Thursday, September 25, 2014

Math Workshop

I am LOVING math workshop this year! I'm doing something totally different than past years and it's been fantastic. We are 1:1 this year with iPads so we're using technology a lot in all of the content areas. I decided to try an in-class flip model for math workshop. We are using the website Blendspace to house all of the workshop activities.

Here's a breakdown of what my math block looks like. I have 60 minutes a day for math.

Challenge Problem

We start off each block with a challenge problem. These are rigorous/multi-step word problems. The kids have 5 minutes to work out the problem with a partner on their white boards. Then we spend about 5 minutes talking about the problem and sharing different strategies for solving it. The kids love doing the challenge problems and it's a great chance to mix in lots of different skills.


Each week they get a spiral-review sheet to work on. I break the problems down by day. There are 5 problems for each day. Monday is always vocabulary, Tuesday and Wednesday are skill review and Thursday is problem solving. They don't have any problems on Fridays. As we move on throughout the year, Wednesday will become more problem solving practice. I have an extra block of time for math on Tuesdays when my G/T kids are pulled out. I plan on using this time to go over the previous week's warm-up. My G/T kids typically don't need reteaching on these problems, but I can pull them in a small group during workshop for any reteaching they need.


Once the kids finish their warm-up problems for the day, they start their workshop activities. We are using Edmodo at our school this year. I post the link to the blendspace in their Edmodo group. They get a new Blendspace on Mondays and Wednesdays and have 2 days to work on the activities.

What's in a Blendspace?

Every Blendspace starts with a video and an anchor chart. I'm a bit of a control freak (aren't all teachers??) so I make the videos myself because I want the kids to hear it the way I'd explain it. I've been using a screen capturing app (Doceri) on my ipad to record the videos. They're pretty basic - it's what I used to do whole class. For each video there's an anchor chart for the kids to fill out. They glue these into their journals. After the video, the kids have different activities to work on. I'm really trying to follow the concrete - pictorial - abstract model. A lot of times the activities are independent, but there are also partner activities mixed in. The kids also know they can help each other during math workshop.

Small Groups

I have 2 groups of kids that I pull every day. These are kids that I know need some extra hands-on practice with me. I pull them as soon as everyone starts working on their warm-up. This way they get a mini-lesson in with me before they watch the video and work on the activities. After I've worked with those 2 groups, I pull kids for reteaching, work on corrections with kids, and help with their workshop activities. I've been amazed at how much more time I have to work with small groups.


After kids finish their anchor charts and glue them into their journals, they bring their journals to me to get checked. This helps me check-in with each student before they start the independent activities. It also helps me make sure they're putting their charts into their journals correctly. Before I did this, I discovered a lot of kids weren't gluing their charts into their journals or were leaving the examples blank.

I give the kids a grade for math workshop based on the activities that they complete. Not every kid will complete all of the activities and that is okay! I always put the activities that I consider the most important towards the beginning. If students are working with me, they won't have as much time to work independently. However, they're still getting practice. I give them a check, check plus or check minus on the different activities they complete during workshop. Then I take an average for the week.


Friday is my assessment and reteaching day. We still start off with a challenge problem. Then they have a "quick check" to do. It's 5-10 questions over the skills we've been working on that week. I'm able to check these right away and re-teach that day. Friday is also a day for them to finish their warm-up and any unfinished work from the week.

Wow that was a long post!! Now for some pictures : )

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Celebrating Multiple Intelligences

This summer when I was looking for back to school ideas, I came across this blog from Two Nutty Teachers on the 8 kinds of smart.

I loved the idea of teaching kids about the different kinds of smart. Last year I had some students who really struggled with self-confidence because their strengths were in areas not focused on in school. I downloaded the 8 kinds of smart posters from Two Nutty Teachers and displayed them in my classroom. You can find them on TPT here.

During the first week of school, I showed the posters to the kids and told them they would be taking a questionnaire to find out their kinds of smart. I had all the kids take this questionnaire that I found on Scholastic's website.

Before the kids started, I modeled completing the questionnaire myself. I tried to be completely honest. Fortunately, I am genuinely NOT picture smart. So I was able to honestly leave all of them blank. Once I had modeled completing the questionnaire, I sent the kids off to do their own. This was a great chance to practice working independently. The kids were very serious about completing the questionnaire.

