Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankfulness Continued

I'm thankful for my collegiate education. I'm thankful for the scholarships I earned that made six years of college possible (and already paid off).   I'm thankful I was able to balance academics with fun because life shouldn't be all work.

I'm thankful for the four years I spent at Arizona State, which allowed me to cultivate such an intense dislike for the University of Arizona, in Tuscon.  Perhaps I'm just still sad we lost the duel in the desert today and the territorial cup will go down to Tuscon.

I'm thankful my family is easily accessible by car.  I could have flown (I think it's an hour flight) but I have some stuff to bring back, so driving was easier.  I'm thankful my car has *amazing* gas mileage and that it's a fairly easy drive.  

I'm thankful I have such a solid relationship with B that we could spend a few days apart without issues.  He really likes his mom's cooking and I really like Black Friday shopping with my mom, so we did Thanksgiving separate this year.  No biggie!

I'm thankful I was able to find some good deals for gifts for others...but didn't have to deal with the crazy lines.  I refused to go out on Thanksgiving and do not want this "gray Thursday" thing to become a trend.  We slept in and ventured out around 9 am.  Most of the things we wanted were still there, but I got a good night's sleep.  Win win!

I'm thankful I'm mostly prepared for Monday, so I can relax Sunday night.  By relax, I mean decorate our tree and get out all my holiday things, making a huge mess in the process!  

I'm thankful I got a few days to escape responsibilities and just be a couch potato with family.

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Black Friday!

It's that time of year again!

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday, all of my products on Teachers pay Teachers will be 20% off!  It's a great time to stock up and you don't have to leave your house :)  Shop here!

If you're interested in treating yourself as well, head on over to my Jamberry shop.  There are 12 returning nail wraps that are only available from Black Friday 'til Cyber Monday.  

Plus if you spend more than $50 on Friday, you get a free Black Friday exclusive wrap!  The buy 3, get 1 free offer includes all their wraps and a portion of the sales goes to charity.  Shop here.

I'm all for online shopping and not fighting the crazy crowds!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Division Day 1

As I previously blogged about, we've had some disagreements about math.  

Today was day 1 of division in my classroom and it went really well.  They really liked using manipulatives and working together.  We went over the vocabulary for the unit (dividend, divisor, quotient, remainder).  They worked on problems and generated their own strategies.  

It was nice to see them struggle and problem solve.  I did have to talk to a few students who immediately saw the connection between multiples and division. I pulled them into the hallway and shared that they need to observe, letting others make their own discoveries to take ownership.

I was pleased to hear how well the lesson went in other classrooms as well!

I think my students' favorite part was when I told them they could write on their desks with the expo marker.  

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Sometimes the best teaching moments detour from the lesson plan.

We had this Engage NY activity sheet to give:

3 problems.  The time slated for this independent practice was ten minutes, then they were to go work independently in a textbook that's older than them.

That's not what we did.

I had them work collaboratively at their table teams.  I had them include written explanations of their thinking and justify their answers.  I had them show their work multiple ways.  It got a tad noisy, but they were all engaged.  It's amazing how the simple act of giving them markers and butcher paper turns an otherwise mundane activity into a lively discussion and collaborative activity.

When they were done, I had them do a gallery walk and critique the other groups' presentations, thus highlighting math practice #3.  

Did this activity take way longer than it was slated to? Yes (but it still fit within our math block).  Did they gain so much more from one another than they would have by silently working then going over the answers? Yes.  

Was it worth detouring from my lesson plan? Absolutely.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Said is Dead

Upon flipping through old posts, I found that almost exactly a year ago, I blogged about a "said is dead" lesson in my classroom.  I just delivered the lesson again in my classroom this year.  However, revising for better words for "said" is a lesson nearly 100% of the fifth graders need.

This year, I made some tweaks.  I paired this mini-lesson with another mini-lesson on dialogue and quotation marks.  This was a logical pairing that just took me a few years to figure out.

While I suggested this lesson idea at grade level planning, another teacher actually made the plans for it.  I was a little bummed when the plans turned out to be a piece of paper for them to glue into their notebooks.  

So I made my own plan and my kids did really well with it!

