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!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sick Days...Part 2

Of course, it isn't only teachers that get sick.  Sometimes in the winter I wondered if a day would ever come when ALL of my students were present!  It was always overwhelming for me to keep up with the kids who were absent.  I'd start out the day pretty well, setting their work aside, but then by mid-day it seems things always fell by the wayside.  If their parents called and came to pick up their work I'd get it together.  But, then there was the matter of getting that work back from them when they returned!
I definitely don't have a great system, and I'd love for you to comment if you do.  But, I did know one teacher who seemed to have a pretty good handle on it.  She put the kids in charge!  If someone was absent, she'd assign another student to collect that person's work for the day.  The helper would have a folder, and a sheet with each subject listed.  They would be responsible for writing down what was done in each subject, and collecting any worksheets or handouts in the folder.  Genius!  Kids love to be in charge of other kids, and they would remind the teacher throughout the day to allow for an extra sheet for the absent kid.  Then, the teacher can collect the folder at the end of the day and have something to hand the absent student when he or she returns.
The problem, of course, can come with tests and quizzes.  I always tried to set aside a test or quiz for absent students when I was passing them out.  But, it was always a challenge to remember to find time to give those students the test or quiz when they returned.  You hate to take their recess or lunch time, but sometimes that is the only "extra" time in the day.  If I was really on the ball, I'd have the kids do the make-up work in the mornings when they came in.  You could even ask their parents if they could drop the child off a little early one morning to get caught up.  Or, they might be willing to let them stay late in the afternoon.
This was definitely something I struggled with, and it seemed like the kids who were absent frequently were also the ones who weren't very on the ball with completing make up work!  I'd love to hear any suggestions or ideas that you all have for this ongoing problem.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sick Days...Part 1


So, two weeks ago I had a terrible stomach bug.  I was out of commission for three days, and my first thought was how glad I was that I am not teaching right now!  There is nothing worse than having to call in sick when you are a teacher.  It's bad enough to feel bad, and it's another thing to have to worry about what your kids are going to do when you're out!  There were so many times when I dragged my sick self into work just to avoid having to deal with sub plans and the aftermath of missing a day with my kids.
Equally annoying to me was when my students were out sick.  Somehow, I would always forget who was out and what they had or hadn't done.  Then, I'd have holes in my gradebook and have to go back weeks later and give Susie her make-up spelling test!  How annoying.  So, I am writing this post in two parts.  Part one will give you some tips on what to do when you are sick.  Part two will deal with some creative ideas for handling your students being sick.
The best way to handle your own sick days is with a little planning and preparation.  Because, even if you are the world's most awesome lesson-planner, inevitably you will come down with swine flu the Monday morning after leaving early on Friday afternoon with your desk an absolute disaster zone.  The plan?  Get out early on Friday so you can meet up with your girlfriends/husband/boyfriend/kids for a fun afternoon or even (gasp!) a weekend away.  You'll make up for it by getting up at 4:00 am on Monday and rolling into work super early to get organized for the week.  The problem?  You do wake up at 4:00 am on Monday but in no shape to roll anywhere!  What to do?  
Well, first of all, I always found it advantageous to have some other teacher on your grade level who has a pretty good idea of what's going on in your classroom.  You don't necessarily have to plan every detail of your day with this person.  But, you two should talk enough that if she gets there one morning and your room is still dark at 8:05 and the kids are coming at 8:10 she can whip something together for them to do for the day.  I used to work with a girl like this, and it was great.  If one of us was out, the other one could go in and help the sub piece the day together.  I knew where she kept her materials, and I knew basically what her class was up to each week.  So, if she were out I could pretty easily go into her room and rummage through her stuff and find something for her kids to do that day that was relevant.  Worst case scenario, I could copy a few things I was doing and they would work pretty well.  She could do the same for me.  This is extremely valuable!
Of course, there are times when your partner in crime is also out, or for some reason she can't find anything for your kids to do.  For these occasions, I had "emergency sub plans."  Sometime, during pre-planning week I would sit down and type out a plan for a day, any day.  I typically used pretty generic ideas that would work at any point in the year.  For math, I would find some review pages in the math book or online.  Or, I might have directions for an easy math game that would review important skills that we covered at the beginning of the year or they learned the year before.  For language arts, I would pick a story in the reading book that I knew we wouldn't get to and type out plans for working through the story.  I'd even copy worksheets to go with it.  I might come up with some type of writing activity that would work at any point.  I sometimes would have them write about where they thought I was or what they thought I was doing that day.  Or, I might pick a picture book to share and do a writing activity based on that.  For science and social studies, I would have some extra "Time for Kids" magazines from the year before.  I'd create lesson plans to go with the articles.  If you don't subscribe to "Time for Kids", you can usually go on their website and print out a few sample articles.  You could stick those in there and create your own nonfiction reading activity.  You could even have them do a simple science experiment and write it up.  As the year progressed, I might add some ideas to my emergency sub plans folder.  I always made sure it was easy to find and access so that if for some reason I didn't show up the sub could make it through at least one day.  I rarely ever had to use these plans, but it was so nice to know that they were there in case something happened and I just could not make it in.
Finally, I say to you, do not stress!  In the worst case scenario, you e-mail your co-workers at 8:00 am and tell them that you are near death and they will come through for you!  The sub and your kids will make it through the day.  And, you need to rest so you can handle the other 179!  :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Spy a Great Idea!

