April 29, 2014

Math Problems - They're Hiding in Every Story!

Guest post by Susanna Westby

One of the challenges in teaching math effectively, especially as student get older, is finding ways to make it meaningful to their experience. Teachers who have heard students complain, "Why do I need to know this? I will never use it," will know what I mean!

One way to teach the relevance of math in an engaging way is to integrate your math and literature. Within every story there are math problems hiding - my job is to point them out and hopefully encourage students to find their own.

When working with younger students, I simply point out the math I found in the stories we read together, and invite them to help me solve each problem. This can be as simple or complex as you like, so long as it uses elements of the story.

Below are several examples that I've used with my class using both fiction and non-fiction.

The Three Little Pigs
We use fairy tales to introduce the concept of making math stories. For example, after reading the story of the Three Little Pigs, we explore basic operations using characters and events from the story. This is a great vehicle for meaningful math, but also encourages a closer reading of the story for details at the same time. After some examples, I invite students to find their own math connections.


  • If each little pig had one cookie, how many cookies would they have altogether? 1+1+1=3
  • If each little pig had 3 cookies, how many cookies would they have altogether? 3+3+3=9 or 3x3=9.

These equations could also be acted out with 3 students holding 3 paper cookies each. It’s a simple concept, but having students organize and “act out” the math problems is beneficial the goal of developing students’ overall math sense.

Here is an example of the recording sheet we use; student work is in red.

A copy of this recording sheet is available to download at the end of this post if you’d like to try it!

The Selfish Crocodile
Using the book The Selfish Crocodile by Michael Terry, we can explore concepts such as counting, doubling, graphing, sorting, and fractions.

Here are the problems my students generated from the picture below:

*Sort the animals below by characteristic and make a graph: animals with horns, animals with spots, animals that are grey, animals that have wings. For this lesson, watching students decide on the sorting characteristics was a great indicator of their understanding.

From the picture below:
  • How many teeth does the crocodile have on the top? How many on the bottom?
  • Add them together for the total: 32+32=64
  • How many teeth are cracked? 1/64
  • What fraction shows how many teeth are on top? 32/64 (or ½) or half are on top.

From the picture below:
  • How many animals are above the water?
  • How many would there be if there were TWICE as many above the water?
  • How many are below the water?
  • How many are half above and half below?
  • How many MORE are below the water than above? Draw pictures to prove your answer.

Deadly Creatures Dictionary
Using the non-fiction book Deadly Creatures Dictionary by Clint Twist, we found measurement questions to explore. We read that a dolphin is 8 feet long. Since we had just recently read a novel about dolphins, students were really interested to see what 8 feet looked like in real life. So, they worked together to measure with rulers and we cut out a life size dolphin. Then we used the dolphin for non-standard measurement, as seen in the photo at the top of this post.

Actual Size
Using the book, Actual Size by Steve Jenkins, we continued this idea of measurement and real-life sizes. (This book shows pictures that are the actual size of various creatures.) We measured the actual size of a giant squid's eyeball (12 inches), cut strings that length, and then recorded things around the room that were bigger, smaller, or the same size as a giant squid's eyeball!

Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed
Some stories lend themselves naturally to math equations. One example is called Ordinary Mary's Extraordinary Deed by Emily Pearson. This is about a girl who finds some blueberries and decides to leave them on the doorstep for a neighbor as an act of kindness. The neighbor is so pleased that she makes blueberry muffins for 5 people. Those 5 people are so pleased that they EACH do something nice for 5 more people, and the total number of people involved grows exponentially, as
illustrated in the chart below. We had a lot of fun keeping track of the people as the story went on, and older students could expand on this idea in all kinds of ways.

These are some of the advantages I’ve seen of integrating math and literature in the classroom:
  • It reinforces the idea that math is meaningful and useful in daily life.
  • It creates a habit of looking for math outside of math period, which means more practice outside of the classroom.
  • It’s a wonderful way to challenge your high-level thinkers to create and solve their own math problems.
  • It’s involves questions that are student-generated, which I find leads to more overall engagement.

I hope you'll give it a try the next time you read a story together. You might be surprised at how quickly and efficiently they can make those big connections; I certainly was! If you’d like to use my free recording sheet, just click on the image to download it.

A big thank you to Laura for the opportunity to share these ideas!

Susanna has been teaching primary grades for 20 years and loves sharing ideas with other teachers around the world. Please stop by to visit her at Whimsy Workshop Teaching for more teaching ideas, literacy sets, and teacher graphics!

April 27, 2014

Top 20 Tips for Landing a Teaching Job

Advice from Real Teachers

Are you seeking a teaching position for next year? If so, you’ll want to check out the responses to this week’s top question on the Teaching Resources Facebook page.

Each Wednesday at 8:30 pm EST, I post the Question Connection announcement and teachers ask questions to be shared with the fans of the page. Through the week, I choose a few to feature on Facebook each day, where you're invited to chime in with your advice. When I see a post that receives a large number of responses, I compile the best answers to create a helpful blog post.

This week’s top question is timely because many new graduates and current teachers are already actively searching for a teaching position for next fall.

Today's Question

Today’s question comes from Kristal, who writes “I am a new graduate filling out district applications. It seems to be difficult to get interviews. I am substitute teaching, but I would like suggestions on what else I can do to help myself get noticed by the districts?"

