December 28, 2016

Join the Teachers Working Smarter Facebook Group

Have you heard the buzz lately about the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club? It's an amazing course that Angela Watson of the Cornerstone for Teachers blog developed to help teachers learn how to trim hours off their work weeks and achieve work/life balance.

Despite its title, the course isn't really about reducing your work week to just 40 hours, although some members do just that. It's about learning to use your time more productively so that you can get more done in less time, thereby reducing your work load and the number of hours you spend working.

How much would it be worth to you if you could trim 10 or more hours from your work week? 

Saving that much time might seem like an impossible goal, but surveys of 40 HTW Club members have shown that it's more than possible - its the norm!

In fact, club members trim an average of 11 hours from their work weeks!

Surveys show that teachers who enroll in the course reduce their work weeks from an average of 62 hours to 51 hours by the time they graduate from it! That's more than 500 hours a year!

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club isn't free, of course, but the resources you'll receive will far outweigh the cost of enrollment. It almost sounds too good to be true, so I wouldn't blame you if you were a bit skeptical.

Join the Teachers Working Smarter Facebook Group (Free!)
That's why I created a private Facebook group called Teachers Working Smarter. I wanted a place where teachers who are already in the 40 HTW Club could connect with those who are thinking of joining. Angela isn't a part of the group because I want members to be able to ask anything they want about the club. Whether you're a current club member or you're interested in learning more, I invite you to join!

To join the group, click over to this Google Doc sign up form and fill it out with your contact information. Then click the Join link in the Teachers Working Smarter Facebook group to request access. I still have to approve all requests, and I try to do that within 24 hours.

Remember how I asked what it would be worth if you could trim 10 or more hours from your workweek? Many would say that saving that much time would be PRICELESS!

You could use that time to start taking better care of yourself, as I wrote in New Year's Resolutions to Keep the Joy in Teaching.

You could also use those extra hours to spend more time with your family. Within a week of joining, one club member wrote that she was thrilled to finally able to eat dinner with her family instead of staying late at work every day. Another shared that she had not been able to attend her daughter's dance recitals until after enrolling in the course and learning how to use her time more productively!

How will YOU use the extra time you carve out for yourself? I look forward to reading YOUR success story in the Teachers Working Smarter Facebook Group!

Full disclosure: The links shared in this post are affiliate links, but I can assure you that I would never recommend anything to you that I didn't believe in 100%. I'm a member of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and it's absolutely amazing... and life-changing!

December 25, 2016

New Year's Resolutions That Will Keep the Joy in Teaching

Are you making any New Year's Resolutions? If you're like most people, you've identified at least a few goals to accomplish this year, and I'm guessing that improving your physical fitness and health is one of them.

But achieving that goal is going to take more than determination. It will take TIME, and that's something most teachers don't have! 

That's why I'm excited to share about an amazing program called the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club! Angela Watson developed this course to help teachers achieve work/life balance, which will free up TIME to achieve ALL of the important goals in your life!

I'll tell you more about the program later in this post, but first I want you to understand why it's so important to learn strategies that will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend working.

Let's get back to that goal of improving your physical fitness and health. When it comes right down to it, taking better care of yourself means taking time to do the things that will improve your overall health such as:
  • exercising every day 
  • shopping for and preparing healthy foods
  • getting more sleep
  • relaxing and doing something for ourselves each day 
However, most teachers are up at the crack of dawn and they're in their classrooms before most people roll out of bed! And a teacher's day doesn't end at 3 pm when the kids leave because there are meetings to attend, lessons to write, papers to grade, materials to prepare for the next day... need I say more? Then it's off to run errands, cook (or buy) dinner for the family, help their own children with homework, grade more papers, plan more lessons... only to fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day! Even weekends don't necessarily mean time off, because teachers often spend time on Saturday and/or Sunday planning lessons, grading papers, and reading professional books.

No wonder teachers find it almost impossible to take of themselves! They spend 95% of their day taking care of everyone else! When you add up the hours teachers spend at school or on schoolwork, the time can easily add up to 60, 70, or 80 hours a WEEK!

Remember that New Year's Resolution to get physically fit and healthy?

It's not gonna happen unless you deal with the REAL problem which is that your life is completely out of balance! You're spending too much time on schoolwork and not enough time on YOU!

Face it. There's no way you're going to find time to take care of yourself until you get a handle on your workload and learn to achieve work/balance.  

But wait... is that even possible? I didn't use to think so. I was convinced that I had to work 70 or 80 hours a week to get the job done, and I couldn't see any other option without sacrificing the quality of my work or shortchanging my students.

But I was wrong. It IS possible for teachers to achieve work/life balance!

November 8, 2016

Math Mindsets Matter: How Can Teachers Foster a Growth Mindset in Math?

Oh no! I've tumbled down into the rabbit hole of growth mindset research, never to be seen again! All kidding aside, the more I learn about growth mindset, the more fascinated I am with this topic, and the more I realize I have yet to learn.

But as fascinated as I am with growth mindset, I'm even more intrigued by the challenge of putting these research findings into practice. In other words...

How can we use the most current brain research to foster a growth mindset in our students... and in ourselves?

Mathematics is arguably the subject where mindset matters the most, especially when you consider how many adults have experienced math anxiety in the past. Take me, for instance. I always excelled in math, but I'll never forget the horrible experience I had with college calculus. I'll save that story for another time, but let me just say that it totally shredded my confidence about my ability to learn math!

Despite that experience (or maybe because of it), when I started teaching, I discovered that I have an aptitude for teaching math. I love breaking down complex math skills to make them easier for kids to understand, and I love using creative teaching methods to help all students succeed in math. Now that I'm no longer in the classroom, I enjoy presenting webinars where I can share these strategies with other educators.

Mind-blowing Brain Research About Mistakes and Mindsets 
During one of my recent math webinars, a teacher suggested that I read Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets. I had already been planning to develop a webinar about how to foster a growth mindset in math, so I ordered a copy right away. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to read it when it arrived so the book ended up buried on my desk until I noticed it yesterday.

