Saturday, June 24, 2017

What is Wrong with Education?

What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!

Yes, that's the question. I don't actually have the answer or any solutions, but I'm just putting this question out there.

Summer is a good time to reflect. I tend to be a very reflective person, and have always wanted to do the very best I can do for the children. I know there are some problems in education (as in all walks of life) but the first step in solving a problem is to identify a problem. 

As a veteran teacher, I've seen lots of changes in education. Some are great, others, not so much. 

I'd love to have your input on this. You can leave a comment right on this blog page, or if you prefer a more private approach, you can email me at elementarymatters@gmail.com  (Use subject line: What is wrong with education?)

I'll be sharing all ideas in a different post anonymously. Then we can discuss possible solutions.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:
What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
I doubt there's a teacher out there who believes we need to test as much as we do. I'd much rather spend that time with my students involved in true learning experiences!What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
This lack of respect can come from administration, parents, and the students themselves. 

What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
Between lack of recess time and children in overcrowded classrooms and everything else in between, their needs are being neglected. If we don't attend to their individual needs, how can they learn? (Think: Maslow's hierarchy of needs)

What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
You know the parents... they love their children so much, they'll do anything they can to make the child's life perfect. For example, rather than watching their child struggle to tie their shoes, they tie the child's shoes whenever necessary. What we end up with is dependent children who can't function without their parents being their for their every whim.

This leads us to #5:
What's wrong with education? The only way to solve problems is to identify the problem. I'd love your input! Here are 5 ideas to get you started!
These are the children who expect a toy or a prize for every little effort. They're not expected to do chores or lift a finger to help others. Getting them to do any classwork involves a carnival act or an act of congress. 

So there are 5 things to start you off! Luckily, there are still a whole lot of wonderful teachers, administrators, parents, and students out there that make it worth it, but I really want your ideas on what's hurting us. 

Again, you can share your ideas here, or (if you wish to remain anonymous) email me at elementarymatters@gmail.com with the subject line: What's wrong with education? 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Did You Check Your Work for S.P.U.N.C?

Did you check your work for S.P.U.N.C? Here's a trick to help children remember to proofread their work.

Getting children to remember to check written work before passing it in is always a challenge. 

I always tell them to check it for S.P.U.N.C. before passing it in. 

What's S.P.U.N.C? 

 It stands for Spelling, Punctuation, Use of words, Neatness, and Capitalization. 

 That "Use of words" is all encompassing. It includes making sure sentences are grammatically correct, but also making sure they make sense and hold the reader's attention. If the assignment includes answering questions, the children need to make sure their answer makes sense with the question.

I suggest the kids do a "finger read" as they double check for each part of S.P.U.N.C, that really helps them figure out if they left out a word or wrote something that usually makes sense. 

 Sometimes I'll remind the kids to make their work S.P.U.N.C.Y. What does the Y stand for? Your very best work!

Did you check your work for S.P.U.N.C? Here's a trick to help children remember to proofread their work.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Happy Math Website for Lower Elementary Students

A Happy Math Website for Lower Elementary Students: This is an awesome website you need to explore!
Are you familiar with Happy Numbers

I was lucky enough to stumble upon Happy Numbers several months ago and decided to try the free month they offer.

It was mighty easy to set up my class and give them passwords.
Since I teach second grade, I set them all up for the second grade curriculum. (They have curriculum for grades K-2.)

Once set up, I spent my math period pulling small groups of children to show them how to log in and use the program on our tablets.

We are lucky to have 7 of these tablets (with the bright green covers) in our classroom, which means 1/3 of the class can work on them at a time! (Image is link to Amazon.)


Happy Numbers works very well on the tablets, but it also works on our Chromebooks as well as laptops and desktops.

It's very easy for the children to log in, and they took to the program right away, and quickly became quite independent with it!

Each module moves along quickly, and has fun activities for the children. Here are some examples:
Here are a couple of screen shots of Module 1 for Grade 2: Sums and differences to 20. The children are asked to slide the sets of ten, then the individual ones. They love doing it, and it really helps them see how place value helps addition and subtraction!

Here's a fun way to add 4 addends! And a great way for children to see the benefits of looking for sets of ten.
Now they're getting real familiar with the number line, as well as counting forward and back.

One of the things I like about this website is the feedback it gives to the children. When the children give an incorrect answer, it gently lets them know. I purposely typed 72 instead of 73 into the table above. The number turned red. Once I clicked "OK," I was able to type the correct response. 
Then this cute little guy congratulated me!
I love the way Happy Numbers helps the children see the parts step by step before it requires the children to show mastery of the skill.

