Saturday, June 30, 2012

Math + Literacy = Connections

I'd like to welcome Lorraine Vasquez from the Fabulous Fourth Grade Froggies blog! She's my guest blogger in the Top Teachers' Blog Hop and Swap today. I'm blogging for Mor Edri-Zrihen at A Teacher's Treasure. After you read Lorraine's blog post, hop over to Mor's blog and read mine! ~ Laura

Math + Literacy = Connections

We all know how important it is for a student to see the connection between what they learn in school and their everyday life.  Sometimes students have a hard time seeing these connections.  I personally think it should be easy for our students to see math in our everyday lives but I'm apparently wrong.  I asked my students to write down all the ways their family uses math at home. Most students wrote when cooking you use measurement but that was about it.  Can you believe it?  I was blown away by this response.  I was expecting a whole lot more since I have a pretty bright class. 

To help my kids make more "math connections" I read the book Math Curse by Jon Scieszka.  My students loved the book and even better, I heard a lot of, "Oh yeah", "Duh, that is math too", "I didn't think about that as math", etc.  {Click on the picture below to read more about the book}
We had a great discussion after reading the book and talked about ways we use math in school (besides during math time) and at home.   Students love to read the book on their own or with a friend as well. 
One place in the classroom where we see math connecting to real life situations is in word problems!  My students (like most students) love to see their names in word problems.  As one of my students said, "I feel famous when my name is in our math assignment".  I even include my name in word problems too....... It kinda does feel like you're famous.  LOL!   Even if the word problems are from a book or our district curriculum it only takes a few minutes to retype the names or situations to meet my students lives.

Word problems can be fun but they also can be very difficult especially for those students who have reading comprehension problems.  In my classroom we act as if we are detectives when trying to solve word problems.  We use this four step scaffold I made to help us solve all word problems. 
Here are the steps we use, but once you download the scaffold {by clicking here or the pic above} for yourself, you will also see the "substeps" that are even more specific and will guide your students to successful problem solving.
                                            Step 1: Understand the Problem
                                            Step 2: Come up with a Plan
                                            Step 3: Carry out your Plan
                                            Step 4: Look back/Check

If you use this scaffold, or what we like to call our problem solving map, frequently enough the steps become second hand to the students.  Hopefully you will see a positive change with your students in problem solving once you give this a try.

A great big frogilicious THANK YOU to Laura Candler for participating in the Top Teachers' Blog Swap and Hop. I feel honored and privileged to be chosen to share my thoughts right here on her blog.  My name is Lorraine Vasquez and I teach 4th grade in South Texas.  I love being an educator and sharing my love of learning with my students.  I invite you to hop over to my blog, Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies, and learn a little bit more about me and the 'hoppenings' in my classroom.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Facebook 50,000 Celebration!

Over $2000 in Prizes!

When I first started my Teaching Resources Facebook page, I had no idea how much I would enjoy it or how much it would grow! I could never have imagined having 50,000 fans, but that number will be reached soon! Holy Moly! I just couldn't let that milestone pass without celebrating! I'm so grateful for the support and help I've received from my fans through the years, and I want to give something back. I've put together an exciting giveaway, and a number of sponsors have joined with me to bring you some great prizes worth over $2000 in all! Be sure to visit the sponsors' web pages and Facebook pages to thank them for their support. Thanks again for your tremendous support through the years!

Everyone Wins: Classroom Goal Setting
Donated by Teaching Resources (Me!)

Everyone who enters the contest will win a copy of my Classroom Goal Setting ebook! It's a great one to start the year, and it's special to me because it's the first ebook that I ever wrote and sold! I'll send this out to each and every person who completes the giveaway form below. (Note: You will receive your copy on June 23rd or June 24th. If you have not received it by the 25th, check your email filters and then email using the email address you entered in the contest.)

$2,000 Worth of  Prizes! 
Two Classroom and One School Site License
Donated by

Two Premium Classroom Licenses worth $50 each will be given away, along with one School Site License for up to 500 students worth $1000! I used VocabularySpellingCity in my classroom for years, and I loved the program. Any teacher would be thrilled to win a classroom license, but someone will also win a school site license! Visit the VocabularySpellingCity Facebook page and thank them for their donation!