Over 100 people responded, and you can read all the suggestions on the original Facebook post. However, since most of you don’t have time to read all of the responses, I selected the top 20 responses to share with you here:
  1. Jamie Rickman: Try to enjoy where you are now. Be the absolute best sub you can be and you will stand out. You will get more and more subbing jobs which will lead to either a long term subbing job and/or a permanent position. In the meantime, I suggest you carry a small notebook (I did) as you sub and jot down great ideas you are lucky to learn along the way.
  2. Donna Pace: When you are subbing, do the very best job that you can do! Teach the class you are subbing if possible, grade any work that students complete, volunteer for extra duties, offer to help other teachers in the school, and leave detailed notes for the teacher you sub for. In other words, go above and beyond what is normally expected of a sub. The word will spread quickly by each teacher you have subbed for, and you will start to earn a good reputation. In addition, as teachers and administrators get to know you better, they will either try to hire you, or they will be more than willing to write you great recommendations. I, too, began my teaching career by substitute teaching, and the experience definitely helped make me a better classroom teacher when I landed my first teaching position. Good luck!
  3. Jenna Allen: I got a job right after I graduated with a "brochure" about myself in addition to my resume and cover letter. It was a snapshot of me, my philosophy and experience. Helped me stand out for sure.... At least that's what the admin said after I got hired.
  4. Tracy Lott: Volunteer on your off days and ask to "shadow" veteran teachers. Be clever with substitute business cards ("If you're planning ahead or you're in a 'Crunch,' call _____." Then staple a mini crunch bar to the card. Teachers love creative stuff like that!) Once you get an interview, send a thank you note to the principal and/or interviewing team afterward. Whatever you do, DON'T tell teachers there's a better way or this is what I learned in college. Save that for you to use in your own classroom....even if it is a better way. 
  5. Jenni DelVecchio: One thing I did was to send a thank you note for the interviews I did get. Thank you for interviewing me and if you would please pass on any notes of items in the interview upon which I could improve... that sort of thing. Never really got back any feedback, but the thank you note is always a nice touch.
  6. Lucas Werner-Salsbury: Know the protocol in the district you are applying. In our district, sending emails to principals, showing up to schools, etc. is frowned upon. Work any possible connections, ensure your cover letter is unique and your resume flawless. Best of luck!!!
  7. Karen Anne: I subbed for three years including a few long term sub positions. If you add just ONE thing, it could make a huge difference - business cards with your photo and quick credentials!! I always left them at the teacher's desk and left them with the secretaries as well.
  8. April Wolf: Build the relationships with the principals where you sub. If you apply for one of their positions and do not get an interview, be professional and go ask how you can personally grow and improve to stand out. This shows how professional, dedicated and determined you are to teach. Remember one principal not only knows the other principals in their district, but often knows principals in several districts.
  9. Kathy Wagner: Also - consider getting an endorsement or second teaching license. Schools love teachers with additional endorsement/licensure, they get more $ from the state. Endorsements are pretty easy to get, generally you either just take a test to add it or take couple of classes.
  10. Mauri Wilsie: Find the least desirable school in the district and sub there as much as you can. Be professional. Be an outstanding sub. Tell everyone how much you like the school and kids - be a breath of fresh air. When something comes up in the district it will most likely be at that school. You will be on the top of the list.
  11. Cheryl Ann: Sub and volunteer...get your face out there. When you sub, don't hide in the classroom during lunch and prep. Talk to teachers and see if you can assist them during your prep, unless the teacher has left something for you to do.
  12. Joan Howze: Send or hand deliver copies of your resume to all the principals, too! If you have letters of recommendation, attach copies for them to see. And a cover letter saying why you would like to work at each school (google info to help make it school specific). Good luck!
  13. Evelyn Cummings: First, don't give up. Send out letters introducing yourself. Make sure you have examples of your work in a portfolio. Yes, we look at them. The interview is key: know the school by doing your homework. Visit their website and let them know how impressed you are and that you can fit in. Most importantly, show enthusiasm and smile. Good luck!
  14. Amy Shook: Another thing you can include with your resume is a video of yourself teaching a lesson (if you have any from student teaching) so you are me than just what's on paper (include the lesson an for the video lesson as well) - you don't have to make dvd's for every application. Post it online somewhere and include a link on your resume!
  15. Tammy Sharpe: I moved from out of state and substituted then took a paraprofessional job. After being passed over for a couple of jobs, I went and introduced myself to the head of HR for our district and the superintendent. I just told them I wanted to let them put a face with a name so that when my application came across their desk, they would have an idea of who was applying. This opened up the conversation and allowed an informal interview situation. Very low pressure. I did dress nicely and put my best interview skills forward. Good luck.
  16. Rheana McCarley: Go to job placement/fairs events if the district offers them. I agree that you should hand deliver your resume or email directly to principals if it's impossible to hand deliver. Also, try charter and private schools.
  17. Tiffany France: Look for tutoring positions. In the game of high-states assessments a lot of schools will have academic tutors for the way below level students. We moved from Florida to Missouri last year and I found a tutoring position. They asked me to apply for a third grade teaching position for next year. I got the job.
  18. Christy Hackerott: I submitted my letters of recommendation along with my resume. I live in a college town where hundreds of teachers graduate and there would be over 300 applicants for one job. I did get several interviews that way. Also got a job! Good luck!
  19. Shannon Bonner: Know the hot topics in education and be able to converse about them in your interview. Educators love buzz words and references to current teaching theories and practices like Marzano or ESL, Common Core. Be knowledgeable about what you are applying for and what the particular school district is currently using. Also on your resume note what extracurricular activities you’re willing to help out with, I swear being a cheerleading coach gives me more license to do what I want because no one wants to have to take up that job. I also think word of mouth really helps getting your foot in the door. So subbing is a great start but also use any contact you have even if they are just an fb friend. There's no shame in asking for help, the worst they can say is no.
  20. Kathryn Rasinya-White: As a Principal, I can tell you do not ask to meet with the principal, we get tons of those requests and it is impossible to accommodate during our hectic days. The subs who stand out to me are those who work hard and take good direction from the teacher and try to learn from them, those who build relationships with the students and take pride in remembering their names, those who volunteer their time when help is needed for any task. Those who come in early and who are over prepared just in case. These are the things that will get you in, not a letter, or face time with a principal.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to answer this question. Your advice and experience is helpful to so many others.

