Monday, December 9, 2013

MindWare: Great Tools for Critical Thinking!

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, my class this year is unique! I knew early on that I needed to supplement my instruction with opportunities for the students to think critically. Unfortunately, all the resources I had on hand were to help below-level learners. I set out on a search to find some useful resources and stumbled  upon a fantastic website- MindWare! This company offers all kinds of items from toys to workbooks to satisfy learners of all types. 

To start out, I bought a sampling of things that sounded like they would fit our needs. First up, Perplexors. These are deductive reasoning puzzles that force kids to think critically. Based on a slim number of clues, students must match certain items with their correct descriptions. The puzzles are great for students who need a challenge and who love to solve puzzles, but they also are fabulous for readers who struggle with drawing conclusions. All of my students LOVE these puzzles!

MindWare also has Math Perplexors that are similar to the Perplexors, but require students to use a combination of logic and math concepts. They are fabulous! Obviously, my students who struggle in math have a harder time with these, but my GT students love the challenge. Even the struggling students can eventually reach the solution when paired with other students and allowed sufficient time. These puzzles really get your brain working!

Another resource my students love are the Analogy Crosswords. Students must draw on their background knowledge and make reasonable connections in order to solve the puzzles. Analogies are great tools on their own (and kids love them), but combined with the challenge of a crossword puzzle, it makes for great discussions and learning opportunities! We've had to make several trips to the classroom library when working on these puzzles to help us solve them!

All of these puzzles come in various levels of complexity. Because my students are third graders, we either use the Basic Level or the Level A puzzles, depending on which type of puzzle we are working with. Most puzzles range from Basic Level up to Expert Level (which is recommended for ages 13 and up), so they are great for students of any age.

My students literally cheer when I pass out a new packets of these puzzles. I'm excited to try out other resources from this company throughout the year. I'll let you know how it goes!

Do you have any other ideas or resources that encourage critical thinking? I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

iTeach: Empowering Students and Inspiring Research

Happy Sunday!

Today I wanted to share about something I have introduced in my classroom that is absolutely making magic every day!

Let me start out by saying that this year I have a very unique class full of curious and inquisitive learners. They soak up information and are constantly thirsting for more. They also love to share what they are learning with anyone who will listen! This is all very new for me because for the last three years, the majority of my students were significantly below level. This year, I learn something new each and every day from my students and it is amazing!

Because of this, I introduced something I call iTeach into our daily schedule. At the end of each day, I open up a fifteen minute segment to the students. During this time, students can share their independent learning with the class. Each slot is five minutes long and there are three slots per day. Students sign up and list what they will be doing during their slot and then they have that time to "teach" the class!

So far, I have had students read picture books to the class and ask various comprehension questions throughout the reading, (we have learned about George Washington's wooden teeth among many other subjects), share informational books on topics we have been studying in class, and one student even presented about the atom and how scientists discovered nuclear energy! It's crazy!

The only restrictions the students have is that whatever they are presenting must connect in some way to what we have been learning in class or teach the class something new. For example, if a student wants to read a poem to the class, they must discuss the poetic devices the poet used or mention the theme of the poem, etc.

This whole process is still fairly new- this is the third week we have had iTeach as part of our schedule. I'm treading carefully because the last thing I want to do is stifle their curiosity or discourage their sharing by placing lots of restrictions on them. Students can present on any topic they are interested in learning about and can read, research, and/or practice for their presentations during our independent reading time. They can choose to present alone or team up with partners. So far, it's been wonderful!

Students who normally are resistant to read are now asking me to do mini-projects on various things and actually reading so that they can present during iTeach. Even my most shy student stood up in front of the class and read! I wish I had taken pictures during the students' presentations, but I'm always so wrapped up in what they are saying that I never remember my camera!

I'm going to keep using iTeach and as we go, I may make some tweaks as needed. For now, I'm going to keep enjoying it!!

If you have any suggestions for me on how to create the most encouraging environment for student sharing or ways that I can make the process even better, please let me know!!! I need as many ideas as possible!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Language Arts TEKS Analysis

After my parent conferences, I realized that I really liked how I broke down the TEKS we were currently learning and showed whether the student had either developed that concept or was still working on it. It was easy to explain to the kids and the parents and it kept me on track while I was teaching. I liked it so much that I wanted to create that same format for everything. I've only done the language arts TEKS so far, but I'm excited about it and I'll start on the math TEKS later tonight. 

