Sunday, March 31, 2013

Human Body Systems-Ready to Teach!

When we return from break, we will be learning about human body systems. We have to learn about the respiratory, circulatory, muscular, skeletal, nervous, and digestive systems. This is new in our curriculum this year, which means  I get to learn new stuff too and figure out how best to teach it. Unfortunately, I feel like I have struggled all year to teach science in truly meaningful ways. Mainly, I feel like our new curriculum is shallow and widespread (we went from 4 goals/units to 7 domains). I'm not trying to be a baby (maybe I am) but I didn't like science to begin with when I became a teacher and then as I became a 5th grade expert on my science content areas, I began to like it more. I even got over my hatred of sand all over my room when we were learning about erosion, deposition, and weathering (no more landforms in 5th grade :( )

Now, with no {real} training or investment from our district, we got to start from scratch on a number of these units. We get the impression that no one is interested in investing in these standards because we will be transitioning to Next Generation standards in another year. (So, why didn't we just leave our old standards the hell alone as we also transitioned to the common core? In addition, we also have a 5th grade science EOG...on new it! That's education for you.) Discovery Ed's science tech-book was the only new resource we were given, which I'm also not that big of a fan of because it's pretty basic. Maybe I will appreciate it more next year when we are 1-1 and I can more easily assign components of the units to my students.

Okay, now that I have (somewhat) vented, I wanted to share my plans for the Human Body Systems with you. I'm actually kind-of excited about this unit.

We are going to start with nonfiction-based research in reader's workshop. I am going to try to embed as many nonfiction review lessons as I can, probably spending a majority of my lessons focusing on how author's signal vocabulary words and provide us with definitions (aka-context clues). Dedicating about two weeks for this in reader's workshop, we will still have a few weeks for looking at "Test Talk" for the reading EOG.

To hold all of my students' research together and to help them learn the important parts of the Human Body Systems content, I created a Human Body Systems Student Encyclopedia.

This is meant to be a down and dirty science unit. (Did I mention I will also be teaching FORCE and MOTION at the same time during our science block? Phew! Maybe I could have taught all of these standards if  I totally ignored social studies all year. How sad! :( )

During reader's workshop, I will start with a minilesson (probably a video, a journal question for students to respond to, or some other type of engagement activity, and a nonfiction-reading based review lesson), then students will move to articles that I have placed around the room. (I am getting articles from Discover Ed,,, and, and I will be pulling books from the library.) I included links from readworks in the Human Body Systems research project. If you don't know about yet, you should really check it out for decent nonfiction--free--and lexiled. (You can check out the list here and go to to search for them.)

Another great resource I found was You can see below that you put a body part in place, then click on BRIGHT PAPERS on the RIGHT to learn more about the body part. I will either print off the Bright Papers for more research and/or head to the lab at the end of our 6 body systems reader's workshop cycle and let them click around to learn more and add info to their encyclopedias. We will also be using

Each day, we will focus on a different body system. The research sections for each body system include: coverpage/labeling diagram, structure/description/function chart for body parts, a more detailed diagram for labeling or other extension graphic organizer, a chart for students to list "Top 5 Ways to Keep this System Healthy" and "Illnesses and Syndromes that Can Affect this System," lastly, students complete a page where they try to find connections between different systems.

Then, in our writer's workshop block (since I plan for this to turn into a mini-writing project), we will do some sort of science activity to help students better understand the parts of the systems. When we are ready for the mini-writing project, I hope to have students focus on how to take care of one body system by doing more detailed research to understand how a specific disease or ailment affects a system (or multiple systems). I am hoping to make this unit deeper by providing a healthy living spin on it.

Human Body Systems now includes an answer key to help teachers provide feedback and help your students complete their research booklets! This was the most requested change to the Human Body Systems product and I'm so thankful for all the love sent through feedback and everyone's patience! If you have already purchased this product, please re-download for the updates! In addition the answer key, I included a page of the suggested activities that are listed in this blog post.

