Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher

Math Test Prep Tips

Test taking season is here. <Insert groan and eye roll.> 

I know that testing is not fun. Test prep does not have to be stressful for you and your students. Check out these simple tips for preparing for math testing.

Use math centers to teach skills all year

Coming up with engaging math lessons for both new concepts and to review can be exhausting and time consuming. But, I've got you covered!

 Try THESE math centers. They have the same set-up with all your math concepts for the year. 

Students love the fun activities and I love that they are consistent so that I don't have to waste time teaching students HOW to complete the activities.

I even have sets specifically for test prep!

Click HERE for 3rd grade test prep centers. 

Click HERE for 4th grade test prep centers. 
Click HERE for 5th grade test prep centers. 

 Since the centers are fun and engaging, they take the groans out of test prep.

Use reference materials that mirror the test.

Most state or national standardized tests have reference cards or materials (formula sheets or rulers) that may be printed offline for practice.

Even if the actual testing materials are digital, it’s important to let your students know what the reference guides will look like and what they can use on the day of the test. Head to your state's testing site to see what they have available!

Review using technology.

Do you have any devices in your classroom?

Getting ready for testing can be fun by using online, interactive competition games like Kahoot or personalized learning websites like Moby Max or Zearn.

Check out THIS post to see other fun ways I’ve used technology to review math in the classroom.

Review with hands-on activities.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: I hate worksheets. I really do. They are so boring!

Students will engage and remember more of your review if they are moving, playing and creating.

My students love to practice their math facts (crucial for the math test!) using THESE free games. The fidget spinner is a fan favorite for sure!

Another fun way to get your kiddos practicing tough skills is with interactive notebooks. I use them in small and whole group all year. During test prep, I choose skills that students are still struggling with and give them additional activities for their notebook. I also like to take any of the activities that I prepped, but we didn't have time for, and put them in their centers.

Keep it meaningful- but hands-on and your kids will learn so much more!

Don't rush the curriculum.

Your math curriculum was written to take the entire school year. Testing is not on the last day of school. The reality is that you will not get to everything before the test, but your students will be tested on everything.

Don't get scared and start teaching three lessons per day! You will lose your students. You might cover everything before the test, but your students won't learn everything before the test.

Instead, look at your pacing guide and make sure that you cover the biggest testable units prior to testing. In third grade that would be multiplication, division and fractions. Put the units that don't have as many questions on the test at the end of the year. For third grade, that would be geometry. Check your state's testing website. They might even have a guide as to the percentage of questions from each domain.

If you use math groups, you can teach some mini lessons for those skills that you won't get to teach before the test. You could do this with groups that are higher and don't need as much small group time to review the current skill you are teaching.

This means that the lower groups might not even get introduced to a skill before the test. That's ok. I would rather spend tons of time helping them to master multiplication and do well on that portion of the test than to quickly teach everything and have them do poorly in all areas.

Foster a growth mindset.

When it comes to math, the phrase “I can’t” gets tossed around a lot. Adults and children alike can have a mentality that they are not good a math or not a math person. Use positive language and tell your kids that struggle with math concepts, to ask questions and approach problems differently. Instead of saying, “I can’t”, try saying, “I’m getting better with practice.” Positive language makes all the difference when promoting growth in any subject, especially math.

When it’s time to take the big math tests this year, your students will be prepared with these math test taking tips.

Focusing on big concepts and having fun all year will help your students have the confidence they need to continue to show progress and pass their tests.

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Ditch the Worksheets: A Better Way to Spiral Review

I can't sugar coat this. I just can't. I am sorry if this offends you, but I have wanted to say it for so long. So here goes...

I HATE worksheets.

I don't just dislike worksheets. I literally hate them.

I have no choice about using them in some cases. We are required to use the math worksheets that come with our math curriculum. I do everything I can to make them quick and engaging. That is about the only time you will find my students doing a worksheet. 

I know that lots of teachers use worksheets for spiral review. I see teachers asking about worksheets with daily language or math problems that spiral through the standards. I have used them in the past too. #iamnotperfect 

I am issuing a challenge.

Ditch the spiral review worksheets.

Hear me out..

Why ditch the spiral worksheets?

Worksheets are boring. 

A list of questions that students have to sit in their seats and answer just isn't fun! And what's worse? I was using my spiral worksheets as my bell work. It was the first thing that students did when they walked into my classroom. It set up their day. And I was boring them to tears. Not good!

Spiral worksheets don't match our pacing guide.

It is HIGHLY unlikely that any spiral worksheets that you will find will match the order that you are teaching the skills. Therefore, it's not really a "review." My kiddos would feel frustrated when they were asked a question that we had not yet learned. I would find myself doing a quick half-hearted lesson when we were really supposed to be reviewing. 