What I love about this document is that it's so versatile. I made each section its own table so that I can easily cut and paste the sections I need for whatever we are currently working on. I also broke the standards down a little bit into chunks that made it easier to explain to the kids and more accurate to diagnose exactly where the problem areas are. For example, TEK 4.C states "identify and use antonyms, synonyms, homographs, and homophones." In my document, I broke it down so that each item has its own line.

Right now we are diving into expository text, so I pulled the section for expository texts and attached it with Figure 19 to help keep my instruction focused during this unit. To do that, I just copied and pasted the tables I wanted and inserted them into a new document. Boom! Instant assessment form! I'll print one for each kid and keep track of how they are progressing through the objectives.

Because I want this document to be worthwhile and useful, I'm leaving it as a Word document. That way, it is fully editable and you can change it up to make it work perfectly for you!

 CLICK HERE  get your copy! If you would like to get a copy FREE, leave a comment below. I'll give away copies to the first three people to comment and express interest in having this!

This week we also worked in my Sailing Through Text Features Pack packet. The kids always enjoy when we get to bust out the scissors and glue!

It's simple and easy. I love pulling out the trusty Scholastic News because they are always rich with text features!

This next week I will also be using some of the things from my Harvesting Literacy Pack. It covers antonyms, nouns, prefixes and suffixes, expanding sentences, and homophones. My kiddos will really be focusing on expanding those boring sentences!

I'm really wanting to read and learn about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower, but in a way that is appropriate for third graders. I've been disappointed in what I have found so far.  Any suggestions??? I'm open to anything!

Have a great weekend!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Smart Classroom Management: A Goldmine of Helpful Information

Good morning and happy Sunday!

Today I want to share a resource that has been hugely helpful for me in the last several months. I can't remember who's blog I saw this site mentioned on before, but I am so thankful that I saw it! The site is called Smart Classroom Management: Simply Effective Tips and Strategies.

The author, Micheal Linsin, writes weekly posts addressing classroom management- everything from dealing with parents to managing misbehavior. His posts are insightful, to the point and force you to be very self-reflective.

We all know that even the best planned lesson can fail if a teacher's classroom management skills are lacking. It's very easy for me to get caught up in the stress of lesson planning that I forget to analyze my own behavior and tendencies and think about how I'm contributing to the overall feel of my classroom. Often times, when things aren't going quite like I want them to, I realize that I am part of the problem or maybe even the whole problem. Ugh. But as Micheal says, "The only classroom management-related problems that don’t have solutions are those we’re unaware of. Once illuminated, there is always a way to solve the problem or make it manageable."

I couldn't agree more!

You can sign up for his weekly e-mails and receive one every Saturday. I love that it
comes after the week has ended so I can read them with a semi-clear mind and refocus before starting a new week.

I have been extremely pleased with the articles and have found something useful in each and every one. I hope that you will, too!

Have a great rest of your Sunday!!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Data Binders and Student-Led Parent Conferences

Happy Sunday! Did you remember to set your clocks back?? The sun - yes, the SUN!- woke me up at 6:30 this morning. Eesh. I'm going to have to get used to this! 

I wanted to pop in briefly and share what I did for my parent conferences this year because I absolutely loved it and it made the conferences a breeze!

I've been wanting to have student-led conferences for the past few years and this year I finally pulled it off!

Each student has a data binder that holds their important tests and assignments for math and reading and a section in the back for work that they are especially proud of.  I haven't used binders like this before, but I am loving them! The kids feel such pride looking through their binders at all of their hard work.

Based on their performance on the tests housed in the binder and other class assignments, each student and I filled out an assessment profile together that gave information about their strengths and weaknesses. These assessment profiles listed the TEKS we have covered so far this year and whether that objective was developed or if they were still developing. There was also a section for comments if any were needed. At the bottom was a section for goals. On the math page I also included a little section describing mathematical behaviors to provide information that may be pertinent to why they were making mistakes in math (sloppy handwriting, misaligned numbers, you get the picture!).