Five $50 Gift Certificates to
Donated by Laura Candler, Teaching Resources

I'll be giving away 5 gift certificates to Yes, I do have a store on TeachersPayTeachers, but, no, you don't have to spend them on my materials! I just thought that gift certificates to TpT would be something that any teacher would love to have! Five teachers will be selected to each win one of these gift certificates.

$100 DonorsChoose Gift Card
Donated by

If you follow my blog, you know that I love! This non-profit organization helps public school teachers in the US find funding for their classroom projects. One person will receive a gift card worth $100 to apply to their project or someone else's. If you would like more information about how to put together a great DonorsChoose proposal, watch my webinar entitled, How to Fund Your Classroom Projects. Like the DonorsChoose Facebook page to keep up with the DC news!

Classroom Set of Dry Erase Boards and Markers worth $200
Donated by Kleenslate Concepts

How would I teach without a classroom set of individual dry erase boards? I know I wouldn't be nearly as effective and my students wouldn't be nearly as engaged. That's why I was excited when Julia Rhodes, founder of Kleenslate Concepts, donated an entire classroom set of dry erase boards and special markers to my giveaway! They are also throwing in a set of board surface replacements! Visit the Kleenslate Concepts Facebook page to thank them for contributing this awesome prize!

$60 Intermediate Numeracy Centers Pack
Donated by Really Good Stuff

Do you order materials from Really Good Stuff? When I was in the classroom, I always enjoyed browsing through the great teaching materials in their catalog. The items were so unique and designed exactly as a teacher would want them to be. I found myself thinking, "Boy, this is some really good stuff!" Then I would laugh because that's exactly what the company is called! I was excited when they offered to donate this Intermediate Numeracy Centers Pack to the giveaway. Please like the Really Good Stuff Facebook page and let them know you appreciate their donation!

$275 Classroom Subscription to BrainPOP
Donated by

One of the most amazing educational sites I discovered as a teacher was BrainPOP. If you don't know about it, you need to watch just one of their free videos and you'll be hooked! The videos are short and to the point, and the cartoon characters Tim and Moby are able to explain the most complex concepts easily. These videos provide a great springboard to discussion. I first discovered the website when I was looking for an appropriate way to explain the events of 911 to my students. Someone recommended their free video about this, and I've loved the site ever since. I was thrilled when they offered to donate a classroom subscription to BrainPOP or BrainPOP Jr, or you can choose the combo pack that has both of them. Awesome! Be sure to visit them on Facebook and like their page!

$50 Gift Card to
Donated by Brigantine Media

Brigantine Media is my publisher, and their Compass Books division brought you Power Reading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide and Graphic Organizers for Reading: Teaching Tools Aligned with the Common Core. They have donated a $50 gift card to my Facebook Celebration. Who wouldn't want to win $50 to spend on If you win it, you can treat yourself to something nice, and it doesn't even have to be educational!

$50 Member-Sponsored Spot in the Newsletter
Donated by

Are you wondering, "What's a member-sponsored spot in the TpT newsletter?" If so, don't worry! If you win this prize, you can choose to receive a $50 gift card to TpT instead! Basically, a member-sponsored spot is a small ad in the newsletter. Each week they send out a newsletter called 10 Free Downloads, and it also includes 4 small ads for items that are not free. Normally a seller has to pay to have an ad in one of those spots, but the winner of this prize will get one of those coveted spots for free. There's one small stipulation and that's that TpT must approve the item before it goes in the newsletter, and it must meet the regular quality guidelines for submission. If you win, I'll be happy to review your item before you submit it and help you make it "newsletter ready"! Be sure to visit and like the Facebook page!

Note: The giveaway is now closed. The 14 winners have been selected and have been sent notification by email. I'm on vacation now, but when I return on July 23rd I'll send out the prizes and I'll send everyone a copy of Classroom Goal Setting. Thanks for your patience!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

End of the Year Fun!

