Easy to Manage Math Centers


I recently posted a picture on Instagram (@notsowimpyteacher) of my math centers organized and ready to use. I received dozens of questions and requests for a blog post about my math center rotations. I have blogged MANY times about math centers, but it is a topic that I am passionate about, so I am happy to share! Specifically, this post is going to focus on what my third graders mod during centers and how I manage and organize these tasks.

I have four math groups in my classroom. They are grouped by ability level. The groups are fluid and always changing based on the skill we are working on. I give an exit ticket every week or two and use the results from the exit ticket to plan my groups for the following week. Since the groups are always changing, I needed a simple way to show students which group they were in. I just laminated paper and hung them on a cabinet door. I use dry erase marker to write student names on the posters each week. (I don't have names written yet because we are just working on small group procedures right now.)


I only meet with two of my math groups per day. This allows me to have 30 minutes with each group, two times per week. This graphic shows you what my weekly schedule for math rotations looks like.



The meet with teacher center is the time where kiddos come to the back table and I am able to provide differentiated instruction based on the exit tickets. Some groups need a compete reteach with concrete manipulatives. Other groups are working in the pictorial or abstract stage and are solving problems on white boards. I often have a group that has mastered the skill and is ready to work with more challenging numbers. This is also the time where we work on our interactive notebooks. 


I have created notebooks for all of the big skills I teach. Many of the activities have differentiated options that are perfect for my small groups.


Interactive notebooks are done in small group because it gives me another chance to assess skills that we have been working on. I do not take an actual grade for notebooks. I sit and watch kids as they work on their activity. Kids who breeze right though the activity are excused to work on independent work or to play a game together. Then I can really hone in on students who are still struggling with the skill. I use a mastery check list to keep track.


If you want to read more about how I use interactive notebooks, read THIS post.


The independent center is a time where students are practicing skills that have already been taught during whole group and practiced in small group. This is also the center where I collect an assignment and grade it for the report card. I have always used a mix of task cards and constructed response math journal prompts. Last year, I found that some of my students were struggling with having multiple different assignments. So I worked over the summer to design math centers that combine hands-on sorts, word problems, math writing, task cards and high order thinking tasks into one recording book. Now my students are able to complete multiple types of activities but only have one book to keep track of and organize. 

Here ia a peak at the back to school centers that I am starting with for August. They review second grade skills.


The product includes ten different centers and I allow my students to do the centers in any order that they wish. I put each center in a zipper pencil pouch that I purchased at Walmart for a dollar.


All 10 of the pouches fit perfectly in this mini crate that I also got at Walmart for a dollar. Ten centers take up virtually no space at all in our classroom!


Recording books are passed out on the first day of the month and due no later than the last day of the month. My intervention kiddos will take all month. I like to peak at their books throughout the month to be sure they are on track. For some students, I will excuse them from a center or two. Other students will take less than a month (depending on the skill) and they will work on math menu tasks. These are creative tasks that require higher order thinking and extend their learning to real world application. My kids love doing them!


I have been pretty brave in the past year and have been sending the recording books and the answer key home with a trustworthy parent to grade. Saves me lots of time! 

I currently have these centers made for Back to School, Place Value and Multiplication. All of the other big third grade  skills are coming soon!

I am blessed to have eight chrome books in my classroom. My students use them to complete i-Ready lessons during centers. I-ready is a program that our school has purchased. Students are given a  diagnostic test and then assigned lessons based on their needs. They complete these lessons independently, but I can log in and see their progress and/or assign them lessons. 



I have done many different things with my math fact center. Last year, students played math fact games. They really enjoyed that! This year I am trying something different because I want to shift the focus from fact memorization to mental math strategies. 

I purchased this product from Shelly Gray.


It does require A LOT of copying and prep. But now that my center is ready to go, I am pretty excited!

Students have a tracking sheet and work through each of the folder activities. Each folder focuses on a different strategy. There are also a few activities that require task cards. I placed the different sets in pencil pouches and in the mini crate.


We will do addition first quarter and then switch operations each quarter. I have never used this before so I will keep you updated about how it works for my kiddos!