As I was planning this unit, I also showed some "love" to a few other TpT sellers. I purchased these posters from Mrs. Bell at Tangled with Teaching. It will make a great bulletin board and I will probably copy a set to place around the room when students are rotating to read their articles (it will provide a short break from longer articles and maybe reinforce something they have read. The posters come in two versions.
The human body systems clip art I used for my encyclopedia's came from Teachers Clipart and I found a great packet to use for my language/word study block from Mark Aaron, a FREE set of lessons for Human Body!

Here are a few activity ideas: (you can also find these by following my Science Ideas pinterest board)
Make a Spinal Cord (
Make a Skeleton (post includes possible read alouds--I would use toothpicks instead of chalk)
Make a Model of  Lung
Digestive System Activities
Importance of Cerebrospinal Fluid w/ an Egg (cool!)
Edible Bone Model (yum!)
Ideas for Cardiovascular System Activities

Phew! Long post, but I hope you found some ideas you can use :) Oh yeah, do you have any favorite activities you do with HBS? Other ideas? Feel free to let us know in the comments section!

Monday, March 25, 2013

~FREE Planning Template~Standards for Math Practices

Looking for a way to plan your math lessons through the Common Core Standards for Mathematical practices?

The Standards for Mathematical Practices "describe the varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should be developing" in our students. The Standards for Mathematical Practices might seem like the 'unnecessary' icing on the Common Core cake, but I think they are so important.

Because the standards often overlap in a given activity, I wanted to be able to describe one aspect of my math plan and check off multiple practices. This editable template allows you to draft related lessons or units and document the mathematical practices students are engaging in.
The document also includes one math lesson as an example of how you can use the template. (a 5th grade measurement conversion question)

If you have not yet started planning through the mathematical practices, I encourage you to start small. Take a look at the practices. Which ones do you already feel you implement regularly in your classroom? Which math practices do you think 'I know how to do that' or 'I do that in unit xyz"? Which math practices have you perhaps never placed too much of an importance on in your classroom? Of the practices you have rated yourself lower on, which are you most excited about delving more into?

I ask these questions because these are the questions my team has been asking ourselves all year. We knew that our Common Core math conversations had to be different and that a focus on relevancy and the mathematical practices would push us outside of our regular math teaching habits. One of our biggest focuses this year was "Modeling with Mathematics." We have pushed ourselves to consider models in all of our teaching units. (I am not professing that we have hit the mark with our practices, but for a first year implementation of the Common Core, I think we have really prioritized these practices and our students have an idea of what they year can only be better!)

I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and musings about the mathematical practices. And, if you haven't yet picked up my free Mathematical Practices Summary Document, head on over.

Multi-Step Word Problems Ready!!!!!

                          SO EXCITED
                                                    to have this set of word problems finished!

Not only can I not wait to get into the classroom this week and get these babies printed off to use the first day we come back from break, I am SUPER DUPER excited to share these with you! This is the first product I have made by purchasing a set of clip art and I love the way it turned out. (So, now I think I will be addicted to buying clipart to make snazzier goods for my class and other teachers!)

Teach your students how to solve multi-step word problems with these 10 problems from "School Supply Central." The 10 math problems in this set require students to think through the problem solving process. These problems mainly require students to multiply and divide whole numbers and interpret remainders, but other concepts are also embedded. If you require students to write equations for the problems, you are also incorporating the Algebra standards. (Common Core Alignment: 4.OA.3, 4.OA.4, 5.NBT.2, 5.NBT.5, and 5.NBT.6)

These problems would be a good challenge for 4th graders, designed for 5th graders, and would provide challenge to most 6th grade students still learning to analyze word problems.***These problems were modeled after NC EOG released items and other state's released testing problems but can be used at any time of the year*** (Like this problem I talked about earlier today) Click on over to check out my School Supply Central problem set.

Now, while I was working on this product, I knew I also had to revamp my "problem solving process" so that I can teach how to solve these problems when we return from break AND I wanted to create a new product for linking up with All Things Upper Elementary.

And was born (or re-born), the problem solving graphic organizer:
 I also included step-by-step explanations of the graphic organizer that you can use with your students (pull up on the smartboard, go through the comments to explain the 4 parts of the problem solving sequence).

