Thursday, January 31, 2013

TPT Sunday Super Sale: Stock Up on Math Learning Centers

That's right, Teacher's Pay Teachers will be having another site-wide sale on game day.  It's a good day to pick up some items from your wishlist at a reduced price in between watching those fantastic commercials.  (*wink*)

I'm glad they are running the sale now since my wallet has had a chance to recover from the holidays, and there are still a few weeks before February vacation. 

Over at my TPT store I'll be throwing a sale to coincide with the site's in order to give you 28% off all my items priced $1 and up (just remember to use promo code SUPER at checkout).  If you're looking forward to stocking up while the prices are low, getting a bunch of math learning centers is a good idea this time of year.  Just think:

  1. The kids know your expectations for group work and being held accountable.
  2. You know which kids need extra practice using which skills.
  3. You know which kids to keep apart.
  4. The kids need repetition to practice things they learned back in September to keep them in their long term memory.

If you're like me and increasing the time you give your students to use your learning centers between now and your state testing, here are some of my popular learning center task cards and file folder games for math skills such as 2 digit multiplication, long division, factors and multiples, prime and composite numbers, place value, and estimating.








I hope you find some great resources during the sale!  Besides math centers, do you already have planned purchases in your wishlist?  Share your favorite finds in the comments below.





Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Morning Meeting: Shares Tasks


Do you do Morning Meeting with your class?  Does your class LOVE the "share" portion of Morning Meeting?  I used to think this "Show and Tell" stuff was too babyish for my fourth graders, but now I feel like there's never enough time for all the kids to be heard.  It's getting to the point where we have to have a weekly sign up. 

To solve this problem, I created a sign up sheet for the week.  The directions on how to make this project is over on my other blog, All Things Upper Elementary, which is a collaborative effort with 13 other amazing teachers.

My goal for this project was to save space (a bulletin board was not an option for me) and save paper (I didn't want another clipboard to make copies for).  Instead I designed this as a template that could be laminated and reused all year.   

If you could use an editable sign up sheet for Morning Meeting, or any other purpose, really, you can download my Morning Meeting Shares Sign Up Sheet from Google Drive.  It's in Word format, so all you need to do is add your students' names to the boxes and put it near your meeting area.  You can also type the "share task," such as "put a check in the box" or you could get creative and change it each week to "write a multiple of 4" or "write an adjective." Or if you want the whole package, I've created a list of about 30 ELA and 30 math tasks that are aligned to the 4th grade common core standards are included (as well as 8 third grade standards to ease into the year as you set up this sign up routine). For example, the week after you've taught multiples you might ask students to "write a multiple of 4" if they want to share, or in ELA they might be ready to "write an adjective" as a way of signing up.  This Mornimg Meeting Shares Tasks is available for purchse in my TPT store if you'd like more than the free template. 





Thursday, January 24, 2013

Grading Homework in Class


On one of the teaching forums I visit, we've been discussing tricks we use to cope with piles and piles of papers that our students complete and then wonder, "How did I do?"  And while I did a blog last year on the pros and cons of grading homework vs. checking homework and having students correct it, I just had to share this top tip.

First of all, understand that my fourth graders just can't help themselves.  When I have them correct each other's papers they constantly look over at their own paper to see if they got things right or wrong, and want to debate about every point (and several neglect the paper they are supposed to correct since they are so busy monitoring their own).  And yes, there is a time and place for discussing that sort of thing, but with this particular weekly assignment (reading responses in paragraph form) it was turning into a real time-suck. 


So a couple weeks ago I grabbed the papers from each kid's desk and then randomly handed them to a different kid on the other side of the classroom.  The first time I told them, "I've given you the WRONG paper back to correct."  I told them to keep it a secret.  Of course that was so that they wouldn't be able to look at their own paper and they could focus on the one in front of them.  And even though they soon figured out my ploy and that the secret wasn't a fun mystery, it's been working better than trading with someone at their own group.  They even sort of look forward to finding out who had them after.  In fact today one of them said to me, "Are we doing the mystery person correcting again?"  I said yes and he said, "Woo hoo, it's like Secret Santa.  But with papers!" 







Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Social Skills Life Lessons: Assertion and Empathy


Between Second Step and the Kelso initiative our school has used in the last few years, I've learned a lot about social-emotional curricula.  However, I still find the most interesting teaching happens in context.  When kids are "working on a fun activity," be it academic, gym, or recess, they see conflict as a personal affront to their fun time.  So for some kids, "fun activities" become just as stressful as taking a test!

