Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fun Way to Review for ANY Test!

As a student, I thought that teachers loved to give tests. Why else would they torture us with them? Now that I am a teacher, I realize that teachers get more test anxiety than students! What if they don't read the directions? What if they make dumb mistakes? Did I teach it well enough? What if they all fail? What if the parents get upset? Are they really ready??? I lose sleep with all this worry! Please tell me that I am not alone!

In an effort to help prepare my kiddos for tests and to relieve some of my anxiety, I like to give a practice test on the day before the "real" thing. I especially like to do this with math. We use Engage NY for math and the test comes in a word document. So I go in and change the numbers to make a second version of the test. You could always write some questions that are similar to the test you are giving. Or, use task cards! But just giving them this practice test would be boring. And, I am anything but boring!



Here is how I keep kids excited and engaged while doing the practice test...All students receive a copy of the practice test. They work on one question at a time. After they finish one question, they get in line. I check their work. If they are correct, I initial it and I give them a ticket. They write their name on it and put it in a container with the number one. Then they go back to their seat and work on question 2. They will do this until they complete the entire test. If a student has the wrong answer, I try to point them in the right direction. They go back to their seat and fix their errors. Then, they can get back in line.

At the end of the allotted review time, we go over the entire test together. Then, I draw a ticket from each of the containers. I give that child a piece of candy. I NEVER give candy any other time, so students are crazy excited!



When my kids take the test the next day, I know they understand the directions and the expectations! Now, they are truly being assessed on the skill that I have taught. Kids are happy. Teacher is happy!

How do you make reviewing for tests more fun?


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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why I Don't Assign At-Home Book Reports

At the start of the school year, I promise my parents that I will not be assigning at-home book reports. They look surprised and then relieved.

I was not always this way. When I first started teaching, I was excited to assign book reports. I did them as a child and so it seemed natural that my children would do them as well. So I assigned the "report" that the rest of my team was assigning. This was not like any report I had even completed. It was more of an art project than anything else. And here is what happened...

I received no less than twenty questions about the report from parents. I was sending daily answers and reminders regarding the report. On the due date, two students didn't bring a report at all. Twenty students brought reports that looked professionally done. And four sweeties brought in hand-written, crayon colored, done by themselves reports. As the students presented their reports for what seemed like an eternity, my heart broke for the four who did the report themselves and therefore didn't have the fancy project to share. They had probably learned the most, but I would be the only one to know this.

Later, we displayed our reports for parents to see at an open house. Parents had already seen them though. So they went from desk to desk checking out what other parents had done. I am certain they were comparing their work to all the others. I could almost here them thinking "Wow! I did so much better than this kid's mom! They didn't even use glitter!"

After the open house, I spent hours grading the projects with a rubric. Could I even use these grades? I mean, how much had the students completed on their own? As I walked the room, I was asking myself "Did they learn anything about literature?" "Did they enjoy reading the book?" And to be completely honest...I wasn't sure I could say "yes" to either of those questions.

I had worked hard. Parents had worked hard. My four sweeties, who completed the project on their own, worked hard. But I don't feel much learning happened. Why work so hard for so few results? I realized that what I really wanted was for my kids to love reading. The book report was not the answer. If anything, it took time away that they could have spent reading. Not ok!

I never assigned another at-home book report. My parents didn't complain. My kids didn't complain. My class passed their reading standardized testing. They passed the third grade. Nothing detrimental happened because they didn't have crazy book projects to complete at home.

Instead, I have them complete SIMPLE book reports in class after we finish a book in our literature circles. Right now, my class is making a brochure for the book they just read. I am giving them a little bit of class time to complete it. They are happy and I am able to observe as they write about characters and setting.

When my kiddos go home they will have more time to be kids. More time to read, dance, play the piano, ride bikes and be with their families.

And that is why I don't assign at-home book reports.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Five Hand-On Ways to Teach Multiplication


As a student, I disliked math. Math was just a book that I had to complete a set of problems from each night. It was boring and I failed to understand when in life I would use the skills. The only thing that I can remember about learning multiplication was memorizing facts on flash cards. I think it is this experience with math as a student that makes me love math as a teacher. I vow to make math different for my students. It will be more than a math book full of homework. It will be more than flash cards. It won't be boring and you will know why you need these skills. Math in my class will be hands-on! Math will be fun!