I feel like this product took forevah-eva to get ready, but it's all those finishing touches that we must do before we upload! Hope you LOVE LOVE LOVE it, and I hope you can use the freebie! (PS: If you purchase the multistep problem solving task cards, the problem solving steps graphic organizer is included in the download).

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Testing...testing...Ditto Rachel Lynette!

I spent a late night working on a set of multi-step word problems. Yes, it is my spring break, but I have all but decided to discontinue use of my districts adopted textbook. (I just fantasized about moving the stack of textbooks in my storage cabinet to our storage closet when I get back from break). The textbook just isn't engaging and when I use it, I have to send students to so many pages with SO LITTLE practice on the same type of problem that it is futile. I have used it all of 3 times this year I bet, but that's mainly because of the strong love for task cards <3 that I have developed this year.

Yesterday I was reading Rachel Lynette's post about (not) making test prep materials. Rachel says she has quit making task cards specifically for test prepping and I can only applaud her for this tough decision. I personally don't mind testing too much. During 4th quarter, I keep a cool head, prepare questions that look and sound more like the test, and do my best to encourage students. After reading many of the comments on the blog post, I have to be so APPRECIATIVE of my district this year. We have moved away from multiple-choice benchmarks in ELA and Math to open-ended assessments. You know, the kind you might actually design yourself if you had the time and had not been brainwashed by a system of multiple choice (easy to grade) assessment? Our benchmark assessments are created by a team of teachers (not getting paid extra, not trying to make money off of testing kids), not giant test-textbook corporations. And these assessments are constantly going through a revision process so that they will be better next year.

So, Rachel's post put me through a little reflection as my goal was to create some math questions to help my students get ready for the EOG's. Although you can call it test prep, I feel I am really polishing the skills they learned earlier in the year based on Common Core Standards. As "Test the Season" is upon us, my goals remain the same--provide challenging, relevant, fun math work for students. And after years of doing this, I know it comes down to a little bit of skill and a lot of survival strategies.

When I am faced with an EOG problem that makes my eyes go crossed a little (see below):

I can only imagine how my kiddos will feel looking at a problem like this. First of all, too much information, are you trying to trick me into picking 12? (The answer is 15 if I did my math right). This problem catches me off guard a little because I feel like we have been challenging our kids all year with multi-step problems and by creating rigorous unit tests. However, never have we put them in front of 4 hours worth of questions, said "don't ask questions," "don't talk to each other," "don't ask to go to the bathroom unless it's an emergency," and made what feels like almost all of the questions multi-step.

Upon closer look at this set of released questions, one would find that not all of the problems are multi-step, but I think that students will be so stressed by the other problems they will hardly breathe a sigh of relief when they get to the easier questions.

Combine Rachel's post with word from my new principal that we shouldn't be "test-prepping" as the year winds down, and here I am. Here's what I believe:

* As the adults in the room we HAVE to prepare our students for the future (in the short-term, that means a test in May). Our parents expect it and our students deserve it.
* As the ones with the most experience, we must unlock the secrets of the test and unveil that for students. We must not allow them to sit in a fog of unpreparedness during the week of testing.
* We do not need to cheer for the test. We do NOT need to call it SURVIVING the test. We DO NEED to constantly mention HARDWORK, PERSEVERANCE, BELIEF IN ONESELF, and remind students of how hard they have worked all year and how much they have grown.
* We can teach (most) test-prep skills in a way that is transferable to many environments. 

In many places, testing~failure~ results in re-testing (sometimes 2 more times before the last two weeks are over). When faced with these unfair consequences, I believe we have to ethically do everything in our power to help our students achieve. This includes teaching with a sense of urgency ALL~YEAR~LONG, maintaining an engaging learning environment, and not betraying out students' trust with DRILL-KILL-SNOOZE as we get closer to the test.

If things were different, some of my beliefs might be different. But, the state of testing is not different yet. So while we "teachers in the trenches" keep fighting for it to change, we have to prepare our students for these tests while maintaining our CORE beliefs.