If you would like to submit a teacher question, be sure to watch for the announcement on Wednesday evenings at 8:30 pm ET on the Teaching Resources Facebook page

Great Questions + Advice from Real Teachers = The Question Connection! Enjoy!

April 25, 2014

Mighty Math Tasks!

Guest post by Cassie Tabrizi

Several years ago I was lucky enough to attend a state-wide training on math tasks. When I entered the classroom on the first of four long training days, I thought we would just be talking about word problems or hands-on learning. I was blown away by what I got instead!

The presenters walked us through how our state wanted math tasks to be: open-ended, higher-level, and engaging. This idea fascinated me! Our state had recently adopted the Common Core State Standards, and the level of higher-order thinking skills needed to meet each standard is incredible. The tasks that were presented meant that our kids had to do all of the “heavy lifting” as they went through the mathematical process.

What does this mean exactly? Well, it means that all the math tasks I have created since that training are open ended. This was really hard for me to grasp at the beginning of the training. I thought “There is no way that my third graders are going to be able to estimate reasonable numbers to fit this problem!” However, I was surprised by how much they loved working through the process and figuring things out.

I had to first decide how to set up my math task time. I decided to do math tasks once a week with groups ranging from 2-4 students (I found that groups of 2 worked best!). The first two or three tasks that I gave them, we did as a class. We talked about math task procedures (this is a freedbie for you), and then went over the task. I showed them my thinking and had them help me solve the problem.

After that, we would briefly review the task procedures and then I let them work on a similar problem on their own. They usually had about 30-45 minutes to work. Each task I created had an extension at the bottom for early finishers. My students LOVED task day. It really helped get them involved in their learning and approach math in a whole new way!

Sleepover Treats
Let me give you an example of what I mean. This is a third grade task that I actually used in my classroom. You can get it here for your own use.

If you are like me, your first thought probably was “But we don’t even know how many kids were at the sleepover?” This is what is meant by opened ended. There are many ways to answer this question!

Each group has to reasonably estimate how many students would be at a sleepover party. 3? 6? 10? It really doesn’t matter what number the students come up with because the focus of these tasks is about the mathematical process. As long as the students do the math correctly, they can use any number they want.

Of course you will probably get the student that says “One million!”, thinking they are hilarious. When that happened to me, I let them try and figure it out using that number. They will learn really quickly that one million is a really hard number to work with in this problem and will change to a smaller number.

While the students were working, my teaching partner and I would walk around the room to scaffold where needed. We tried not to give too much information to help them along. Then, we would have a few students share what they had so far on the document camera. After sharing a few, my students would go back to work.

I would walk around and ask questions like: "Okay, explain to me what you are doing" or "Can you tell me more about this?" I tried not to praise too heavily (and the facilitators at our state training said to not praise at all!), because then the other groups think that there might be only one correct way of doing things. I couldn't just look and them and say nothing so I would respond with "I like your thinking here!" or "I really love how you showed me two different ways to solve this!"

These tasks were really great at getting my kids to become deep, independent thinkers. While it was scary for me at first to let go of the reigns, I am really glad that I did!

Cassie Tabrizi is a Teacher-Author who blogs at Create-abilities. She taught five years in 3rd grade and one year in 5th grade. She got her master’s in Instructional Design and loves using what she knows to make quality resources to use in the classroom. She creates products tied directly to the common core and then tries and tests them in her classroom.

April 23, 2014

Empowering Kids with Multiple Intelligence Theory

BAM Radio Podcast Interview
by Vicki Davis (The Cool Cat Teacher)

Do you follow Vicki Davis, the Cool Cat Teacher? As well as being an author, she maintains an awesome blog and shares amazing resources and information for teachers. I've been following her for years, so I was thrilled (and nervous!) when she asked to interview me about my free Multiple Intelligences survey.

I'm going to keep this blog post short so you'll have time to listen to the BAM Radio podcast that was created from our discussion. As Vicki and I explored this topic, I shared how learning about MI theory can impact students in a positive way by empowering them to focus on their strengths.

Getting to Know You Survey
To help my students learn about themselves, I developed a simple one-page, kid-friendly survey, and it worked so well in my classroom that I posted it on my website for others to use with their students. After you listen to the podcast, visit the Multiple Intelligences page on Teaching Resources where you'll find a link to this survey and additional resources about MI theory. Because the survey is a bit unusual, I recorded a slidecast that explains exactly how to administer it and score it; I hope you'll watch that video before you use the survey with your students.

Every Classroom Matters
By the way, this interview was a part of Vicki's series called Every Classroom Matters. She has recorded dozens of interviews with educators, and I urge you to visit her BAM Radio page to check them out. You'll also find her podcasts in the Itunes store - free of course! I appreciate Vicki taking time to talk with me about something that's been near and dear to my heart for many years. I hope you'll find these resources to be just as empowering with your students as I did with mine!