I came across this blog post today, and thought it was genius!  Make your own "I Spy" mat!  When I taught third grade, my kids loved my "I Spy" books.  I was constantly getting new ones because the old ones would get worn out!
Here's what I love about making your can totally make them about LEARNING!  You could use objects that represent things you are studying.  Different geometric shapes, things to represent historical events, parts of speech, the possibilities are endless!  You could make sheets to go along with them, asking kids to look for all the cubes, or all the nouns, or all the things Albert Einstein would have used.  It's genius!  Where would you get all these objects to photograph?  I don't know about you, but at my school if I sent out an e-mail looking for ANYTHING I could find it within minutes.  Teachers are notorious collectors of randomness.  Ask around at your school for the things you want to include, and then borrow them to make your picture.  Or, if you're handy with a computer, find pictures of the items on Google Images and photoshop your own "picture" to print out.  Your kids will love it, and they won't even know that they're using their brains!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Valentine's Day Ideas

Ahhh, Valentine's Day.  Almost as much fun for the teacher as the day after Halloween!  I'm not sure why these holidays seem to just be all about SUGAR!  I was thinking the other day about how challenging Valentine's Day can be for the classroom teacher.  You want to let your kids have fun and enjoy the day, but it can be a real balancing act.  You do still have to teach that day.  But, all your students can do is think about those valentines!  I know that it's a grand tradition to let your kids make those cute Valentine bags or boxes and then exchange little cards and candies with each other.  Some teachers even go with the full out Valentine's party!
So, how can you make the day of love educational?  It is school, after all!  Well, I came up with some ideas....
How about integrating math and science into the valentine exchange?  Have your kids make some predictions about the type of valentines they will get.  They can make a list of what they think will be the most common colors, shapes, words, or characters.  They can predict how many cards will have candy.  They could even predict how many will be in envelopes vs. not.  Then, as they open them, they can collect data.  They can make a list of their cards by various categories.  They can then make a graph to present their data to the class.  You could even have them work in groups for that part.  For older kids, they could convert their raw numbers into percentages.  What a fun way to get them to pay more attention to the card exchange!
You could do some more graphing activities as well.  You could graph their favorite Valentine's day candy.  You could have them vote on what Valentine's day color they like or pink?
If you really want to get them into the educational side of Valentine's day, you could have them research the origin of the holiday.  There are tons of websites with information about who St. Valentine was, why we exchange valentines, etc.
You can also get into the crafty side of things.  Family Fun magazine has a great Valentine's Day section on their website with tons of fun crafts!  You could have the kids make valentine gifts for their family members, or even other school employees.  How about the custodians, parent volunteers, or principal?  Teach them that Valentine's day can be about showing their appreciation for anyone that is important in their life.
Valentine's day is a great theme for writer's workshop.  You could write Valentine's day poetry.  Look at some famous love poems for inspiration.  You could come up with some love-related similes and metaphors for their valentines.  Use the words on conversation hearts as story starters.
With a little thought and planning, it can be easy to make this day of candy and chaos into a fun day of learning!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Awesome book for writer's workshop!

My aunt was an English major in college, and she always picks out the best books for my kids!  She got my daughter an adorable picture book for Christmas.  She loves it, and I do too.  I can't help but think about how great it is for writer's workshop.  The book, Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy, is about a little girl who blows a bubble that swallows up her little brother.  The brother gets carried through town in the bubble, with his sister and mother chasing behind.  The best part?  The picture is written in rhyme.  It has a great rhythm, and the writer really experiments with unique and unusual words.  Every time I read it with my daughter, I think about how perfect it would be to inspire your students during writer's workshop.  It's perfect for encouraging your students to try some alliteration and rhythm in their writing.  I think it could also help motivate them to try using some unique words to grab their reader's attention.  Plus, it's a super fun read!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Deals and Freebies!