I also believe there is a time and a place for pencil to paper~packets of practice~work, mainly because of the beast of testing that our society enforces on our students, but that mode of reviewing skills does not have to (or need to) happen every day up until the test. So, it hit me (like it's hit me all year in waves), I need to focus my math word problem sets on themes that are relevant to students. I will try my best to make sure the products I am creating for "test-prep" usage are just as engaging as the products I create and use with my students all year long.

Keeping it relevant and fun, I have worked on word problems with a "School Supply" company theme and am working on word problems related to Washington, DC (so my kiddos can relive memories of our field trip through math problems). Here's a sneak peak at my School Supply MULTI-STEP Word Problem Set that is almost finished! Check back later today for an update and explanation of this product.

Clip Art/Image Credits:
Coverpage Purple Chevron Background
by Mrs. Dixon @ Teaching Special Thinkers
Silly Frames, Crayon Frames, and School Supply Clip Art by the 3AM Teacher


Friday, March 22, 2013


Hi everyone!

Happy Spring...or freezing, cold, windy, whatever this is :) I was pretty excited to see a little sunshine today as cold as it was. I'm on Spring Break! :) WHooo Hooo. One of my goals for break is to update some of my older products. My newest products look pretty snazzy, but my old ones need some of the dust knocked off.

And silly me, I thought updating things would be a fast task, but it's taking a lot to turn something old into something new. The first product I started working on was my Geometry Vocabulary Activities pack. I ended up doubling the size of this packet in my revising. I added a table of contents, common core connections, direction pages, and sample completed pages. (These activities are tried and true, but I added a few things and tried to spice up the look of some of the pages).

Here's a look at what's in the Geometry Vocabulary Pack.

This set of activities is based on the idea that students need multiple exposures to vocabulary in order to master unfamiliar words. While the activities might seem repetitive, using them with a variety of levels of support (whole group, partner, and individual) will allow you to see when students have truly mastered the concepts/definitions and to identify misconceptions that still exist after teaching.

If you have purchased this product before, you can go to your purchases and re-download for the updates.

3RD Grade
CCSS.Math.Content.3.G.A.1 Understand that shapes in different categories (e.g., rhombuses, rectangles, and others) may share attributes (e.g., having four sides), and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (e.g., quadrilaterals). Recognize rhombuses, rectangles, and squares as examples of quadrilaterals, and draw examples of quadrilaterals that do not belong to any of these subcategories.
4th Grade
CCSS.Math.Content.4.G.A.1 Draw points, lines, line segments, rays, angles (right, acute, obtuse), and perpendicular and parallel lines. Identify these in two-dimensional figures.
CCSS.Math.Content.4.G.A.2 Classify two-dimensional figures based on the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines, or the presence or absence of angles of a specified size. Recognize right triangles as a category, and identify right triangles.
CCSS.Math.Content.4.G.A.3 Recognize a line of symmetry for a two-dimensional figure as a line across the figure such that the figure can be folded along the line into matching parts. Identify line-symmetric figures and draw lines of symmetry.
5th Grade
CCSS.Math.Content.5.G.B.3 Understand that attributes belonging to a category of two-dimensional figures also belong to all subcategories of that category. For example, all rectangles have four right angles and squares are rectangles, so all squares have four right angles.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Clutter Free Update (paper-stacking)

Hey all,

I just wanted to share some pictures from my "Clutter-Free" efforts and some awesome supplies I recently bought. I had a rough day two Tuesdays ago and it was a Tuesday with no after school staff meeting or other engagement...Guess what I did to relieve some stress---started cleaning out my desk. And it looked like: BAM! 

Look at that baby, shining in all it's glory! I even had time to wipe it down and clean off some dust. Those *cute* little flower trinkets are crafty gifts from some of my kiddos. And that spinning supply organizer is a little something I coveted all summer before I grabbed it from