I hope that this helps you to see how I manage my math centers! 


5 Back to school Books for Third Grade


I started back to school last week and one of my favorite things to do with my new kiddos is to READ! A lot of teachers read The First Day Jitters, Chysanthymum and Juice Box Bully. They are all fantastic books, but by the third grade, most of my kiddos have already heard those books 2-3 times. I want to share some new and fresh books with them so that they will get excited about all of the read alouds we will share during the year. Here are five books that I read to my third graders this year.


Peanut Butter and Cupcake is a MUST! It is a new book and it is just adorable! My kids laughed over and over. Plus, the illustrations are more like photographs and they are beautiful. The basic story is that Peanut Butter is new and wants to make friends. He asks Hamburger to play with him, but he is too busy walking his hot dogs. He asks meatball to play with him but he is busy with spaghetti. This goes on with several different food pairs until Peanut Butter finds Jelly and they have a great time playing together. They are having so much fun playing together that everyone else comes to join them. It is a great story about how people can come together even if they are very different.


Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun will have your kids hooked from the moment they hear the title! This is book about not being afraid to be yourself. The girl in the book loves to eat spaghetti in hot dog buns and is embarrassed about that. Throughout the story she gets stronger and learns the importance of being unique. It is a great lesson about appreciating the difference that each classmate brings to the team.


Enemy Pie is a funny book that teaches kids how to become friends with someone that they think is their enemy. My kiddos get a great laugh out of this book and I am especially fond of the dad character.


There is nothing ordinary about The Exceptionally Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School! The new kid in school tells about his previous school where the school bus was a jeep pulled by animals. They ate worms for lunch in a school shaped like a castle. This book s very imaginative and perfect for easing the nervousness of the new kids to the school. The pictures look like cartoon spreads and my kids enjoying reading the book again after I have read it aloud just so they can read every conversation bubble!


I read so many chapter books to my students! How to be Cool in the Third Grade is always the first chapter book that we read together. Robbie is just starting third grade and his goal is to be cool. From the moment that his mom kisses him at the bus stop, his plan to be cool is challenged. The book helps kids to see that being cool is about more than the clothes you wear. This book has lots of laughs!

Do you have other special books that you like to read to your students when they come back to school?



{Week 1} BTS in a FLASH! Teacher Faves


I am so honored to be hosting this back to school blog link up with Layla from Fancy Free in 4th and Courtney from Ramona Recommends! They are a blast to work with and we have some awesome back to school photos and tips to share with you during the next four weeks!

The first week is all about Teacher Faves!


I just started back to school last week (GULP!), so I thought it would be fun to share four of my favorite back to school activities.


Save Fred:
My third graders had such a fun time with this simple activity. It got them talking with one another and working as a team from day one.

You will need plastic cups, 4 paper clips per group, gummy worms and gummy lifesavers.


Fred, the worm, was riding in his boat, the cup, when it tipped over. Fred is on top of the boat and he doesn't know how to swim. Lucky for him, he brought a life preserver, the lifesaver. The problem? The life preserver is stuck under the boat.

Students will work in groups to plan a way to get Fred inside the life preserver. They cannot touch the worm, the boat or the life preserver with their fingers. The only tools they can use to help are the four paperclips. I divided my students into groups of 4. First, they talked together about how they wanted to approach the task. When the group had a plan, they could begin their work. Throughout the task they were laughing, strategizing and working together. It warms my teacher heart to see all of this happening on the first day of school!


After they have completed the task, I had them write and illustrate about their strategy. The different groups shared with one another.

Spaghetti and Marshmallow Challenge:
My school used this activity as an icebreaker when we came back to school last year. It was a fun team competition that had students creatively working together.

You will need to give each group uncooked spaghetti noodles and large marshmallows. Each group should have about the same amount of supplies.


Students work in groups to see who can build the HIGHEST structure in the  specified amount of time. They can only use the spaghetti and the marshmallows. The winner is the team who has the highest structure when time is called. Many will build tall structures that fall before time is up.