What teacher doesn't love a good deal or freebie?  One of the blogs I follow just posted a whole list of deals and freebies for educators!  Check it out!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Creative Classroom Storage

As you know, when you have 20+ people sharing a room for an entire day, organization is key!  It is important that your classroom looks and feels homey for you and your students.  As a teacher, I was constantly struggling to find ways to keep classroom supplies organized in a way that was attractive and inexpensive.  We'd all love to go to The Container Store and buy a super cute, coordinated organization system, but what teacher can afford that?
The other day, I was browsing around and found this adorable blog with a GREAT idea for supply storage.  This creative mom used old soup cans to make awesome organizers.  Check it out!  Now, I am not very crafty, but I think I could definitely do this.  And, best of all, it's practically free and super cute!  For a classroom, you could decorate the cans with stickers or labels.  You could put a cluster at each table, or on a bookcase.  I also like her idea of using coffee cans for bigger items.  Math manipulatives, anyone?  Genius!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conference Tips

I was driving by a local elementary school the other day and I realized that conference time here is fast approaching!  I know that parent conferences probably represent the most exhausting time in a teacher's year!  It can just be so tiring to talk nonstop for several hours to parents, and the days become so long when you're trying to squeeze in conferences and teaching.  Plus, there is always an element of fear.  Fear that parents will bring up some question about their child that you can't or don't want to answer.  Fear that the parents will react negatively to something you say about their child.  Fear of those dreaded conferences where you have to tell parents something you know they don't want to hear.  Most of the time, these fears end up being exaggerated, and things aren't as bad as you think they're going to be.  But, of course, there are some things that you can do to be sure the conferences run more smoothly.
First of all, I have found that communication throughout the year is essential.  The more that parents know about what's going on in your classroom, the more smoothly the conference will go.  They won't have a zillion questions for you, and they won't feel out of the loop when they arrive.  The more that parents know in advance about how their child is doing, the less likely they are to be surprised if and when you have to give them bad news.  Also, you can keep your conferences running smoothly because they won't hold you up with a bunch of questions.
Secondly, parents really want to know that you know their child.  They are coming to the conference with you, a person who spends many waking hours with the person that they love and care about most in the world!  They want to know that you love and care about this person as much as they do.  They want to know that you know and appreciate their child's strengths and weaknesses.  That is why I always try to come to the conference with some little story or anecdote about their child.  It can be something as simple as something funny their child said or did in class one day.  You might want to share a story he or she wrote that really made you laugh or impressed you.  Anything that will help the parent realize that you really see his or her child as an individual.  I like to start with this, because I feel that it makes the rest of the conference go so much more smoothly.
Finally, preparation is key.  You want to have something to talk about, and something that the parents can go home with.  I always had a printout of the child's current grades to review.  This gave me something to look at and something to give them, and it was a good starting off point for our discussion.  Of course, you can get more detailed than that.  One teacher I knew created a simple one page summary of what the class was doing in each subject.  She would then fill in details with that child's contribution in each area ("Johnny is writing a story about ___", etc.).  I thought this was a great way to let the parents know what their child is up to!  You also may want to have handouts to answer common questions or deal with common concerns parents may have.  My pediatrician does this, and it is great!  If I bring something up with her, she almost always has a handout that she can hand me that will discuss my issue and/or answer my question.  It is so nice to go home with that and not try to remember what she said hours later!  Before conference time, think through those questions that you get over and over.  Can you summarize your typical response into a handout for parents?  They will be so impressed, and appreciative!  You could create a list of suggested book titles for independent reading, strategies for memorizing multiplication facts, a list of websites with good parent resources...there are tons of possibilities.  You could even list upcoming topics and units for those parents who are always wanting their child to be ready for the next thing.  Keep your handouts nearby, and you can pull copies out as you need them.
The most important thing to remember with conferences is to relax.  The week goes by quickly, and most of the time the conferences aren't as bad as you think they will be.  Take time for yourself at night during that crazy time.  That was always my week to eat junk food and watch trash TV at night!  It was well-deserved.  
How about you?  Do you have any tried and true conference week tips?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Differentiation with Gifted Students