In Week # 7's Challenge, the Clutter Free Classroom encourages us to work on our paper clutter. I like to convince myself that I don't have a paper problem. I saw her handy method for organizing and filing papers in the teacher bag--a file-folio with labeled sections, and I thought "I don't need that. It's ONE MORE THING to 'organize' me, and I don't really have a paper problem." Ahh-hemmmm. Begin DISTRICT COMMON ASSESSMENTS here...OPEN ENDED, lots of GREAT components, and ahhh-hemmmmmm...lots of paperwork. Not to mention, I also assign student work out of my own choosing and would like to think sometimes I have the time to read it, grade it, rubric it...all that jazz (are you reading my hint of toooooo-much paperwork, end of quarter sarcasm?)
 Not too bad, huh? (whimpering a little as  I type here :( If everything has a place, where is the place for this stuff? I feel like I have too many containers, too many shelves, what to do that will work? (and not cost more money?? and not take up more space??? This sounds like a clutter-free dilemma!)
 I call this pic "paper stacks".
 I call this pic "more paper stacks," still whimpering! And yes, I strategically placed the stapler there so that we could all see how tall this one-of-ten paper stack is. Needless to say, all of these paper stacks went in my bag on Friday as I headed off for a weekend of sifting, grading, and preparing report cards.

And, in walks my common sense. Yes, I do need a "filing folio" for all of my paperwork. Although paperwork (like everything in my education world it seems) EBBS and FLOWS throughout a quarter, I really need a method for handling my TO DO, TO READ, TO GRADE, TO FILE, TO COPY, TO HOLD ON TO piles. These just get stuck into my bag until I get a chance (read--evening-at-home-not exhausted-motivation) to sift through them--almost never. BUT, I do find that when I sift through the papers, I keep shuffling them to "I'll need that again later, I still want to hold on to that." These papers obviously need a labeled section so that I don't have to constantly sift a whole pile but will know where to start when I want something or want to clean out all the paper.

I was even thinking it might help to have one of these file folders at school to house stacks of papers that need to be returned to students or need to be corrected by students. Unfortunately, I don't have the classroom space for student mailboxes and don't really love the look of them, so I do need baskets or something for organizing student stuff. I think it is a sign of insanity that I constantly carry the same things from home to school and back and some weeks I go until the weekend before I actually open my bag. (You must be thinking I'm a terrible teacher!)

And, hence, at 5:45 on a Friday, I bust into my favorite designer store, Tarjay, to find the perfect file-folio. And, they had one that matches my home office--bonus awesomeness!

In other Tarjay perfection news, I found file boxes in the dollar spot for--you guessed it--1$ AND the design also matches my home office.
Excuse the not-so-pretty shelf. Those file boxes made me pull it out from the garage where it's been for a year now. I think I'm going to paint it a pretty coral to spice it up. (Those baskets came from the dollar store a few weeks ago.) Next, I just need to figure out what else to store in the file boxes and make some cute labels for them.

Have you embarked on the Clutter-Free journey? If not, you should hop on over and catch up on the challenges! (I myself need to catch up on a few :)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Focus Focus-Working on Behavior part 2

In my last post, I shared that my class was having focusing and behavior issues.  This is the time of the year when we should be getting a lot done, when I as a teacher am reminded of how much we just haven't got to in science and social studies, and when it's quite possible that the kids are ready to fall apart see how much they can get by with.

To solve our learning and behavior issues, I put students in teams of three to discuss ideas they had for improving our learning environment. I gave students the following criteria for their ideas:

It must be:
Simple and Quick (IE, not extra work for the teacher!)
Positive/Less Punitive

My goal was that students would help me find positive ways to motivate them. I explained that negative consequences (emails to parents, silent lunch, laps at recess, etc) would come if the positive method did not help them change their behavior. As students started working and discussing, I also had to add NOT HUMILIATING to this list. They were thinking of some embarrassing punishments that I would never be able to use (but might dream of ;)

Here are some of the ideas students came up with:
* Writing in a feelings journal that you share with someone you trust to help you deal with friendship issues like arguments at recess
* require students to play a team game at recess if people are unfocused in order to learn to work together
* class apologies (we did this in January and students wanted time to do it again)
* 3 strikes you’re out-sit out for 5 min--individual based with a daily reward
* Silent lunch and 5 minutes extra recess each day for good behavior
* class dojo

For a second, I thought Class Dojo might be a good idea. We could create a CLASS dojo based on our class values and behaviors and work towards a group goal. (I was pretty anti individual dojo's because I know I wouldn't be good at giving positive feedback and it would be hard to do it equally and fairly for 20 kids.) Interestingly, for the most part, students were against Class Dojo because it is being used in our special area classes and they mentioned that it is causing them to compete to be the first student to do the things that get them positive points. I would bet it is also not really improving the behavior of the few who need to improve. 