We glued the resource into our notebooks, but after we'd make lists together. I gave each team a different emotion or tone (happy, sad, angry, loud) to have them generate lists.  I then showed a few different images, like this one:

to have them create a dialogue between the characters (thus using the dialogue mini-lessons and quotation marks) and to replace said with more descriptive language.  

They did a free write for few minutes, then shared the words they used instead of said, which I recorded on the board.  They then shared their writing with a neighbor.

I like when they get so excited about what we're learning!  Although due to their excitement and chatter, we were a minute or so late getting out the door...oops!

Friday, November 21, 2014

But...that was intentional...

It's okay to disagree with a fellow teacher.  It's okay to not want to deliver a lesson the same way as another teacher. It's okay to put your own spin on things.  Some things should be the same (the assessments, the vocabulary, the definitions), but we aren't going to teach the same way.  That's okay. I have a difficult time following instructions or lesson plans verbatim, even when I'm the one who wrote them.  Don't get me wrong, I am always meticulously prepared for my day.  I just also take advantage of teachable moments.

However, I do get a little frustrated when it seems almost every instructional decision I make is questioned.  I've got a lot of background working with special ed kiddos and with the pacing of units.  Things are sequenced intentionally to help students make connections between background knowledge and new content.  The use of manipulatives (hands-on materials) during the first few days of a unit is quite necessary.  Students, even my fifth graders, need the concrete examples to investigate a concept.  They need experience in the concrete before moving to representational and abstract understandings of content.

We are starting division on Monday.  The standards quite explicitly state do not teach the standard long division algorithm. This is not to be introduced until sixth grade because students don't have the number sense nor mathematical understanding to reason through what is occurring.  

Here it is, straight from our professional development department:

I'm not really sure how much more clear this could be, but there were still debates about what it means.  

The first few days in our math unit has a lot of investigation by the students.  I'm giving them a bunch of paper clips to sort into smaller groups.  Some problems will divide evenly, some won't.  

I want them to tackle it. I want them to struggle.  Some kids will count those 48 paper clips into the groups one at a time, driving their partners bonkers in the process.  Some will make the connection to multiples and give away larger groups.  Some will use their multiplication facts to estimate the quotient.  Some will see division as repeated subtraction while others will see it as repeated addition up to the dividend.  

That's okay.

I want my students to understand what they're doing.  I want them to make connections.  I want them to discover how division is related to the other operations and take ownership over their strategies.

My math unit is scaffolded intentionally.  The first day is exploration.  The next introduces vocabulary terms, goes over making sense of the problems (hello math practices), and has student generated strategies.  Direct instruction doesn't begin until day 3 after students have had ample time to investigate sorting and making groups with paper clips and cubes.  From there, we'll move to hundreds grids and talk about regrouping.  We'll make the connection from the physical orange flats, rods, and cubes to the paper versions and drawings, thus moving from concrete to representational. From there, we'll move into number based strategies that build upon other operations, powers of ten, place value, and multiples.  Again, scaffolded from representational drawings and grids to strictly numbers (abstract).  There's a plan.  It took hours to design, but I'm really excited about it. The plan, which spans thirteen instructional days, scaffolds so students will feel successful and anticipates common misconceptions.

However, another teacher entirely disregarded the plan...and told me about it, gleefully.  She had them try one problem with manipulatives and then gave them the algorithm.  I'm so disappointed and feel sad for her students.  I'm sad they lost the opportunity to make their own discoveries. I'm sad they lost the chance to feel ownership over the concept. I'm sad they lost the opportunity to have a meaningful struggle with the tasks.

Her justification? They'll learn it next year and she's doing the sixth grade teachers a favor.  Besides, the standard algorithm is just faster.

I'm aware it's faster.  Faster yet? Whipping out my phone and using its calculator function.  But what's the point in that?  What do they learn when they're just handed the short cut?

I'm standing my ground on this one. My goal is not to teach math.  Yes, you read that correctly.  My goal is not to teach math.

My goal is to have my students understand math.  I want them to know what they're doing, why they're doing it, what happens to their numbers, and why their problem works out mathematically.