The first unit that my third graders are doing this year is multiplication. I am used to starting the year slow with place value- so this has been an adjustment. I have been careful to spend extra time on the foundational skills of multiplication rather than skipping to fact mastery. Today I want to share some fun hands-on ways that I like to teach multiplication. 


I wrote about the equal group beads over the summer, but I love them so much that it is worth repeating. (After all, I am a teacher. I repeat myself A LOT.) This idea came from the Evil Math Wizard. I saw them once on her blog and she was kind enough to explain what they were and how to make them.

To make these beads you will need pipe cleaners, pony beads and a plastic storage box. I got all of my supplies from Walmart. 


All I did was cut the pipe cleaners in half. I strung beads on them for each number. So, for example, I chose purple to represent my groups of two. I made ten different pipe cleaners with two purple beads on them. I did this with each number through nine.


Now my students can use these beads as a manipulative to solve multiplication facts. For example, for the problem 3x7, students would get 3 groups of seven. 


Students can use the beads to count and solve. This manipulative helps to reenforce the idea that multiplication is just adding equal groups together.


My students practice their skip counting every day. When I first started teaching, I bought a  fun skip counting/multiplication CD. I use it all the time and think it was well worth the money. However, you can also use youtube to play fun skip counting songs. Play them everyday. I play them during snack time and other transition times. The kids love it! 




The day that I bring my hula hoops to school is one of excitement for the kids! They know that I am a little on the strange side  so their imaginations run wild as to what the hula hoops might be for. 

The hula hoops are a fun way to practice equal groups with the whole class! I ask students to make a certain representation. In the picture below, my students made two groups of two.


I will repeatedly call out different multiplication facts and students would grab the number of hula hoops needed and form the equal groups. Kids in their desk can stay engaged by drawing it on white boards. This technique really shows kids that multiplication is adding equal groups. Plus, it allows kids to get out of their seats. Win! Win!


Kids love food! Therefore, I love to use food to teach. It makes for a memorable lesson. 

Cheese-It crackers (or any square cracker) are perfect for teaching arrays and area in multiplication. 


I give a fact and students build it with crackers. It is a good time to introduce area! When we are done building a variety of arrays, everyone gets to eat their crackers! I like this square representation so much because it allows me to introduce area and the vocabulary involved. 


Interactive notebooks have become the heart and soul of my instruction. They are small group work. They are assessments. They are notes to refer back to throughout the year. And they are FUN! The kids love to add to their math journal!

Just check out some of the fun pieces that my students have added during our multiplication unit. They all come from my Multiplication Interactive Notebook unit.










While my students are adding pieces to their notebooks, I observe with my iPad in hand. As a student demonstrates that they can correctly complete a skill, I give them a check on my mastery checklist in Evernote. Performance-based assessments! 

I hope this gives you some fun ideas for teaching multiplication!

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Classroom Reveal! Lots of Pictures!


I love decorating my classroom each year! I am excited to share my new sports themed classroom with you!

Most of the printables that you will see in my classroom come from my Sports Theme Classroom 2 kit.


My theme starts in the hallway.


This fun basketball court includes basketballs for each of my students and my PM partner's students. My husband came up with the brilliant idea to use a white out runner to make the lines on the court. It makes them bolder than if we had used paint.




This is a view of my room right when you walk in...


I think it looks clean and coordinated.

Directly to the left are our student cubbies.


Since another class comes uses the room in the afternoon, students can't keep folders and supplies in their desks. Instead, they keep their supplies in these cubbies. At the end of the day they take their cubby of their desk and put their PM partner's cubby in the desk.


As you walk farther in to the room, you come to our small group table. We meet with reading, math and writing groups at this back table. Behind the table is where we keep the supplies we need for these small groups including tubs with book club books, math manipulatives, white boards and writing supplies. They are stored on this awesome shelf from Ikea.

I also LOVE the alphabet! It is from Schoolgirl Style.





The stools under the table are also from Ikea. I LOVE them! They are small and easy to stack and store under the table. They take less room than traditional chairs.

Just past the small group area, is our reading bulletin board and our book boxes. The boxes are super cheap at Ikea. A five pack is only $2.50!








The soccer goal was made with a pool noodle and some netting. The background paper is a fadeless paper that I found at a small local teaching store. It can be found on Amazon, but it costs a small fortune on there! I paid $7-$8 for a roll.