We decided that instead of the feelings journal, we could have a table in the lunch room that was for problem-solving and discussing issues you have with the person you are not getting along with. (For the most part, my kiddos are friends and get along--but being together for two years means they do get irritated with each other and have conflicts). If students go to the table to discuss a problem, no one (including me) is allowed to ask what they were discussing. A few students have already used the problem solving table.

Moving on to classroom behavior issues, I had a few students disagree with getting rewarded every day for good behavior (candy, extra recess, etc). One student said "I don't think we should get rewarded for things that are expected."~~Phew! I was holding my breath waiting for someone to say what I was thinking. My kiddos have been with me long enough to know my belief system--do what's right, work hard, expect nothing in return. And sometimes, you might be surprised with a reward "just because." I think they also realized that a piece of candy wouldn't necessarily motivate them every day and wouldn't solve our problems.
Next we moved on to discuss the "3 strikes" idea. I reminded them that I wanted to start with positive strategies so we had to find a way to make this idea motivating. In comes the RECOGNITION WALL. I said I like the idea of three strikes and then explained an idea I had come up with as I listened to a small group discuss "3 strikes."75% of students voted yes on this method, so here it goes:

I created a recognition wall outside of the classroom so that the "Hall of Fame" is visible by students as they come into class and by visitors and other staff members. I created student name plates and then attached velcro pieces to the name plate and bulletin board paper. This makes it easy to attach and remove names daily. (You could use push pins or staples, too).
Each day I review the recognition wall before I leave school or look over it in the morning before students return to class. I decide who needs to be removed from the wall and who may have earned MVP status for that day’s behavior. I use MVP status to recognize out-of-the-ordinary good behavior.

I also made little baseballs to use as warning cards throughout the school day. I place them on students’ desks when behavior needs to change.

Lastly, I considered a few of my students that perhaps wouldn't be too motivated by the recognition wall. I really tried to get into their heads and figure out why they behave the way they do (making extra noises, talking excessively while I'm talking, etc.) For these students, I think it comes down to a desire for more attention from their classmates. I decided that perhaps a reward that pulls in a few other classmates would be motivating--choosing 2 or 3 classmates to eat with at lunch. (We have these circular tables in the middle of our lunchroom that seem "special.") With NO strikes, students can pick three friends, with TWO strikes, they can pick two friends, with THREE strikes, they get no reward that day. (So it goes 3-2-1...3 friends, 2 friends, no reward). When behavior changes more regularly, we may move to once a week rewards.

I placed the 3 strikes card onto these students desks after negotiating the reward with them. Of course, you can use the score card for consequences, but I wanted to try positive motivation. You might also have a class of students that all need the cards on their desk. In that case, you would have to come up with a reward that is possible to give to everyone, but I have had the experience that it's a small few students that disrupt the class. Generally, most students are motivated by simple recognition. (Maybe students get their name in a jar for no strikes and you pull out a few at the end of the week to receive some type of reward).

I have worked on a few versions of the Recognition/Behavior Management wall.

I may come up with a few more themes, but these are the three I was able to get finished so far. Let me know if you have one you would like to see. I have decided to charge 1.20 for these. With a few minutes of printing and cutting, your recognition wall can be ready to go in no time!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Focus Focus (Easy as Hocus Pocus) Strategy

Rounding out 3rd quarter, coming around the bend. I think some of you all are already on Spring break. My 3 weeks break starts on Tuesday after one school day and a teacher workday. WOOT WOO :) 

Is this the time of year that it seems your students are in need of a break? A few weeks ago, I found that my students were having a very challenging time listening, focusing, and treating each other with kindness. COME ON GUYS!!! This is the time of the year when I think I am supposed to be getting the most done--3rd quarter, pre-state-testing, still have major things to learn, and hey, I show up to work hard! Why aren’t my students doing the same?

