Thursday, September 12, 2019

3 Tried and True Tips for Developing Number Sense

Have you ever paid the bill at a store or restaurant, then realized at the last minute you have change? But when you try to be helpful and give the cashier the change, which would help to not get so many coins back, they either give you a blank look or just state, "But I already punched in $20." Then when you try to tell them how much to give back to you,  they become confused or anxious because it's not what the register says. . . Those scenarios are just as disturbing to a teacher, as when you ask your class to estimate how many objects are in a jar and they blurt out, "1,000!" or some other nonsense number (when there are clearly less than 50 in the jar). Number sense. How to help our students develop number sense?
Number Sense is the ability to appreciate the size and scale of numbers in the context of the question at hand. The three major elements that fall under number sense are counting, wholes and parts, and proportional thinking.
 Warm ups and number talks build number intuition and fluency, while giving you (the teacher) insight into how your students think. They support the idea that math makes sense, and you can explain what you see to help it make sense to other students. Engage students with expressions and equations as a means to:
  • develop relational thinking
  • look for patterns in number
  • develop place value understanding and/or
  • build number fluency
The difference is that the students aren’t just looking for the answer: they’re trying to find as many different ways to solve the problem as they can. The key elements to number talks are less emphasis on speed and right answers and and more of an emphasis on their thinking process and communication.
Choral counting is a warm up that teachers can use to help students identify patterns, strengthen number sense, develop concepts of place value, and increase number fluency. Ask: How are you deciding what number comes next? What patterns do you see? It's often quite surprising what students notice (that was unintentional on the teacher's part!)

Monday, September 9, 2019

Books to Teach Perseverance

"This is too hard!" "I don't get it!" What makes certain people easily give up when encountering a challenge, while others persevere, determined to solve problem and succeed? Years ago, the buzzword in education was GRIT.
So what is grit? Grit means having the dedication and courage; strength of character to work hard toward a goal, no matter what challenges are encountered on the way. And as always, picture books provide the perfect model for this trait.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that if you purchase through one of these links (at no cost to you), it helps to support my blog.
Most people have heard of Louis Braille, but many do not not realize that he was not born blind. Six Dots by Jen Bryant is a beautiful picture book about the story of young Louis Braille.
Louis was just five years old when he lost his sight in an accident with an awl. However, he was determined to live like everyone else, and what he wanted more than anything was to be able to read. Even at the school for the blind in Paris, there were no books for him. So Louis invented his own alphabet—a whole new system for writing that could be read by touch. It is a system so ingenious yet practical that it is still used by the blind community today.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

5 Meaningful No-Prep Activities for the First Week of School

Bookmark this page! If you're frantically planning for your first day or week of school, here are five tried & true activities (not busy work!) to keep your students engaged while you get to observe and learn more about them. And be sure to download all the FREEBIES!
Although many of your students may know one another, you may have new students or those who are shy. Friend BINGO is a great way for kids to get up and moving and interacting with each other! They may not just shove the paper in another person's face and say, "Sign!" They need to ask specific questions from the BINGO board. Students may also ask me to sign their BINGO and I'm happy to share about myself (and to be seen as a member of our classroom community). After a set amount of time, we gather on the rug and share what we learned about each other. This often elicits even more conversations (and it's a great time to take notes on what you are learning about children's extracurricular interests and activities.)
Click on the BINGO above or grab a copy of Friend Bingo HERE.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Instilling a Sense of Belonging

Oh, how I love picture books! They are not just for little kids, but they are filled with so many life lessons for big kids, too! The start of a new school year is a time of excitement and anticipation (for children and teachers alike!) But it may also be a time for fear and hesitation for some (children and teachers alike!) Instilling a sense of belonging from Day One is critical to the rest of the school year!
Everyone wants to feel like they belong; that they are not an outsider, especially within a group of peers. Morning meeting and read aloud are two perfect opportunities to raise awareness and foster conversations about misconceptions and what it means to belong.  Do you know Big Al? Andrew Clements is one of my favorite middle grade authors! My fourth graders love his Jake Drake series, as well as all of his realistic fiction novels. So I was very excited to discover his picture book, Big Al!

Note: This post contains 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

Poor Big Al just wants to make friends. But because Big Al is large and scary-looking, the little fish are afraid to get to know him; just like our students who may judge others who look or act differently than what they are comfortable with. The illustrations are darling and your kids will giggle and gasp as you read. Big Al tries everything he can think of: from disguising himself with seaweed to burrowing under the ocean floor to try and look smaller. But something always goes wrong, and lonely Big Al wonders if he'll ever have a single friend. However, when a fishing net captures the other fish, Big Al gets the chance to prove what a wonderful friend he can be! This book will have your kids cheering!

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Make Reading Accessible for ALL

Are you looking for new tools to enhance your teaching of students with dyslexia or other reading barriers? Will you be working with students with learning disabilities, low vision, or dyslexia and wondering where to start? Today I'm thrilled to have my friend, Fred Slone, guest blog  about the AMAZING company he works for! He has just the answer to start your school year!
Bookshare is an ebook library with 700,000 books available in multiple accessible formats. Your students with reading barriers can download books in the format they want, on the device of their choice, when and where they need it. They can read a book on a computer at school in a format that offers audio and highlighted word text. They can download an audio version on their phone for the bus ride and then finish their homework on their parent’s laptop at home.

