April 22, 2015

15 Super Gifts for Student Teachers!

Advice from Real Teachers Blog Series

Do you have a student teacher this semester? If so, you might be trying to think of the perfect gift idea! Will it be something that your student teacher will treasure for years? Or will it be something practical to help the teacher-to-be land a job or set up a new classroom?

Last week I asked the fans of my Teaching Resources Facebook page to share the best student teacher gifts they've given or received. Over 250 people responded, and even though there were some duplicates, there were over 150 unique ideas! I read through each and every one and selected 15 to share with you. The ideas below are not listed in any particular order. If you want to read them all, click over to this Facebook post to take a look.

The #1 Gift Idea... 
You know what was suggested over and over as the very best gift for a student teacher? A gift certificate to TeachersPayTeachers! What an awesome idea, and something that's sure to be appreciated! However, I also think it's nice to give something special that your student teacher can keep to remember as a reminder of his or her time with your class. I didn't include the TpT gift card idea as one of the 15 gifts below because it's something that can be added to any of these ideas.

15 Super Gift Ideas for Student Teachers
Read on to discover some truly amazing and creative gift ideas for student teachers! Which one is your favorite? Thanks to everyone who shared a suggestion, whether it ended up on this list or not.
  1. Beth Douglas - I give a teacher "survival" kit...a teacher bag of duct tape, m&ms, Tylenol, red pens, band aids, a coffee mug...all those things a teacher must have to survive!
  2. Amy Bell - Two years ago, my cooperative teacher sent home a letter to the students I had been teaching asking them to bring a little something that I might be able to use in a future classroom.  It was the sweetest thing because the kids were able to pick something for me and I started getting stuff for my classroom. She also had a few things for students who couldn't afford to bring something so they would feel included.  
  3. Tammy Eisenhauer - They threw me a book shower. Each student brought in a new or used book for my first classroom library. They also wrote notes to me on the inside covers. LOVE that I still have these books and precious memories in my class today.
  4. Shauna Isenhour - My cooperating teacher and class painted a chair for me with the kids handprints! I love it!
  5. Teresa Hernandez - When I was a student teacher, I received a gift that made me really teary eyed. A photo album put together by the teacher and parents of pics they had taken throughout the year of the kids (I was in some of the pictures). Each picture was personalized with a caption written by a student that was included in the picture, sharing a special thought or memory. It was very sweet.
  6. Connie Guth - My supporting teacher used the Ellison die cut machine and made me some holiday/seasonal decorations for my first classroom and laminated them!
  7. Vicki Neveils - I received a bag of goodies for teaching. It was amazing. But I also got a few "letters of recommendation" from some students explaining "If I were a principal, I would hire Mrs. Neveils because...." Such an awesome gift to add to my portfolio. They were very touching letters of recommendation.
  8. Neely Swygert - I was given a rolling cart full of supplies I would need: legal pads, pens, pencils, chocolate, nuts, ziplock bags, kleenex, highlighters, lysol wipes, and other awesome stuff.
  9. Rachel Honeybone - Last year when I finished my student teaching the teacher presented me with a book. In were a photo of each of the kids and a personal message from each. It was the sweetest gift I have ever received.
  10. Angela Pappas - Oh the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss! Have everyone sign the front! One of the most memorable gifts I ever received!
  11. Shelley Pace - I usually give them a tool set for the classroom. One of those things you don't know you need till you need it. I attach a note that says, "You have all the tools to be a great teacher. Here are the tools for all the other jobs."
  12. Delaney Lattimer - I got a cute book with " letters of reference." Each 2nd grade student wrote a letter of reference for me to take to an interview! It was fantastic!!!
  13. Candice Raines - My first mentor gave me a lamp on my last day with a sweet card to remind me that I may be the only light in some children's lives. I cried when I received it.
  14. Lisa VanderLugt - I used my Scholastic Bonus Points to "purchase" a box of books for my student teacher to start a classroom library. 10,437 bonus points goes a long way! I also gave him a copy of Teach Like a Champion and Harry Wong's -First Days of School.
  15. Sandra Revie - When I student taught I got a canvas bag with my name and year on it, plus it had each students' hand print on it. I also got a framed picture of me with each student and they made me a card they each signed. I look at the picture at the start of each new year and use the bag often!

If you'd like to share your own gift idea, please leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post. 