Well, one thing I realized is that I had dropped the ball on morning meeting. With so many snow days and late starts, we stopped reflecting on our behavior and stopped setting new classroom goals to work towards. (Honestly, my kiddos repeat themselves every day when reflecting on morning meeting goals, and we had achieved perseverance in math for the most part. And my kiddos are DARN NEAR perfect...But hey, isn’t it better to give them the time to repeat themselves each morning--what went well yesterday, what needs to be better today--than for me to constantly have to repeat myself?)

Let’s just say the trade-off of cutting morning meeting this quarter turned into a week’s worth of lengthy morning meetings focused on problem-solving the issues we were having.

First, I had students reflect on what they wanted out of the classroom. “When you show up to school at 8 am, what are you looking to get out of our day?” In one morning meeting, we discussed these hopes and dreams.

Next, students listed the main issues they felt we were having. Next, we went around our circle and told our top two. While students were reporting out, I was taking notes and tallies. These were our issues:

* socializing/side-conversations
* getting off topic
* talking out
* group not getting along
* having fun at inappropriate times
* joking/purposely bothering people
* learning time being wasted
* not wanting to learn-motivation
* not learning enough time
* too many noises
* rudeness to teacher
* too many distractions

Wow! Does this list sound familiar?

We were able to group the issues into two main problems:
Kindness (how we treat each other)--I learned we were having problems at recess that were spilling over into our afternoon learning time and focusing-issues like too many distractions, side conversations, people joking, lacking the motivation to learn, talking while the teacher is talking, etc. all relate back to a lack of focus.

In comes our FOCUS reminder sign. 

While students did most of the problem solving in our next class meeting, I already had the idea of our FOCUS reminder. When I say FOCUS, students know to get it together. This doesn’t just mean focusing on me, but focusing on the task at hand, focusing on anyone who is talking, and being motivated to do their best with their best focus.

How do I use the FOCUS sign? The class starts out at O. (I simply place the clothespin on O). With extremely great focus, they can move up to an F, but with poor focus, they move down to a C, U, and lastly an S. In a given subject, they can always move back up the FOCUS sign. They can move down to a C in one minute, and immediately be returned to an O with appropriate focus. So far, no tangible consequences or rewards come from this strategy. It is meant to be motivating within itself. Pride in our accomplishments and compliments from the teacher should be reward enough!

Now, what if the kiddos are just having a bad day? With my strategic, wise teacher thinking, I decided that the FOCUS sign would reset to O for every subject. Students might think I am just being forgiving or easy on them, but I am really using reverse psychology AND helping them REFOCUS for a new subject area. By saying that I know they are going to RESTART their focus, it isn't like they have to move back up from a U or C during a new subject. They already start at O and just try to maintain it. (I'm not sure if I am explaining the beauty of this well, but I hope you "get" it :)

I found that focusing at transitions (from quiet reading to a whole group math lesson) is one of our biggest challenges. Now, I feel dumb putting that in writing because DUHHHH! but sometimes I think we (I) forget to give students time to refocus because we (I) am rushing to the next thing we need to learn.

As I write this, I once again feel like I am doing "beginning of the year" stuff. But, I am starting to learn that kids need us to revisit "beginning of the year" lessons ALL YEAR LONG. When I'm frustrated with my kiddos (behavior, learning, etc) I eventually come around to "what can I change to help them change?"

OH.....AND I ALMOST FORGOT TO TELL YOU ANOTHER AWESOME PART OF THE FOCUS SIGN....It can travel with us!!! This week, it went to the computer lab with us :)

You can download the FOCUS templatefor free here. I hope you can use the FOCUS sign, and STAY TUNED for a MOTIVATING classroom management strategy that my students and I came up with, including how I am dealing with those "stinkers" who just can't seem to control themselves no matter what I've tried (or can they??? :). I am putting the finishing touches on multiple themes for my positive management strategy and can’t wait to share (something soooooo simple) with you. Look for it tomorrow! 

(PS-The cool chevron frames in my FOCUS logo are from Mrs. Dixon at Teaching Special Thinkers and the swirly purple frame is from the 3 AM Teacher. Be sure to check them both out!)

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