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