April 17, 2014

What to Do About ... Students Who Seek Attention

Advice from Real Teachers

Each Wednesday at 8:30 pm EST, I post a call for teacher questions on my Facebook page. I review the questions and choose a few to feature on Facebook each day, where you're invited to chime in with your advice. When I see a post that receives a large number of responses, I compile the best answers to create a helpful blog post. Doing that means your great advice doesn't get lost in Facebook land!

Today's Question

Today's question comes from Anne, who asks, “I have a second grade student who at this point in the year still interrupts class. He has the need to always be right and be heard constantly. The other children get very antsy when he starts up. Any thoughts?”

Many of you weighed in with really great answers, and I'm sharing some of the best below.

  1. Sonya Callaway Adamson: I have a few students in my class that are always eager to be the first to speak, answer, interrupt. I've found that they have the knowledge and want to share, or are bored because, "Hey, I already know this lets do something else." Sometimes they need movement and sitting isn't for them. Now I incorporate into my plans things they can help me with... One now sits at computer and clicks the mouse for me so I can teach and help those at the front of the room.
  2. Shara Rivers: When I was a kid I was like that....I got no attention and wanted so badly to feel important. I had one teacher that I will never forget. He made me the official writer on the board and always took time to talk to me. He was a light in a dark place in my childhood when I felt pushed aside by so many other teachers.
  3. Ben Phillips: Provide lots of opportunities within the lesson for kids to talk to each other. He sounds like a bright, eager learner to me although the behavior is problematic and annoying. Maybe if he gets to share with a partner he will blurt out less. His behavior in some way may be a signal that you are talking too much.
  4. Katie Johnson Abbott: Tell him to use a notebook to write down anything he wants to say to you. Then at the end of the day, review the notebook and give him a little attention. Probably the only reason he interrupts anyway.
  5. Jennifer Hinds Larsen: How about giving him a job where he is in charge of something important in the classroom during the day?
  6. Hollee Miller Morrow: I had a second grader who constantly interrupted my lessons this year. I started a system where I put a tally mark on the board when he would interrupt. When he got to 5, he knew there would be a consequence, one I knew would affect him. He rarely interrupts anymore. It's not fair to the rest of the class for one student to be garnering all the attention and taking away from the learning of others. Find out what motivates him and make the loss of that his consequence. You will be teaching him a life skill that will benefit him throughout his life. Also, tell him that when you notice he is not interrupting, you will call on him.
  7. Alder Aka-lee: It depends on why exactly he is needing all this attention, if it's coming from a need to feel special, I would try something like giving him a djembe drum, you do this and make it clear it is his and he is in charge of it but lay clear ground rules for when it is to be used, eg when applauding, if you need a drum roll, during music or at recess and lunch. It gets rid of allot of excess energy and makes him feel important. If you have trouble with other students asking why he gets it you can do a term by term rotation and hopefully a term will be enough to condition these behaviours. If interrupting or anything like that continues take it away and give to another student for a week or until misbehaving subsides. Good luck!
  8. Rose Treacy: I'm also a second grade teacher and have many students like this. With the most significant, I have put them on different behavior contracts based on their needs. For one he tallied on a sticky note on his desk each time he blurted out (I sometimes mimed making a line if he didn't do it independently) and we had a goal. If he met the goal he got a reward. I have another student who does a certain amount of work or time and then he can tell me one thing. It's been effective to decrease his random blurt outs. I also recently found a book called, Interrupting Chicken we are going to read it tomorrow as a class (first day back from spring break) and go over classroom expectations as a group. Another great book for interrupting is called My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook.
  9. Shimona Moloney: I had a pupil who constantly interrupted my lessons with off topic questions. I made 20 question tokens and explained to him that he had 20 tokens for the day and would need to give me a token if he wanted to ask the unrelated question. When he would raise his hand to ask a question I would remind him that he would need to give me a token and I would ask him if he really wanted to ask his question. Within 3 days he was down to 10 question tokens and within 2 weeks he only asked relevant questions and did not interrupt lessons any differently than the average child.
  10. Karen Johnny Martz: Ignore the urge to reinforce the negative behavior and reinforce the positive. Teach sign language to all your students that reflect a question, comment, answer, restroom, water, wait a minute, etc. As long as you continue to stop and focus on the behavior you want changed, it won't. Consistency and patience with yourself and your students, along with positive reinforcement will help them to know how to get acknowledgement.
  11. Sariah Gilstrap: I like to give a pad of Post-It notes to interrupters. I tell them to write down their exciting thoughts instead of interrupting the class (and we talk about how their behavior affects others) and that I'll read them all at the end of the day. It usually helps! If they start interrupting again, I redirect them to write it on a post it.
  12. Amanda McAllister: In my experience Whole Brain Teaching really helps with minimizing those students who call out all the time. It gives them the outlet they need in order to talk!
  13. Tanya Abbey: Do you have a time set aside each day where the children can ask questions about things that they are interested in that are off topic from what you are learning? Or a question time related to the topic you are teaching after you have done the planned lesson? Then instead of denying him the chance to ask questions you can remind him that he can save it for question time. Instead of being a problem, this child may be your best asset in keeping a 'question time' going that all of the kids can benefit from as it sounds like he doesn't really run out of questions. Then you can also see what the children are interested in finding out more about and extend on that in your lesson planning or find ways to use these interests to teach what you were planning on teaching.
  14. Katy Cole: Make sure you do not make your frustrations known to the students. They will absorb your feelings and shun the child. Teachers need to understand this and 99% do not realize the torment it has on children. Try giving the child an outlet for the talking like before or after a long lesson he can tell a joke. Give him jobs to do like keep tallies or make a chart.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to answer this question. Your advice and experience is helpful to so many others.

