Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Math Practices Made Easy: Technique #1

Welcome to a new Life, Love, Literacy blog series, Math Practices Made easy. This series is inspired by the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practices. The Standards for Mathematical Practices are important because they "describe the varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should be developing" in our students. While we have specific standards in each domain at each grade level, we should be embedding the standards for mathematical practices in all that we do.

In this series, you will find a simple teaching technique, the math practices that the technique supports, and links to helpful videos and resources related to the technique. I hope you find simple ways to ensure that the mathematical practices are being incorporated into your math instruction.

Do you need a quick overview of the Standards for Mathematical Practices? Earlier this year, I worked to understand the Standards for Mathematical Practice. I created a free resource that summarizes the Standards for Mathematical Practice. (I needed this resource for myself to help me wrap my brain around the Standards for Mathematical Practice so I hope it is helpful to you too!)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top 2 for Tuesday: Save 10%

The TOP 2 for TUESDAY items this past week were:

Multiplying and Dividing Fractions Word Problems (Cupcake Shoppe Themed Task Cards)  10 % off TODAY ONLY

If you like these, you should check out the Area House Plans themed cards for more practice with multiplying and dividing fractions. We are using these right now in our real-world math station.

Words Their Way Within Word Pattern Spellers Word Searches 10 % off TODAY ONLY 

(The other two sets of word searches have been selling like crazy too! Grab them up to make your word study more fun and add another level of word-pattern recognition for your students)

These products were also hot-hot-hot this past week. Check them out if you have not seen them yet.
Adding/Subtracting Fractions with Unlike Denominators (Candy Shop Themed Task Cards)

Force and Motion Simple Machines Vocabulary Match Up Mats (lots of other science mats to check out)
 Theme in Literature Common Core Bulletin Board Labels (and list of books by theme)

Be sure to stop by later this week for an announcement about a new blog series I am starting. Math, common core, can't wait!!!!! :)

Also, I know you are crazy, super, insane busy (I mean it's January almost February right?), but have you joined the 2013 clutter-free classroom challenge yet? I would love for you to join in so that we can all help each other de-clutter and "Free Up" some sanity in our busy minds. It's week 3, but nevah-evah-evah too late to join :) I did one small thing today related to organizing and clutter and it made me smile. (I'll share later). 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Spy Reports Pictures: Friday Flashback: Linky

Today I am linking up with Amanda from Teaching Maddeness for her Friday Flashback Linky Party and Teaching Blog Addict for Freebie Friday.

Freebie Fridays   

I have been wanting to share some Spy Report (free download) examples with you and had time to take some pictures this week. We started these two weeks ago when we returned from winter break. Remember my new-found mission of making sure I focus some of our time on kindness and character---I was reminded that "Show, don't tell." is the best way to learn, meaning that I need to make sure that I give students opportunities to develop kindness, show appreciation, give apologies, and practice being the kind of person I want them to grow up to be.

Here are some of my beautiful favorites....and we are just getting started!
 This student used (like wordle) to create his Spy Report. I really like the way he used the tagxedo to brainstorm and then wrote examples and reasons why he used those adjectives. (I think this is a great way for a student who has trouble elaborating to do their spy report.
 I love this spy report because it is creative, bright, and thoughtful.
 This spy report is a pop-up basketball because the recipient likes basketball. Very creative.
This student chose to write in the format of a real "spy" report. Notice the real fingerprints all around the document and the type-set that looks like it was typed on a typewriter.
And....this one is one of my FAVORITES so far. Is it because it is about me? I think so. Is it super creative? Absolutely. This student chose to write a Ms. Russell (that's me) pie recipe. (Have you read Enemy Pie? We did last year and used is as a creative writing possibility for our writer's notebook--write different kinds of pie recipes.) Look at that "It leaves an unforgettable impact on your tastebuds...It goes above and beyond the pie standard." What I LOOOOVE LOVE LOVE most about my kids' spy reports to me is that they really do get to know me and describe the "true" me in their reports. (I'm also crazy, intense, high strung sometimes--but they pick the best qualities to write about!:)

Why I love this assignment:

* This assignment really allows for student creativity. While I teach genre studies during writing workshop, Spy Reports allow students to write in whatever mode they want and express their creativity and voice as a writer.