Hard at work

Once they had finished the questionnaire, I guided the kids through scoring them. Then I had them select ONE of their areas of strength. We compiled the different areas into a class dot plot.

Kinds of Smart Dot Plot
The next day, we looked back over our dot plot and reviewed the different kinds of smart. Then I told the kids I was going to read them a story. As I read, I wanted them to think about the main character and what her areas of strength and weakness would be if she took the questionnaire. Then I read Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. If you're not familiar with this book, I encourage you to click on the link and read more about it. It's a classic!

After I read the story, we had a brief discussion about the main character's types of smart. We also discussed how her original area of weakness grew into a strength. Then I let the kids know we would be setting goals connected to their different areas of smart.

I modeled this activity first with my completed questionnaire. They would choose 3 areas of smart: one that was a strength, one a weakness, and one of their choosing. For each area that they chose, they would create a goal. For example, for word smart their goal could be to complete our school-wide 25 book challenge.

Once they had written their goals down on paper, we used the app "Popplet" to create a thinking map displaying their goals. In the center of their Popplet was a selfie (they loved that!). Coming out from their selfie, they had their 3 goals.

I loved this activity and it gave me a lot of great insight into the differences of my kids. It has already been something we've been referring back to. One day we were working on a math challenge problem, and I heard a student say "I'm not math smart. I'm a lot of the other kinds of smart, but math smart is not my thing." How awesome that they could identify their kinds of smart! I also loved that it gave us the opportunity to discuss that just because you're not math smart or word smart, it doesn't mean you aren't smart.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saving Fred

Saving Fred is one of my favorite activities for the first week of school. You can find tons of ideas online (especially Pinterest) of how different teachers are using Saving Fred in their classrooms. I use this as an opportunity to practice working cooperatively and to teach the kids how to use their science journals.

Before we start the activity, we make an anchor chart on how to work cooperatively. The kids brainstorm what it should look like and sound like in our classroom when they are working in pairs or teams. We also brainstorm some possible solutions to different conflicts that could arrive. My class this year had some great ideas on dealing with conflict. They were all about compromising, taking turns or letting your partner get their way. (Wow!)

This year I found a couple of free powerpoints on Teachers Pay Teachers to introduce "Saving Fred". My teammate and I tweaked the resources to fit what we needed for our kids. The kids were so excited about saving Fred and then their excitement grew when they realized Fred was a gummy worm and *gasp* "Can we eat him?!?"

I loved seeing how well the kids worked together. They really followed all of the norms on our anchor chart.

Great teamwork & determination!

A successfully saved Fred!
As the kids were working, I was taking pictures with my iPad. When they were all finished, I showed the pictures up on the screen and they LOVED seeing themselves!

I let them eat a gummy worm/ gummy life saver and then we got to work in our science journals. Working with their partner, they drew a flow map to show the steps they took in saving Fred. Their flow map needed pictures with labels. I did an example first in my journal, and it was a great reminder that we all have different kinds of smart. I reminded the kids I was NOT picture smart and to be nice about my illustrations. : )

In addition to their flow map, they also responded to some journal prompts about the activity. Once everyone had finished, they self-assessed their journal entry with our science journal guidelines. I loved seeing some students make changes in their journal as we reviewed the journal guidelines.

The activity was such a hit, they asked if we could save Fred again the next day!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

iPad Set Up

This year my campus is 1:1 with iPads. That means that every student in grades K-5 got their own iPad. For this first year of implementation, their iPads will be staying at school. I am so excited about all of the wonderful things that we will be able to do this year using the technology!

Having the iPads added another layer to my first week of school routines. We had to get our iPads set up! Fortunately, our campus had parents come for trainings in the spring and got all of the students' iTunes accounts set up.

On the first day of school, we spent time as a class looking at our campus iPad trust card. The trust card has a set of rules that the students have to agree to. This includes things like only downloading approved apps, not touching other students' iPads without permission, using the iPad as a learning tool not a toy, etc. The students did think-pair-share with the trust cards and we went over the expectations together. Many of my students were in digital classrooms last year, so the iPads are not new to them.