The worksheets can be a time sucker. 

Students need time to complete the daily problems. Then you need time to go over the answers together. Then you need time to reteach or introduce the skills that your students had never seen before. What started as a simple five minute activity, can easily turn into a 20-30 minute activity. 

How should I spiral then?

I am not suggesting that spiral review is a bad thing. I strongly believe in spiral review. I love to teach in units of study, but if you never come back to the early skills, students will forget. We remember what we do repetitively. I just think that their are better ways to spiral then just giving a worksheet.

Build spiral review into your centers and small group time. 

The best part about using small group and center time for spiral review is that you are able to differentiate the review! Every student doesn't need the same thing anyway.

During math centers, my students have a rotation that is completely based on review. Since they are doing review activities, they are able to complete them more independently. When they are struggling, we can work on the activity together during our small groups. During reading centers, my students have a rotation that includes spiral review through reading response.

During reading small groups we have discussions about main idea or character traits weeks after we learned and were assessed on the skill. In math groups, we will use white boards to solve problems from math lessons taught last month. (They don't remember that they already solved the same problem, so I just grab the problems from past homework sheets.)

Give students engaging review activities rather than worksheets. 

Give them centers. Give them games. Give them projects. Get then up and moving around!

I use my math center sets as my students' math spiral review. They are engaging and fun. My students like to do them. To make it a review, I give them a skill that we have already covered whole group. For example, they won't do the multiplication set until we have finished the multiplication unit from our curriculum.

Keep task cards handy.

I love to use task cards in my classroom. We do at least one task card scoot every week. It is part of our grammar routine. The kids love getting out of their desks and moving around the classroom as they answer the questions on the cards.

Task cards can be used for super quick spiral review too! It really helps me to get more bang for my buck after prepping these task card sets.

I keep a few sets of task cards that we have already done whole group (or didn't have time to do whole group) on my table or counter. If we happen to have a couple extra minutes before recess or specials, I grab a few of the cards. I will read the question aloud and call on a student. If they answer it correctly, they get to get in line first. We continue until our time is up and the rest of the class joins to line to leave for specials.

This is super simple!

Look for natural times to review during lessons. 

Spiral review does not always have to be an extra activity that students must complete. It can be super quick additions to your current lesson.

For example, when I am teaching students about adjectives, I also have them point out the nouns and verbs. Later, during guided reading groups, I can point to one sentence in our book or passage and ask them to find the adjectives. 

The same can be done with math. Students are finding the area of a rectangle. Ask them what they know about rectangles to review geometry. Throw in multi-step word problems so that your students have more opportunities to practice addition and subtraction even during your multiplication unit.

They need the repeated practice. I didn't have to prep anything else and it takes just an extra minute or our time. Simple!

Use price of admission when students are entering the classroom.

I love this quick and simple activity! It is similar to an exit ticket, but no copying is needed and it happens as kiddos are entering the room.

I print THIS sign, laminate it and staple it to the wall next to my classroom door.

I use a dry erase marker to write a question each day. It is best when the question is a yes/no question. It is even better when there is more than one correct answer.

Give me an example of an adverb.
Give a x12 fact.
What is one ingredient needed for photosynthesis?
What was one cause of the Civil War?
What is one way to make a noun plural?

My questions come from prior lessons and let me see what students remember and what they need to review.

My only rule is that you can't give the same answer as the person in front of you in line. If it is a question with just one right answer, have students whisper the answer in your ear.

If a student doesn't know the answer, I have them go to the back of the line and I tell them to listen real carefully! They usually have a correct answer by the time they get to me again. If lots of students get the answer wrong at first, I know we need to review during small groups!

You can also use this activity to get to know your students better. Once a week of so, ask a personal question.

What did you have for breakfast?
What do you like to do after school?
What is your favorite TV show?

I just love learning little details about my students. It helps me to really connect with them in the classroom.

What do you think? Can you take me up on my challenge to ditch the spiral worksheets?

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

Classroom Organization: Lesson Plan Materials and Resources

A time saving tip for getting your classroom resources prepped and organized!

How tight would you hug me if I could help you to save lots of time prepping your teaching materials resources this year? What if I told you that I could save you time? #cantbreath
My teaching buddies would often make fun of laugh at my craziness. 
I have to fess up. I was the annoying teacher photocopying her Valentine's Day activities in December. I was the OCD teacher who had a label, binder or folder for EVERYTHING. I was the goofball who color-coded my lesson plans.
Do you know someone like that?
My friends might have gotten a good laugh out of this, but the truth is that my crazy organization usually saved me tons of time.
I regularly left school at my contracted time and almost never came in on a weekend or break. I carried a tiny teacher bag because I didn't cart home papers and projects. 
Home is for family time.
So how dow did I do it? How did I meet the crazy demands of teaching and still prioritize my time with family?
I am going to share the number one routine that I feel saved me the most time and helped me to be a prepared and less stressed teacher. It's a three step process.