Do you have a question for me to ask my Facebook fans? If so, stop by the Teaching Resources Facebook page every Wednesday evening after 8:30 pm EST and look for the Question Connection status update. Post your question in a comment there, and I'll share the most relevant of these questions on the page throughout the week. Be sure you are following my Facebook page to see when your question is posted!

April 15, 2015

Motivate Students to Take Charge of Their Learning

No matter how much you love teaching, it's easy to get discouraged this time of year. There's so much left to do, and not enough time to get it all done. Spring fever always hits at the worst possible time - right before testing! How do you respond? If you're like me, your natural reaction is to push your students harder and harder academically, ignoring all signs of their resistance, until you reach the end of your rope!

When you get to this point, it's time to take a deep breath, calm down, and accept the fact that something has to change.

But what? And how can you turn things around and end the year strong?

Believe it or not, it IS possible to regain your enthusiasm and get your class back on track. But you need more than motivation... you need practical strategies and concrete action steps to take today. Angela Watson's newest book, Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day ... No Matter Whathas that and more! Every chapter is AMAZING, filled with wisdom, encouragement, and specific strategies to implement right away.

Angela Watson is the teacher who created The Cornerstone for Teachers website, and she's been sharing awesome resources with teachers for years. This is her 4th book, and it's just as inspirational as her others. I was excited to be invited to participate in a blog series that examines each chapter in Unshakeable, day by day. Today is Day 15, so I'll be sharing my insights about Chapter 15, "Motivate Students to Take Charge of Their Learning." You can find all 20 chapter reviews on her Unshakeable page, where you can also download a list of all 20 chapter titles.

Why Kids Need to Take Ownership of Learning
Reading Chapter 15 was a joy! Angela confirmed something it took me 20 years to figure out: when kids take ownership of their learning, they work harder, make greater academic gains, and ultimately discover the joy of learning for its own sake. Angela makes a case for motivating students by giving them choices whenever possible, and I agree. Student choice makes all the difference.

You might be thinking, "What? I'm the teacher! I'm the one who will be held accountable for what they learn or don't learn! I can't give them too many choices because I have a curriculum to teach!"

But stop and examine that thought. Yes, administrators will be holding your feet to the fire if your students don't make academic progress. But, ultimately, who will pay the biggest price? If your students don't learn the skills they need to survive in a world that's ever changing, THEY will feel the affects for the rest of their lives! When kids stumble through each school day like zombies, following directions but never asking questions or caring why they need to learn, they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of failure and missed opportunities. They need to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their own learning.

How To Motivate Kids to Take Ownership
So how can you cover everything in your curriculum, yet provide opportunities for student choice and ownership? Here's the key: You might not be able to let them choose WHAT to learn, but you can give them some choice in HOW they learn.

Easier said than done, right? Normally I would agree, but Angela makes it easier than you might imagine. Unshakeable includes loads of practical strategies for teaching kids how to take charge of the learning experience. Here are a few of the methods Angela shares to motivate students:  
  • Teach kids to use technology for both content consumption and content creation
  • Personalize learning with student-directed projects
  • Give self-assessments for students to reflect on their progress
  • Let your students help develop assessment rubrics so they understand how they are being graded
  • Conduct student-led conferences 
Each of these ideas is covered in Chapter 15 in great detail, with classroom examples and specific strategies. You'll find yourself jotting notes in the margins and filling the pages with sticky notes so you don't forget a single great idea!

Motivate Your Students to Motivate Yourself!
What does motivating your students have to do with YOUR own motivation, or lack of it? Remember how I said it took 20 years for me to discover the importance of kids taking charge of their learning? When I finally let go of the need to control every aspect of the learning process, I started to enjoyed teaching more than ever. I loved coming to school each day and learning right along with my students. Not surprisingly, these changes resulted in measurable academic growth for them, too!

Angela  sums it up really nicely, "Any topic instantly becomes more fun and meaningful for everyone involved when the kids are given some ownership of how they learn." When your students begin to ask thoughtful questions, make choices, and take an active role in the learning process, they blossom right before your eyes, and it's a joy to watch!

Angela is the creator of the Truth for Teachers podcast series, and she has a short podcast called How to Motivate Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning. You can download it for free from her website and listen to it on your way to work!

