August 8, 2016

My First Week in 3rd Grade

I finally have time to sit down and think about my first week in 3rd grade. It was exciting, albeit a little long, and I know we are going to have a good year together!

First of all, it has been so enjoyable to feel like I am picking up where I left off in May. I have taught 2nd grade for 8 years, and so coming back to school to teach 3rd graders has been such a nice transition! I have enjoyed being able to talk to my 3rd graders and connect back to things they did last year. I've also benefited from their 3rd grade work stamina-40 minute writing assessment? No prob! Just read for a few minutes? Ok! While we will, of course, work on stamina for the next few weeks, it is so nice to have a base for that. 

3rd graders are also just a lot of fun to talk to and learn from! They have clear ideas about what to expect from themselves and from school, but are open to new things. They have some different interests and things they would like to learn about (Wars, Mythology...), they cleverly make requests (Hey, Mrs. T, sometimes chewing gum helps you concentrate-can we chew gum during Writer's Workshop?), and they are ready for more responsibility (Safety patrol applications went home this week!). It's exciting for them and for me. 

This first week was also an easy lesson in humility for me. I'm learning all about my new team and how 3rd grade "goes" at our school. I'm learning our new standards. I'm figuring out how to make a challenging classroom work. As a result, I feel like I've spent the week constantly saying "I don't know." or "We're going to do this for now and see if it works." The amount of decisions we teachers have to make everyday is astounding, and in this new situation, it is wearing on me a little bit! 

I hope that you all have a smooth transition back into school! I, for one, am ready to tackle another great year!


August 7, 2016

Our Classroom: 2016 Reveal

Welcome to my new classroom! The panorama above, while cool, does not truly capture the feel of my classroom. It's difficult to tell, but I have a bit of an L-shaped classroom. I had to stand in the front corner of my room to get a good picture, rather than the doorway.

Here is a view from the actual doorway. This picture was taken right before Meet the Teacher.

Setting up this room has provided me with a lot of challenges. There are still a few things that I'm figuring out, or that I just don't like. I've also had difficulty finding places to "put" everything-for storage and just general classroom needs. However, there are plenty of spaces in my classroom that I'm really excited about this year.

Empty Walls and Boards
As you may remember from last year, I have very strong opinions about my empty walls and empty bulletin boards-but that doesn't stop me from making them beautiful! I've got some things planned out, but most of the walls are just empty and without plans right now! Here are some photos:

Titles are a way to spruce up a board that is waiting for students. Banners are helpful, too-the banner over my interactive whiteboard helps add color and life to the front of the room without creating distraction. 

This sort-of-empty wall will be filled with photographs and hashtags throughout the year! I will have the kids help write hashtags for the pictures as we post them. If you think about it, hashtags are a great way to practice summarizing. 

Making it work
This is what you will see immediately upon entering my classroom. At first, I was really unhappy about that, because the bookcase was just so drab. In the end, I was able to spruce it up with the nice baskets and some pom poms.

Student Ownership
Below is a real life picture for you. The book boxes are getting full and are a little wonky, but I wanted to show how my students decorated their own labels. I've been trying to figure out ways that students can help build our classroom environment, and this was an easy way to do this on the very first day. They were also able to decorate their own name tags. They will be adding visuals to our procedures posters and a few other things as we continue through the first six weeks of school.

A Cozy Place
Here is another look at the front of my classroom. I love my huge and beautiful rug, comfy chairs with emoji pillows, and fun bulletin board borders. My kids like hanging out in this area, too, even though we haven't even turned on the computers yet!

Hope you've enjoyed and maybe even found some ideas for your own classroom!


August 3, 2016

Using Games to Build Math Fluency and Flexibility

Math Facts. Are there any other words that bring such anxiety to the minds of teacher, students, and parents alike? With that said, mastery of these early math skills is oh-so-important for academic success.Over the years, I have developed a system that works for real students learning strategies for Math Fact Fluency (note, I didn't say memorization...more on that later). Flashcards, games, number talks, quizzes, and student data tracking are all a part of what I have seen work for the students in my classroom. Today, I want to talk a little more about Games. 

Why should I use Math Games? 
Students who are stressed or bored are simply not going to sharpen or even retain what they are learning. Therefore, games allow students to sharpen and build their knowledge of Math Facts in a low-stress environment. A parent in my class has developed some games (Math Kit) to help families "cuddle up" with math facts-like you would "cuddle up" to read. I love that idea! It's true that we often approach our Reading instruction and practice with a much different attitude or philosophy than we do Math skills.   

Even more than the mastery of skills, enjoyment of the learning process is, in my opinion, just as important so if we want to foster a love of learning (all learning) in our students. If you can have fun learning, you should take advantage of that opportunity! 

How can I use Math Games?
I suggest teaching the Math game you are using in class and allowing students to practice in class. Maybe this means having them practice during the work time following your mini lesson. Maybe this means including it in your center time. I believe that Math Games can be used no matter how you teach Math. 

I also suggest sending directions home as a part of homework. I don't assign Math Fact worksheets for homework. I give students copies of the flashcards after I have taught them some ideas or protocols for how to use the cards. I send home directions either physically or via our blog. This way, students can practice their Math Facts in a fun and low stress way at home as well! BONUS: I don't have to make copies of or check over worksheets. 