I am pretty much in love with the big book posters!!! I just made them in PowerPoint and then took them to Staples and had them print as a large poster. The print only cost $3.50! Now we can keep track of the chapter book read alouds that we complete as a class. And after only 3 1/2 weeks- I am proud to say we have already finished two books and started a third!

On the next wall, we have our writing board and the classroom library.


I adore my new bookshelf from Ikea. Lots of space! Perfect since I have bit of a book addiction.


Isn't that bat adorable?! Click HERE to read all about that project!

We spent quite a bit of time this summer leveling our books (inside the covers) and organizing them by interest to make it easy for students to select books they will enjoy. I made some simple labels for the boxes.


Right next to the classroom library, I keep my language centers and then tubs filled with language  games and activities that I will pull out when we are working on a particular unit.



The centers that my students do everyday are stored in pencil pouches in a basket on top of the shelf.


The next thing on the wall is my computer table/volunteer table. On the wall, we put science and social studies related projects that the kids complete. Right now, we are studying the ocean and ocean animals, so we have some fun seahorses.





The volunteer area has cups hanging on the wall that house pens, pencils, markers and other supplies that they might need. Also, we have magnetic pockets on the side of our filing cabinets where we can put lists for them or papers to copied or graded. It is a small space, but our fabulous volunteers are making it work perfectly! Can you believe that I have two volunteers each day!

Right next to the volunteers, we each have our own filing cabinet. I decked mine out using editable labels from my Sports Theme 2 kit and some washi tape.



Right above our filing cabinets is our job display. I bought it at a local teaching store. I used to make different jobs for each of my students. Each week, I would forget to switch them and spend too much time explaining all the jobs. Now, I just have two helpers per day. They do everything I need- take attendance to the office, take out trash, etc.


Each student has a baseball with his or her number on it. I split them into two stacks on hung them with command hooks. Each morning after taking attendance, I just flip the baseballs to figure out who my helpers will be.

I like the simplicity of the system. It allows everyone to be a helper every 2-3 weeks.

When you turn the corner, you will find my backpack area which I named the Locker Room. My husband made it for me and you can read more about that project HERE.



As you turn the corner, you will find our rules and clip charts. They come from my Sports Theme 2 kit as well. We are using four out of five of the whole brain teaching rules.


We have to have two clip charts because we allow our students to get a jewel when they clip up. Therefore, they can't share clips with their PM partner with the same number. I went a little crazy this summer and made some cool clips for our charts! I spray painted them white and I used red Sharpie to make the baseball laces on each clip.


Below the the clips, we have our penalty binder that holds student behavior reflection forms. Just in case...

This brings us to the of font of our classroom. We have a smart board. Under the smart board, we installed some rain gutter to make a book shelf for our science and social studies books. I just put out the books that match the unit we are currently working on.


I also have my fun baseball stool up there. I just took a wood stool from Wal-Mart and spray painted it white on top with red legs. We then used some red paint to make the laces.

Right beside the smart board is our math board. I love that it is front and center and tells students that math is just as important in our room as reading is.



Under the board, we keep drawers that hold teacher supplies for the various math units that we teach. I can't believe I still have drawers that are not labeled! So not like me!


I worked really hard to make my math board interactive and meaningful for my students. My favorite part is the vocabulary display. You can read all about that project HERE.



I also made a number line. I just used some electrical tape. Now we can add the numbers using sticky notes. This will come in very handy during our fractions using!



Next to the math board is our drink pockets. It is really just a hanging shoe organizer. I put numbers on each pocket to keep students organized and water bottles off of the desks.


The last side of my room is covered in counter top, cabinets and shelving.


On the bottom shelves, we keep math games and manipulatives that we want kids to have access to. They are all labeled to make it easy for students to find what they need during math workshop time.




On top of the counter, we have our daily drawers to keep materials we need, our office supply toolbox (you read about that project HERE) and our Chromebook case.




On the shelved above the counter, we have some teacher books, special read aloud books AND my task cards!!! You can read about how I store task cards HERE.



Above the cabinets, I have huge black tubs that store all of our extra supplies. I go these labels from my Sports Theme Kit 2 as well.



The last thing in my room is this huge cabinet. We primarily use it for student supplies, art supplies and paper.


I keep things pretty organized.
That's our classroom! We absolutely LOVE it and have many compliments from students, parents and coworkers. It is a fun, organized classroom that has a theme that isn't too distracting. I hope you enjoyed the tour!

Please check out other classroom pictures by checking out the links on The Primary Gal blog.



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