Oh my goodness! Have you ever read a professional development book that was so compelling you wanted to talk about it with anyone who would listen? That's how I felt when I started reading Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching. I was hooked from the first page!

All I can say is the book is definitely living up to the premise of that very long title. I thought I had a good grasp on growth mindset research, but after reading just a few pages, I realized that I've barely scratched the surface of this topic.

For example, I knew that mistakes should be considered to be a sign of learning rather than as a sign of failure.

But I didn't know that when we make a mistake, our brain responds physically with increased electrical activity and actually grows a synapse! Neuroscientists discovered this by measuring this electrical brain activity in test subjects they observed while working. This brain response happens even when the person making the mistake doesn't consciously realize a mistake was made!

November 1, 2016

Investigating Condensation and the Water Cycle

Step-by-step Lesson and Free Printables 

Most kids are familiar with the terms precipitation, condensation, and evaporation, but very few of them really understand what those words mean. Just ask your students to name three examples of condensation in everyday life and watch their eyes glaze over. Huh??

Most kids understand that precipitation is a fancy word for different forms of water falling from the sky, like rain, snow, and sleet. Most kids also understand that evaporation is what happens when water "disappears" on a warm day, such as a puddle drying up. They know that evaporation means liquid water has become water vapor.

Condensation is a little harder to grasp. If you've taught your students that clouds form as a result of condensation, they may think that condensation only happens in the sky. Do they know that condensation happens all around us, every day? If they understand that water droplets on a cold glass are the result of condensation, where do they think the water comes from? Inside the glass?

Condensation Investigation

Here's a simple investigation that will help your students understand what condensation is, where it comes from, and where it happens in everyday life. The activity works well as an introduction to the water cycle or as a part of a lesson on states of matter. Because this is an exploratory activity, it's best not to provide too much background information before you begin.

October 29, 2016

5 Engaging Ways to Introduce New Content

Guest Blog Post by Rachael Parlett

Imagine that you are sitting in the movie theater waiting for the latest popular movie to begin. With the popcorn bucket on your lap and drink in hand, you are ready.

The lights dim, and the movie commences.  You begin to watch the opening scene and here’s what you hear: “Welcome to this movie. In this movie, you’ll meet a boy and girl. They are going to fall in love and live happily ever after.”

Um…what?  Talk about boring (not to mention a spoiler-alert)! Your interest as the viewer has flown right out the window and you’re beginning to wonder if it’s worth staying till the end. Chances are, it’s not.

Luckily, movies DON’T start that way. In fact, there’s usually a pretty epic scene to start out the movie in order to grab the viewer’s attention. Movie makers know that the first few minutes can make or break the movie. If they fail to peak the viewer’s interest in their opener, the viewer checks out.

Consider this: Your introduction to new content is like the start of an epic movie. And how you choose to introduce that new information can make it or break it.

Our students can be some of the toughest viewers and critics. If we present new information to our students like the above scenario, stating “today we are going to learn about…”, their attention vanishes and their minds begin to wonder if we are worth listening to.

While teachers aren’t trained movie producers, we can still use some tricks and strategies to grab our students’ attention and get them excited about the new information they are about to learn. Here are just a few of the ways that you can hook your learners right from the start.

October 19, 2016

Halloween Word Play - Seek & Spell Fun!

How much time do you spend each week on spelling instruction? If you’re an upper elementary teacher, the answer is probably “not enough.” While you might recognize the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics lessons, there’s just not enough time for true spelling instruction in the upper grades. This is unfortunate because upper elementary students still need lots of practice with spelling word patterns and the basic building blocks of large words, like roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Fortunately, there’s a fun activity for building spelling skills that your kids will love so much they won’t even realize it's a spelling assignment! In fact, they will BEG to play it!

Remember the word game where players try to make small words from the letters of a long word? It’s really simple, and most people can easily find a handful of words with very little effort. But in order to find a lot of words, you have to dig deeper and look for word patterns, word families, root words, verb forms, prefixes, suffixes, and so on. The more you play the game, the better you become at identifying these basic building blocks of language.

A few years ago I introduced this word game to my class as a fun holiday-themed activity. I created seasonal printables similar to the Halloween Seek & Spell freebie shown above, and each worksheet had the letters of a seasonal word or phrase printed in block letters at the bottom of the page. The directions required students to cut out the letters and physically move them around to form new words. Students worked for about 10 minutes on their own, and then I asked them to find a partner to check each other’s spelling and look for more words. Just for fun, I added a scoring system where students could earn points for correctly-spelled words. To prevent guessing, I also deducted points for words that were misspelled. Because I knew they would be able to find far more words than they could spell correctly, I encouraged them to use a spell-checker or dictionary look up any word they weren’t sure how to spell.

October 13, 2016

Making Connections with Pumpkin Seed Multiplication

When kids first learn about multiplication, it's an alien concept. The best way to help them understand what multiplication means is to use manipulatives, and to introduce multiplication as a shortcut for repeated addition.

Pumpkin Seed Multiplication is a fun, seasonal partner activity that uses unshelled pumpkin seeds to help kids make the connection between addition and multiplication. There are no Halloween images, so it's appropriate any time of the year, and especially during the fall.

You don't have to use actual pumpkin seeds for the activity; any small manipulatives will work, like dried beans, bingo chips, paper clips or base ten units. If you decide to use pumpkin seeds, you can purchase unshelled seeds at the grocery store or save the seeds from the pumpkin you carve for your Halloween jack-o-lantern. Wash them gently to remove the gooey strings and then dry them for a few days before using them in the activity.

Pumpkin Seed Multiplication includes directions for the teacher as well as student directions, the game board, and the number sentence cards. To introduce the game, pair each student with a partner and demonstrate how the activity works. Be sure to point out the connections between addition and multiplication as you demonstrate that the addition number sentences and the multiplication facts are two ways of representing the number of seeds on the pumpkins. After you model the activity with the whole class, you can use it in small groups or math centers.