Today I was presented with just such an issue.  I came upstairs after lunch ten minutes early, so indoor recess was in full swing and the issues started without me.  "Jimmy" came up to me to let me know that he was playing a game, and "Donald" wasn't playing fair/following the rules of the game.  He was being silly. 

Well, if these were 5 year olds I'd probably go explain how to play, and solve their problem for them.  But these are 10 year olds, and we have talked about assertion as part of our school's character education program since they were third graders.  I no longer feel that it's my role to step in and say, "You're playing wrong" as long as they're not hurting each other.

It depends on the students, of course.  But I know Jimmy and Donald have been friends since WAY back.  They visit each other's houses all the time.  They know how to get along together, even if they are what Millhouse refers to as, "friends of convenience."  Neighborhood friends who don't have the same interests, intelligence, attention span, or emotional maturity, but they have long known and accepted each other's quirks.  And having spats is a natural part of any relationship that stinks, but kids need to learn how to move past them.

So I told "Jimmy," that "If you don't like how Donald is playing, you need to tell him, 'Stop doing that; it's not funny anymore, and if you don't stop, I'm going to play with someone else.'" 

Jimmy started to tear up.  "But he's really the only one I play with."

If that was true, I'd have felt bad.  But it's not.  Jimmy has lots of friends in class.  He's athletic and plays football at recess.  No, I realized that this was not a case of Jimmy being powerless and trapped at an activity, it was a case of feeling wronged by a close friend.  And yet, if I went over to Donald to tell him to knock it off, that wasn't really going to fix the way Jimmy was feeling.  I pointed out the other kids in class who he could join, and repeated that he needed to tell Donald to stop, and if he wasn't having fun, to find something else to do.  He blinked back the tears in his eyes, took out a book, and pretended to read it with the book in his lap and his head down.

Well, that didn't fix the problem either.

So I called Donald over to my desk.  He's impulsive and silly, but he really does have a heart of gold, and I am certain he hates to see people upset.  So when he said, "What?"  I paused for a few moments and asked quietly, "Are you friends with Jimmy?"

"Yeah" (lots of nodding).

"Look at what you did to him."

He looked over at Jimmy, bent behind his desk, hiding his face.

"He's upset with the way you were acting when you were playing.  If you're really his friend, you need to go over there and talk to him."

And he did.

It was that simple.

Last year when I had recess duty, when I tried to solve their problems for them, before they were in my class and I really understood their relationship, it didn't work.  They still squabbled, neither of them were happy, and it wasted their recess time trying to sort it out.

Now that they're a year older, they're ready to work things out with just a little nudge in the right direction.  Jimmy sat up straighter after Donald talked to him.  No squabbling, no hard feelings, no sulking that carried into their next period class.  Jimmy knows that Donald is silly and impulsive, and I think he probably knew that recess is the one time Donald doesn't get in trouble for it, so he needs to go for it sometimes!  But Jimmy also needed that little affirmation that it was nothing personal; Donald wasn't trying to make him look bad or tease him in front of the other players.    









Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Upper Elementary Collaborative Blog

Tomorrow is the day!

Some of you may have already seen the new All Things Upper Elementary blog, a collaboration of 14 amazing teachers of grades 3 to 6 from around the country.  I'm so excited to be one of those collaborators!  Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 16 will be my introductory post.  Check it out for a free math game you can download, print, and use with your class as quickly as you can get to the copy room and back, as well as a vignette into my early days as a fourth grade teacher.  After tomorrow you can expect daily posts with teaching tips, strategies, and monthly freebies.   

All Things Upper ElementarySo why have I decided to post on TWO blogs this year?  Well, my hope is that being part of a team will make me a more disciplined blogger.  I'd like to be a little more consistent with my blogging schedule; my goal for 2013 is to post once per week, alternating between this blog and that one, although I'll certainly post more here when the mood strikes me.  I also feel that being part of a team of bloggers of this caliber will help me to elevate the quality of my own blog here.  Over the past year I've made a few changes already, and now that I'm part of this team I feel like we will all have the opportunity to learn from each other and stay on top of the technology learning curve as Blogger implements new features.  After all, we're teachers first, and bloggers second! 

I hope that if you teach grades 3 to 6 you'll come check out our new blog at All Things Upper Elementary, and if you have time, meet the rest of the team of teachers who have already introduced themselves.  I think you'll agree that our group is diverse enough to be interesting, but united in our passion for teaching upper elementary aged kiddos. 






Sunday, January 13, 2013

Math and Art Club Tessellation Projects

Over the past few weeks I'd been running a Math/Art club on Tuesdays for a small group of third and fourth graders at my school, and we just finished this past week.  Our focus was on tessellations/motion geometry, and we had a blast!