The second day of school we had a team of IT employees who came into the classrooms to help the students actually set up the iPads. I was impressed with how patient the kids were during this process. It was a lot of sitting, listening and waiting!

Finally we had the iPads set up and ready to go! Before we really started using them, the kids had to pass an iPad skills test. They quizzed their partners over the different skills. The skills started basic - how to turn on the iPad, how to take a picture - and moved to more advanced troubleshooting.

The rest of the week we spent a little bit of time each day downloading apps and saving sites to the home screen. I'm sure it will be an ongoing process. The kids are so excited to get their iPad out each morning!

Here's a picture of my kids scanning QR codes to save important websites to their home screen:

Monday, September 1, 2014

Back to School!

Whew! What a wonderful and exhausting first week of school! I have the most amazing kiddos and I know that this will be an amazing school year. It always amazes me how tiring the first week of school is! I'm thankful for Labor Day weekend to rest and prepare for week 2!

I thought I'd share some of things we did this past week that helped start the year off great.

The first day of school we always have to tackle the dreaded supplies. At meet the teacher night, most of my students drop their supplies off, but I have them wait until the first day of school to put it away. This always becomes such a hectic part of the day and the kids always have a hard time listening to all of the different directions.

Well this year was SO much better!! I made a sorting supplies powerpoint that we went through together. I broke it all down, step by step. The visual prompt of the slideshow really helped my kids understand the directions and it saved me the time of having to write everything on the board. This way I could walk around and ensure the kids were all sorting their supplies correctly.

Here's the link to my slideshow:
Sorting Supplies Slideshow

Stay tuned for more posts about our 1st week of school activities!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tour My Classroom!

After a GREAT Meet the Teacher night, I'm ready to reveal my classroom!

Here is the view from the back corner. The desks were all set up for Meet the Teacher Night. The paper fans hanging from the ceiling have my table numbers. The book boxes above the hooks will house my switch class students' folders and journals. 

This is looking in from the door. In the back corner is my teaching area. On the front board are the learning targets and an "I'm Finished" board. Hanging over the side door are our thinking maps (graphic organizers). The white cart in front of that board is where our ipads will go. 

My favorite part of our classroom - the garden view! A nice place for students to work and soak in the sunshine. The iPad cart is to the right of the window and the sink is to the left. 

This bulletin board will be home to fantastic work from my kiddos. The books are ones we will read at the beginning of the year and books that connect to our first unit in math - place value! Underneath the table is a crate that houses our floor cushions. 

Calendar area and extra supplies for students. On the top of the shelf is a frame that says "Today is my birthday!", special birthday pencils and birthday QR codes. When it's a student's birthday they will get to keep the frame on their desk, get a pencil and pick a QR code. 

My cabinets with my wonderful 8 Kinds of Smart posters from Two Nutty Teachers. You can get them here. Stay tuned to see how we use these the first week of school. The numbered bins will hold my students' extra supplies. The other shelves are for class materials and manipulatives. 

My teacher corner houses my small group materials, organizational binders, laptop and projector and supplies in my made over organizer. On the wall are two of my favorite things. Our Sink or Swim poster is used to help kids' self-assess their understanding. The paper with the clothespins is kind of hard to see, but it's our Special Seats board. I have 7 fun seats in the room (beach chairs, bean bag, director chair, floor cushions). They are written on the clothespins. Each day I move the clothespin to the next number on the poster. Whoever's number it's on gets to sit in the seat that day. Made my life so much easier!

Hope you enjoyed my room - the kids come Monday! I can't wait to see the room filled with all their smiling faces. Happy new school year!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

5 things to try this year

I don't know about you, but I can get pretty overwhelmed by all the amazing teaching ideas out there. I LOVE learning about new strategies that other teachers are using and then I want to do them all! Unfortunately, that's not realistic. I've learned about so many great things this summer through twitter, blog posts, conferences, articles, etc. It's hard to decide what I'm going to incorporate into my classroom.

I read a great post over on Middle School Mullis about 5 things she's going to try this year. Her post got me thinking about what 5 new things I want to try this year. Here's what I've come up with:

1. Math stations using an in-class flip model. I'm going to do a separate post about my plan for stations. I played around with stations last year and my kids loved them!