* You will see amazing things happen with reluctant writers. As they feel the “warm fuzzies” of sharing what they appreciate about someone and hear good things about themselves, they really buy into this assignment.

* One week, you will have a student use a really creative genre, the next week, many students will have written in this same mode. Writing ideas spread like wildfire!

* Because this assignment happens each week, you should see major growth across the year. Things that you place importance on in your regular writing instruction (grammar, spelling, vocabulary, painting a picture, dialogue, etc.) should show improvement in spy reports.  

Grab my SPY REPORTS directions (including tips for the teacher) for free from my teacherspayteachers store. It is a word document so that you can modify it for your classroom.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

2013 Clutter Free Classroom Challenge!

2013's Week 2 challenge for the clutter free classroom is to "share your plans," including generating a list of "non-negotiable rules." I started working on a Clutter Free Classroom in May of 2012. You can see some old, SCARY photos of my messy classroom. I am happy to say that some of these problem areas were improved tremendously last year, but now that I am over half a year away from that work, I know that I can go through the same process again and make even more improvements. (PS-If you want to check out any of my Clutter Free Classroom Posts, it's one of my labels, so they are easy to find.)

I LOVE the clutter-free classroom challenge because it BEGS us to STOP, take a look around, notice the pile-age and get to work on our environment.
A lot of my plan may look familiar, circa May 2012. 

Plan and Strategies:

* Have one goal/problem area to target each week. If I don't get it done that week, don't get upset. Move forward to the next week. (I am ALWAYS too ambitious with my to-do list :( )
* Work, work, work! Start small. Use music to make the process more enjoyable and time the work.
* When my ability to get rid of stuff starts to dwindle--stop for the day. (Ever notice the longer you work to get rid of stuff, the more you start to hold on to? Maybe I should be on an episode of hoarders...:))
* As I am working, continue to make lists of tasks that students can help with before the bell rings and after school

Rules for what I must get rid of:

(1)-If it has dust bunnies on it, LET IT GO. (Ha ha, makes me laugh. "Of course I will use this next year." Yeah right!)
(2)-If I know I can access it in my personal computer files or online (since we update things all the time anyway, I rarely just pull worksheets out of my folders and make copies anymore, so why hang on to the copies?).   

Old Rules from Last Year that I No Longer Need: (Success!!)
- it's not mine, it has to go
(I have a tendency to hoard professional materials from the library in fear that when I need them, someone else will have checked them more!)
-Get rid of it If I don't have a plan for using it (this will be tough! Don't we love to hold on to things, just in case...)
-Get rid of it If it doesn't fit into my grade-level (this will be tough since I have looped, but I'm sure there are things that just don't fit in either 4th or 5th grade curriculum.)
-If I have NEVER used the resource in my teaching career and don't foresee it being useful next year. 
What I Accomplished Last Year:
1)-Taking control of the mess on my desk: create a functional space for upcoming lessons (worksheets, materials, etc.) closer to my desk but separate so that it does not take over my desk  (This space is mostly functional, but could use some work.)
2)-Reduced file cabinets and get rid of one (Check! Now I'm going to work on doing it again and reducing the one that's left even more :) )
3)-Purged professional materials that I know I'm not using (Let's do this one AGAIN! Still have plenty on my shelves that I have not touched this year.)
4)-De-clutter wall space (This happened!)
5)-Reduce unnecessary picture books from my collection (My first strategy for this is to sort my books into two piles---I've EVER read it to a class and I've NEVER read it to a class. If I can see myself reading a NEVER book to my class next year, I can keep it. If not, I will be sending a gift of great books down to a lower-grades classroom.) (Got it down to one shelf, and made some donations to the lower grades' teachers!)