One of my groups built a medium sized structure. Groups around them were building taller ones, but this group stopped. I came by and asked why they weren't building. They said that they figured the other towers would fall and they were taking their chances with the shorter by sturdier structure. Smart, right? They won!


Groups drew pictures of their creations and reflected on what they learned about building.

Everyone giggled a lot and it was a great time to talk about good sportsmanship and how games are played fairly in our classroom.
Toothpaste Tube Task:
Right from the beginning of the year, I want my students to be mindful of the words they choose to use with one another. They will be offering suggestions on writing and problem solving all year. We will spend countless hours working with partners or small groups. They need need to understand that words CAN indeed hurt.

Every group will need a tube of toothpaste, a spoon and a plate or tray. 

Have the group squirt all of the toothpaste out of the tube and on to the plate. They will think this is silly and you will get some giggles. I love giggles! 

Now tell the students that their task is to get every little bit of the toothpaste back into the tube before your timer goes off. They can only use their fingers and the spoon. EVERY BIT! 

Guess what? It's NOT possible! 

After kids have had an opportunity to try and time to wash (it's kind messy but your room will smell minty fresh!), have a class meeting. Read the book My Mouth is a Volcano and talk about how words are like the toothpaste. Once they come out, it is impossible to put them back in. You could get some of the paste back in the tube, but their was still a mess. You can apologize for your words, but you can't erase the memory or the pain they caused another person.

Students go back to their seats and reflect on this lesson.

Play Doh Creations:
I used this as the very first thing students did when they walked into the classroom on the first day of school. I wanted to set the tone from the start that our classroom would be different and fun. So when students got to there desks, they found a small container of Play Doh. They were told that they could work alone or work with each other to create ANYTHING they wanted to. The only rule was that the Play Doh had to stay on a desk or table and not be on the carpet. Some kids chose to work together so they had more doh and multiple colors to build one creation. Other students preferred to work alone. 
While they were working, I was able to deal with paperwork, attendance and bags of supplies that were handed to me on the way in. This was a much better way to start our day than starting with a discussion of the class rules or where to put their supplies. There was time for all the logistics later! Fun first!

Would you like to grab  all of my planning/reflection sheets for FREE? Just click on the picture below to download.

Your turn! Blog about your teacher favorites. It can be ANYTHING! Favorite books, thing to bring in your lunch, shoes, office supplies, planner, games, etc. You can use this image (and the camera number images) in your post.

Be sure to link up with us and check out all of the other fabulous teacher faves that our blog buddies have written about!






Never Sharpen Another Pencil



I wrote this post for the iTeach Third blog! Make sure you are following!

Let's be honest, pencils are a constant battle in the classroom! I decided early on that students would not be permitted to sharpen pencils in my classroom. I did this for several reasons: I find the sound to be a HUGE distraction to myself and my students. Certain students seem to NEED to sharpen their pencil all the time and I don't have time to police it. And, pencil sharpeners can be expensive and I have had at least one break every year. I also decided that I didn't want to allow the small hand-held sharpeners in my students' desks. Let's be real- they ALWAYS make a mess, no matter how much we talk about sharpening over the trash can!

Instead of students sharpening pencils, I decided that I would sharpen the pencils. So I set out two cans: sharp and not sharp. I filled the can with new pencils and felt like I had solved the pencil problem. Then, halfway through the day, I hear "Mrs. Sears, the sharp pencils are gone." How can that be?!!! I sharpened like 100 of those bad boys last night! But sure enough, the "not sharp" can is overflowing with both sharp and not sharp pencils. Sigh.

My next plan was to have volunteers sharpen the pencils in the workroom. So I set out a huge bag of pencils with a note that said "Please sharpen :-)" The note and the pencils sat there for weeks. I kid you not. WEEKS. Apparently, volunteers don't like sharpening germ infested pencils either. Darn.

I got SOOO fed up...and that is when an idea came to me. An idea that solved all my pencil woes. And it is so simple that I nearly slapped myself for not thinking of it sooner. I gave all of my kids a MECHANICAL pencil!