I'm making critical thinkers and problem solvers, not robots.  I'm aware it takes more time, but this mindset also encourages stronger students and that's my ultimate end goal.


I'm having a bit of a rough time finding positive things.  We are under a lot of pressure at work from a lot of different angles.  Granted, it's no where near the tear-inducing chaos of last year, but still.

We are under pressure to perform well on Reading Rangers.  My students are reading independently and quiz frequently.  However, there's a few boys that aren't following my expectations and do poorly.  They are lower readers and need to read books several times.  They need to conference with a peer about the book.  However, they'll sneak out to the pod or sneak an iPad to quiz and often score 60% or 80%, which brings down our class average.  I am then talked to about why I'm doing so poorly and it's really not fair.  I've had a few times I've been called out for the lowest scores and while some find it motivating, I'm mortified.

I don't like coming in last and I certainly don't like that publicly announced.

My students have between 45 and 60 minutes a day of silent independent reading time with our Reading Rangers program.  During that time I'm pulling small groups or individual conferences, they are writing about what they're reading, conferencing with a peer, taking an AR test, or silently reading.

Other teachers will sometimes skip other subject areas to allow for extra reading time to inflate their scores.  I'm not sorry that I refuse to skip math, writing, or whole group reading to give them silent reading time.  They need instruction in all subjects.

We've started some new positive reinforcements and it's helped.  We are in a race to 100 100%s with another class and it's quite motivating for them.  I also started using classroom dojo to reward them whenever they score 90%, 100%, or complete a badge.  They are quite excited about that.

We're all overwhelmed at work and it's showing.  The amount of effort and care I put into my portion of planning is not necessarily being matched by others and that's difficult.  Things aren't getting done in a timely manner.  There's been some miscommunication and that's difficult.

I think we're all just ready for a break and luckily, Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  I am thankful for that!

Saturday, November 15, 2014


The thankfulness continues.

I'm thankful I found this cute banner on Amazon:

I am itching to put up my Christmas & winter decor...but it's November. I will not give in to commercialization pressures and go overboard.  One holiday at a time people!  Let's just enjoy one day (and holiday) at a time!

I'm thankful for Chinese take out & Netflix.  That's how we spent our Friday night. I think we started a movie...there's a very good possibility B finished it.  I however, did not make it very far into our movie date:


I'm thankful for B's support of my career.  Most of the time, he's my laminating guru!  

I'm thankful I have until Tuesday to get my grading done because progress reports go out.  I am NOT thankful in any way for our awful new gradebook. It's amazing for high school and middle school teachers, but beyond impractical for elementary school.

I'm thankful for humorous blog posts that highlight teaching, my new find being this one.  It is 1000 % true!

I'm thankful that my class will be ready to publish their next essays this week, leaving me the opportunity to do this fun writing activity:

We'll be typing up these papers, so I'm thankful we have a lab to use.  

I'm also thankful most of my weekend chores are done by 9 am on a Saturday! I have a few groceries to go buy before having gals over later and grading to do tomorrow during football, but my lesson plans are done and our house is spotless!  Hooray for productivity :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Compare & Contrast

The fact that it's mid-November is still mind baffling to me.  This time last year, I was emotionally done with work.  I was tired of having others seek out opportunities to make me seem inferior.  My grade level was amazing, but the respect seemed to end there.

The days I was observed last year?

1. Thursday of the first week of school.  We are setting up notebooks and building class norms.
2. Halloween afternoon.  
3. Thursday afternoon before winter break.
4. The Monday morning after winter break, when we had been in the classroom for 10 minutes.
5. The Thursday before field day, which was right before spring break.

Yup, those five magical days are what my evaluation was based on.  Was this fair? Absolutely not.

I've been formally observed once this year.  My admin has popped in, my coaches have popped in, but I've had one formal observation.  We had both pre- and post-observation conferences.  It was a Tuesday afternoon and was planned.  Did it go perfectly? No, of course not. One kid went to the nurse for throwing up.  We had an assembly later that day.  It was a three day week.  However, my admin's first words to me was how great the lesson was and how I have wonderful classroom culture.