If you would like to submit a teacher question, be sure to watch for the announcement on Wednesday evenings at 8:30 pm ET on the Teaching Resources Facebook page

Great Questions + Advice from Real Teachers = The Question Connection! Enjoy!

April 15, 2014

Interactive Notebooks – Let’s Get Started!

Guest post from Valerie Young

I'm Valerie from All Students Can Shine and I'm here to tell you all about interactive notebooks!

I started using these in my classroom this year and I would have loved to have all my questions answered before I got started.

If you haven't given these a try yet, or if you would like to perfect your use of interactive notebooks, this post is for you!

What are Interactive Notebooks?

Interactive Notebooks (IN) are your students’ “go to” resource, where they can refer back to any concepts that have been taught in class. It’s a more interactive way to take notes!

As the year goes on, students add pages to their notebook and refer back to them when studying or when they need to review a concept and/or skill. They are basically building their own textbook as the year progresses.

IN are a great tool for teachers! They help us reflect on both our students’ learning styles and our own teaching and planning. They are a great way to analyze our students’ understanding of new concepts. In turn, we can use the knowledge that we gain from the IN to create, plan, and manage our small group instruction. We can also use this information to make accommodations and modifications for all students, not only those on individual learning plans. Observation during the IN process is a great time to take notes on students’ learning, questions that may arise, and skills that they may be struggling with. This helps with further planning and teaching.

Tips for Starting Your Students’ Interactive Notebooks

  • Have your students create and decorate their own covers to make the book their own.
  • Save the first few pages for the table of contents. Fill in those pages every time you add a new interactive activity to the book.
  • Ask your students to NUMBER their pages in order to be able to use their table of contents effectively.

When Do I Use IN In My Classroom?

It’s up to you! I suggest that you dedicate the same teaching period every week in order to stay on track. However, this may not work for you. If you are using the IN for math, you might want to have your students complete the page at the beginning of a unit. For example, the measurement page should be completed at the beginning of your measuring unit. This way, students can refer back to their notebook if needed. Remember, this is a tool that students should be using to clarify concepts.

How Much Time Does It Take?

That really depends on you, your class, and how much time you are willing to put into this. Start small and go from there. The more you students get familiar with using their notebooks, the easier it will get and the faster they will be with the cutting and gluing. If you spend lots of time teaching them the rules and procedures at the beginning of the year, the better they will be at it down the line.

The BEST Tip That I Ever Got Regarding IN?

Keep a pocket at the front of every student’s notebook!

This way, if they are not finished with an activity, they will have a place to store their loose pieces!

I always display a model of the page we are working on. This helps students by giving them a reference to look at when they are working on their page. It saves you time because you can now concentrate on more important things such as helping students with the writing component.

If the flaps are small and they are required to write under them, I suggest that they trace the flap once it is glued in their notebook. This way, their traced line will create a boundary for their writing.

When cutting and gluing, ask students to keep all their scraps ON THEIR DESK in order to avoid them looking for missing pieces that may accidentally make their way to the recycling bin!

What Do I Need To Get Started?

All you need is a simple copy book for each student! There are plenty of interactive notebooks available online. Just do a quick search on the web, or on Teachers Pay Teachers, and you are sure to find what you need!

Make Sure Your Students Are...

Proud of their work! That's what is most important!

If you students create something that they are proud of, they are more likely to use it as their "go to" resource!

I hope I have answered all your questions. Feel free to leave me comments or questions. I love to keep in touch!

If you like the notebook page that you see featured in this post, you can grab yourself a free copy HERE.

A big THANK YOU goes out to Laura for giving me the opportunity to guest blog!

Valerie Young teaches grade one in a small town north of Montreal, Canada. She's passionate about using technology in the classroom, as well as using teaching methods that involve movement and hands-on learning. She blogs at All Students Can Shine


April 12, 2014

Making the Most of Math Homework

A Bright Ideas Link Up Post

Is homework effective? Educators seem to be evenly split on this question. Some insist that homework is essential because students need to review and practice skills at home. Others argue that it's a waste of time and a burden on families, especially when some parents are not willing or able to help with homework. Even worse, some parents who genuinely want to help may teach the skill incorrectly, causing you to have to reteach it the next day.

Math Homework Tips
Personally, I feel that homework can be very effective, especially in math, if you keep these tips in mind:
  • Before assigning homework, make sure the majority of your students are at least somewhat proficient with the skill so they can experience success at home. 
  • Keep homework assignments short and to the point. Why assign 30 problems if all they need is 5?
  • Only assign homework to those who need it. If a student has mastered a skill with 100% accuracy, why should he or she have to do the homework? 
  • Only assign homework to those who will benefit from it. If they don't have a clue about how to complete the problems, homework on that skill is a waste of time. Furthermore, the resulting feelings of frustration can negatively impact the way students feel about math. Instead, differentiate the assignment by giving those students something easier or deferring the assignment until after they receive more help at school.
  • Consider the level of parent support and your students' home environments. If the majority of them will not be able to get help at home, and are more worried about where their next meal is coming from than the day's assignment, you may want to greatly reduce the homework load.
  • Rather than collecting homework and grading it, simply check off whether or not the student attempted ALL problems. Start each class period with a review and discussion of the previous day's work. Expect students to be able to explain HOW they solved their problems, and don't give them credit for the work if they can't explain it.

Quick Checks: Who Needs the Homework?