I LOVE looking at this picture! Instead of looking at a can of pencils screaming "Stay late and sharpen me!" I am looking at pencils that say, "We are ready for tomorrow."

Now I can already hear some of you, "But some kids just can't use mechanical pencils." And you are correct. Some kids cannot. This is my second year using mechanical pencils and I have one kids who cannot use a mechanical pencil. So I have to keep yellow pencils for him. I coerce beg a parent to sharpen a dozen pencils every month or so. Much better than hundreds of pencils a day, don't ya think? The key is to give proper training and procedures.

Some of my Rules:
-Students must put their mechanical pencil back in the pencil block at the end of each day. This allows me to quickly do an inventory or add lead when necessary.

-Students are issued a pencil at the beginning of the year and again after winter break. If you break or lose your pencil in between, you have to use yellow pencils or buy a new one from the class store for a hefty price. (It helps that I put their student number on the pencils with sharpie.)

-You can only use the mechanical pencils that I provide for you. The reason I do this is because I get a separate brand of pencils for myself and the small group table. I can easily tell if a kiddo has walked off with one of MY pencils. It also forces them to be more careful.

-I will only replace lead once per month. If you run out before that time, you will have to buy lead from me for a hefty fine. (I give them enough lead to last a month as long as they are not playing with the lead. This year, I asked parents for lead donations.)

Storage:
I am loving the pencil block that my husband made for me! It is just a block of wood with holes drilled into the top. I numbered the holes so that it is easy for me to see what pencils are missing. I added some letter stickers to the front and now it is cute and functional.




I have used my mechanical pencils for a little over a year now. I have only had one student who couldn't use the mechanical pencil (they pushed way too hard) and two students who lost their pencil. I spend about $5-$8 per year on pencils and zero time sharpening! Never going back!


Monday Made It: Open House Gifts and Back to School Party


Today is my open house! We are a semi year round school so our summers are a bit short. Today I meet my new students and their parents. They will bring supplies and fill out paperwork. I wanted to have a small gift for my new students. I was adamant that it NOT be candy and I wanted it to match my sports theme classroom. I like to call our open house, a Kick Off Party. I decided to put together goodie bags with a muffin, juice box, playing cards and directions for a math game.

I wrapped the juice boxes in brown construction paper and then used a white out roller to make the football lace lines. So simple!


I baked blueberry muffins and put them in clear plastic cups. The cups will keep them from getting squished. I also put a football pick in the top of each one. I found the picks at Party City.


I purchased playing cards from Dollar Tree. You get two sets for a dollar and I had a 10% off coupon from their website.


I designed a small card with directions for playing Addition War. I printed, laminated and attached it to the front of the card pack with a glue dot.


I thought that Addition War would be perfect practice for a beginning of the year third grader. I plan to teach them Multiplication War later in the year and they will have cards at home already! You can print my game direction cards for FREE by clicking HERE.


These are the three goodies my students will receive.


I got some football goodie bags at Party City and made a bag for each kiddo.


I am ready for open house! I will blog more about it later this week.

Friday was my birthday. I was in meetings and training all day. I didn't want to make a big to do about my birthday with my coworkers. Instead, I invited them all over to my house for a Back to School Teacher Bash! I invited them through Facebook, so the invite is a banner for the Facebook event invitation.


Did you catch the ABC? I thought I was so clever. Not sure anyone else did though! The apples, by the way, referred to apple martinis! 


The party decor was all school themed and all purchased at the Target Dollar Spot.


My husband was sweet enough to make all of the food while we were at school! He barbecued burgers, made macaroni salad, fruit salad and baked beans. He also baked these adorable cupcakes and frosted them like apples!


I love the clips and chalk board tags from Target. I used them to label all the food. Just in case someone could not figure out that this was a basket of chips.


A party just isn't a party without a game and prizes!


My coworkers loved the classroom decor, Starbucks gift card, TpT gift card and reams of copy paper. We are such simple folk!

I wish I had remembered to take pictures of us during the party, but I guess I was too busy enjoying myself! It was fun to have time to just talk and let our kids play in the pool. I think this will become a new tradition. 

Anyone else in full back to school mode yet?

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