If you would like a copy of the assessment profiles, click the link below. One page is for math and one page is for reading. I'm leaving it as a PPT file so you can edit it as needed.

Here is the beautiful part- at the conference, the student led! They sat in my seat at our back kidney table while their family members and I sat on the other side. They led us through their binders starting with their assessment profiles and explained what their strengths and weaknesses were in each subject as well as what their goals were. I was so proud!!!

They also showed their parents each assignment in the binder and explained why they missed certain questions. After the student was done, I opened it up for questions from the family and had a few last comments.

This year I can honestly say I had the best conferences ever! It felt so good to see the kids be independent and aware of their academic performance. We will continue to add to the data binders all year long and I will definitely continue with student-led parent conferences!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Just Keep Swimming

Hey guys! 

I know it's been a few weeks since I posted last, and I really wanted to post about some things we have been up to in the classroom, but I feel more compelled to share my story of what’s been going on the last few weeks and why my blog has been so neglected.  I hope you don’t mind that this will be more of a personal post...

First thing, this year has been an emotional roller coaster for me. Our team started the year with four teachers and even from the first day we could see that we were going to have more kids enrolled this year than ever before, and our classrooms were filling up.  New kids kept arriving and new desks were brought in. The way our classrooms are designed does not allow for many students, so the space was tight. While we waited patiently for a new teacher to be hired to relieve us from our large class sizes, our team was on stress overload.

Then the magical day came. We hired an amazing new teacher- new to the profession and willing to take on the challenge that our students present. But along with that, came the dreaded day that I had to tell five of my students that I would no longer be their teacher and that they were being moved to the new teacher’s class. Heart breaking.

After the new teacher was hired, he had a few days to observe the kids, get his room together, and learn the ropes. He would start with his new class the following Monday. I had until Friday to give the news to the kids. They would be meeting with their new teacher then to see their new classroom, their new classmates, and get situated before the real switch came.

I put it off all week. I waited until literally the very last second I had to tell them the news. I told myself that I wouldn’t cry. I had gotten to know these sweet students and they were mine.  I didn’t want them to think they had done anything wrong or had been chosen for any specific reason. I told myself that it would be better for them. I knew it would. I wasn’t going to cry in front of them. The teacher can’t cry in front of her students!

But the moment came. I pulled them to the back of the room and sat them on the carpet and pulled them close. I smiled and said, “Ok guys, I have some great news for you! As you know, we have a lot of children in our classroom and we are running out of space. Well, we have hired a new teacher and you guys are the lucky ones that will be in his class!” I forced a smile. I tried to sound excited- I really did. But instead, I cried. As much as I fought the tears and tried to hold them back, they came anyway. Then they cried. We hugged and cried together. Then I pulled them closer and gave them a speech about how even though they wouldn’t be sitting in my classroom every day, I will always be one of their teachers and that they better come tell me good morning every single day. I told them I would still be checking in on them. I smiled and told them how lucky they were to have a new teacher and how much he already cared about them. We sat there together for a few minutes with tear-soaked smiles. And then I sent them out the door.  

I had to go to the restroom and pull myself together before I could go on with the rest of the day.

You know, it amazes me how every year I become so attached to my students so early on. Every child has a piece of my heart from the moment they introduce themselves. Just having to send them one door away to a new classroom was heart wrenching. I expected the process to be difficult, but it has been more emotional than I had imagined.

That was two weeks ago. The dust has settled and the kids are adjusting well. We are training our newbie like crazy and he’s doing a great job. We couldn’t have asked for a better teammate. But I can’t say it’s been easy.

Teaching is such a dynamic profession. No two days are ever alike, and that’s what I love about it. This year I’m learning to “go with the flow” more than I ever have before.  Some things have taken a back seat- my blog being one of them. But even at the end of each day, I know I wouldn’t be happy doing any other job. And as my favorite character says, “Just keep swimming!”

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Playing Catch Up: What We've Been Up To PLUS Place Value, States of Matter, and Language Arts Products I LOVE!

Hi! I bet you're surprised to me pop up on your blog roll! 

I swear I am still alive and still teaching!  Life has just been crazy! After three years of only teaching language arts, diving back into math and science has been so much fun, but a lot of work! I’m enjoying every minute of it, but this little ol’ blog of mine has had to take a backseat.