2. Independent task cards for enrichment/intervention block. We have a designated block each day for enrichment and intervention. I am working on developing some standard based tasks that students will work through independently.

3. 1:1 with ipads. My campus will be going 1:1 with ipads this upcoming school year. Last year I had 6 ipads for my class to share. I am hoping to really use the technology to take my lessons to the next level and not just replace paper/pencil with an ipad.

4. Class Dojo. I have used Class Dojo in the past as a behavior tool. This year I really want to use it as a way to reinforce academic behavior - participation in a group, creative problem solving, higher level thinking, etc.

5. Coding.  I participated in the Hour of Code last May and I was amazed by my kids. I'd really like to incorporate more opportunities for coding in my classroom. At the very least, I want it to be an option for early finishers and hopefully I'll find more ways to connect it to our curriculum.

What are you planning on implementing next year that's new for you?

Monday, July 7, 2014


Volume of solid figures is one of our last objectives to cover before our state testing so we typically have very little time to teach it in. I try to pack as much instruction as possible into one class period. I've found that if I provide concrete, hands-on experiences and the opportunities for students to construct meaning on their own, they retain the information very well. Another way that I cope with the lack of time is by including volume questions throughout the year on our mixed-topic review sheets. This gives them a lot of exposure with the concept before I teach it.

In Texas our current standard (4.11C) states that students should be able to use concrete models to measure volume. This connects to 5th grade Common Core standard (5.MD.C.4) that states that students should be able to measure volume by counting unit cubes. I like to extend on our state standard by having students discover the formula for volume. This corresponds to the Common Core standard 5.MD.C.5.B - students should be able to apply the formula V=l x w x h to find the volume of rectangular prisms.


I started off our lesson by reviewing the formulas for area and perimeter. This activated their prior knowledge about formulas and got them thinking about measurement. I passed out unifix cubes* to each table and displayed a picture of a rectangular prism for students to build. This also gave us a great chance to review the vocabulary rectangular prism. Once they had built the prism we worked together to fill out the dimensions (length, width, height) and volume on a recording sheet. Our working definition of volume was "how many cubes did we use to build this figure?"

*Whenever we use a manipulative in math, I typically set a timer for 5 minutes and let the kids play. They know that if they play with the manipulatives after the timer goes off there will be a consequence. 

Partner Activity:

I had the kids work with their "face partner" (the person sitting across from them). Each pair got a set of task cards that had pictures of rectangular prisms. Their job was to build the prism and then record the dimensions and volume on their recording sheet. I also gave them the challenge of figuring out the formula. This gave my higher kids a challenge to keep them engaged. 


Once time was up, I called the class back to the carpet. First I had several pairs share out one set of their data. Once we had the dimensions & volume for several rectangular prisms recorded, I asked if any students had figured out the formula. After hearing several ideas, my class was able to come up with the correct formula V = l x w x h. Then we used this formula to check their work. 


After we figured out the formula for volume, I sent students back to their desks with a new set of task cards. This time I had them fill out their recording sheet without using the cubes to construct the prisms. The students who were still struggling with misconceptions worked with me in a small group. We filled out the recording sheets without the cubes and then checked our work by building it. 

Common Misconceptions:

I have found a couple of common misconceptions with my kids when it comes to finding the volume of a solid figure. A lot of students want to count each side of the cube as 1 unit. Another misconception is that when students look at a picture of a rectangular prism, they only count the units they can see. For kids who struggle with this objective, giving them more time and opportunities with manipulatives gives them a solid understanding that they are able to transfer to test format questions.

You can download the materials I used for free my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Just click on the picture below:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Lines Task Cards

Our geometry unit started right after our unit on long division. I had about half of my students who had mastered long division and were ready to move on at the end of the unit. However, the other half still needed some more practice. Our district pacing is pretty set because of the amount of material the state expects us to cover before state testing in April. So I felt the need to move on to geometry, but still needed to work with my students on division.

This led me to the development of task cards. I created different task cards for some of the main topics in our geometry unit. I'm going to focus on the tasks for lines in this post. The way I structured this unit was that the students were all given the same task card to start with. While they were working independently, I was able to pull small groups to reteach division. We spent about a week working on the different task cards. This gave me enough time to help my students reach mastery with division. Some of my more struggling students did not complete all of the task cards because they spent more time working in small groups with me on division. 