You might be wondering how to figure out which kids will benefit from the homework assignment. It's actually a pretty simple task if your students have dry erase boards. If they don't, you can substitute quarter sheets of scrap paper. At the end of each class, do a 5-minute Quick Check. This formative assessment will help you decide who gets what homework. 

Tell students that if they get 100% correct on the Quick Check,they won't have to do the math homework that night!

Here's how to do a Quick Check:
  1. Post four or five problems on a flip chart or on the board.
  2. Ask students to work the problems out on paper and transfer their answers to a dry erase board. If they are seated close together, have them put up barriers like notebooks or folders for privacy.
  3. Tell your students that they will have only ONE chance to show you their boards and try to earn their way out of the homework assignment. If they make even one careless error, they will have to complete the homework! Stick to your guns on this one!
  4. Ask students flip their dry erase boards face down when they are ready for you to check answers. 
  5. Walk around the room with a checklist, and quickly peek at each board. Write the score on the student's board and record it on your student checklist. Keep this list so you can refer to it the next day when checking off homework.
  6. Give your students a reasonable amount of time for the work, but there's no need to wait until all children finish. If it takes them a long time, they need more practice at home.
  7. After most students are finished, review the assignment and discuss each problem so students understand the ones they missed. 
  8. Post the homework assignment, and be sure the students who scored 100% know they are excused from doing the work. 
Benefits of Quick Checks
Quick Checks are tremendously motivating for students. They encourage kids to do their very best work by providing an incentive to eliminate careless errors. These short formative assessments keep you in touch with how the class as a whole is doing as well as how individual students are grasping the concept. Based on what you see on the boards, you may decide not to assign any homework at all because too many students are still struggling with the concept.

Someone once told me that the saying, "Practice makes perfect," isn't completely correct. If you practice something incorrectly, it's worse than not practicing at all! Only perfect practice makes perfect! To make the most of math homework, only assign it to those who will benefit from it, and expect your students to be able to justify their answers in your homework review session. 

More Bright Ideas!
This post is one of 150 Bright Ideas blog posts in a huge link up! Take a look at the terrific topics below and click any link for another bright idea! You can also find these posts on the Bright Ideas Pinterest board which has hundreds of fantastic posts!

If you liked these tips, please follow Corkboard Connections on BlogLovin to be sure you receive my posts and updates by email. You can also follow me on Facebook and at my TpT store where you'll find more free resources!

April 10, 2014

Solving the Hand Raising Problem

Advice from Real Teachers

Today I'm excited to introduce a brand new blog series called Advice from Real Teachers

Every Wednesday at 8:30 pm EST, I'll post a call for teacher questions on my Facebook page. I'll review the questions and choose a few to feature on Facebook each day, and you'll be invited to chime in with your advice. When I see a post that receives a large number of responses, I'll compile the best answers to create a helpful blog post. That way your great ideas won't get lost in Facebook land!

Today's Question
D'Anna asked for advice about how to handle students who raise their hands constantly while she's giving instructions. She can't deliver the lesson and asked for ideas for dealing with this situation.

There were so many great responses to D'Anna's question - 175 in all! It was tough narrowing it down to just a few, but here are 15 responses that I think you'll find helpful.
  1. Peggy Seals: I have 2 very anxious seventh grade students that used to do this. I solved the problem by giving them a sticky note privately when they come in and instructing them to write down their questions. If I did not answer their questions during my lecture time they could ask me privately after class. I told them their questions are important but it's also important to all the students to have uninterrupted time during the lecture. Worked like a charm!
  2. Betsy Page: I have 11th graders. I hold up 1 finger for them to wait a minute. If they blurt out, stop talking and VERY dramatically say, "If you have something that you think absolutely CANNOT wait until I finish, raise your right hand (brief pause for the half-dozen hands to go up) and place it firmly over your mouth." :D
  3. Beth Pearson: At the beginning of the year, I tell students when your hand is up, your brain is off. You are thinking about what you want to say or ask. I need you thinking about what I am saying. When they raise their hands, I say, "Hand up, brain off," and then go on with my lesson. You have to also train yourself to NOT answer or call on those students. If you do, the students won't believe you and will keep raising their hands. It all goes back to consistency.
  4. Erin Rainey: We have signals for "I have a connection (to the story or what someone said)" "I agree" "I disagree" and "I'm confused." It helps me instantly know whether I need to address their comment or not, and it helps them develop metacognitive skills to identify why on earth they are raising their hands to begin with.
  5. Sonia Freeburg Kunze: Give them sticky notes to write their questions on while you are doing direct instruction. When you are ready for questions, they won't forget them and sometimes the questions get answered before they can ask!
  6. Stephen Richardson: I used sign language. I used an 'h' to show that they needed help, an 'r' for restroom, a 't' if they wanted to tell/share something, and an 'a' if they wanted to give an answer to a question that had been asked. This let me have some idea of what the kids wanted.
  7. Tara Gann: I keep talking and push my hand in a downward angle to show them to put their hand down. They might not catch on at first but after a while they realize I am not going to answer their question while talking. It is an easy and polite way to handle the situation while not interrupting the lesson.
  8. Sandra Revie: Proactively I read My Mouth is a Volcano (Julia Cook) and then I teach that if they are thinking about something they want to say, asking a ton of questions, or blurting they are not getting all they can get from a lesson because their brains are not focused on what I am teaching. Most of my students get that. However, for the few that do not (and those who just love to interrupt), I give them 2 craft sticks per lesson. That gives them 2 questions, interruptions, or connections per lesson. They have to hand me one to speak. When they're gone so are their chances to speak during the lesson.
  9. Lindsey Bingley: I teach 4th grade and I give my kids a "blurt" book, a small notebook to write down their thoughts and questions in, so that they don't forget them and can wait until the right time to ask questions or make a connection.
  10. Matthew Arrua: Use a ruler and tape a red circle and a green circle to either side. Tell them that they cannot ask questions while the red light is up. It allows for thinking time. Works great.
  11. Clare Coynel: Give pupils a minute at the end to talk in pairs or trios about what they've learned and what the follow up task is, so they learn to support one another and don't rely on me all the time. Also helps kids who find it hard to remember a lot of info/instructions if they know they'll have peer support without it being obvious to the teacher every time that they're unsure.
  12. Jennifer Gil: Say, "if you're going to tell a story about something, there is not time for that right now." You'll see the hands drop like flies. Follow it up with, "If you have a question, you can still ask it."
  13. Megan Holt: Question flags ... you get a certain number per lesson so save them ... when you want to ask a question you hold up your flag and it is taken away as your question is answered.
  14. Lynne Nowicki: Remember that while your instruction and information is important, students do best when the learning is student directed. Maybe if you are being interrupted a lot, you should consider a way for the students to be involved in the learning.
  15. Laura L. Letts-Wright: Have a parking lot. A place where students can post their questions that the teacher can answer later. Students can place sticky notes in a certain area, and have their questions answered by the end of class. If the question just cannot wait then the student can use a special signal to give the teacher. 
Thank you to everyone who took time to answer this question. Your suggestions are so helpful to other teachers such as Mary  who said:
I am so grateful for this question. I just graduated in May with my education degree and I've been subbing ever since, and I never even considered this. This happened to me today. A kid had a question which had absolutely nothing to do with what I was talking about. I'm thrilled somebody asked this question. Thank you, D'Anna.
And Melissa:
I love this page because as a student teacher I get to hear different situations that I have or could encounter in my classroom, and then all of these experienced teachers give great advice that have worked for them in their own classrooms. I enjoy reading these. Keep them up please! It helps me!! Thank you teachers!
If you would like to submit a teacher question, be sure to watch for the announcement on Wednesday evenings at 8 pm ET on the Teaching Resources Facebook page