Sounds interesting, but your school budget is tight and you are worried about being able to fund another paid resource? Bookshare is FREE for all U.S. students with qualifying disabilities, thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Education. Truly, this means all students – we serve thousands of students from K-5, middle school, junior high, high school and students in post-secondary education.
Here are three more reasons to consider Bookshare this fall:
1) Independence – Give your students control over their own materials. Let them choose what
formats work for them, let them experiment and learn without an adult watching over their
2) More Time for TeachingBookshare gives you back the time you spend chasing down
accessible materials. Once you set up your students on Bookshare, they use their login to access
their books all year, whenever and wherever they want.
3) Unlocking Potential – Students with reading barriers, such as dyslexia, may struggle in school because they are not able to access information solely due to the format of their materials.
Unlock the potential for these students by giving them books in a format that works for them and
allow their minds to discover the joy of learning
What Next?
If you would like to learn more, please visit our website at We also offer a couple of short videos that may be of interest:
Sign up!
Bookshare offers free accounts for schools and districts. You can sign up for an account at: You can also email us,, to see if your school already has an account.

Fred Slone has been the Director of Operations for Benetech since 2011. He manages the Content, Customer Service, and Community teams for Bookshare. He has an MBA from the University of Michigan and Bachelor of Arts degrees in Mathematics and Economics from Indiana University. In his spare time, he is an avid reader and long time coach for youth sports.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

3 Tried & True Tips to Start the Year Off Right

Eek! I think I've been in denial that school is starting in just a week! I may be frantically planning my curriculum, but here are 3 tried & true tips to start the school year off right!
Learning doesn't happen until there is trust between child and teacher. Develop relationships with your students; get to know them as a person not just as a student. Creating a quick chart the first week of school is a great way to learn about each child. It will provide for conversation talking points, connections between students, topics for writer's workshop or journaling!
You can read a more detailed post on developing relationships  HERE

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Not Another PD?!

The groans and whines can be heard around the district, as teachers drag themselves into another professional development meeting. Effective professional development can help to transform and restructure quality schools. It should motivate and excite teachers to learn new ideas and teaching methods. However, many PDs often fall short. Why?
Professional Development is often forced upon us, particularly at our school sites. The district requires certain topics and although they may be helpful, these meetings are usually squeezed in after school when we're exhausted or so close to the start of school that all we want to do is get into our classrooms to set up! As you look around the room, you see teachers on their phones, having sidebar conversations, dozing off. . . 

Well some friends and I came up with a solution: an unconference! What is an unconference? (Spell-check does not recognize this as a valid word; it keeps underlining it as misspelled!) An unconference is a set period of time to learn about topics that YOU have an interest in, as well as to build relationships.  Tracy, Retta, Deann and I met a couple of years ago online. I know that sounds so "21st century" but I was drawn to reading their blogs because they sounded like teachers I wish I taught with. From what I read, they were doing deep thinking with their students, creative and outside-the-box activities, plus they shared my philosophy about how children learn best. We share a passion for teaching and desire to continue learning, even though we have taught a total 132 years!  (In other words, we are no spring chickens; LOL) You know we started our podcast, We Teach So Hard a year ago (!) but we also wanted time to learn from each other in person, so the unconference was born!
The most important tip is to find your tribe! Find teachers you want to spend time with, teachers who have similar philosophies about how children learn, teachers who are supportive and will cheer others on, teachers who have an expertise in an area you'd like to learn more about. 
Decide what you want to learn and which friend has the most knowledge to teach it! Tracy is one of THE  most creative people I know so she taught us about integrating math and art, as well as how to create more visual and interactive lessons for students. Retta always focuses on the social and emotional well-being of children; we were excited to learn how to keep kids stress-free and engaged while learning. Deann is an expert on using cooperative groups to raise the rigor of teaching.
Location can be inspiring and beautiful or it can be your local Starbucks with plenty of tables and outlets. We chose Mackinac Island in Michigan as our location since we were planning on spending a few days together. Tracy and Retta are both from Michigan, then Deann and I flew in. Oh my goodness, talk about a charming and breathtakingly beautiful island! There are no motorized vehicles on the island; you walk, bike, or take horse-drawn carriages. This alone set the tone of slowing our pace! One of our requirements when finding a location was that it needed to have a large work area and free wifi. Be sure you know how much everyone wants or can afford to spend. Your unconference does NOT need to be in an exotic location! You can even meet at someone's house, in their living room or backyard! 

I'm sure you guessed the problem with having an unconference in a location with much to do: making sure we actually sat down to teach and learn! Set a work and play schedule then stick to it! We started off our mornings on our own: taking a walk or doing gigong (breathing, body movement, and meditation), or catching up on the news. We scheduled a teaching block every day, as well as time to eat and do some exploring around Mackinac. (Notice the fudge and ice-cream pics below; yes, we made time to eat fudge and ice cream every. single. day. Since Michigan is evidently known for their fudge and ice cream!) 

I'm impressed with how well we stuck to our schedule; we usually worked 3-5 hours per day (in shifts), often in our PJs!  The great thing about planning your own PD is that there is TIME to ask questions, try out what we just learned, get frustrated, ask more questions, and get the support and ideas of all other participants. 
Research has shown that when there is choice and time, there is greater teacher buy-in and greater likelihood to implement new learning. This was by far the BEST professional development I have ever attended! I learned what I needed to learn, deepened my friendships, and had a great vacation!
(from top left, clockwise)

Tune in to episode 47, recorded together on Mackinac Island! Click on image below.