Lastly, I love the clutter-free classroom's rules to remember:

1) You can't organize clutter. (This reminds me not to buy a ton of things to ORGANIZE what I have, but to get rid of things that I do not need and buy organizational items when I know exactly what I need.)
2) Your trash is {quite possibly} another person's treasure. (If other teachers came into my room and said "Hey, I could use that," I would have no problem giving it away. So, when I was de-cluttering, instead of moving materials into our mailbox room, I sent an email with the resources I was trying to get rid of. They were taken up within the hour and I was pleased to be giving up something someone else might use.)
3) There is no value in an object that isn't being used. (This is harsh, isn't it? I think it means we have to get rid of gifts kids have given us and other cutesy things that are just sitting around with no purpose.)   

If you want to start organizing your classroom, don't forget to head on over to the clutterfreeclassroom blog  for awesome tips and inspiration. And, blog up and join the LINKY party (at anytime, no real time limit. Jump into the organizing fun!:)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Everything's 10% off: Top 2 for Tuesday

You read it right! Since I haven't throw a sale (pre-winter break), I thought I would get back into the swing of offering two products at 10% off by having an "everything is 10% off sale TODAY and TOMORROW.

Top Two for Tuesday. Everything is 10 % off TODAY and TOMORROW. That's a mouthful of t's :)


During this sale, you might want to check out some new things I have worked on in the past month. (All Common Core Math Products).

(includes 24 multi-step word problems (on task cards), house plan "area" activity, and 4 multi-step extension problems)
(8 basic capacity conversion task cards, 24 multi-step task cards, list of Farmer Wayne and Jane's goods and how they packaged them, 8 multi-step task cards that require students to use addition, subtraction, multiplication and/or division to solve
(32 multiplying and dividing fractions task cards, Cupcake Shoppe Payroll problems (multiplying whole number/decimal), 4 Cupcake Shoppe Boxed Order Questions-modeling multiplication)

(16 adding and subtracting fractions (unlike denoms) task cards, 16 adding and subtracting fractions representational model problem)
All task card products include information for the teacher, student recording sheets, and answer keys. 

I hope you get to pick up some goodies at this sale! My kiddos are using the House Plan task cards right now in our real-world station and we used the Farmers' Market task cards this week to learn about Capacity and Weight.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Smorgasbord--There's a lot going on!

Wow! I have so much I want to share with you all.

It's a smorgasbord of what's been going on in the classroom, new teacherspayteachers products, classroom community and character ideas and updates, SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! on Friday (well, a dusting, but a day off!), stress about paying taxes on TPT earnings, excitement about the 2013 Clutter-Free Classroom Challenge, and a special announcement tomorrow's Top 2 For Tuesday that you WON'T want to miss! Yes, I have slacked off on Monday's Minilesson Magic and Top 2 for Tuesday, but I will get them rolling again, now that we are two weeks into our 3rd quarter.

For this post, I will focus on an update of Building a Classroom Community and Building Character. Read here if you missed my post about having my teaching heart split wide open. I spent the first week back focusing each morning of our reading time on building our classroom community and discussing kindness. I used three read alouds to create opportunities for discussions about having an open heart and sharing kindness.

We used:

First, I used Somebody Loves you Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli (how exciting to read a book from Jerry's wife :). We mainly talked about how Mr. Hatch could choose to have an open heart or a closed heart. In receiving the box of chocolates, he had opened his heart to the world and was more aware and conscious of other people's needs. I talked about how we can choose to be conscious of other people's needs and that if we just pay attention, we will see places where we can choose to extend kindness. 

Next, I read Each Kindness by Jacquleine Woodson (author of The Other Side). This book was destiny! It was sitting on a shelf in the library when I went to pick up Mr. Hatch, and I thought, hmmm...kindness. Let me read this! If you have ever read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, this is along the same lines, but in picture book form. From

"Each kindness makes the world a little better.

Chloe and her friends won't play with the new girl, Maya. Maya is different--she wears hand-me-downs and plays with old-fashioned toys. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her gang, they reject her. Eventually, Maya plays alone, and then stops coming to school altogether. When Chloe's teacher gives a lesson about how even small acts of kindness can change the world, Chloe is stung by the lost opportunity for friendship, and thinks about how much better it could have been if she'd shown a little kindness toward Maya."