Where to Find Unshakeable
What if you're still going strong and you don't need motivation to finish out the year? You'll love Angela's book anyway! Reading it will reaffirm the best practices you're already using, and you'll learn new techniques to add to your bag of teaching tricks. You can get the Kindle or paperback edition of Unshakeable: 20 Ways to Enjoy Teaching Every Day... No Matter from Amazon.com or from Angela's website. Read a chapter a day and enjoy 20 days of inspiration!

Affiliate links are included in this post.

April 4, 2015

How to Recharge Mathematical Thinking

Why do so many students struggle with math word problems? Maybe they just don't know where to begin and get overwhelmed at the thought of tackling math problems. Often students lack experience with different types of problems and the strategies for solving them, so they feel defeated and give up before they get started.

What can we do to help our students overcome their word problem phobias? One strategy that worked for me was to give my students opportunities to talk over how they planned to solve word problems before I let them pick up their pencils to work on them. Not just once or twice, but over and over until they were able to build confidence as problem solvers. At first, some of my students didn't participate actively in those discussions. But eventually they jumped in with their own strategies, and they were so excited when their methods worked!

If you're skeptical, you might be thinking about discussions you've observed in the past. Often one student does all the problem solving, and everyone else writes down his or her answer. But these discussions don't really qualify as cooperative learning because group members are not participating equally.

Recharge & Write for Math Problem Solving (Freebie)
To address this situation, I developed a strategy called Recharge & Write to encourage active participation and provide accountability. The basic concept is that students alternate between team discussion and independent written response. They first discuss each problem as a group, but when it's time to solve the problem and write their answers, they aren't allowed to talk. This strategy ensures that they will become active participants in the problem-solving process rather than letting others do their thinking for them. I recorded this short video to show you how it works. Click here to download the free directions and "recharger" label shown in the video.

Advanced Preparation for Recharge & Write
This strategy is easy to implement, but you'll need to do a little advanced prep the first time you use it. Recharge & Write has two important components: a "Recharger" (pencil holder) for each team and a math problem solving worksheet for every student. Read on to find out how these two components work together to provide structure and accountability.

1. Rechargers (Holder for Pencils)
Each team needs a cup or can (the Recharger) to hold their pencils during the team discussions. When students are ready to write their answers, they take their pencils out of the Recharger and write without talking. The beauty of this method is that it keeps everyone honest and controls the flow of the activity. Pencils In = Talk It Over. Pencils Out = Write Without Talking. Simple!

If your students ask why the pencil holder is called a "recharger," explain that when the pencils are in the holder, your students are recharging their mathematical thinking by discussing how to solve each problem! To make a fun recharger out of a can like the one shown in the photo above, use this free label that's included in the Recharge & Write freebie. Wrap it around a clean can and secure it with tape or glue.

2. Math Problem Solving Worksheets (with Space To Show Work)
The other necessary element is a worksheet that has just three or four word problems and provides plenty of space to solve each problem and to illustrate the answers. It's essential that students show how they solve each problem. You can create your own worksheets, or use math word problem worksheets from the one of the ebooks in the Daily Math Puzzler series. The worksheets are divided into quadrants, and each section has one word problem, a line for the answer, and space to illustrate or explain the solution. Download these free samples from the bottom of the Daily Math Puzzler page.

How to Introduce Recharge & Write
Before you introduce this activity to your students, seat them in teams of three or four and place a Recharger in the center of each team. Give the students on each team a copy of the same problem solving worksheet. (Note: If your students differ greatly in ability, be sure to read my suggestions for differentiating instruction below). Ask each team to choose the first Leader or appoint the Leader yourself. Display the Recharge & Write directions and walk your class through the process, allowing time for discussion and writing. Remind them that they may only discuss the problem when all pencils are in the cup, and they should not solve the problem and reveal the answer in that step. After they pick up their pencils to work out the problem, they may not discuss the problem further unless all pencils go back in the cup.

Management Tip At first you may want to serve as the Leader and guide the whole class through the activity, stopping to allow time for discussion and writing. As your students are discussing the problems or writing, you can walk around and monitor their progress. Be on the alert for students who try to work ahead on problems before the rest of the team is ready. This is a natural error because most students are not used to this stop-and-start method of cooperative problem solving. Just remind them to follow the directions as described.

Calculator Use
Should you let your students use calculators during this activity? That might depend on whether or not your students will be expected to use them on state tests. If you do allow them to use calculators, be vigilant when requiring them to show HOW they solved each problem, preferably by illustrating the strategy in some way.

