Monday Made It- Burlap Wreath and Math Centers

Time for my favorite summer linky! I am currently enjoying a weekend getaway in the mountains so you may see some green trees in the background!

I am not redoing my entire classroom, but I still wanted to add some new elements to keep it fresh and fun for me and my students! I am not allowed to decorate my classroom door due to fire code restrictions. So instead, I thought it would be nice to have a wreath on my door. I love all the burlap wreathes on Pinterest, but I wanted to add some of my classroom colors- black, white, green.


Here are the supplies you will need. (Not pictured: wire, scissors and wire cutter) I got the wreath frame and burlap at Walmart. I got the ribbon, tulle and wooden letter at Jonann's. 


I used THIS tutorial for the burlap portion of the wreath. After the burlap was complete, I cut 1 foot pieces of ribbon and tulle. I just pulled them through from the back to the front of the wreath. They are not tied on. So if someone were to walk up to my wreath and pull on the ribbon, the pieces wold come out. But I can't imagine anyone doing that and this saved me lots of money on ribbon!


The letter was attached using wire. I didn't want the wire to show so I added a couple of nails to the back of the letter and wrapped the wire around the nails. Staples would have worked, but we could find a staple gun at the cabin we are staying in.

I think this is a fun and welcoming addition to my classroom!


I share a classroom, but I am lucky that both of our last names start with an S!
 I go back to school in 2 1/2 weeks. YIKES! I spent some time this week making back to school math centers for my new third graders. They are perfect for teaching students how math rotations will work in your classroom.






I have all of my centers printed and laminated. You can click on any of the pictures to check out the centers in my store.

While driving up to the mountains, I gave a product a HUGE facelift. This product was one of my first creations and is in my top five for sales. But it was in need of a major overhaul!



I gave this fun first day of school kit new clip art, borders and fonts. I also added four new activities! Click on the picture to check it out in my store.



Swag Bag Giveaway!

I had no idea when I started creating and blogging just how many friends I would make. Some are online friends that I have never REALLY met and others are teachers and bloggers from right here in Arizona. Last week I attended the Arizona Blogger Brunch and Bubbly meet up hosted by Ashlyn from The Creative Classroom. She did an amazing job decorating and planning! 


We even got to talk to Amy from TpT on a conference call! She was so bubbly and happy to answer all of our TpT and conference related questions.

Ashlyn also did an amazing job of getting sponsors to donate amazing products for swag bags for everyone!







Doesn't look awesome?!! Do you want to hear the GOOD news? We have three extra swag bags that we are GIVING AWAY!!! Make sure to sign up for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway




Put Away the Red Pens!



Chapter four of Learn Like a Pirate tackles one of my favorite subjects to preach about. Seriously, I was just telling my husband (who really doesn't care but pretends to when necessary) a week ago, that teachers spend WAY too much time grading! I don't take grading home. EVER. There are far better ways to assess your students' skills and comprehension that grading  stacks of worksheets. And frankly, I have far better things to do with my time than grade those stacks of papers. (Like eat tacos in front of the TV.)

I always aim to create a classroom culture where every student is growing and feels successful. They won't all start at the same place and they won't all end at the same place. But as long as they are improving, I am one happy teacher! I think that when teachers focus on grades, there are a couple of negative consequences. First, students (and parents) need the grade to validate the work. Students don't just feel proud because they know they did their best. They need to see the A on top. Heck, some kids are upset if they don't see the + after the A. Those struggling students will always feel inadequate. Even when they did their best and made significant growth, they feel disappointed by the grade at the top of the paper. The grade quickly starts to determine the value of the student rather than the effort and growth that went into the work. Another consequence of a grade focused classroom is that it puts a ceiling on the learning of our highest achievers. They just always get 100%. Since they got everything correct, they are not pushed to improve or work harder next time. Can't everyone improve in some way? Couldn't they learn, if pushed, to go deeper? 

Solarz writes about many different assessment strategies that I already use in my classroom. He also gave me some great ideas to continue growing as an instructor.


Solar writes, "Skills and comprehension can be best assessed through observations while students are working." YES!!! Observation is the number one way that I assess my students' understanding. While students are working collaboratively or independently, I walk the room. I listen to students talk. I look over their shoulders at what they have written. I ask questions to get them to explain their thinking or challenge them to dig deeper. I make check marks on my mastery checklist when I see proof that students have mastered various skills and make notes about students who are struggling and may need some intervention. This type of assessment happens EVERY day in my classroom. Multiple times per day! And it never involves the assigning of a grade.