The above screenshots first show how each 3 digit number is broken up into place value (which appear one by one in the animation), then the children are later asked to compare the numbers without breaking the numbers down for the children. It builds at a good rate for little learners.

These screenshots show a couple more activities the children do at Happy Numbers.


Here are a couple more screen shots from the teacher screen. (Names are blocked, of course!)

Oh yes, and teachers can print certificates. 😊
My favorite things about Happy Numbers:

1. The activities are varied and fun for the children, advancing the complexity of math skills slowly so the children don't even realize they're building their math skills!

2. The children can work independently. They can easily log in, and with a click they proceed to fun math building skills. It makes for a great independent work station while the teacher works with individuals or small groups.

3. The teacher can easily see if the children are spending time on the program, and if they are having success.

4. It gives children immediate feedback on their accuracy.

5. Did I mention it was fun for the kiddos?

My Least Favorite Thing About Happy Numbers:

1. It only goes up through second grade skills. Most of my second graders fit perfectly into the skills presented by Happy Numbers, but I have a few students that are very advanced, and could use some exposure to upper level skills. 

Maybe if we try, we can convince Happy Numbers to extend their programming through the upper elementary grades?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What Color is the Ribbon?

What Color is the Ribbon? A simple strategy to help students solve math word problems.

One of the hardest things for little mathematicians is figuring out how to solve word problems in math. 

I have a little strategy that helps in many cases: get them to visualize the situation. 

The other day, my students were doing a word problem that included measuring a ribbon, and comparing it to another ribbon. 

They looked a little confused, so I suggested they pictured the story problem in their minds. Then I started asking questions...


Then I kept going.


Then I worked on getting them to visualize the story.


And a little more directed questioning...


This pretty much wrapped it up! (pardon the "ribbon" pun!) They were able to use the picture in their minds to solve the number problem.

This strategy helps in many cases! 

In fact, after a while, they start to ask themselves these questions and can solve the problems by themselves!

Of course, independence is our goal, but we have to lead them there, don't we?


Monday, May 1, 2017

5 Tricks to Help Them Remember Sight Words

5 Tricks to Help Them Remember Sight Words: based on brain research, here are 5 different strategies to help little readers remember sight words.

I've been fascinated by the brain for years now. I have been reading quite a bit about how the brain works and the best ways to help children learn. 

There are basically two types of words for the children to learn. One kind is based on letter sound relationships and letter patterns. In other words, they can be "sounded out." The other kind of word can't be "sounded out" and must be learned by the way it looks: by sight! These suggestions are to help with sight words. 

Here are some brain strategies that are easy to implement into the classroom to help the kiddos remember those important sight words.

Practice makes permanent! When the children practice a little bit each day, it will help them remember. It's also a good idea to introduce small amounts at a time. If they need to know the first 100 Sight Words, only give them 10 at a time, then slowly adding on as they master those. Going through their pile of sight words for 5 minutes every day is more valuable than once a week for 30 minutes. Remember when you were in college and cramming for an exam? It didn't work so well, did it. (But somehow we got through it!)


 Exercise brings oxygen to the brain, and helps the brain become more receptive to learning. We all know that sitting still for too long makes for cranky, wiggly children (and adults!) Experts say bodies to move every 20 minutes. Bodies of children need to move more frequently than that! A quick walk, a little yoga, or a nice stretch are perfect Brain Breaks for little learners.

 Emotions play a big role in memory. If you make it fun, they're more likely to remember. Games make learning fun! A little healthy competition gets the pulse moving and the emotions rolling. It really makes a difference!

Brains are visual! Brains remember colors and other visuals, like cute little pictures. Use color when making word lists or word cards. You can use a variety of colors, but make sure they can be easily read. Make sure the words are appealing for the children.


Experts recommend sight words be practiced in phrases rather than in isolation. Words in isolation don't have much meaning to the children, and brains need meaning. Three or four words in phrases have a lot more meaning and are more likely remembered by growing brains.

I do have some sight word phrases that follow these suggestions. You can find them HERE.

There are built in Brain Breaks.

There are color coded word cards, if desired, with "cute pictures."

There are plenty of color coded phrase cards, again with "cute pictures." The different colors on the borders correspond to the Fry Sight Word level.


There's also a game that can be used to practice the words or phrases! The pictures correspond to the pictures on the individual cards. Each level of words is compatible with the game board, so it's easy to differentiate.


