talk with their children about some new rewards for showing good behavior at school.  They might also want to allow their children to have some time outside after school before starting homework.  A chance to soak up fresh air could really do them good!
You can try some of these things in your classroom as well.  Add a new incentive for your students to behave between now and spring break, and then between spring break and the last day of school.  One teacher I know made giant bubble letters to spell out the word "popcorn" or "coke".  If her students were well-behaved for an activity or class period, she would color in all or part of the letters.  When they were all filled in, she would let them have a little party with popcorn and/or coke.  You could also give them some extra outside time on pretty days, especially if they are able to show better self-control the rest of the day.  Even just five minutes to run or walk outside could be all it takes to get them to re-focus.
Try to also look for educational ways to enjoy the beautiful weather!  Can you do writing outside today?  Grab some clipboards, and let your children find a spot outside to write and/or read.  What about math?  Look for examples of math in the environment!  If you're studying geometry, you could go on a scavenger hunt for different shapes in nature.  Multiplication?  Look for things that come in twos, threes, etc.  Here are a few more outdoor math activities.  With a little creativity, I'm sure you could find more.
What about science?  I found some great suggestions for outdoor science experiments online.
Most importantly, remember two things...
#1-They are kids. Kids are only kids once, so let them have a chance to enjoy it!  With some careful planning, you can get all your teaching done and leave some time for fun!
#2-Summer is just around the corner!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Fun Homemade Math Games

I found a cool link today for a pizza math game.  This looks pretty easy, and I like the idea of using felt because it would be pretty durable!  I think you could change the rules to cover a lot of different math skills with this.  My mind immediately went to dividing the pizza up into 12 or 16 slices and then doing fractions with the toppings.  You could make a die with a wooden cube and put different fractions on it.  When they roll the fraction, they have to cover that fraction of the pizza with a topping.  Then, they could also name the equivalent fraction(s) to that section.  For example, if you had 16 slices and they rolled 1/4 they could talk about 2/8, 4/16, etc.
This post got me thinking about some other math games I made.  Here are some ideas...

  • Money Dominoes-use 3 x 5 cards and divide them in half like dominoes.  On one side, stamp, draw, or glue coins.  On the other side, write a money amount.  Play like regular dominoes.  What a great way to practice counting change!
  • Equivalent Fraction Concentration-Make cards with various fractions on them.  Be sure you have pairs of equivalent fractions.  Play like a typical memory/concentration game.  If the kids flip over a pair of equivalent fractions, they keep the pair!
  • Making Change Match Game-Make some cards with a dollar amount and a price on them.  Make other cards that show the change.  When it's their turn, they have to try to match the dollar/price card with the correct change.  You could easily play this as a "Go Fish" style game as well.  "I have $5.00-$2.25, who has $2.75?"
Those are just a few that come to mind.  None of them take too long to create, and if you laminate the cards you can use them over and over again!  All of these games are great ones to pull out when you have extra time at the end of math or after a test.  My kids were always begging to play games!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Making Math Relevant


This afternoon, I bought some Girl Scout cookies at the local grocery store (yum!).  I was so impressed, because the cookie moms were making the girls figure out the change themselves using mental math!  They apologized for it taking a few extra minutes and I assured them that I definitely didn't mind!  Wow, I wish that more parents would do that.
One of the biggest challenges in teaching math is making it relevant to real life.  Sometimes, that connection is the only way to help children learn it.  You can give them a hundred worksheets, but until they see a way to really use it, they just won't get it.
I have tried lots of things over the years to help with this.  I love using Exemplars, because they get kids thinking and they often use great real-world situations.  Frequently, I would write my own exemplar-type problems to try and make them more interesting.
I'd also try to bring in examples from things that happened in my own life.  For example, if I got shorted on change at McDonald's I'd come in the next day and tell the kids about it.  I'd have them come up with ways to solve the problem.  They always got a kick out of this.
I'd try to think of as many ways as possible to look for math in our everyday experiences.  I'll never forget one day when we were at a chorus concert and one of my students leaned over to me and said "I know how many kids are in the chorus because I counted 10 in one row and there are 5 rows!"  I was grinning from ear to ear thinking about how they were translating their multiplication knowledge to a real experience.
Of course, getting parents involved is also a great idea!  I would always try to give parents suggestions of how they could get their kids thinking about math at home.  Here are some great websites to help you:

Even simple suggestions can help!  I used to create a list for parents of suggestions for ways to use math at home.  For example, when you're out have your child count the change in your pocket.  Or, give them a receipt at a restaurant or store and have them figure out what the change should be.  Or, maybe help them figure out how much carpet to buy for a room or how long the new fence in the yard should be.  Of course, cooking is always a great way to use math!  I always encouraged parents to have their kids help them in the kitchen.  I'm already starting to do this with my two-year-old.
Anything that parents can do with kids to show them how math integrates into real life is such a help!  Making those connections is critical to understanding math concepts and ideas.  And, besides, who wants to do 20 math problems on a worksheet anyway?  And, WHEN do you do that in real life?

A Little Sunday Afternoon Inspiration

Sometimes, we all need to remember why we do what we do...

Check out this great video!