Step One: 

Make copies of the resources that you know you will need for the entire quarter.
I am supposed to be telling you how to save time, but the first thing I tell you to do is a ton of work. Give me a chance to explain...
If you take the time upfront to get a bunch of your copying done, you will open up time in your schedule the rest of the quarter. This means you will be able to go home early more often.
Here are things that I always had ready for the entire quarter:
  • spelling lists
  • vocabulary lists and assessments
  • grammar notebook activities, task card recording sheets and assessments
  • book club printables
  • math facts
  • math assessments
  • math center recording books
  • bell work
  • holiday, science or social studies activities that I knew I wanted to do
That is a ton of work!
Do you have a teacher that you can team up with? Maybe one of you can do ELA and the other can do math and holidays?
Are you allowed to have a parent volunteer do some copying? I had a volunteer who came in for 30 minutes once per week. She was able to get tons done for me and it was a very small commitment for her.
Having all of these weekly materials ready to go will mean that you don't have to have a melt down when the printer or copier breaks, the copy line is two miles long on your break or you have to have an unplanned substitute day. You are ready to go!
I promise that this is the hardest step and that it gets so much easier from here.

Step Two:

File all of your copies into weekly folders.
The worst thing that you could do is take all of those stacks of papers and pile them on to your desk, shelves or tables. That will stress you out every time you look at the pile! Plus, you will waste time trying to find what you need.
The solution?
It is simple, Put the papers in folders labeled by week. 
Organizing all those papers into weekly file folders!

Step Three:

File the papers for the next week in daily drawers before you go home on Friday.

So if next week is week three, you will take everything from the week three folder and put it in the correct drawer. I will put my spelling lists in the Monday drawer and my grammar assessments in the Friday drawer, etc.
It will be so easy to find what you need each day and you don't have a ton of papers piled on your table.
Organize your daily classroom papers into drawers with labels!
What do you think? Are you going to get ahead and get organized? I am rooting you on!

A time saving tip for getting your classroom resources prepped and organized!

Have a Not So Wimpy week!

Fun with Fractions: Activities to Teach Fraction

Activities, apps, games and centers to help teach and practice fractions

When it comes to learning new math concepts, fractions can be difficult for some elementary students to grasp. However, making fractions relevant and entertaining so your students can connect to real life will help them master the standards and objectives you are trying to reach. 

Having fun with fractions is achievable with these activities to teach fraction in your elementary classroom.

Fraction Interactive Notebooks

I love using interactive notebooks in math! They include activities that hit on all of the major skills that I want my students to learn: identifying fractions, fraction number lines, equivalent fractions, comparing fractions, etc.

But the neat part is that students barely notice they are doing work because they are using scissors and glue. It's a sneaky teacher trick. Don't tell! (P.S. I keep the cuts simple so that students don't take long cutting!)

Fractions Interactive Notebook

The best part about the interactive notebook is that students will have a resource to look back at throughout the unit and the year. That's priceless!

Click HERE to see more of this interactive notebook.

Fraction Find Someone Who **FREEBIE**

I love using this activity because it gets kids up and moving! They are solving fraction problems, but getting to talk to their friends at the same time. It's hit for sure.

Free Fractions Activity

Students walk around the room and find a different classmate to solve each of the problems on their sheet.

Would you like a FREE copy of this activity? Click HERE to download it!

Count the Candies

Break out the M&Ms or Skittles! Have your students take a handful of sweet multi-colored candies (no eating allowed until the activity is finished). They’ll sort the candies by color then record the amount of each color (part) to the total amount of candies (whole) to determine the fraction for each. When they’re finished, they’ll have a sweet treat. 

This could also be used with colored marshmallows, cereal or non-food alternatives like small stickers or erasers. (I have now given you a very good reason to collect the Target Dollar Spot erasers! I hope your spouse doesn't hate me!)

Roll a Fraction

Use dice to rock and “roll” with fractions. I love this activity because my students feel like they’re playing a game, but they’re actually learning about fractions. Plus, they are no prep! All you need are a couple dice. I keep them in page protectors in a binder and pull them out anytime a student needs a little extra help.
Fraction Games

There are eight different activities that cover a variety of fraction skills.

In one of the games, students will roll a die and tally how many times they get a number. Once all the numbers (1-6) have been rolled at least once, students will count the tally marks and record the fraction each number was rolled or not rolled.

In another one of the activities, students are rolling dice to make a fraction and then plot the fraction on a number lines.

Click HERE to see more of these dice activities.

Student Fraction Sort

This activity not only helps students learn more about fractions, it also helps your kids to learn more about each other. 