The end of the school year can be a grueling time when you fight your students every step of the way, or it can be a fun time when you create special memories together. The traditional advice is to keep following your regular routines, but I always found myself to be fighting a losing battle when I did that. My only hope was to engage them in activities that were a little different from the norm and make the last few days enjoyable for us all.

Last year on Teaching Resources, I outlined a dozen ways to keep kids active and engaged at the end of the year. Here they are in no particular order:  
  • Learning Centers
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Classroom Book Clubs
  • Welcome and Advice Letters
  • Class Scrapbooks
  • Class Newsletters
  • Fun Friday
  • Scrabble Tournaments
  • Outside Learning
  • Team Challenges
  • Ed Tech and Online Learning Games
  • Multimedia Projects
For more details about how to implement these strategies, read the full article, "Easy and Fun Activities to Wrap Up the School Year."

It goes without saying that if you plan to have your students do special activities at the end of the year, you need a great classroom management system in place. It's important to have a back-up plan, too. I highly recommend the Erase-a-Letter Strategy. In a nutshell, you write the word STOP on the board and cross off a letter each time you have to warn the class about their behavior. When they run out of letters, you stop the activity and switch to a back-up plan. You can read a full description of the Erase-a-Letter Strategy on Teaching Resources.

To find more ways to wrap up the end of the year, visit the End of the Year Link Up at Minds in Bloom! Each blog post included in the link up features freebies and strategies to make the end of the year fun and meaningful.

If you aren't out of school yet, I hope you find something here to make your last days less grueling and more fun. For those of you lucky enough to be out already, just pin this blog post to your End of the Year board on Pinterest to save it for next year!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Facing My Fear

Just a quick heads-up - my blog post today has nothing to do with education. Hopefully, you won't mind some non-educational rambling and some personal photos from time to time! I'm typing this from a hotel in Boone, NC. Yesterday my husband and I went for an awesome hike on Grandfather Mountain - but it was probably the most strenuous and scary hike that I've ever been on! Our daughter Amy will be attending Appalachian State University next fall and we traveled to Boone for her orientation. Since we love to hike, we decided it would be a great opportunity to hike as well.

Yesterday Marco and I drove to the top of Grandfather Mountain and set out for Calloway Peak, about 2.5 miles away. Little did we know that this "hike" would involve scrambling over boulders and climbing up ladders that were bolted into rock faces. If you've ever done much hiking, you'll know that most hikes are marked as easy, moderate, or strenuous. This one was marked strenuous, but after about 2 miles of hiking, I decided that there needs to be another difficulty level beyond strenuous - the word "treacherous" came to mind! Not only did you have to be in great shape to tackle this trail, but you had to be agile enough to climb over boulders and up wooden ladders such as this one.

It turned out to be a spectacular hike, and I've included a few pictures to show you what I mean. The rhododendrons were starting to bloom and the weather was perfect. However, the pictures don't really do it justice, nor do they convey just how scary this hike was for me.

You might be wondering why I titled this post, "Facing My Fear," so it's time to fess up. I'm afraid of heights, and this hike caused me to face that fear many times over. My dad and my husband are both rock climbers, but even when I'm roped in, I'm terrified on a rock face or anywhere close to the edge of a cliff. To climb up some of those ladders and walk across exposed areas of rock was an act of bravery for me! The trail actually had a safer option where you could bypass most of the ladders and rock faces, but you would also miss the spectacular views. I'm proud of myself for taking the scary route and facing my fear! 

But I have to be honest and admit that I haven't totally conquered my fear of heights. My knees will turn to jelly and my heart will pound the next time I do this hike, but that won't stop me from doing it again. Am I ready for anything more? Not yet. Next weekend my husband and daughters are going sky-diving for the first time ever. They asked if I wanted to go, too. Thankfully, I didn't have to decide because I have an important meeting that day and I can't miss it .... really. But if I hyperventilate at the thought of walking across an exposed rock face, I'm quite sure that I'm not ready to jump out of an airplane!