After our read aloud, I talked about how Chloe wishes she would have done things differently and said a lot to Maya. We talked about apologies and forgiveness. Chloe doesn't have the opportunity to apologize to Maya, but we do. Then I did something AMAZING! I had students create a list of apologies for their classmates. They had to write them down on a sheet of paper. I gave everyone a list of classmates and they worked through it to think about anything they needed to apologize for. I also made a list of specific apologies for students (hey, I AM NOT PERFECT!) 

As students worked and thought, I voiced over. "You might need to apologize for something the person doesn't even know you did!" "Think about this year and last year." "The things we need to apologize for sometimes keep us up at night. As soon as we apologize, we can stop thinking about it." "You might need to apologize for something even if that person is your best friend." "If anyone feels like they need to apologize for something to the whole group, feel free to say it now." After about 25 minutes, I told students they would now have the chance to apologize to one another privately. I explained that they were not allowed to stand near someone who was apologizing and wait. This would be rude. I explained that it was important to give everyone who is apologizing space to feel comfortable to say what they needed to say and get it out. While I was going around saying my apologies, I also was being the teacher (and trying to overhear some of them). It warmed my heart to hear kids say things like "I'm sorry for when I talked about you behind your back." "I'm sorry for not always being a good friend to you."

It was AHHH-Mazing! 

AHHH-MAZING! A lesson I will NEVER forget. And, I don't think many of my students will either. I think I taught them something that a lot of grown-ups don't even know how to do right. I even explained to them that as soon as you say "but I did it because..." you have stopped apologizing and started excusing. Keep the excuses out of your apology and remember that you can't change another person, you can only change how you act and respond to them.
The next day, I gave each student a plastic heart from the dollar store. I told them, this represents love and kindness. Each of you gets to choose whether or not you hold it tight or whether you pass it on to another person. I told them that if they choose to pass it on to another person, they must tell them why and then explain 

"This heart represents love and kindness. You can choose to hold it tight and keep it for yourself, or you can choose to pass it on to someone else. If you pass it on, you have to tell them the same."

I explained to students that by holding on to the heart and not letting it go, we actually had less love. The heart is symbolic of what we have to pass on and by passing it on (with the plastic heart or in other ways), we are actually increasing the love and kindness in the world. By the time we got together the next day, one of our hearts had already made it through the after school teachers, to another two students, and back to a student in our classroom. How awesome!

Towards the end of the week, I read Oh, the Places You Will Go. This was my book to remind them of how tough life can be, and that sometimes we might find ourselves on a dark road where we can't even remember who we are (who we used to be). I told them, "you might not even know how you got on the dark road or how to get off of it. You might find yourself on the dark road and not even realize you were on your way down it." I told them it was hard for me to give them any advice about the dark road, because everyone's dark road will be different, but I had a few strategies for them. 

1) When you realize you are on the dark road, find those people who remember the YOU that you are right now. The people who see the good in you will be able to remind you of who you are. These people might be best friends, teachers, parents, preachers, grandparents. Decide who those people are right now. 

2) Read Oh, the Places You will Go for some advice. It might help you when you are in your dark place. 
On Friday, I introduced Spy Reports. (I'll post more about how this went and show some examples in a future post). But, let's just say they were SUPER DUPER EXCITED! We have had two Spy Report sessions since, and I can already tell they will be looking forward to it each week! 

At some point in the week, I told my students "Who you are is "good people." (I know this is not grammatically correct). The phrase "good people" is common around our town. You hear "They're 'good people'" or "They come from 'good people." "They's some good people." I told them, in my mind and memory they will always fall into the category of "good people." I know who they will grow up to be will be "good people," but we need to work on bringing out who we are on a regular basis. We need to let the "who we are" on the inside SHINE OUT on the outside every second, moment, hour of every day. Now, this is a TALL order (for me too, not just my kiddos), but our continued conversations and reminders or our goal to be who we are in the most positive sense will continue to help us all grow in how we treat the people we encounter inside the classroom and out.