Doesn't it take a lot of prep?
It can. Some teachers love to use lots of different games with things to copy, cut out, and laminate. But to be honest, that is just not my style. At all. So, I would say NO! Incorporating games into your Math time doesn't have to take much preparation at all! Most of the Math Fact fluency games in my classroom only require a deck of cards. Recording sheets are often optional (I've found they can slow kids down), other materials are simple, and copying is at a minimum. Even more, I reuse many of the games with different sets of Math Facts so that I don't have to spend much instruction time on teaching the games, either. 

Sounds fun, but don't my kids need to practice writing answers as quickly as possible?
Ok. So. When my kids practice in games, I don't often have them record their work. I figure 1. Their partner is going to correct them if they are wrong. and 2. Writing down answers is just going to slow down their work with the game. Ok....and 3. I don't need anymore papers to check and file. 

Here's why I think  know that it is ok that students are practicing Math Facts through games and not drill worksheets:
1. Mathematical Fluency and Writing Fluency are two different things. Think about that. Many students can work quickly in their heads, but struggle with putting that on paper. Yes, I do assess them with written work, but allowing them the time to practice their Math thinking without the added stress of writing it down is powerful, especially for our students in the primary grades.
2. I have seen my students meet standards and make improvements without daily drill on worksheets. All of what I'm sharing with you has become my passion because I have seen positive outcomes in my classrooms over the past years. 

Interested in learning more about how I approach Math Fact Fluency in my classroom? Read more:
Using Number Talks to Build Math Fluency and Flexibility

Interested in trying out my system for building Math Fact Fluency? Check out these products in my TPT shop:

Addition Facts By Strategy: Flashcards, Games, Number Talks, Quizzes

July 28, 2016

Using Number Talks to Build Math Fluency and Flexibility

What are Number Talks?
Number Talks are a short, daily routine to focus on mental math computation. They are (typically) full class discussions, facilitated by the teacher, but guided by the students.

Why should I use Number Talks?
First of all, Number Talks are a quick and easy way to get a glimpse into the thinking of your students. Are they using the strategies you have taught? Which strategies do they prefer? Are they able to flexibly apply strategies? Are they able to describe what they are thinking?

Secondly, depending on what you learn about your students' mental computation skills during these Talks, you can guide their use of and understanding of new strategies.You can also use this time to model how to write down their thinking in a variety of ways.

Finally, you should use Number Talks because it is an amazing way to build a strong Math Community. Student voices are heard and validated. Students learn to listen to each other and "piggyback" off of ideas. Creativity is encouraged as students learn there are multiple ways to arrive at an "answer".

How can I implement Number Talks?
First, choose a time of day where you have 10-15 minutes and pick a discussion protocol. I use Think-Pair-Share for most of my Number Talks. (Article on TPS here.) Then, choose a few problems that will lend themselves to whatever strategy you are working on. Doubles plus 1? Make 10? Regrouping? Partial products?

As your students share their mental work with these problems, do your best to make their thinking "visible". Record their ideas with words, numbers, or pictures of any manipulatives they may have used in their visualizations on an anchor chart. Below are two digital examples of 2nd grade charts created during Number Talks.

That's all you need: Time, protocol, Math problems, something to record with, and lastly, an Open Mind. I think the best way to start Number Talks is just to jump in. As you and your students explore, you will discover more about the protocol you want to use and the types of problems you want to present to students. In addition, with practice, you will develop questioning skills that allow your students to take control and think and discuss more deeply.

My Experience
Number Talks have been an important part of what has transformed my thinking about Math Fact Fluency. I have personally had a lot of success with using Number Talks to teach, practice, and reinforce strategies for single digit addition and subtraction. Of course, Number Talks have not been limited to these categories, but they have made such a huge difference in my students' basic fact fluency, which is an important 2nd grade skill and standard.

Visit my shop to find a super-affordable unit for Addition Fact fluency, which includes multiple Number Talks for each strategy, in addition to flashcards, games, and quizzes:

Addition Facts By Strategy: Flashcards, Games, Number Talks, Quizzes

Further Learning On Number Talks
Short 3rd Grade Example: Short 3rd grade example video
Number Talks Guru book: Number Talks, by Sherry Parrish


July 25, 2016

Monday Made It: Ideas for Community Building

Click here to see the rest of the link up.

Hi everyone! I've been in Back To School mode, like a lot of you. I wanted to share a few things I've worked on as I have been setting up my new classroom. I am switching grade levels this year, so I am having to unpack and figure out a new space. I have also been focusing on how I will build community with my 3rd graders beginning at Day 1. So, the two things I am going to share with you today were created with that goal in mind. Enjoy, and I'll share some links to the original ideas for further inspiration!

Our Name-I have called my class my "Team" for many years. However, at my current school, we are a part of Expeditionary Learning, and mostly refer to ourselves as "Crew". SO I've decided to call us the T-Crew (for Tolentino-Crew) for the year, and had to make a cute little banner to display above the Promethean Board! I grabbed the felt letters at Target, and the fans at Party City. I added a little hot glue, and it was all ready to go! 

Speaking of "naming" your students, I read a great article from the Responsive Classroom blog on this recently. Check it out here: Naming Students In Positive Ways
Birthdays-I am really bad at keeping up with birthdays and making sure students feel special on their big days. I know. That sounds terrible. I've always given out a little pencil with a paper balloon attached to it, but I saw a great card idea shared by Teaching Maddeness in her Student Birthdays Made Easy post.

This card will be posted on the board for students to sign during the day for our Birthday Person. I love the idea that we will all take a minute to appreciate the birthday kid, and at the same time create a little treasure for them to take home!

Have a great week!