I recently blogged about my use of interactive notebooks. You can read the post HERE. I wrote that one of the questions I receive most often about my interactive notebooks is, "How do you assess them? Isn't it a pain to bring all of the notebooks home with you?" I never bring notebooks home with me! Who has time for that? I use my notebooks during guided math and reading groups. Students are completing the activities at the back table while I observe. I make checks in my mastery checklist, question students to encourage them to teach me and go deeper in their understanding and I offer invention for students who need it. When the students leave the back table, I am done with that assessment. They don't need to turn in their notebooks and I don't need to lug them home with me. I have learned tons about my kiddos but never assigned a grade. Instead I used the observation assessment as a tool to provide the necessary instruction for individual students and pushed, even my high achiever, to improve. In my opinion, this is a much more valuable way to use assessment!




Solarz writes about a revelation that he had. Students were receiving compliments on their work from their teacher and their peers, but criticism was only coming from the teacher. Students are not naturally good at giving or taking constructive criticism from peers. In his book, Solarz goes into great detail about how he taught his students to give feedback on projects and writing. He calls this feedback a quality booster. Students are helping one another to improve the quality of their work. When you have a classroom of  learners who are focused on improvement, they are happy to be given ideas that help them to improve on their work.

Students are taught three different steps:
  1. Start by telling them that you have a quality booster for them. This helps students to be prepared for what is coming and be able to handle the criticism better.
  2. Start or end with a specific compliment. If a student feels that their work is appreciated, they are so much more willing to accept the criticism!
  3. Write your suggestion as a question rather than a statement. When you write the suggestion as a statement, you sound like a know it all or better than them. When you phase it as a question, it sounds like there is more than one way to do it, but you are just giving an idea. So instead of telling them what to change, students can ask questions like, "Would it be clearer if.... I wonder if it would sound better is.....
My student solicit feedback from their peers often, but I feel that teaching it the way that Solarz has outlined would make the practice even more meaningful to my students.

I made some posters to help remind my students about the steps to take to write a quality booster. You can download them for free by clicking on the picture.


Again, students are not given a grade. They are just focused on improving what they have done no matter what level they started on.


We can learn so much about our students' understanding by asking them to reflect on the things they understand and questions that they still have. Solarz uses a student blog for his student reflections.

I use Friday journals of the same purpose. We don't have much technology in the classroom, so paper and pencil just works best for us. I have blogged about Friday journals before. You can read the post HERE and grab a freebie.



Every Friday, students are given time to write a letter to their parents. They write about something they learned during the week. When students are asked to reflect on their own learning, it makes the learning more concrete. Students are more likely to remember it when they have been asked to reflect, think and write about it. Throughout the year, I can challenge them to dig deeper with their journal entries. Parents write back and often their questions will also help the students to make deeper connections. Solarz writes, "I'm not just asking my students to learn concepts temporarily or remember things for a test. I'm asking them to internalize information and skills so they can use them for the rest of their lives." 


I know what you are thinking."Jamie, all of this is fine and dandy, but I am required to give grades." I know. I am required to give grades as well. Parents and administrators need to see grades. I can't get around it. I put the fewest number of grades into the gradebook that I can get away with. These grades include mid and end of unit math tests, spelling tests and some centers activities. I also love to give participation points. This works great for those activities that I truly assessed through observations and don't have a letter grade for. 

The important thing is that I never make a big stink about grades and students are not given awards for their grades. Instead, I award students for growing, working hard, participating and being willing to make mistakes.

How do you help to keep the focus on improvement rather than grades?



Monday Made It: Math Board and Folders


I go back to school in four weeks. YIKES! So I went in to school this week for an hour to put up a new math problem solving display.  I am keeping my sports theme, but updating some of my displays based on changes in curriculum.


Last summer, I put together the math vocabulary display. I love that my kids could reach the words and use them when they needed to. So that is staying. You can read about it HERE.

I am focusing more this year on teaching good math problem solving that does not include the use of key words.  I think this display will help my students to remember the importance of starting with a math model!



My display was completely inspired by one in Amy Groesbeck's classroom. 
Since I had math problem solving on my mind, I got our Prove It With Color cards printed, laminated and on jump rings.


Third graders love anything that involves using a crayon! But I know that underlining and circling the steps in the math process will help students to remember my expectations in math journals. When students are working on math journal prompts during centers, they will grab a ring of these cards to remind themselves of the steps!

My math board is ready and so are all of my math folders! I fill my math folders with lots of resources that help students to be successful when working independently during centers. You can grab all of my math folder printables HERE.