You can download this Pumpkin Seed Multiplication freebie from my TpT store or from Seasonal page on Teaching Resources during October. For more free multiplication activities and resources, visit the Multiplication page in my math online file cabinet.

By the way, Pumpkin Seed Multiplication is a variation of the Fishbowl Multiplication lesson in my book Mastering Math Facts: Multiplication and Division. That activity is similar to this one, but it doesn't have a seasonal theme. Fishbowl Multiplication is just one of the many multiplication games and lessons in the book that will help your students develop a conceptual understanding of multiplication while also building speed and fluency with math facts. Fishbowl Multiplication is included in the free 43-page printable sampler of that book; visit the Mastering Math Facts page on Teaching Resources to download the entire packet!

October 7, 2016

The Great Chicago Fire: Free Upper Elementary Resources

"Late one night, when we were all in bed,
Old Mother Leary left a lantern in the shed,
And when the cow kicked it over,
she winked her eye and said,
'There'll be a HOT time
on the old town tonight.'

I remember having a wonderful time singing this song every summer in Girl Scout camp, and I never had a clue that it was anything more than a silly campfire song!

But last week when I was watching a video about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, I learned that this song was based on a local legend about how that fire started, and the story wasn't even true! Although the fire did start on the O'Leary property, there's no evidence that it was caused by a cow kicking over a lantern. In fact, the newspaperman who first wrote that story admitted that he made up the detail about the cow kicking over the lantern! Sadly, Mrs. O'Leary never got over the shame of having the great fire blamed on her family. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to sing that song with enthusiasm again!

The Great Chicago Fire Video
I shared that story because the legend about Mrs. O'Leary is just one of the fascinating facts I learned while watching the video, Lessons from History: The Great Chicago Fire.  I found the video on Sparky School House, a free site for educators hosted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that's chock full of resources for teaching kids about fire safety. The video is perfect for upper elementary students because it's just 7 minutes long and features an interview between Lauren Tarshis, the author of I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, and Casey Grant from the NFPA. Another bonus for teachers is that Sparky School House has a free Common Core aligned lesson plan to go along with the video. Teaching kids about the Great Chicago Fire is a terrific way to integrate fire safety and prevention into the social studies curriculum, too! The video is on the main page of Sparky School House, and the lesson plan is in the Digital Backpack section.

Historical Fiction and Informational Texts about the Great Chicago Fire 
I was so intrigued by the information that Lauren and Casey shared in the video about the fire that I immediately bought a copy of Lauren's book, I Survived the Great Chicago Fire. It's a terrific historical fiction novel for kids, and I really enjoyed reading it. I Survived the Great Chicago Fire is exciting, suspenseful, and full of details about the Chicago Fire. It would make a great read-aloud during Fire Prevention Month, and it would also be a terrific selection for literature circles. After I finished reading the book, I decided to look for an informational text to go along with this fiction selection. I was thrilled to find a Newbery Award title, The Great Fire, by Jim Murphy which will work well as a way for kids to verify the facts in the novel.

Great Chicago Fire Freebies for Upper Elementary Students
I have to tell you a little secret, and if you've been following my blog for a few years you won't be surprised at what I'm about to say. I LOVE creating free teaching resources to supplement children's books and videos! I especially love developing freebies for special events (like Fire Prevention Month) because I can have fun and let my creative juices flow! Watching Lessons from History: The Great Chicago Fire and reading I Survived the Great Chicago Fire was just the inspiration I needed to start creating some discussion cards, printables, and graphic organizers for upper elementary students.

Unfortunately, I have so many ideas to go with these resources that there's no way I can finish the whole freebie in time for Fire Prevention Week which is just a few days away. So I've decided to create a few printables at a time, and I'll add each resource to this post as I create it. After they're all finished, I'll bundle them together in one packet.

Great Chicago Fire Video Freebies
I decided to start with the free printables I planned to create for the video on Sparky School House  because you can use these activities right away without having to purchase a book. Click here to download this free packet of printables from my TpT store. The packet doesn't have directions, so I decided to share a few ways to use them right here on my blog. I'll add the directions to the packet after I finish all the printables and task cards.
  1. Fact or Fiction, is a "hook" to create interest in the topic. It has two title cards and 10 statements about the Great Chicago Fire. Five of the statements are true and five are false, but they are not in any particular order on the printable. Before you show the video, give each team one copy of the printable and have them cut apart the cards. They should clear space in the middle of the team and place the Fact and Fiction title cards at the top of the work area. Next, ask them to take turns around the team sorting the statements. IN turn, each person reads one card aloud and the team discusses whether they think it's true (fact) or false (fiction) and the card is placed under the appropriate title card. After you show the video, you can check the answers as a class to see how many statements each team was able to place correctly.

  2. The Cause and Effect Graphic Organizer is perfect for digging deeper into why the Great Chicago Fire spread so quickly and was so devastating, as well as the short- and long-term effects of the fire. You can introduce the graphic organizer after students watch the video, and they can continue to add details after reading additional books or information on this topic. I created a version with lines for writing as well as an open, unlined graphic organizer. Through the process of completing this graphic organizer, your students will realize that in addition to the obvious negative effects of the fire, there were some positive outcomes as well. For example, we now built cities differently and many fire safety laws have been passed.

  3. The Great Chicago Fire Discussion Questions are a set of 6 task cards that can be used in a whole group setting, in small guided discussion groups, or in cooperative learning teams. They would work well with the Talking Sticks Discussion Strategy or with the strategies I shared in the post, Teaching Kids How to Have REAL Discussions.