The overall theme of this blog, I hope, is time.  I know that time is generally a teacher's biggest enemy.  Time to plan, and time to teach!  Teachers are constantly struggling to get it all in.  One challenge is always the dreaded "pull-outs."  It is so hard to teach everything that is required, especially with students constantly leaving to go to speech, resource, gifted, counseling, etc.  I remember feeling like someone was always leaving my classroom or just getting back in!
As a classroom teacher with my gifted certification, I always ended up with more than my share gifted students.  I remember my last year in the regular classroom I had 6-7 gifted students who left for over an hour three times per week during language arts.  It was so stressful at first thinking about how I was going to meet the needs of those students!  They were missing a lot of instructional time, not to mention time for practice and reading.  After some work, I developed a great plan for them.  I let them do their own literature circle.  If you haven't used literature circles, think of them as a great way to get kids excited about reading!  They are like a book club for kids, but with a little more structure.  There are tons of websites and books about literature circles, and many different ways to run them.  I tried many different things over the years, but in the end I fine tuned my methods.  I gave each student a laminated file folder with their "role" on the cover.  They completed their role and made notes on it, and kept the notes inside the folder.  The notes from that role stayed with that folder, and the folder was passed around.
With my gifted students, I chose a book that was on their level.  I started out assigning them roles, and they kept their role for a week.  Then, they rotated within the group.  As a group, they chose how much of their book to read before the next meeting.  Since they were gone for most of language arts, they were to read and complete their literature circle job on their own time before their group meeting.  This worked great, since gifted students often finish their regular classwork before everyone else.  If they finished their math, social studies, or science early, they could use the extra time to work on their literature circle work.  It was great, because I wasn't constantly worrying about them getting bored waiting for the other students to finish.  I felt like they had productive work to do throughout the day, instead of just giving them busy work.
When the gifted students returned from their gifted class, they used the time that was left in language arts to discuss their reading from that week, and their role.  I left them to discuss the book on their own, and some days I would drop in on their group to eavesdrop on their discussion.  In addition, this group turned in the write-up of their role each day so that I could be sure that they were completing their work, and understanding the book.  It worked great!  They were able to take a lot of ownership over their learning, and I felt like they were getting what they needed in language arts.
Of course, that is just one example.  There are lots of great ways to differentiate!  I hope to post more in the future.  In the meantime, feel free to use your gifted teacher as an excellent resource.  She or he can help you with suggestions and/or ideas for your individual students.  Look for ways that you can let the students work independently, with some supervision from you.  This will allow those students to use their gifted-ness as an asset to their learning instead of a burden that causes them to miss out on class time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Comic Strip Weekly Math Review

One thing I have always wanted to share with other teachers is one of the first great ideas that I got from another teacher when I was starting out.  My first year of teaching, I taught third grade.  This is such a pivotal transition year for kids, and there are a lot of things that can be overwhelming about it!  One of the many overwhelming things is math.  There are so many skills to learn, and they all have to be remembered in the spring when testing time comes.  One skill that my colleague and I always found our kids "forgetting" was adding and subtracting with re-grouping.  This is one of those skills that is taught at the beginning of the year and then forgotten as time goes on.  We were shocked at the end of the year when test prep time came and they had no idea how to do this basic operation.  So, my fellow teacher came up with a great idea that was so basic, but so brilliant!  On Fridays, we gave the kids a 10-question quiz, with five addition and five subtraction problems.  These problems used 3- and 4-digit numbers, and some used re-grouping and some didn't.  To make the quizzes appealing, my friend put a comic strip at the bottom of each one!  Genius!  We happened to use a popular comic strip about a boy and his stuffed tiger (I won't publish the actual name in case there is some type of copyright issue!), but you could use any comic that your kids are into.  It was amazing how the addition of that comic strip at the bottom made the quizzes so much fun!  My kids even cheered when they saw them.
The brilliance of this is that it allowed us to check weekly and see how the kids were doing with addition and subtraction, and work with them to correct any errors.  We were also able to keep the skill fresh in their minds throughout the year.  You would be amazed at how many children failed or did poorly on this quizzes throughout the year.  It was sometimes a shock to see the kinds of errors they made.  I found it a great way to keep an eye on their computation skills as well as keep the kids on their toes throughout the year.
To implement this in your classroom, just make up a template on your computer.  We did two lines with five problems in each one.  The top row was addition, and the bottom row was subtraction.  Leave plenty of space for computation!  You can make up your own quizzes, or you can even find some online!  Try, or a similar website for inspiration.
Keeping it to ten questions makes it easy for grading.  You can keep it to ten points per question, and if you try the two row format the grading goes super fast.  Plus, it gives you a weekly math grade which is always nice!
How about you?  What are your tips for keeping those basic skills fresh in the minds of your students?

Welcome to My Blog!

Welcome to my blog! I'm glad you're here. As a teacher for 10 years, I felt like I was always wishing for "five extra minutes." Sometimes, it was five extra minutes of planning time during those rare breaks. Sometimes, it was five extra minutes to teach a concept or do an activity with my students. I'm hoping that this blog will help fellow teachers overcome those feelings. I hope to provide ideas and inspiration for you. I also hope to do some legwork for you, and help you to maximize the time you spend planning and preparing your days. I want to post lesson ideas, organizational tools and ideas, and anything else that I think will help fellow teachers. Feel free to comment with any ideas or suggestions!