Sunday, May 13, 2018

Blooming for Poetry

You know how there are some lessons that are just magical? Well. . . Poppies and Pantoum Poetry by my friend, Tracy, at Wild Child Designs is one of those lessons! 
We started by reading a bio on Georgia O'Keeffe (provided in the product). My kids were fascinated by her life and her perseverance, overcoming physical hardships. We also read My Name is Georgia and  Georgia O'Keeffe: Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists.
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After studying her style of zooming into a flower, we closely examined our own photos of flowers. Starting at the center of the image, students decided which shapes and types of lines made up the flower. The hardest part (but most fun) was encouraging them to draw LARGE, right off the edges of the paper! Oil pastels really made the colors pop!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Finally Understanding Fractions

You'd think after 30+ years of teaching, I'd have my strategies for teaching math "down". Well, just like any learner, I'm always in search of aligning my philosophy of how children learn with best practices, simultaneously walking that tightrope of district mandated curriculum. "Back in the day," I used to teach primary grades using Box it or Bag it Mathematics, then Opening Eyes to Mathematics in upper grades. Both programs were hands-on, inquiry-based, and highly engaging. As my district kept adopting new math textbooks supposedly Common Core-aligned, I became more and more disjointed from how I knew I should be teaching.
If you've been following me for a while, you  know I've been searching for a better way to teach math. You may have joined in our Mathematical Mindsets book study. If you're unfamiliar with that incredible book, check out the study HERE.  

This year, I finally feel back to being a "good" math teacher! Are you familiar with Cognitively Guided Instruction in math, otherwise known as CGI? (For those of you already trained and implementing CGI. . . I know I'm late to the game! Sigh. . .) Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) is based on an integrated program of research focused on (a) the development of students’ mathematical thinking; (b) instruction that influences that development; (c) teachers’ knowledge and beliefs that influence their instructional practices; and (d) the way that teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and practices are influenced by their understanding of students’ mathematical thinking. I've been observing CGI teachers, reading the CGI book, and went to training. It makes sense! I'll be blogging about my CGI journey throughout the year.

Teaching fractions has traditionally been an area of struggle for many students. (Even my husband complains that he STILL does not understand fractions!) Using the CGI book, Extending Children's Mathematics: Fractions and Decimals, my students are solving fraction problems in a manner that is intuitive and natural for them!
Rather than an entire worksheet filled with fraction problems, each day we focus on one problem. Yep, that's it: 1 problem! I was skeptical about whether this would be the best use of instructional time, but the amount of language, sharing of strategies, and understanding of concepts is incredible!! 
My students eagerly ask what the new problem is each day :) (I've never had kids excited about a word problem before!)
Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
You need this fractions and decimal companion book to CGI! Because students have such a better understanding of fractions, they are now able to identify and understand the connections between common denominators, equal shares, and multiple groups. They are applying familiar strategies to new problems, even traditional-looking equations from the math book.

If you want your students to play a fun & fast-paced fraction review game, check out Spring Fraction Review Scoot!
Be sure to visit all the other great Teacher Talk posts below!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Building Understanding, One Brick at a Time

It's always the hands-on activities that we remember about school. For me, I remember climbing to the top of a ladder in second grade, then dropping my reading astronaut with a parachute to land in a wading pool of water, after all our astronauts had been traveling through space on lines above our classroom, the distance marking how many books we had read. (This was only a couple years after Apollo 11 landed the first man on the moon.) I also remember building a gold mining cradle in fourth grade.
I want my students to have the same fond memories and understanding of important curriculum. Getting their hands dirty while mixing and building adobe bricks is the perfect way to understand how adobe was used in building the missions and California rancho houses. Although the original ingredients include cow manure, I reassure my students we are not using manure (some kids are always disappointed. . .)
Students worked in groups to tear straw into small bits, then mix with dirt and sand or clay. After gradually adding water to make a thick mixture, scoop out adobe mud and place in wooden frames. (My awesome hubby built these mini frames for us!)
Press the mud firmly with another wood piece to compact the dirt and to release the extra water.
After carefully lifting the frame off the mud, voila! An adobe brick. We left ours to dry for a few days, reminding the class that "real adobe" bricks had to dry for 1 year before being whitewashed!
Another teacher suggested that students make lots of adobe bricks then use them to build a structure as a STEAM activity. Maybe next year! What hands-on activities do you do with your students? I'd love to hear about them!

You may also be interested in a differentiated unit on California Missions. Find out more by clicking on the photo below.

Be sure to click on the buttons below for more great teaching ideas!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year! The new year is always a great time to reflect back, set goals, and start fresh. I don’t like calling these goals “new year’s resolutions” because that always makes me think of a too-broad, well-meaning statement (I truly DO want to exercise more or cut out sugar!) that I forget about by February. Goals, on the other hand, are concrete and are set with a plan for success.
The new year is also the perfect time to focus on health. Students usually think solely of physical health and getting fit. However, health consists of three components: mental/emotional health, social/family health, and physical health. To develop a well-rounded person, we need to focus on each area. Have students develop a goal with a plan for each type of health. Social and emotional health is crucial to our children’s well-being!
There are 2 variations of the goal setting sheet: one is focused on health goals, the other is geared toward “school-based” goals. Feel free to use either. The goal sheet may be printed out & glue a student photo in the frame or click on the link in resource below to have students fill out digitally in Google sheets (I assign a copy to each student in Google Classroom).

Click HERE or on the cover below to download your FREE copy!
Want more on goal setting? Read about student portfolios HERE and taking goal setting to the next level with student-led conferences HERE.
Visit the blogs below for more great teaching ideas to start off the new year!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Geology Rocks!