  4. The final printable, The Great Chicago Fire Questions, consists of four questions from the Great Chicago Fire task cards with lines for writing complete answers. If you're familiar with the Recharge and Write strategy that I explained in detail in my How to Teach Poetry webinar, you'll recognize the format of this printable. If you don't know the Recharge and Write strategy, you can use this printable as a written assessment after the other activities have been completed.   
Up Next - Freebies for I Survived the Great Chicago Fire
Since next week is Fire Prevention Week, I wanted to make these printables available to you now even though I haven't finished the whole packet. To make it more convenient for you to find them, I added this freebie to my TpT store. Click HERE to download the packet now, and if you like it, positive feedback is always appreciated!

Be sure to check back in a few days to see if I've added anything new. Next, I'll be adding printables to go with the historical fiction novel, I Survived the Great Chicago Fire. If you've used that book with your students or you've ordered it and plan to use it with them I'd love to have your help with ideas for those printables. I've been discussing this topic with the teachers in the Upper Elementary Teacher Connection Facebook group, and if you're an upper elementary teacher and you're interested in this topic, I invite you to join us!

P. S. More Fire Prevention Week Resources! If you missed my article two days about about Sparky School House and all the free fire prevention lessons and resources you'll find there, you need to check it out!

October 5, 2016

Teaching Fire Safety: Free Resources to Spark Learning

This post is sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association and

October is National Fire Prevention Month, and Fire Prevention Week starts on October 9th which is right around the corner. What lessons and activities do you have planned for this very important week?

If you’re a K-2 teacher, you probably won't have any trouble answering that question. You might even have your week completely mapped out, with fire safety activities scheduled every day.

But if you teach older kids, you might be thinking, “Fire safety? That’s not in my curriculum. Fire prevention is taught in the early grades. Where would I even get fire safety resources for my grade level?"

As a former 5th grade teacher, I understand where you’re coming from. Upper elementary teachers are expected to cover an incredible amount of academic content, and there's not much time left over for anything else.

However, teaching older kids about fire safety and prevention is important, too. Kids are fascinated with fire, and older kids are more likely to take risks, test the limits, and try things they know they probably shouldn't do. All kids need to be reminded of the dire consequences of playing with fire, and the fact that even a small fire can easily get out of control.

The problem is that older kids need different types of resources than their younger peers, and games and activities that are fun for Kindergarten students just don't appeal to older kids. It's definitely a challenge to find lessons and activities that will capture the interest of older kids. Fortunately, I know where you can find an awesome collection of resources that are sure to "spark" learning!

Free Sparky Fire Safety Resources 
Have you visited or Sparky the Fire Dog® is the official mascot of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and these two Sparky websites are part of their ongoing public education campaign. is the website for kids with fun games, activities, and interactive resources about fire safety. Sparky School House is the companion site for educators where you can find links dozens of free fire-prevention resources like videos, ebooks, apps, and lesson plans.

The NFPA was founded back in 1896, fifteen years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and for 120 years this non-profit organization has been on a mission to eliminate fire-related deaths, injury, and damage to property. One of their public education campaigns is Fire Prevention Week, and this year's theme is “Don’t Wait – Check the Date! Replace Smoke Alarms Every 10 Years.” Right now is the perfect time to check out the wealth of resources on these two sites!

If you’re a K-2 teacher, you probably already know about and Sparky School House, and you've found them to be great resources for teaching fire safety. Your students have probably already played the games on, and maybe you’ve downloaded all of the free apps for kids onto your classroom mobile devices. If you're really on top of your game, you've downloaded the brand new Sparky's Firehouse app, too!

But if you're an upper elementary teacher like me, you might have done what I did when I first discovered the Sparky resources. 

I looked around for about 2 minutes, and then I left. No joke. 

To tell you the truth, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of activities and resources that appeared to be on Sparky School House, and most of them seemed to be for little kids. Let’s be real. Fifth graders don’t want to listen to a person dressed up in a dog costume talking about fire safety, or a cartoon dog demonstrating how to stop, drop, and roll.

It's a shame that I didn’t spend more time on Sparky School House, because I would have discovered that this site DOES have fire safety resources for older kids! You just have to know where to find those resources and the lesson plans that accompany them.

Navigating Sparky School House
Now that I've explored the resources on Sparky School House, I want to teach you how to navigate so you can find everything, too. Click the image below and let me show you around!

After you land on the Sparky School House main page, start by clicking the red download button to access the brand new free 2016 Fire Prevention Week Teacher Guide where you'll find a lesson about the importance of smoke alarms. This guide also includes a take-home home letter for parents in both English and Spanish.

Use the links in the black navigation bar at the top to browse a huge collection of fire prevention videos, apps, ebooks, lesson plans, and resources. The Digital Backpack link is the quickest way to find the teacher lesson plans and printables that go with the resources for students. You can search for lesson plans by grade level or by the resource it accompanies. Each lesson is aligned with Common Core State Standards, too!

Be sure to check out the Learn Not to Burn resources, even if you teach older kids. They're designated as resources for Kindergarten and First Grade, but they have incredibly helpful information for upper elementary teachers, too. If your students lack basic fire safety and prevention knowledge, I recommend reading the Learn Not to Burn lesson plans to find relevant information and then adapt the lesson materials to your own grade level.

My Favorite Upper Elementary Resources
Don't make the mistake that I did of assuming that everything on the site is for little kids. You can adapt some of the lessons that were designed for younger students, and there are also several lessons that are perfect for upper elementary students just as they are. These three are my favorites!

1. Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (Video and Teacher Guide)
I loved this 7-minute, informative video! The subject of the video is an interview between Lauren Tarshis, author of I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, and Casey Grant from the National Fire Prevention Association. They discuss the causes and effects of this devastating fire, how the NFPA was founded, and why Fire Prevention Week always takes place in October. You can download a Common Core aligned lesson plan to go with the video that includes a printable vocabulary graphic organizer. Click the Music & Videos link to find the video, and look in the Lessons section for the related teacher resources.