Must Do Activities:

Their task card included two must do activities. Every student had to do both of these activities. The first must do was to watch a video that I created using the show me app. This video went over the important vocabulary that they needed to know about lines. This was the direct teach portion of the activity. 

Here is the video:

The second must do activity was to create a foldable for the vocabulary. We do a lot of foldables in my class, so the kids are pretty quick at making them. They had a flap for each vocabulary word and inside the flap they put a definition and a picture. They could use their math textbook as a reference material. When they were finished, they glued their foldables into their math journals.

Can Do Activities

There were 4 choices for "can do" activities. The kids had to pick 2. I tried to come up with activities that appealed to different interests and strengths. Their choices were: 
  • Use pipe cleaners to make examples of parallel, perpendicular & intersecting lines. They glued them down on paper and labeled each example. 
  • Create their own instructional video using an ipad. They had to explain the different types of lines and how they are different from one another. Some kids used a screen capturing app (like my example in ShowMe) while other kids chose to make an iMovie. They had freedom in choosing which app to create their video in. 
  • Complete practice problems on Khan Academy
  • Draw a map of a town with intersecting, parallel and perpendicular streets. They had to include an explanation of their types of streets. 


The last part of the task card was the assessment piece. For this they had 5 different word problems to answer about lines. The assessment piece allowed me to see if they were able to apply their knowledge to word problems. It also gave me data on which students needed additional instruction with me. 


I loved this activity. Not only were the kids extremely engaged, but I loved seeing their creativity in the different ways they demonstrated their knowledge. I saw so many kids referring back to their foldables and rewatching the video to ensure they had the content correct. When I wasn't working with a small group, I was walking around talking with kids about their work, answering questions and clearing up any misconceptions. 

After our geometry unit we took a district assessment and 100% of my kids correctly answered the questions over lines! I was amazed at how much learning took place. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Virtual Voyage: Google Forms

In May, I stumbled across the idea of sending out parent surveys using Google Forms. Our school and district have parents complete end of year surveys, but the feedback is not specific to individual teachers. I liked the idea of having parents provide me with feedback based on their experience with my classroom. This also terrified me. Would I be able to handle criticism? Sending it out there took a bit of a risk and I didn't share with many colleagues what I was doing. I wanted to see the reaction I got first.

I found Google Forms extremely easy to use. I created a combination of question types: open ended, multiple choice, etc. I kept it fairly short and anonymous. I wanted parents to feel comfortable giving me criticism.

I sent the survey out via email to my homeroom class about 2 weeks before the end of the school year. While I received some valuable feedback, I did not get very many responses from parents. In fact, I only had 3/20 complete the survey.

I could have sent out more reminder emails to parents to complete the survey. I also think next year, I may try sending out the survey at the halfway point in the year. This way any changes I make based on their feedback would be implemented for their child. I thought this might increase participation.

Has anyone else tried using google forms for parent surveys? Did you have good participation?

Here is the link to my survey if you'd like to check it out:

End of Year Parent Survey

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Virtual Voyage: Feedly

At a district workshop this summer, I learned about using Feedly as a way to manage all of the blogs that I enjoy reading. I set up my Feedly account and divided the content into different categories. My current categories are:
- Education blogs - these include generic blogs and blogs that cover educational policy. Some of my favorites are Edutopia & Edudemic
- District blogs - these include our district technology blogs and blogs of fellow teachers from within my district
- Teacher blogs - there are a lot of great teacher blogs that I go to for lesson ideas and inspiration. I love having Feedly to organize all of these blogs. Two of the teacher blogs that I follow are 4th Grade Frolics and Teaching with a Mountain View.
- Tech blogs - there are some great blogs out there that cater specifically to the use of technology in the classroom. Those blogs fall under this category in my feedly. One blog that I found recently is Shake Up Learning. This blog has some great tips on gamification in the classroom.
Overall I've been pleased with Feedly. I like that I can share posts via social media directly from the site. I also like that I can save a post to Pocket. I've used Pocket to organize specific posts by topics so that I can refer to them later.