The game board and cards are easily stored in ziplocks!




Sunday, April 16, 2017

5 Rewards that don't lead to Entitlement

5 Rewards that don't lead to Entitlement - here are 5 ideas that can be used to encourage children to take pride in their work, but not feel entitled to rewards.

I'm not a big fan of rewards. 
I feel rewards teach children to expect a payoff every time they put effort into something. Rewards often lead to a sense of entitlement, which isn't what the real world is about. 

HERE is a blog post I wrote a while ago that goes into details about WHY I don't like rewards.

I know what you're thinking... 
but how do we motivate children to complete work?
How do we motivate children to learn?

Well, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. 
The idea is to get children to take pride in their accomplishments.
It just so happens I've had a gazillion beanies in my basement from when my daughter was younger. She was just at the right age when they became popular, and people kept giving them to her! (If you ask around, I'm sure you could find someone who has a ton of these that they'd love to get rid of!)

No, they don't get to keep the beanies, but they get to keep them on their desk for the day! I'll bet you're thinking...don't the kiddos play with them all day?

Well, no, because I'm pretty strict about that. 
If they play with the beanies, they lose the beanies. 

Every morning the children are invited to put a beanie on their desk to keep them company for the day. They can earn more throughout the day by asking thoughtful questions, showing perseverance, helping classmates, and a variety of "above and beyond" behaviors that I want to emphasize.

Since it's not a thing they get to keep, it's not about greed. 
It's about pride. 


I also have a collection of flags, including many from different countries. I admit, the American flags are the most popular, but once they figure out the other countries, those become popular, too! The flags are rewards, similar to the beanies, but on a higher level. I'll give flags for effort, success on math facts, handwriting awards, or remembering to show their work in math.  Again, they don't get to keep the flags, but it is a source of pride.

Kids do need to play. Personally, I'd love to see them get a whole lot more recess, but that's not something I can control. But if the group gets their work done in a reasonable amount of time, and they put effort into that work, they can earn some play time. One of their favorites is time to play with the math manipulatives! They also enjoy time with clay, painting, and we even spent some time making paper airplanes! These group rewards serve several purposes: they encourage the children to work as a team, and they get along amazingly well at these times! When it's time to pick up, they're good sports because they know they want to earn this "play time" again! Another thing... giving them specific play time with manipulatives helps them NOT play with them when using them as math tools. 

Yes, you read that right! When my class brainstormed ideas for things they could earn with good behavior and hard work, science experiments was one of the first things on the list! (Don't tell the kids, most of these science experiments are things I'd do with the children anyway, but when it's used "as  a reward", it's very motivational!)
Lego Abe has been an important part of my classroom for several years now. I think he was part of a "Happy Meal" toy or something like that, but he's been a big hit!

Every day, Lego Abe gets to sit on the desk of one of my cherubs. It's announced in my daily morning letter, and he always goes to someone who has been a good role model or showed exceptional effort or perseverance. At the end of the day, Lego Abe takes his "Gettysburg Address" back to his "log cabin" to sleep for the night.

You may not have your own Lego Abe, but I'm sure you've got something the children might cherish as much as mine cherish Lego Abe.

Have you noticed a theme? NONE of these rewards are given for being "smart" or "talented." They are given for effort and hard work! Plus, NONE of these rewards are things the children get to keep. They are simply a recognition for a job well done, and encourage children to take pride in what they do.

These rewards don't encourage entitlement, they encourage children to work. Isn't that what we want?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Resources for April!

Resources for April! If you'll be teaching in the month of April, this post has links to plenty of ideas, books, videos, and resources!
I'm so glad to see the calendar finally turning to April! March has always been a long month, but April has a whole lot of fun learning to be had! Here are links to blog posts for many of the events happening in April!



I've got plenty of April Fool's fun ideas in THIS blog post!







Looking for Science and Social Studies ideas for April? See my blog post HERE.












Easter is right around the corner. Here are a couple of blog posts to help you out! Easter Resources and An Easter Warning and an Easter Tradition.







Don't forget spring! Although we have snow predicted for this weekend here in New England, spring truly is trying to work it's way through this nasty weather! Be sure to check out these Spring Resources!





Plus, baseball season is starting up! If you have any baseball fans in your classroom, you'll have to checkout Baseball Fun!



For ideas and resources for Earth Day, see THIS link.
Many of my friends and coworkers agree, March was a very long month, but it's April, and there's a whole lot to look forward to! Maybe you can start the month winning some great stuff!
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