My new admin is looking for ways to praise my teaching and find minor tweaks to help me improve.  My old admin? Looking for ways to humiliate and degrade me.  Seeking out ways to make me feel stupid, not ways to make me feel empowered.

Glad I switched.  As an educated professional dealing with thirty different youngsters, it's nice to be treated with respect.  It's nice to hear what a positive difference I'm making and that I'm appreciated.

While scary at times, I'm glad I took the risk and changed schools.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Things I've Found

As I wrote about earlier, it's a long weekend for us due to Veteran's Day.  While I'm freezing because it's 70 degrees inside our home, apparently others are having a snow day. (Looking at you Mrs. A in Wisconsin!).  

I decided to tackle cleaning out our guest bedroom because it's been a box fort for a few months now.  When I switched classrooms, I went from nine bookcases down to it's been an adjustment.  I also am not doing small groups based on novels this year, but instead pulling based on skills, standards, and Reading Rangers levels.  I feel I get to conference with each child more, but I miss having lengthy discussions about novels.  I'm sure there is a way to balance both, I'm just not there yet.

As a result in these changes, I have a lot of teaching supplies still at my house.  I'm shifting through the boxes, deciding what goes to my classroom, what gets donated, and what is just plain outdated.  

Here's what I've found:

1. Binders full of paper copies of novel guides I created but were erased from my hard drive.  Hallelujah!  Many of them have already been recreated and improved for TpT, but there are a good several dozen that have yet to be updated.  I know what I'll be doing over the next few months!  My goal is to have 200 TpT products by my 2 year anniversary (July).  I'm at 158, so I think that's definitely doable!

2. My good wall stapler.

Yes, I've been missing this for months.  I came pretty close to becoming this:

I bought a second online but it just wasn't the same.  While I love office supplies in general, this is one of my favorites.  The wrist strap means I don't have to constantly bend down because I've dropped it.  The stapler molds to my hand and the staples can't fall out.  I'm a little too excited to be reunited with my good stapler.

3. Green staples.  Why do I own these?  Perhaps I can do something Christmas themed with them.

4. Expo markers.  Dozens of them.  Along with binder clips, pencils, glue sticks, post-its, and student scissors.  I may not need to buy office supplies for a long time (hallelujah).

5. Old Presidential Time lines.  When I say old, I mean they don't include Obama.  Or Clinton. Or Bush.  So...those have to go. 

On the bright side, I'm a few hours away from having a spotless guest bedroom!

Ugh, why?

Today is "family day" in my district.  Since we have off tomorrow (Veteran's Day), the school district decided to give us the day off as well since many students wouldn't show.  To be fair, they tacked on another day at the end of the school year, so instruction remains the same.

However, my brain didn't get the memo.  I awoke promptly at five am and after tossing and turning, decided to give up and be productive.  There are no children in the picture to blame and my furballs are asleep, so this is solely my over-achieving brain's desire to conquer another day.

So before 6 am, on my day off, I've already started laundry, checked my email, and created a log to keep track of my work commitments for our new evaluation system.  Sigh.

At least I have the day off because there is without a shadow of a doubt, a 1000% chance I will be taking a nap this afternoon.

Today I am thankful for naps.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Thankfulness, continued

Once again, I'm pausing from life's chaos to be still and reflective.

I'm thankful to have a job that I love (most of the time).  Yes, grading on my weekends is irritating, but it's what I signed up for.  Plus I'm great at multi-tasking!

I'm thankful for technology. I'm able to easily share pictures of our classroom with parents, thanks to our class weebly.  It's password protected for my students' privacy.

I'm thankful for B's support in my dreams.  

Last summer, I decided to put some of my products on Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT).  I'd spent countless hours making things for my classroom, so I figured I'd share with other teachers.  I have free products, but most are paid.  I spent hours making things so I don't think it's unreasonable to charge.  Most items are priced at less than a quarter a page, which comes out to pennies per hour of work time.  However, it's been a successful endeavor.  As of posting time, I've already sold about thirty products this month alone!  Plus many fellow educators find the products incredibly useful, so I'm pleased students all around the country are getting to play the games my students also love.  You can check out my shop here!

I recently fell in love with Jamberry wraps and decided to be an independent consultant.