2. Fire Fighting’s Weird History and Fascinating Future (Video and Lesson Plan)Your students will be delighted by some of the silly facts shared in this video, and they'll also be amazed to learn how much firefighting has changed in the last hundred years. Fire Fighting's Weird History and Fascinating Future uses a mix of cartoon-style drawings, photographs, and historical drawings to look at the past, present, and future of firefighting. You'll also find a Common Core aligned lesson plan to go with the video that includes a Know-Wonder-Learned graphic organizer. Click the Music & Videos link to find the video, and look in the Lessons section for the related teacher resources.  

3. Rescue Dogs, Firefighting Heroes, and Science Facts (Ebook and Curriculum Guide)
The third awesome resource I found for upper elementary is a 15-page ebook that includes four stories and a poem. It's available in several different formats, including a printable PDF, Amazon Kindle, Nook. I love the variety of texts in this resource and the way fire prevention information is integrated throughout the book. Each selection includes discussion questions and a writing prompt, too, which would make the book perfect for small guided reading groups. 

Jack the Superhero Alien Firefighter is a fictional story, The Black Pearl and Captain Ron is an informational text selection about a firefighter and his rescue dog, Three Ways Science Has Made the World a More Fire-Safe Place is an informational science article, and Learning from Tragedy is a historical fiction selection. The final text is a poem called Sparky the Fire Dog® Says “Stay Fire-Safe!”  To find this resource, click on the Read & Play link at the top of Sparky School House, and scroll all the way to the end of the page. You'll find all the links to the different book formats as well as a link to the Common Core aligned Curriculum Guide.

Fire Prevention Week Plans - Done!
Now that you know where to find awesome resources for teaching kids about Fire Prevention Week, your lesson plans for next week will be super easy to write! You can integrate fire safety into just about every subject area, and your lessons are sure to "spark" enthusiasm for learning about fire prevention!

But teaching kids about fire safety might actually have a far more important result. Who knows? You might even save a life!

Did you know that three out of five home fire deaths occurred in homes without a working smoke alarm? Sadly, when smoke alarms fail to operate, it's usually because batteries are missing, disconnected, or dead. Those grim statistics might be why the theme of Fire Prevention Week has been related to smoke alarm safety for the last three years.

Be sure to send home the parent letter that can be found in the 2016 Fire Prevention Week Guide, and follow up a few days later by asking your students what they learned about the condition of the smoke alarms in their homes. Don't forget to check the smoke alarms in your own home, too!

October 2, 2016

Ask One: An Easy Strategy to Instantly Elevate Your Group Work

Guest post by Jen from Beyond Traditional Math

I spent a ton of time avoiding group work in my early years of teaching. There were many reasons, but the main one was that I felt that students weren’t accountable. I’d be walking around and found them off task, disengaged, sitting back with their arms crossed, one or two would take over all of the talking…I felt that it was not a good use of my instructional time.

I began to work on those behaviors little by little by finding group work strategies. I knew the importance of student talk, so I was committed to the task. After trying different approaches, I developed a strategy that has become my most favorite by far.

I call the strategy “Ask One,” and you'll see why after you read how it works. It is by far and away the easiest and the most effective way I’ve found to elevate group work.

What you do is quite simple. You set up all your group work routines and get to know your students. You make sure that your classroom culture is one of kindness so that group work feels safe. Once you are seeing patterns like disengagement or struggle with specific students, rearrange your class into groups where you can place one of these students in each group. 

Then choose an activity that is engaging and difficult. I like Reasoning Puzzles because they really require students to dig in. This is what I like to say to the students before we begin: “I’m going to come around and ask your group to explain your thinking. The thing is, only one of you will be allowed to do the explaining, and I’m going to choose that person. The rest of you won’t be able to say a word to me. You won’t know who it is until I come to your group. If that person is having trouble explaining the work of the group, I’ll let you all continue to work and come back and check.”

Then, you watch your groups as they begin the activity. You’ll see who is struggling or who might be disengaged. When you ask that student to explain, they may not be able to fully explain everything. That’s when you start asking questions. Don’t let the other group mates jump in to explain! Tell them you’ll come back and that you expect the other group mates to help them understand the problem. 

As you leave, you’ll see behaviors where the group mates just try to tell them what to say. You’ll get around that by asking more questions to see if they understand conceptually. And you keep coming back…and you keep coming back…

I’ve done this dozens of times, and every single time the student that I’ve chosen is able to come to an understanding with the help of the group. The group mates that may have easily gotten an answer have to explain in many ways, and because of this they understand the concept a bit deeper themselves! If noticed that the student I questioned was getting anxious, I would  pull back and ask others to do the explaining. If that happened, it also would tell me that I definitely need to do some deep reteaching.

If you’d like to try out this strategy, you can download my free Reasoning Puzzles Sampler Set from my TpT store. Now you can see why “Ask One” is one of my favorite strategies for increasing engagement in math. It will instantly elevate your group work and make it more effective!

Jen is a math instructional coach and interventionist with 10 years of experience teaching elementary students. Her passion is teaching math with a focus on conceptual knowledge through rigorous problem solving. You can find more teaching tips and resources (and hear about how much she has learned from her mistakes) at her blog: Beyond Traditional Math. You can also connect with her on Pinterest, TpT, Twitter, and Facebook.

September 28, 2016

6 Reasons to Teach Poetry in the Fall

6 Reasons to Teach Poetry in the Fall! Why wait for National Poetry Month in April when you can start teaching your kids to love poetry now!
Free Fall Poetry Webinar
Watch the replay!

April is National Poetry Month, so it comes as no surprise that many teachers wait until then to teach poetry. But if you ask me, September or October is a much better time to introduce kids to poetry. I love teaching poetry, and starting poetry now makes so much more sense than waiting until the end of the year.

I'll share my reasons at the end of this post, but first I want to acknowledge that not everyone feels the way I do about poetry. If you don't share my enthusiasm, April might seem like the perfect time to teach poetry because you won't have to think about it all until spring! But hang in here with me because I have some ideas that might make poetry easier and way more fun for you to teach.