I first learned about creating tessellations from our art teacher, who did an art enrichment period for a few weeks for each grade level every year.  When that ended, she and I taught it together after-school one year, and when that sort of collaboration for after school clubs was discontinued, she was happy to let me take it over.  I'm just glad our school has had the funding to do it the past 2 years after a couple years of no clubs!

For our club we start out looking at examples and definitions for slides/translations, rotations/turns, and reflections/flips.  Then comes the art!

First we cut and paste tiles:



Then we traced tiles:


Next we created original tiles to trace:


And finally we did some freehand drawing:  


The kids (and I) had a lot of fun!  It was my first year doing this with third graders (usually I reserve it for my own fourth graders) but most of the third graders felt successful and proud of their masterpieces too.  If you're interested, I have complete directions for these projects available in my TPT store here: Tessellation Lesson Plans.  I hope clubs are funded again next year!




Friday, January 4, 2013

Blog Name Change!

You may be saying to yourself, "Something is different here..." and you're right.  After months of wanting to do it, I finally took the plunge.

Your Home School Connection has a new name, and it's Shut the Door and Teach!

I was scared to start over; I didn't want to confuse readers/Pinners/Google Search Engine.  But Google was confused anyway because it thought I was blogging about homeschooling.  Well, no more.  I finally got inspiration for a new name that I think I will be happy with for a long time to come.

So, why shut the door and teach? 

It's NOT because I don't want to share ideas with other teachers.  Otherwise I wouldn't be an blogger in the field of education.

It's NOT because I like to keep out my principal or colleagues.  I love my school and coworkers, and I welcome visitors (parents, teachers, esteemed members of the community) who want to come see what we're doing.

Shut the Door and Teach!No, Shut the Door and Teach is my mantra when all the background noise gets me overwhelmed.  Deadlines, new curriculum, scheduling conflicts, new evaluation systems, and so on.  And yet, when I put all that aside, and just focus on the kids, when I just put all my energy and know how into making them excited about the content they are learning, into patiently working with those kids who need extra, and raising the level of discussion, thinking, and writing to the point where I'm amazed with the insight that a nine year old is capable of, I remember what my job is really about.  And that makes me truly happy.

All that other stuff is important, but it's because it's supposed to help us to help the kids.  So on days when all the background stuff is bogging me down instead of empowering me, I have to remind myself to take a step back and say to myself, "I'm here for the kids, first and foremost."

That's why sometimes "you've just got to shut the door and teach!"




P.S.  I have another exciting announcement to make.  Not only will I be continuing to blog here with a new name that's more "me," I have been invited to join a brand new blog dedicated to teaching grades 3 to 6 with an AMAZING team of teacher-bloggers!  I am so excited to have this opportunity because I know I'll be able to reach even more teachers and be involved in the creation of a daily resource for teachers who love to see great teaching in action and bring those ideas into their own classrooms.  If you work with these grade levels, stop by All Things Upper Elementary


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Classroom Management After Winter Break


One of the nice things about teaching fourth grade is after a week long vacation, the kids DON'T need much help getting back into the swing of things!  They're more like adults than the little ones in that regard.  They are well rested and remember, "Okay, back to work.  Got to try to focus and do the right thing."  It amazes me every year.

Sure they need reminders like, "Before we go into the hall, what should our line look like?"  And, "That doesn't sound like a discussion about landforms of the Northeast; you will need to save that conversation for lunchtime."

But with the older kids, there are things that they just get.  Like when I told them at Morning Meeting, "You can share something you did over vacation.  Not something you got, because we're not here to brag..." and not only did I get a chuckle, but not ONE student broke that rule.  And they seemed to enjoy hearing the stories about frolicking in the snow and other wintery mishaps almost as much as I did.  They ask each other (and me) appropriate questions, like, "When you watched the ball drop, did you see MC Hammer?"  And their replies, such as, "Oh yeah, I saw that too!  He was dancing with the Chinese Elvis," leave me in stitches.  ("Actually, Donny, Psy is Korean, but I suppose he does dress a lot like Elvis!")

It was nice to reconnect with the kids, and they really stepped up to the academics after Morning Meeting too.  Calendar Math is finally clicking after a rocky start, 2 column notes is finally becoming second nature to them after a similar start, and my new insects and arachnids game got them excited again about, well, being back to school.

Although it was hard getting out of bed in the morning, at the end of today I actually felt HAPPY to be working with this group of kiddos when I left work today.




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