Great Questions + Advice from Real Teachers = The Question Connection! Enjoy!

April 8, 2014

The Question Connection: Advice from Real Teachers

Got teacher questions? Ask and answer them on the Teaching Resources Facebook page because the best advice comes from real teachers!
Got Teacher Questions? 
Ask and Answer on Facebook!

Read this post to find out about the Question Connection, and then submit your question HERE.

When I first started teaching I was full of questions, and I continued to have questions when I tried new strategies or ran into difficulties. It used to be that we could only seek help from educators we knew personally, but thanks to the Internet, it's easy to ask hundreds or even thousands of teachers for advice!

Facebook is the place to collaborate and now more than ever, teachers are connecting in groups and on pages to help each other. Lately I've been posting Facebook requests for teacher questions and within an hour there will be dozens of questions asked. I repost one or two of the questions each day to all 560,000+ fans, and I'm always amazed at the spirit of collaboration as others jump in to help.

The Question Connection 
To make it easier for teachers to ask and answer questions, I started a regular feature called the Question Connection. To simplify the process, I created a Google Doc form where you can submit a question, and this is also the method to use if you want your question posted anonymously. I'll also post a reminder once a week on Facebook along with one of the Question Connection images on this page. Here's how to participate:
  1. Follow Teaching Resources - Visit my Teaching Resources Facebook page and be sure you have liked it. Then hover over the Like button at the top and be sure that the words "Get Notifications" and "See It First" are checked. If you don't take this step, you won't know when I've posted your question! 
  2. Ask a Question Now - If you have a question right now, click this Google Doc Form and fill it out. Provide details about your situation and grade level that will help others respond, but don't reveal too much personal information about your school or students. 
  3. Ask a Question Later - If you don't have a question right now, pin the image above to one of your Pinterest boards so you can return to this blog post later. Or if you see the Question Connection post on Facebook, you can ask your question in a comment under that post. 
  4. Answer a Question - You might not have any teacher questions of your own, but you might enjoy responding to one of the questions posted. If you can help, just use the reply feature and respond directly to the person asking the question. 
I'll regularly review the questions that are submitted, and I'll post the ones that seem most relevant to the followers of the page. Remember that I created the Teaching Resources page to support elementary educators, so I'll select questions that are relevant for that audience. Questions that go out to everyone often receive over 100 terrific responses! Follow me on Facebook and be sure to watch for your question to be shared!

Got teacher questions? Ask and answer them on the Teaching Resources Facebook page because the best advice comes from real teachers!

What to Ask
Feel free to ask about anything related to teaching or elementary education, but please don't ask something that you can easily Google yourself. Ask the types of questions you would ask a trusted colleague. Here are a few ideas to get  you started:
  • Share an upcoming lesson topic and ask others to recommend great resources and teaching ideas that have worked for them
  • Ask for advice about classroom management, parent communication, dealing with difficult situations at school, etc.
  • Ask how other teachers are using technology or specific websites
Responding to Questions
Got teacher questions? Ask and answer them on the Teaching Resources Facebook page because the best advice comes from real teachers! Questions are only one half of the Question Connection! We also need educators who are willing to answer questions and share ideas. Don't be shy about responding! When you read a question, think about your own teaching experiences to see if you can make a connection. Even if you're a new teacher, you've learned valuable information that can benefit others. Share successful teaching strategies, links to free resources, book recommendations, helpful advice, or best classroom practices. However, please refrain from self-promotion or providing links to teaching products.