If you’re not comfortable teaching poetry, your feelings could stem from your early experiences with it in school. Having to memorize poetry terms and analyzing confusing poems can suck the joy out of any poetry unit!

But when poetry is introduced in a more authentic manner as way of expressing feelings and painting pictures with words, the experience is quite different. I taught poetry year after year to my 4th and 5th graders, and those kids never failed to get excited about poetry. Furthermore, I was frequently blown away by the simple yet powerful poems they composed with very little guidance from me. After just a little instruction, it was as if my students were discovering their inner poets and the words began to flow almost effortlessly!

Take a look at Keyera’s poem about friendship. Keyera struggled in almost every subject area, but she found her voice in poetry. This was an area where all kids could shine!

How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don't)
If poetry makes you uncomfortable, you might feel lost about how to foster a love of poetry within your students. Fortunately, help is on the way! Last April I created a webinar called How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don’t) to share how I teach a complete poetry unit, step by step. After the webinar was over, I loved hearing from teachers who had never felt comfortable with poetry but who said they couldn't wait to get started!

Fall is a great time to introduce kids to poetry, so I presented a special fall-themed version of How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don’t) on September 28th. The webinar is over, but for a limited time you can watch a replay of that presentation.

6 Reasons to Teach Poetry in the Fall

Why do I think fall is the perfect time to start teaching poetry? I brainstormed the 6 reasons below in just a few minutes, and I’m sure there are many more.

1. Teaching poetry in the fall fosters an appreciation for precise and powerful language early in the school year.
Teaching kids about poetry begins with reading and sharing poems that are meaningful to them and noticing how poets use simple yet powerful language. When I introduce poetry in 4th and 5th grade, I start with free verse rather than rhyming poems because I want my students to notice how the poet paints a word picture using a variety of techniques. Sometimes it’s by using just the right word to create that image, and other times it’s through the use of poetic devices like similes, metaphors, and personification. These techniques are used by authors in short stories and novels, too, and after your students are able to find them in poetry, they'll start noticing them in prose as well. So why not teach your students about the beauty and power of the written and spoken word early in the year?  
2. Teaching kids to write poetry engages them in authentic writing experiences and begins to build their confidence as writers.
In order for kids to learn how to read and understand poetry written by others, they first need to write their own poetry. The sooner you teach kids how to write poetry, the more impact those experiences will have on their reading and writing skills later in the year. Kids love learning about “poetic license” and knowing that it’s okay to break the rules of grammar in order to craft a poem. I also love the fact that students like Keyera and Keenon (below) who typically struggle with writing assignments like creative stories and reports often shine when it comes to writing poetry. Free from worries about making grammatical errors, they can focus on capturing their feelings and painting word pictures on paper. Later, when they share their poems in class, their confidence soars as their classmates express genuine appreciation for what they’ve written.

3. Poetry is a great way to connect with your students and get to know them better.
When kids learn to write meaningful poetry “from the heart,” you’ll learn so much about them as young people and not just as your students. You’ll learn about their fears, anxieties, and passions, and you’ll learn to appreciate their uniqueness. You might have heard the saying that “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Reading and writing poetry together is a great way to show that you do care. Why wait until April to develop stronger relationships with your students?
4. Avoid test prep pressure by introducing poetry early in the school year.
You know what I mean. Test prep mania starts somewhere between January and April, depending on your state testing calendar. But no matter when it starts, sooner or later you’ll feel the pressure to cram as much instruction into every day as possible. And that kind of pressure doesn’t leave much time to savor the enjoyment of poetry. If you wait until the week before testing to teach poetry, you’ll be tempted to skip the poetry writing (no time for that!), and you’ll find yourself doing the very things that turn kids off about poetry. Don’t get me wrong. I do think kids should learn about poetic devices like similes, metaphors, and personification, and I do think they should learn to analyze poetry and look for deeper meanings. However, I think those skills should be developed through meaningful experiences with reading, writing, and discussing poetry and not in response to a standardized test that's looming on the horizon.
5. Introduce poetry now, and you'll be able to integrate it into other subjects later.
Teaching poetry early in the year gives your students a new voice with which to express themselves all year long. They might want to write a poem about the courage of early pioneers who traveled west in covered wagons, or as a journal response to a literature circle book. When your students discover something amazing in science, they might be inspired to write a poem about what they learned. If you've already introduced poetry early in the year, your students will be able to write easily on topics that interest them. 
6. Fall is a beautiful season, and the beauty of nature will inspire your students!
If you live in a place where temperatures drop and trees blaze with color in the fall, you'll know what I mean about the sights, smells, and sounds of autumn providing inspiration for young writers. Take advantage of these seasonal changes by incorporating them into your poetry unit. Sometimes kids have trouble thinking of topics to write about, and taking your students outside to write may be just what they need. Poetry often includes sensory language, and sensory experiences abound during autumn!  

Have I convinced you that fall is the perfect time to introduce your students to poetry? Why wait until April when you can start sharing the joys of reading and writing poetry now?

If poetry is a part of your curriculum, I invite you to watch the replay of the September 28th webinar, How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don't). Who knows? You might just discover your own inner poet!

September 24, 2016

DonorsChoose: A Jackpot of Classroom Funding!

Do you spend too much of your own money on classroom supplies and resources? Learn how to tap into the DonorsChoose jackpot of funding so you can get the materials you need without breaking the bank!
Free Webinar for Teachers!

Click here for the replay!

Do you know about It's an amazing organization that helps public school teachers in the U.S. get funding for their classroom projects. I received thousands of dollars from donors when I was teaching, and now I love telling others about this fantastic organization.

My friend, Francie Kugelman, has experienced amazing success on DonorsChoose, so I invited her to be my guest for a free live webinar. She quickly agreed because she loves to spread the word about DonorsChoose, too!