They last for weeks, I can apply them at home when I want to take a break from grading, and they're way cheaper than the salon!  There are over 300 styles available and are always buy 3, get 1 free online! Shop at:!

I love having cute nails and helping others have them too :)

I'm also thankful my grading can be done in chunks and that my football game is on TV today!

Halloween Math Games

Halloween is a special day in elementary school.  Between lots of costumes, our school wide dance party to Thriller, and the looming five day (yes, 5 day) weekend for students, there wasn't a lot of focusing on work from my students.

Instead of fighting for their focus, I did math games.  They were aligned to the standards and students were working on math, but in a fun way.  

Game 1: Decimal Place Value Spooky Sort, created by Jennifer Findley

We have been working on rounding and decimals, so this was perfect for them to round to the specified place value!

Game 2: Adding and Subtracting Decimals, created by Jane Feener

This was perfect for my students!  I'd just explicitly taught adding and subtracting the week before so it was a great spiral review.

Game 3: Sweet Rounding Decimals, created by Fun in Fifth Grade

Again, another awesome center to review math concepts!

Oh, did I mention all these fabulous games were free?  Be sure to leave their creators some love on TpT!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thankful catch ups!

Ah, the weekend.  It's time to catch up on blogging and class updates.  But first, time to pause and reflect upon the things that I'm thankful for:

-My students are so incredibly excited about everything we're doing.  Their immediate buy-in makes my job easier.  Their zest for learning is contagious.  Their desire for reading, especially anything by Rick Riordan, is insatiable.

-Many of my students are bilingual.  I have a new-to-country student who is just learning English. It's an incredibly tough struggle, but he's a sweetheart. He's from Mexico and about half my class speaks Spanish.  I've got him on English-learning programs, reading bilingual books, and he's very excited about math.  I'm so thankful he's got many partners who can translate and are so eager to help him acclimate to our classroom and feel successful.

-I'm thankful for the flexibility I'm allowed at my new school.  Math runs a few minutes over because I'm working with a small group? Ok. It happens. I'm not in trouble for it.  I decide to take my small groups outside to read because we are having gorgeous 80 degree weather in November? Sounds good, provided I let the office know.  It's great to be treated like a professional and not have every decision I make scrutinized. 

-I'm thankful for Rick Riordan.  In his latest books, he reveals one of the male characters has feelings for Percy and is struggling to admit these feelings to others.  The books are in no way sexualized because they're written for children, but I appreciate that Riordan made a gay hero for students to look up to.  Plus he's an amazing author anyway, so this just added one more reason to the why he's great list!

-I'm thankful my school cares about me as a person first and a teacher second.  I have yet to take a sick/personal day but am trying to coordinate schedules with B to see when we can sneak in a 3 day weekend.  I doubt I'll have to explain myself and I'm sure a mental health day will be encouraged, provided I leave sub plans.

-I'm thankful for the numerous potlucks at work!  Seriously, there are several each month and they are all themed. It's great!

-I'm thankful the post office had both Batman and Harry Potter stamps.  Mailing out Jamberry samples just got a whole lot more fun!

-I'm thankful for my (assuming) future parents in law for gifting Olive Garden gift cards.  We had a spontaneous mid-week dinner date and it was fabulous.

What are you thankful for on this fine Saturday morning?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thankful, day 4

Thankful staff development day is over!

Thankful for patience and patient people.

Thankful I got to talk to my bestie and my mommy today.

Thankful B made me mac & cheese.

Thankful I have no immediate work to do so I can relax this evening!

Glad that's over!

Back to back staff development days are done...sigh!

I presented yesterday on an organizational template and the 8 math practices.  Today I presented on 2 different math games, one of which is 20 wins that you can snag here on my TpT store.

Weirdly the math games were much more well received than an administrative directive, passed down from our bosses' boss.  

I was stressing all weekend.  Irrationally, I know.  I've been at this school site for 10 weeks, so I was a tad nervous to present for staff development day when I don't know everyone's name.  

It went fine. I had lots of positive feedback.  I'm just glad it's over!

How do you use math games in your classroom?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Thankful, Day 3

The thankfulness continues.