Advice from Real Teachers
I love reading all of the responses to each question, and it concerns me that after a few days all of that great advice is lost in Facebook land, never to be found again. That's why I introduced a blog series called "Advice from Real Teachers." When I see a question that receives a massive number of responses, I'll select the top 10 or 15 comments to share here on Corkboard Connections.

If you ever feel hesitant to ask a question or respond with a suggestion, remember that your collaborative efforts benefit many, many other educators. Your question may spark a great discussion that leads to someone else learning a new strategy or discovering an amazing resource!

Great Questions + Advice from Real Teachers = The Question Connection! Enjoy!

April 1, 2014

Show What You Know!

What keeps cooperative learning from becoming chaotic? Structure, equal participation, and individual accountability! When all students are actively engaged, there's no time for misbehavior and learning is multiplied!

Individual dry erase boards are essential if you want to foster active engagement. One of my favorite cooperative learning activities involving dry erase boards is "Showdown." This strategy includes all of the elements that make cooperative learning lessons successful. It has a clear structure, students participate equally, and all team members are held individually accountable for their own work.

If you are a fan of Kagan Cooperative Learning you've probably heard of Showdown, but you might not know that I invented it! I developed this activity many years ago when I was writing Discovering Decimals Through Cooperative Learning. Having been thoroughly trained in Kagan strategies, I knew every structure inside and out. So I was baffled when a cooperative learning activity I was using in my classroom didn't fit any of the structure descriptions. I contacted Dr. Kagan and explained the steps of the activity. After we talked it over, he agreed that it was a brand new cooperative learning structure! He named it Showdown, which was perfect! In this activity, students record responses on individual dry erase boards, and when the Leader says, "Showdown!" they all display their boards to "show what they know."

Showdown Directions
Seat students in teams of three to five and give each person a dry erase board, eraser, and marker. You'll also need a set of problem cards or task cards for each group. Designate who will be the first Leader in each team. The basic directions are outlined below; printable directions can be found in all of my Showdown freebies and products on TpT.
  1. Stack the problem cards face down in the center of the team. (If the cards have answers on the backs, place them face up).
  2. The Leader reads the first problem aloud and places the card face up in the center of the team.
  3. Without talking, everyone (including the Leader) writes the answer on his or her own dry erase board.
  4. All students place their dry erase boards face down when finished.
  5. The Leader says “Showdown!”
  6. Flip over dry erase boards and show answers. Check the answer by looking on the back of the card, using a key, or referring to another source like a textbook. Discuss answers that are different and  celebrate correct answers. 
  7. If everyone had the correct answer, remove the card from the deck. If not, place it at the bottom to repeat later.
  8. Rotate Leaders clockwise for each round. Repeat as time allows.

Cooperation - Not Competition!
Have you noticed that I don't refer to Showdown as a game? That's because students are cooperating with each other, and there's no competition at all. No one scores  points for correct answers and no one is penalized for incorrect answers. Students are not allowed to talk while they are working in Step 3, but after the answer is revealed, they are encouraged to help anyone who had difficulty with the problem. 

Tips for Using Showdown
Showdown is a fast-paced, interactive, and fun way to review content and skills. However, it does have some limitations. Showdown is not designed for in-depth problem-solving or discussion; other cooperative learning strategies are more suited for critical and creative thinking. Showdown works best when team members are not too far apart in ability level, so you may want to reseat your students for the activity and provide each team with differentiated task cards. Students who need additional support may need an assistant or parent volunteer to provide help after each round.

Younger students may not be ready for the team Showdown directions above, but students of any age can participate in Class Showdown. In this variation, the teacher is the Leader and directs the entire activity. The task cards are displayed on an interactive whiteboard or with a document camera or overhead projector. It's a quick and easy method of informal assessment to help the teacher determine who understand the concepts being taught and who needs additional help.

Ready-to-Use Showdown Activities
Over the years I created dozens of sets of task cards for Showdown, and you can find them in many locations on my Teaching Resources website as well as in my TpT store.  

Showdown is excellent for math practice, and you'll find many free math task cards in my Math File Cabinet, including the Round and Compare Decimal Review Cards on the Decimal Files page. Just cut these cards apart, stack a set in the middle of each team, and you're ready to go. Nothing fancy ... but very effective!

Download this freebie from Teaching Resources.

Showdown is a great strategy for reviewing grammar skills, too. You'll find many Showdown task cards in my Language Arts File Cabinet including free Quotation Mark Task Cards and Subject and Predicate Task Cards. On that page you'll find a link to my newest Common Core Aligned product, Plural or Possessive? Task Cards and More! This complete digital resource includes lessons, tasks, cards and directions for Class Showdown as well as Team Showdown. Preview it online to see if it meets your needs. You can also download one or more sets of division task cards to use with Showdown.

Download Plural or Possessive? Task Cards and More! from my TpT store.

Download Division Task Cards from my TpT store.

Suggest a Task Card Set!
What sets of task cards do you need? Tell me what you want, and if I create that set and you are the first to offer the suggestion, I'll send it to you for free! Just complete this Google Doc form and let me know. If you have more than one idea, fill out the form once for each idea. Provide as much detail as possible about the types of questions or problems you want and include your grade level in your request.

Showdown Wrap Up
What do kids think of Showdown? They love it, of course! Technically it's not a game because there's no competition, but it's exciting and fast-paced so it feels like a game. With Showdown, there are no losers ... in fact, all students are winners because they are having fun while learning!