We're presenting DonorsChoose: A Jackpot of Classroom Funding on Sunday, September 25th, at 7:30 pm EST, and we hope you can join us. If you read this post after that date, use the link above to sign up for the replay.

If you're like most teachers, you spend far too much money on classroom supplies and resources, so you owe it to yourself to learn about DonorsChoose.

Francie is a true DonorsChoose expert because she reads and edits project proposals which means she knows exactly how to write them so they have the best chance of getting funded. She's been using DonorsChoose to obtain funding for her classroom, and when you look at her results, it's obvious that her strategies work. Over the last 10 years Francie has had 185 projects funded with a total value of over $112,000! Francie knows every trick in the book when it comes to DonorsChoose, and she's going to reveal all her secrets in the webinar!

September 2, 2016

Five Ways to Fit Science In

Guest post by Tammy
from The Owl Teacher Blog

Every year when I sit down to plan out my class schedule around all my specials, it seems I just don't have a lot of time left to fit in science, and don't even get me started on social studies. My district requires so much time to be spent on language arts and math. It's understandable that these are important subject areas, but I always feel I'm short changing my students. By time I get done, I'm often left with 30 minutes (give or take) for science. That often leaves me wondering, just how am I going to give my students good quality instruction in science while meeting the required curriculum?

Most districts (though not all) have a required amount of minutes they would like to see teachers spend in certain subject areas. Since this is typically something we have no control over, I wanted to share with you some strategies that I have used over the years to help fit more science in when I'm limited with class time.

August 31, 2016

Math Problem Solving: Knowing Where to Begin

Teaching kids to how to solve math problems is a huge challenge, but often the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin instruction. Learn where to download this free set of problem solving assessments to use in your upper elementary classroom!
Teaching kids to how to solve math problems is a huge challenge, but often the biggest challenge is knowing where to begin instruction. Without administering some type of pretest, you risk boring your students with problems that are too easy or frustrating them with problems that may seem impossible.

Before you begin, you need to have some idea of their current problem solving skills. For example:
  • How do they attack different types of problems? 
  • What strategies do they use? 
  • Are they functioning below grade level, at grade level, or above?
  • If they struggle, is it due to poor computation skills, poor reading skills, or misconceptions about basic math concepts?  
The Problem with Problem Solving Pretests
Unfortunately, most math word problem pretests don't provide enough information to help us answer those questions, let alone know where to begin instruction. Many tests are so challenging that kids who've been out of school all summer are likely to give up after making a token effort to solve the first few problems. Also, most tests use a multiple choice format which makes them easy to grade, but not so easy to interpret. Students don't have a place next to each problem to show their work, so you're left guessing as to the reason they missed each incorrect answer.

August 1, 2016

Secrets of Launching a Stellar School Year

What if you could walk into the class of your dreams this year? Of course you'd jump at the chance! But what does that mean? What would your "dream class" be like? Would the students be self-motivated and excited about learning? Would they treat each other with kindness and respect? Might you look forward to Monday mornings instead of dreading them????

Believe it or not, this year's class could be your dream class. In fact, the secret to having an amazing class might be directly tied to what you do during the first week of school, and it might not have much to do with who's assigned to your classroom roster!

Consider this: When you know how to unlock the amazing potential in every student, magic happens in the classroom!

I know from personal experience that what teachers say and do during the first week of school sets the tone for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, it took me YEARS to figure out how to launch a great school year, and it wasn't always easy. I knew it was essential to get the school year off to a great start from day one, but I had so many unanswered questions about the right way to accomplish this. How can we find the right balance between being friendly and setting clear expectations? Should we seat our students in rows or in cooperative learning teams on the first day of school? Is it true that we shouldn’t crack a smile until Christmas?

After years of trying different strategies during the first week of school, I finally nailed down a system that really works. In the process, I discovered that it's actually a lot easier than you might imagine to create a caring classroom of students who are motivated and excited about school!

July 8, 2016

Grab Your Free 2017-2018 School Year Calendar!

When I was teaching, I searched everywhere to find the perfect calendar for my students, but I just couldn't find one that worked. I wanted 8 1/2 x 11 monthly portrait-style pages that would fit in a 3-ring binder, and I also wanted large blocks for writing in the dates and events.

Eventually I gave up the search and decided to make my own. To create more space for writing on the weekdays, I made skinny blocks on the weekends. It turned out to be exactly what I needed! When I started my Teaching Resources website, I decided to share it with other teachers and it was a hit with them, too!

The School Year Calendar starts with July of the current year and ends with June of the following year. Each year I update the calendar with the correct dates as well as new clipart and fonts to give it a fresh look. The calendar pages are in color, but if you prefer black and white copies, just change your printer settings to the B&W mode.

Sign up here to download your free copy of my 2017-2018 School Year Calendar!

June 24, 2016

How to Get Organized and Keep the Joy in Teaching

Most new teachers begin their careers with passion and enthusiasm, excited to be able to work with children and to make a difference in their lives.

Unfortunately, that passion for teaching is too often buried under a crushing load of paperwork and job responsibilities they could never have imagined!

Enthusiasm is quickly replaced by a feeling of being overwhelmed, with way too much to do and never enough time to do it all. Piles of papers stack up everywhere, with no time to file anything away properly, and the number of messages in your inbox seems to grow exponentially!

What do you do? Spend 60 or 70 hours a week on schoolwork, only to realize you didn't make a dent in your total workload? Or should you do just enough to get by so that you can have a life outside of school?

No matter how much you love teaching, working 70 hours a week is a fast track to teacher burnout. But doing the bare minimum isn't the answer either. While it does give you a little more time at home, you start each school day feeling disorganized and overwhelmed. Over time, you'll start to feel guilty about neglecting your students and you'll feel increasingly ineffective as a teacher.