I miss blogging and having the opportunity to look back over what we’ve done and share the things I’ve really enjoyed. So, because I have so much lost time to make up for, I’m going to attempt to hit the highlights over the last month. To make it a bit easier to navigate, I’ll divide up the sections into math, science, and language arts so you can jump right to a section that interests you and you can skip all the rest!


I am absolutely in LOVE with teaching math! It’s a nice break from the world of language arts and my kiddos love it.

Several weeks ago we began our place value unit. We are now on to addition and subtraction, but I want to share a few things that I loved.

First up, to wrap up what we learned about place value, the kids went car shopping! I gave them newspaper ads for cars and they chose the car they wanted. Then they filled out this sheet to hit all those place value skills. The kids learned just how expensive cars are and some kids even expressed how surprised they were. This activity was a hit and one that we could repeat again. Click  HERE to get the recording sheet!

I also created a little place value review that we worked on before our unit test. I printed out the slides, hung them around the room, and the kids went on a scavenger hunt around the room to complete all the problems. If you are interested in this, send me an e-mail and I will send it to you! My internet is not letting me upload this and it's driving me nuts! 

I have some kiddos who were in need of a challenge. This Place Value Detectives Activity 
from Teaching With a Mountain View kept my kids challenged for several days. It was one of my favorite activities!

We have also been getting LOTS of use out of my Place Value Quiz Quiz Trade Cards  to review word form, standard form, and expanded form.


Oh how I love teaching science!! I have been jealously observing the other teachers on my team for the last three years and anxiously awaited the day I would be able to teach it again! It has been so much fun!

We started out with a review of the states of matter. We used Hope King's As a Matter of Fact bundle and the kids ate it up!

We also did viscosity races one day to explore the property of viscosity. This wasn’t in Hope’s unit, but was great to add to our exploration!

And the highlight to wrap up the unit was the gas fireworks from Hope’s unit. I was shocked to see just how high that soda shot up in the air!!

Language Arts

I have been blessed with a class full of thinkers this year who just devour books. I have yet to have a class who loves reading the way that they do. It’s so refreshing, but challenging to find activities that will keep them engaged and thinking critically. Thankfully, I have my trusty Amanda Nickerson from One Extra Degree to help with this!

We have been using her Just Glue It!  journal prompts to respond to our reading and the kids have been doing a fabulous job. I love how the prompts are multi-question and use all of those higher-level thinking skills most products and activities lack. If you’re looking for a way to get some juicy responses from your kids, this is what you need!

I wish I would have taken pictures of some of the kids’ entries. They just made me smile! They especially enjoyed writing a letter to Prudy from Prudy’s Problem and How She Solved It (it’s in our Reading Street series) and giving her some “friendly advice.” She collected everything and eventually her room exploded from all the clutter! She solved her problem by creating a museum to showcase her collections, but to hear what the kids had to say to her about her choices to collect dog hair and gum wrappers just cracked me right up! I loved that the prompt also made them give Prudy credit for her good decisions, too. J

We have been knee-deep in our fiction unit and we've been using pieces from Nicole Shelby’s Interactive Reading Notebook and Interactive Language Notebook. The added element of cutting, gluing and coloring has done wonders for engagement! The kids actually look forward to taking notes when there's a little somethin' to glue in first!! 

 I didn’t even touch writing or social studies, but those things will have to wait for another day! My internet is really testing my patience! I have so much more things to share with you!!! 

I’m going to try to be better about blogging more often. I really do miss it, but my kiddos and my classroom have to come first! Hopefully I can find a way to better organize my time so that I actually have some time to blog! Suggestions anyone??! Any advice would be much appreciated!

I hope you all have had an amazing first of the year! I’ll be back soon (fingers crossed)!! 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Molly Lou Melon: Character Traits and Theme

I'm popping in real quick tonight to share some good things- well I think they're good things, and I hope you do, too!  

First Thing:

My very first Donor's Choose project is fully funded and lots of great books are headed my way!! I feel so blessed and grateful! I just had to get that out! I'm psyched! 

Now on to the main point of this post- one of my most favorite beginning of year books- Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell.

I adore this book for several reasons. First, just look at those amazing cheeks- she is adorable! Second, the characters in the book are great for analyzing character traits, and third, the book sends a wonderful message of acceptance and confidence. It's just so great!