Start with a list of questions to ask your class. “What is your favorite sport?” or “How many siblings do you have?” Have students record the results with the part (numerator) being the number for each category and the whole (denominator) always being the number of students in the class surveyed. If you want to change up the denominator, put your students in small groups.

Digital Manipulatives

I think that it is essential to use manipulatives when teaching fractions. Sometime I use candies and erasers. Other times I like to use manipulatives like these:

We use the physical manipulatives in small groups, but it's a pain to pass sets out to each individual student. Plus, it can get pricey.

So, I like to use on-line digital manipulatives! Students can manipulate and move the pieces right from their iPad. They love technology. I love fractions. Now we are both happy.

Plus, you can share this free app with parents so that students can use the manipulatives when doing homework!

Click HERE to grab the app.

Fraction Madness

It's basketball season!

Do you have any students who are sports fans? Do you have any students who would prefer to get out of their seats and play rather than completing a worksheet? If so, you are going to love Fraction Madness!

Basketball Fractions Activities

This resource includes six different basketball themed activities.

My students loved shooting free throws and then calculating the fraction that they scored and the fraction that they missed!

Lots of the activities are ideal for centers or a guided math group.

Click HERE to learn more about Fraction Madness.

Fraction Read Aloud Books

Books aren't just for reading class! I love to incorporate read alouds into my math lessons from time to time. It's just fun!

There are several great books that include fractions. Here are some of my favorites. If you click on the book picture, it will bring you to Amazon where you can read more about the book.

Fraction Centers

Once I have taught all of the fraction lessons, I like to have students continue to practice these skills during their math centers. You can read more about how I organize and run my math centers by clicking HERE.

Fractions Math Centers

I like math centers that include choice and engagement. I put out ten centers and let my students complete them in any order that they choose. The activities are fun and include dice, coloring, matching, sorting, task cards, etc. My students love them.

I have these centers for multiple grade levels:
Third Grade
Fourth Grade
Fifth Grade
Activities, apps, games and centers to help teach and practice fractions

Learning about fractions doesn’t have to happen with lectures in a teacher-centered classroom. Get your kids learning with fun games, centers and hands-on activities. 

Have a Not So Wimpy day!

President's Day Activities for the Classroom

Fun activities where students can learn more about our country's presidents!

President’s Day is just around the corner and although the perfect President’s Day is a 3-day weekend, it can still be fun at school, too! 

What can you do to make President’s Day one your students won’t forget?

Talk to a President

In the age of easy communication, take time to contact a president.  President Jimmy Carter only responds to snail mail, but President Trump has Twitter as does George W. and Obama.  Ask questions about their causes, what their favorite memories are, why they wanted to be president.  Have students write letters or tweets to distribute to their favorite presidents or even their kids like Jenna Bush Hager or Chelsea Clinton, but only after your approval! J  

Have students bring in responses if they get them or even contact other state politicians and presidential hopefuls for the full government experience.

Interactive Notebooks

It's so easy to integrate reading and social studies while learning about the presidents. I love getting the scissors, glue and crayons out to make it even more engaging. Interactive notebook passages and activities are perfect! 

President's Day Interactive Notebook

We are practicing important informational text strategies, writing facts and learning about history. But students think they are just doing crafts. Sneaky!

Click HERE to check out this notebook.

Game On!

Are you all about using the iPad for games and learning?   Lizard Point  lets students practice putting presidents in order. Students can practice identifying the pics of the presidents at Primary Games. If you get them right, a piece of trivia pops up about them before moving on to the next president.

Show and Tell

You’re never too old for a good game of Show and Tell.  Take it up a notch by having each student find an interesting piece of information about a president and bring in something that represents it. Have everyone tells about their president.  

Think a stuffed buffalo for Grover Cleveland who got his start in Buffalo and was even nicknamed The Beast of Buffalo or a newspaper for Warren Harding since that was his first job or a wand for Van Buren because he was known as a “magician.”

FREE Show and Tell President's Day Activity

You can even set the artifacts and the written fact on desks and have the class next door take a tour. You made your own presidential museum! 

Click HERE to grab a free letter explaining the assignment to students and families and a fact sheet for students to complete.

Lego Monuments

After learning about Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, your students will have a blast building their monuments with Legos! I split my students into 4-6 groups and give each group a bucket of Legos (borrowed from my own children). I would display a picture of one monument and give students 20-30 minutes to work together and build a replica with Legos. 

Lego President's Day Activity

You can do another monument the next day! Or even the White House. It's perfect for indoor recess or for the last 20 minutes of class.

Be sure to take pictures!

Fun activities where students can learn more about our country's presidents!

President’s Day won’t be old hat (an Abe Lincoln tall one at that) with these fun ideas!

Have a Not So Wimpy day!