The Key to Unlocking Work Life Balance
Thankfully, there's a better way. The solution is to implement specific strategies to help you get more done in less time and achieve a healthy work/life balance. Sounds like an impossible dream, but I've discovered that it IS possible to find work/balance, and you won't have to sacrifice your effectiveness as a teacher. The key is knowing where to find these strategies and how to implement them effectively for the best results.

May 9, 2016

Task Card Talk: 6 Strategies to Boost Learning

Discover 6 cooperative learning task card strategies to foster meaningful discussion. You can also sign up for a free live webinar with Laura Candler and Rachel Lynette, Power Up Learning with Task Cards.
Power Up Learning with Task Cards Webinar

Click here to watch the replay!

Lately it seems that task cards are everywhere! If you don't believe me, search for teaching resources on virtually any topic, and count the number of task card sets that pop up in your results!

If you're new to task cards, you might not realize that they've actually been around for many years. Back in the day, task cards didn't look as cute as the current Pinterest-worthy creations. However, no matter what they look like, task cards are really nothing more than worksheets in a fun format! Because the academic content has been divided into manageable chunks, task cards seem less intimidating than a paper-and-pencil assignment.

This handy format makes task cards perfect for partner work and team work because they help kids focus on one problem or one question at a time. Years ago, I created task cards by writing questions or math problems on index cards. But that method was too time-consuming when preparing enough for each team to have a set. To make the process easier, I created a blank template with 6 or 8 empty boxes and I wrote or typed the questions directly onto the page. Then I printed one copy per team and cut the cards apart with a paper cutter. Those task cards weren't pretty, but they worked!

April 21, 2016

Math is More Than a Numbers Game

Math is more than a numbers game! Read this post to discover the key to math vocabulary instruction and to sign up for a free webinar with Laura Candler!
Free Math Vocabulary Building Webinar!
Next Live Presentation is on Nov. 19th
Register Here!

Have you ever considered the importance of vocabulary instruction in math? If you think about it, success in math often hinges more on the ability to read and understand the language of mathematics than on the ability to perform mathematics computation. In other words ...

Math is more than a numbers game. 

Years ago, standardized tests consisted of page after page of computation, but today's math tests require students to read challenging word problems and understand precise mathematical terminology in order find  the solution. For example, upper elementary students who don't know the difference between factor and multiple or range and median are going to struggle to perform well on tests. Geometry is another area where accurate knowledge of the key vocabulary is closely tied to understanding of the essential concepts.

It's pretty clear that mastering the language of math is just as important as mastering math facts or being able to solve complex computational problems.

So what's the best way to teach math vocabulary? I can assure you that having kids is memorize words and definitions is NOT the way to go! Besides being extremely boring, rote memorization does not provide students with the opportunity to explore the complex nuances of meaning inherent in math terminology.

The good news is that the most powerful strategies for helping kids learn the language of math are also the most motivating and fun! Why? Because those methods encourage kids to TALK about math concepts and practice using the vocabulary correctly as they take part in hands-on activities and math strategy games.

March 30, 2016

Earth Rounds: What Fraction of the Earth Can Support Life?

What fraction of our planet can support life? Create edible Earth Rounds to find out!
Sometimes kids think Earth has unlimited resources and they don't realize that only a small part of our planet is habitable. Edible Earth Rounds is a tasty activity you can use to demonstrate this concept, and it's a great way to sneak in a fraction lesson, too! Each student will use half an English muffin or sandwich round to create a model of the earth. They'll use jelly to represent the part of our Earth covered with water, peanut butter or almond butter for the land, and other food items to represent the uninhabitable and habitable parts of the land. Check out the photos below for a quick overview of what's involved.

When you introduce the activity, you might want to spend a few minutes discussing the terms "habitable," "inhabitable," and "uninhabitable." Did you know that "habitable" and "inhabitable" are actually synonyms? Usually the prefix "in" means "not," but apparently "inhabitable" is the exception to that rule. Therefore, the only form that means "not able to be inhabited" is "uninhabitable." Are you confused yet? :-)

March 26, 2016

10 Ways to Power Up Any Lesson and Maximize Learning

Imagine someone asked you to describe the best lesson you ever taught. Which lesson would you choose? What do you think made that lesson so awesome?

Let me guess. It was probably fun for both you and your students ... maybe a hands-on math lesson, a science investigation, or a cooperative learning activity.

But I'll bet it was more than just fun. Your best lesson was probably rigorous and challenging, too, and one reason it was so memorable was because you could see that your students were GETTING IT! We all love those "light bulb" moments where everything clicks into place and the magic of learning happens.

So what makes a lesson really amazing? I used to think hands-on learning and active engagement were the critical factors. Clearly my students were having fun during these lessons, and it looked like they were learning, too.    

But you know what I discovered? A fun lesson isn't necessarily an effective one. You're nodding your head right now if you've ever taught a highly engaging lesson, only to realize the next day that your students didn't actually LEARN the key concepts. For example, kids can have a blast creating wind-powered cars from straws, spools of thread, and paper, yet not have a clue about wind as a renewable energy source.

March 21, 2016

Sweet Statistics: Jelly Bean Data Analysis

Jelly Bean Egg Challenge is a sweet statistics lesson that requires students to measure, estimate, collect, compile, and graph jelly bean data in order to analyze it and draw conclusions.Give each student a plastic egg filled with an assortment of jelly beans, and let the fun (and learning) begin!
I used to think jelly bean math activities had no place in the upper elementary classroom. Sure, sorting jelly beans and graphing them by color is fun, but who has time for “fun” holiday activities when you have a rigorous curriculum to teach? But that was before I realized that you can do a whole lot more with jelly beans than just graph them! In fact, you can turn a fun candy-themed lesson into a powerful learning activity just by sneaking in some challenging academic content!

For example, the Jelly Bean Egg Challenge is a sweet statistics lesson that requires students to measure, estimate, collect, compile, and graph jelly bean data in order to analyze it and draw conclusions. Give each student a plastic egg filled with an assortment of jelly beans, and let the fun (and learning) begin!