You know the kid who can't stop singing during class? The one who knows every lyric to every song on YouTube, but can't seem to learn multiplication facts? (until you teach multiplication songs!) I LOVE incorporating music and singing into our daily classroom routine. One of my favorite teaching strategies is having students perform: reading, speaking, singing, and acting all about 4th grade content! 
Last week my class performed Geology Rocks, a musical science production by Bad Wolf Press. (You can read more about other plays by Bad Wolf Press HERE.) The basic premise is that Professor Rock is missing, so Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson try to solve the missing case. The dialogue is HILARIOUS and the tunes are catchy. But best of all, it covers all of our NGSS for earth science!
Volcanoes sing and dab about "magma coming up my spout, lava pouring out. . . molten, molten, molten rock. . . molten rock and gases. . ."
 The Earth sets the record straight, informing the narrators, Jenn & Rosie, that she is more than just the outer crust, singing, "I am deep. . .not just water and some dust. . ."
 The mountains sing about how "they crunch and fold and soon enough the Himalayas grow. . ."

Friday, December 8, 2017

Just in Time for the Holidays!

Just in time for the holidays, a chance to win a $75 TpT gift card for YOU!


First Place - $75 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card
Second Place - $25 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card

Giveaway Organized by: Kelly Malloy (An Apple for the Teacher)

Co-hosts: An Apple for the Teacher, Walk With Me a Second, A Plus Kids, Mrs Hansens Helpfuls, Paula's Preschool and Kindergarten, Right Down the Middle with Andrea, Think Grow Giggle, It's a Teacher Thing, Teach with Hope, Teacher Gameroom, It's Kinder Time, Mickey's Place, Reading and Writing Redhead, The Chocolate Teacher, Kelly McCown, Jackie Crews, The Best Days, LIVIN' IN A VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER, Kamp Kindergarten, La-Nette Mark, Little Owl's Teacher Treats, 1stgradefireworks, Catch My Products, MM Bilingual, Ms. K, Digging Deep to Soar Beyond the Text, Tried and True Teaching Tools, Glistening Gems, Teacher Gone Digital, 180 Days of Reading, Dreams Teach, Glitter is Everywhere, Traci Bender - The Bender Bunch, KB3Teach, and Learning Inspired.

Rules: Use the Rafflecopter to enter. Giveaway ends 12/13/17 and is open worldwide

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3 Tried & True Quick & Easy Holiday Gifts

I don't know about you, but December always seems to creep up on me. Holiday rehearsals, student gifts, parent volunteer gifts, parent gifts (?), staff gifts, classroom aide gifts, finishing projects, and the list goes on!  I love the holiday season, but by the time Winter Break rolls around, I can barely stand up anymore; LOL! The WORST part for me is thinking of what to give so many people who I want to show appreciation for, without going broke. Here are 3 (or maybe more) tried & true holiday gifts that take less than an hour to assemble and are easily flexible to your budget.
 All I can say is thank goodness for Pinterest and all those creative crafters out there! We lazy busy procrastinators thank you! My youngest daughter is in middle school. She has 6 classes. That means 6 teachers. 6 gifts. Although I've been told (by a tween) that no one gives presents to teachers in middle school, I think no one deserves a thank you more than teachers who work with kids going through puberty! I try to give gifts that  people can actually use and appreciate. (I mean, how many scented lotions or candles can we really use?!) Most teachers, parents, aides, people drink something: coffee, tea, water. . . The "Thanks a Latte" templates by Thrifty NW Mom made for a super cute, quick & easy gifts. I printed them on cardstock, added a "cupholder" out of scraps of scrapbooking paper,  taped on a Starbucks gift card (of any amount that fits into your budget), then tied string. Voila! Done! Click on the picture to take you to the template.
Next, I love to feed people to show caring. And being a busy, working mom myself, I appreciate gifts of quick dinners! These 2 soups from Cassie at Wholefully: coconut curry and Italian barley are simple to assemble, pretty to give, and taste delicious! They fit in a pint size mason jar and cost under $4 to make (including the mason jar!) I attached scraps of holiday fabric under the screw-top lid and hot glued ribbon on the edge. Click on the picture below for these recipes, cute direction tags, and more soups!
Watching all the gift making activity, my youngest wanted to make gifts for her friends, too. Since not many middle schoolers make their own soup, in comes cookie mix in a jar by The Happier Homemaker! (This time we had to use a quart size mason jar, as I discovered when the pint size jar filled with the flour. . .) Same concept, easy for kids to assemble, then we used the same scraps of fabric and ribbon. For one of her friends that is gluten-free, we used gluten-free baking flour. These would be cute with red & green M & M's (in place of the chocolate chips) . . . I thought of this after we had finished all the jars. Next year. . .
Michaels craft store had holiday bags already 70% off so we grabbed a pack, padded with tissue and all our jars are ready to deliver to school next week!
For my students each year, I give them a 3-pack of pencils embossed with their name (anyone else have a pencil problem in their class??) The kids LOVE them and they're only 99cents at For Teachers Only.  (I forgot to take a picture of them before I wrapped. . .) 

I certainly don't need more "stuff" and I'm sure others feel the same way, so another one of my favorite traditions is to give my staff gifts in their name through organizations that benefit children: meals to feed a child for a week, games and arts supplies for kids, vaccinations for kids, etc. There are many local churches that offer these opportunities to buy "gifts" to help those in need. I've always gotten such positive feedback from those whom I give these to. (I also forgot to take a photo of the cute cards that explain the gifts. . .sigh. . . but hey, the cards are written and ready to go!)

What do you give as staff and volunteer appreciation gifts? Please share; I'm always looking for more ideas!!