Peer Collaboration



Welcome back for chapter three of our book study. This book is quickly becoming one of my favorite professional books! I am not a wimpy teacher. When I tell my teammates what I am doing in the classroom, they usually think I am crazy and wish me luck. But this book is certainly stretching me to consider new ideas and strategies! This chapter is no exception. Let's talk about collaboration...

I won't lie. This is the section of the book (so far) that scared me the most! I actually put the book down for a day just so I could really think and reflect about this one. Solarz empowers his students to lead by giving them permission to use the class attention getter. When the student uses the attention getter, even the teacher freezes and gives the student their attention. YIKES! I instantly started envisioning an entire day of students trying to overpower one another with "Class! Class!" How will we get through any learning? Seemed too crazy for me. But then I talked myself off the ledge...

I remembered the time a super quiet little girl came and informed me that I had copied the homework wrong and it had the same activity on both sides. I called the class and informed them. Why didn't I empower the sweet girl who made the discovery to tell the class?

I thought about the times that the class gets to noisy and kids start Shhhhing. Wouldn't it be more effective if they called the class and encouraged them to lower their volume?

What about the time when a struggling math student discovered the distributive property BEFORE I taught it? I called the class and shared his strategy. I complimented him and gave him credit. But wouldn't it have been more meaningful if I had encouraged him to call the class and share?

I decided to be crazy and I WILL empower my kids to use the attention getter this coming year. I just need to train them well and reward positive uses of the privilege. Wish me luck!

Thank goodness the next section of the chapter was less frightening! Solarz talks a bit about furniture that promotes collaboration. The good news is that you don't need anything fancy! All you really need is a table or two and desks that are placed in groups. I have that!


Solarz also writes about letting his students work anywhere that they are comfortable. I am fairly good with this. During math and reading you will find kids on the floor, on the pillows, on stools, at the table and at desks. They can pick where to work for all of their centers except technology. I just don't think it would be safe to have our Chromebooks on the floor.


The area  that I need to get better with this is during writers' workshop. When I first started teaching, I was told that students must sit at desks when writing because the better posture will help their handwriting. So we have our mini lesson on the carpet and then I send them back to their desks to write. This tends to be the time where I have kids off task. I got to thinking...Am I more concerned about handwriting or creativity and productivity? Obviously I want them to WRITE! I am not as creative or engaged when I have to write sitting at my desk. I prefer to cuddle up on the couch. Maybe my kids will write better if they are comfortable! Light bulb! Next year, I will allow my kids to write anywhere they feel comfortable. I will only encourage them to sit in a desk when working on final drafts. Good compromise!

I use whole brain teaching in my classroom and students are constantly teaching and working with a partner. At the beginning of the year, I teach them to just use their shoulder partner. But soon, I will start calling the teach-okay when they are on the carpet or in a center rotation. They quickly learn to just work with whoever is closest.


I love how Solarz calls them responsibility partners. They are taught that they are responsible for one another. If one partner is off task, they are both responsible! So students are given some strategies to help keep their partners on task. Brilliant! I will be adding this component to my shoulder partners next year.

I loved this section! How many times does a kid come up to you and tattle? "Bob won't share." "Suzzy isn't helping."  I teach them the difference between tattling and reporting, but that only goes a little ways in stopping the whining. I want my students to learn to deal with conflict on their own because that is an essential life skill. (And if we are being honest- a lot of adults lack this important skill!)

Solarz's strategies are super simple:
  1. Rock-Paper-Scissors: This is perfect of those times when students argue over who should do what, what color they should use, etc. A simple round of paper-rock-scissors can solve these disputes. Obviously, they need training at the start of the year. I wonder how often they fight over whether someone cheated.... And will they purposely get into conflicts because they like to play paper-rock-scissors? We'll see!
  2. Compromise: Students mix their ideas to make one plan. 
  3. Choose Kind: This is my favorite! Sometimes you don't get your way! Do what the other person wants, because even though it wasn't your idea, it is still a good idea. 
I plan to teach these strategies at the start of the year. I will model them for students and then have students practice. When I see students using one of these strategies  to resolve conflict, I will be giving praise and positive reenforcement!

I made these posters to remind my students about the strategies they can use to solve their own differences. You can click on the picture to grab them for FREE!



While telling a story about how he teaches his students active and passive leadership, Solarz mentions that at the end of every day his students collaboratively write a class goal for the next day. WHAT?! That is brilliant! I really want to find a way to squeeze that in to our end of day routine! I am curious as to how you teach students to write goals. I feel like my third graders would just write things like "We will be good" or "We will be quieter." If anyone has any experience with this- please comment!






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