Day 3:

I am thankful to be in a profession where I have the opportunity to constantly learn new things and try new strategies.  I am thankful to be at a school where I can learn from others. I'm thankful for my grade level and for the support I receive from the other math chair.

Today I presented on math strategies for staff development.  It went fairly well and others were appreciative of new strategies and planning time.

Side note: I didn't teach math last year.  The two years prior to that? I taught stations in an inclusion classroom with the special ed kiddos.  Before that? A traditional classroom.

However, I've attended lots of math trainings over the past few years because I didn't want to fall out of practice.  I guess they've paid off!

As frustrating as these math trainings are, I do appreciate that I have the opportunity to attend them to learn more information (and be paid to learn).

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Veteran's Day Sale

All of my TpT items will be 20% off on Monday, November 10th and Tuesday, November 11th in honor of Veteran's Day.  Shop here!

Umm...that's special?

My new school's ID badge has my first and last name on it, which normally isn't a big deal.

Except now my students know my first name.

Which lead some of them to make me a character in their most recent narratives.  It's a little weird to keep seeing my name pop up in their stories, but at least I'm wearing pink and not the villain?!

I'm going to choose to see this as a flattering strange as it is.

Thankfulness, Days 1 and 2

I frequently fall into the habit of focusing on the things in life that aren't going right, rather than stopping to appreciate the things that are.  Like so many others, I'll be participating in Thankful November.

The premise is simple: find time each day to be thankful for things in your life.  Speak them aloud, post on social media, spread the thankfulness.

Day 1:

I am thankful my car was returned from Carmax in a timely manner and earlier than promised. I am thankful Carmax & Chevy have a good relationship. I am thankful I was in a stable financial situation to buy a newer car (she's a 2012) from Carmax and be covered with a warranty.  The check engine light came on and everything was checked out and fixed, free of charge.  They even washed the exterior and vacuumed inside, which was a pleasant surprise.  I'm thankful for transportation and I'm thankful for companies that truly do their best to take care of customers. 

I am thankful for my students' effort.  One munchkin retook his first math test for the third time.  Yes, three times taking a math test on the same concept.  The numbers are changed each time but I know he's been working hard on mastering place value and powers of ten.  His dad is a math teacher so I know he practices at home.  He failed the first test.  Got a D on the second.  We've kept working on it and I know he plays math games at home with his family.  This time? 90%.  Can't wait to share that with him!

Day 2: 

I am thankful for two healthy kittens who have such sassy personalities.  Crookshanks, who is normally sweet tempered, gave me this face when I stopped petting her:

Yes, major sass right there.  I plan to use this image as a morning meme with my students the next time they need a reminder about putting their names on their papers.

I'm thankful I was able to make the decision to adopt my two furballs a few years ago. I went to a no kill shelter with the intention of adopting a 12 week old Chloe, but when she was curled up with her sister...I ended up with both furballs.  One of the best decisions I've ever made since they bring me so much joy.

What are you thankful for?

Table Solving

We like to switch things up in my classroom.  A majority of my math block is spent with students collaboratively solving problems and discussing them.  I pull a small group a few times a week during their independent work, which is usually for about ten minutes.  I give 5 problems or so and get through 2 with my small group (that's ok).  I think they should be collaborating during math time.

While not everyone agrees on my math practices, I'd rather have my students solving challenging problems together and talking about strategies as opposed to the opposite: always silently working in ancient text books.

We are in the midst of a long weekend (thank you Nevada Day followed by 2 staff development days), so I gave a math test on the Thursday before the weekend.  On Wednesday, we played jeopardy.

In the past, I noticed that some students were being passive participants, merely smiling and letting their tables do the work.  Not coincidentally, these students weren't doing so great on their tests.  So I let my students pick their own groups and limited the number of students to 4 rather than 6.   This helped with engagement and participation.  True, there were a few students who still didn't want to work but instead of me harping on them, their teams did.  Nothing like some positive peer pressure!

Instead of having them solve on white boards, I got large sheets of butcher paper for each group.  We also used markers because that always seems to make math more exciting!  

They had a great time working together to solve multiplication problems!

On a post-grading note, I had higher scores on this test than previous ones!