I hope some of these ideas will help you to build a classroom community. This is just a taste of what we did for a week. Lots more is going on, but these lessons (in January of teaching kids for a year and a half already) have set a foundation for the rest of the year that we have together and hopefully for my students' transition to middle school.

Don't forget to tune in tomorrow for a special Top 2 for Tuesday announcement! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Open the Eyes of My Heart...

This past week, our community lost two 16 year olds at our high school. Both of these students attended my elementary school. I taught one of the students in 5th grade, and my best-teacher-friend taught the other. It has been a very hard week for us all. Since we are year-round, we have not yet returned to school (start on Monday), but the other schools have. All week I have been thinking (among a MILLION other thoughts) about how the friends of these students (my former students and all the other nameless-to-me students in our community) have been coping and how they can even begin to focus on school work and studying.

I went back and forth about whether or not to attend the funerals, but I finally made up my mind that I should certainly go. For an entire year, this child was in my care. He was part of a community, he brought us laughter, smiles, and friendship. I can still remember exactly how it sounded when my other students would call his name. His face, smile, and huge brown eyes will forever be present in my memories.

At the second funeral, as I waited outside the church for traffic to clear with my best-teacher-friend, I had the opportunity to say "I love you" and hug and catch up with a few of my former students. While I was telling them to "be smart" and "be safe" and playing mommy to them all, they were telling me how much they still remembered 5th grade and our classroom. They told me how they had been meaning to come back and visit, but how time just flew by. They told me that this week, they had found some comfort in pulling out the Spy Reports we had made and reading what this student had written to them. One said, "I hope we are friends forever." I find some comfort in knowing that every child in my class that year has a letter from him, and that his parents have a whole book of spy reports from his teacher and every classmate that will serve them as a reminder of the great things everyone thought and felt about their child. It's a snapshot of who he was in 5th grade, how much joy he brought to the class, and how much everyone loved him. Last night was the first night that I was more at peace.

Hearing about the spy reports and how those assignments had brought my living students comfort in a time of tragedy brought tears to my eyes and reminded me that these things we choose to squeeze in during our invisible time are so IMPORTANT. We say we might never know how we have made a difference in our students' lives and we probably shouldn't expect to hear from them all, but there are these moments in time (fleeting and intermittent) where we are reminded of the impact we have made.

We have to hold on to those moments when a kid or a parent actually tells us that we have made a difference, we have to hold them tight and not let go when the days get tough, when the paperwork piles up, when the test-test-test comes, and we have to let those moments DRIVE us.

Through a tragic event, I have had a HUGE reminder of this and I beg that the "eyes of my heart" are open-wide and do not ever shut again. I beg that I am not cynical when a parent or a child tells me I have mattered to them, but that I am able to let that touch me deeply, let myself cry, find a way to make those words stick and carry me through those tough days with my students, so that I can continue to give all to this profession that I have wanted for so long and plan to stay in for much longer.

As we always do, I had ambitious plans for next week. We have a huge writing and reading project to begin this week, a math test to review, and I always feel like 3rd quarter is the last push before the craziness of testing begins.

Some can say we should have divided a few more fractions or had more independent reading time, but I can't let it be said that this was a year that I should have spent more time on our classroom community and showing that we care about one another. No matter how much time passes, what friends we make later on, or how long it's been since we last saw one another, for one or two years we created the kind of family that when you see one another again, it feels like home, it feels like the old feels like not a moment has passed since we were all together sharing the same space, day in and day out.

So, next week, I will finally make the time to start Spy Reports with my current class. I have made my Spy Reports TPT file free. You can read about it here for more info in this old post or go straight to download it.

In honor of these two precious students, this file will be forever free in hopes that you or some other teacher that you pass it along to will use this idea to create a LIVING, WRITTEN record of your classroom community or be inspired to find other ways to ensure that your students have the opportunity to love one another and show appreciation for the memories they have made together. 

With love and prayers for all of us who carry students with us in our hearts and minds,



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