To Grade or Not to Grade? That is the Question!
Most cooperative learning activities are just for practice and really shouldn't be graded. In most cases you don't know whether everyone who participated understands the skill being practiced. However, Recharge & Write is a little different as long as you enforce the "no talking while writing" rule. After the discussion stage is over, everyone has to solve the problem independently and show their work, so I think it's fair to grade their work. Let your students know in advance if you plan to grade the assignment, and you may want to use a rubric that includes points for effort and participation.

Differentiating Instruction
If you have students performing on vastly different levels, you can imagine what will happen if you put them together on one team. The students who struggle in math are going to be extremely frustrated, and the advanced students will be bored. This is a recipe for hurt feelings and off-task behavior. To solve this problem, reseat your students for this activity and place them in teams of students with similar ability levels. Give each team a different worksheet based on their needs.

The four leveled ebooks in the Daily Math Puzzler series can make it really easy to differentiate Recharge & Write. The books are leveled from A to D, and the problems range from about 3rd grade to 6th grade. You can preview each ebook to see the problems for yourself, or you can use my free Problem Solving Assessment pack to help you determine the right level for each student.

Beyond Cooperative Learning
Allowing your students to discuss math problems before solving them will definitely recharge their mathematical thinking and help them become more confident problem solvers. There's no doubt that students benefit greatly from hearing how others tackle different types of problems. However, as soon as your students develop a little confidence, it's important to have them solve word problems independently from time to time. Guess what resource can help with this too? :-) You guessed it! The Daily Math Puzzler program is versatile enough to be used for both cooperative learning AND independent problem solving!

More Ways to Use Recharge & Write
Today I shared how to use this strategy with math problem solving, but Recharge & Write is a strategy I frequently used in social studies, science, and health, too. The directions are slightly different so I didn't include them in this post. I'm working on another freebie with those directions, and I'll share it soon. If you want to be notified when I post it, be sure you are following Corkboard Connections on BlogLovin.

I hope this strategy will recharge mathematical thinking in your classroom!

April 3, 2015

Using Grocery Flyers To Practice Math Skills

Guest post by Alyssa from Teaching in the Fast Lane.

Hello all!  I am excited to be guest posting here on Corkboard Connections. Today I’ll be sharing an easy, low prep way of reviewing multiple math concepts with grocery flyers.

If your mailbox looks anything like mine, it is overflowing with junk mail. One of the biggest culprits is grocery flyers. I receive weekly flyers from four different stores, and they really pile up in the recycling bin. I was staring at the pile one day, and an idea struck me. Real world problem solving was staring right back at me!

On my way to the classroom the next day, I grabbed a handful of flyers to give my idea a try. When small group math time came, I fired out a few questions to my students.
  • Have you seen these before?
  • What might you use them for?
  • What do you think we are going to do with them?
I asked the last question, because most of the time my students have better ideas than I do!

Getting Started with Grocery Flyer Math
My plan was to take these flyers and do a complete review of our math concepts from the year.

We started with each student choosing an item, cutting it out, then gluing it to an index card. On the index card we recorded the price in standard, word, and expanded form as well as drew a base ten model.

The next step was to take these items and compare them. We ordered them from least to greatest then placed them on a giant number line. We also converted our decimals into fractions, and that was just out first day!

More Math Concepts to Explore
I was so impressed with how engaged my students were by these grocery flyers, so I went home after that first day and thought about what else we could do.This is what I came up with:
  • Rounding—round the price of each item to find an estimate of the total bill. 
  • Adding and Subtracting Decimals—this is even more fun when you find a flyer that has coupons, because it is more authentic practice! 
  • Multiplying Decimals—for when you need more than one of an item or for adding tax to a purchase. 
  • Multi-Step Problem Solving—students create their own problems based on items and coupons then trade with a partner. 
  • Planning—find a recipe and plan a meal. Then figure out the cost of the items. 
  • Graphing and Data—use the prices or types of items as data to create tables, plots, or graphs. 
  • Measurement problem solving—decide what unit of measurement would be used for each item. Make a list of how much of each unit you want to buy. 
  • Geometry—identify any 3D shapes you can find.
Of course, this list is not all that you can do, but it should be a great start!

Alyssa is a fourth grade teacher who strives to reach every student through cooperative learning, novel experiences, and various teaching antics. She blogs at Teaching in the Fast Lane.