Here's the book in a nutshell:

Molly Lou is the shortest girl in first grade, but she listens to the advice of her grandmother and doesn't let anything get her down- not her buck teeth and surely not her voice that sounds like a bullfrog. She is proud of who she is!

I mean, seriously! How can you not love this face?!! I love seeing the kids' reactions to this picture. Priceless.

Everything is great with Molly Lou until she moves to a new town. Ronald Durkin, the class bully, does everything in his power to bring her down. But Molly Lou will have NONE of it! She stays true to herself, wins the affection of all the other children, and eventually, Ronald decides to give being nice a try. He even brings her a penny to stack on her tooth!  I'm telling you, this book is just too much!

This book provides the springboard for some fabulous discussion on staying true to yourself, embracing who you are, accepting others, and not letting the negativity of others steal your joy. All of these are great messages for our kiddos and it's an easy and relatable way to introduce theme.

After we read the book, we filled in this trait web about Molly Lou. Click on the link above the picture to get a copy for yourself if you want it!

Have a great night!

Monday, September 2, 2013

September Currently

It is so strange to think that only a month ago I was still enjoying the slowness of summer... now we're back in the full swing of things and September is here! Crazy town!

I'm linking up with Farley for Currently! Short and sweet, folks!

I never really like to do much explaining- everything is pretty self-explanatory! I've had a wonderful weekend hangin' with some great buds that we haven't seen in YEARS! I am so thankful to have had this weekend to slow down and relax after a jam-packed first week of school. My 'spend less time online' goal is going to be a big challenge... but it's necessary. It's shocking how many hours I can log sitting in front of a screen! One day at a time.... one day at a time....

I hope you had a wonderful weekend as well that that your week ahead with your kiddos is fabulous!! Link up and tell us about what's goin' on in your neck of the woods!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Place Value Quiz-Quiz-Trade... and a Bit of Blog Sickness


I'm sure you are super surprised to see my blog name pop up on your blog reel- it's been weeks- WEEKS- since I have blogged and I miss it terribly!! My living situation at the moment is less than ideal, and the internet connection is spotty, which means most nights I can't read my blogs and I especially can't blog myself. I'm learning to cope with my blog sickness, but of course I had an all-out meltdown first! 

This weekend I'm hangin' with some awesome friends who totally understand my addiction and I'm bumming their internet for a few minutes to quickly post about something I whipped up for my kiddos to practice place value for the next three weeks. 

If you've read my blog for any amount of time, you probably know that I LOVE quiz-quiz-trade. It's just about the BEST thing ever and I use it daily.  It’s one of the very first things I teach my kids the first week of school and we use it at least twice a day, every day after. It’s perfect for getting kids up and out of their seat, reviewing whatever skills you want them to, AND as an added bonus, it’s a great way for them to practice social skills. If you have never heard of quiz-quiz-trade, check out my post about it here. 

Because I am self-contained this year (YAAAYYY!!!!) after only teaching language arts for the last three years, my supply of math-related QQT cards is limited. Enter: Place Value Quiz-Quiz-Trade Cards!

Normally, I don’t like to advertise products with the risk of my posts sounding commercial-like, but seeing as I’ve already missed out on blogging about my classroom set-up, meet-the-teacher night, and all of our first week goodness (and how long it would take me to cover all of that in a post), I’m skipping right to this!

I made five different sets of cards so we can start with the first set, which is just two-digit numbers, and work our way through the sets and up to the last set, which uses six-digit numbers. Then I'll mix up all the cards from the different sets so students get practice with small and large numbers. The cards could also be used as task cards and students could self-check or the cards could be used in a scoot-like activity with the answers cut off or folded out of sight. I love the versatility! 

The cards provide practice with determining the value of an underlined digit in a number,

naming the place of an underlined digit, 

and also converting a number from expanded form into standard form. 

I’m sure I’ll make more cards that cover other skills later in the year.

If your students could benefit from this product, leave me a comment below! The first two who comment will get this for free!! Make sure you include your e-mail address.  

If you miss out on getting it free, it will be on sale in my store for the next few days! 

I hope everyone is having a fabulous Labor Day weekend. Hopefully I'll be back soon!