Thursday, March 29, 2012

April Fool's Day Math Freebie

Addition and Subtraction story problemsI was scrambling to find ideas on how to tie some April Fool's Day fun into second grade math.  Today I had some children writing their own addition and subtraction stories, and they were having some fun with their stories.  You might just say, they inspired me!  I thought I'd share some silliness of my own, including some math stories!  These have addition, subtraction, and a couple of multiplication stories.

Click the picture or here to download a math April Fool's Day Freebie.

And by the way... your shoe is untied!

Update:  I had my students write their own "April Fools" math problem stories on Friday. Their favorite topics:  diapers, toilets, and dancing hamsters.  We came rather close to that "not appropriate for school" type stuff, but they had some giggles and did a great job remembering when to use addition, and when to use subtraction!

Ah, the humor of a second grader.  I really do love my job!  :)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Eight Ways to Spice Up April Fool's Day

April Fool's Day is coming up!  In some ways I'm glad. It's hard to pretend to be surprised every time one of my students tells me my shoe is untied or I have a spider on my head.  But I'll be celebrating with my kids, since it's a day dedicated to laughing.  Who couldn't use more of that?

I tell my kids about GOOD jokes and BAD jokes

GOOD jokes make people laugh.

BAD jokes make people mad or upset.  

Of course, only GOOD jokes are allowed in my classroom!

Here are some ideas to make the kids laugh:

  1. Time for the joke books!  I have quite a collection of them after over 30 years of teaching.  They come out every April.  The kids love them (even my little ones that don't actually "get" the humor!)
  2. Pull out your favorite authors of funny books  Robert Munsch is spending some time in my classroom this week.  I've been reading one every day!  (Stephanie's Ponytail is the one I read today - the kids couldn't get enough of it!)  These are some of my favorite Robert Munsch books:
  3. Work silly things into every day work  There are always opportunities to give examples of what is being learned.  Throwing in something ridiculously silly just adds to the fun of learning.  I do a lot of movement breaks in my classroom, so  you know the children will be walking like a winged kangaroo or something along those lines.
  4. Do Math story problems with a very silly theme  I find if I use the words "monkey" or "underwear", the children break into laughter.  Make up an addition story about a money in striped underwear, and you're golden!
  5. Check out some of the freebies for April Fool's Day like this one from Rachel Friedrich of Sub Hub.
  6. I like to "spice things up" on April Fool's Day by rearranging the classroom  I turn a few posters upside down, turn a few desks around so that the kids can't reach their stuff.  I'll find a kid with a good sense of humor and put his/ her desk completely in another part of the classroom, or even in the hallway.  (Some kids are just too sensitive for that stuff, but there's always one or two that could handle it and even enjoy it!)
  7. Mix up the schedule  Other than specials and lunch, rearrange all the other parts of the day.
  8. Replace their photographs with silly pictures If you have photographs of the children displayed in the classroom, put up a silly picture in its place.  They'll giggle about this for days!
What are your ideas for April Fool's Day?

For more on April Fool's Day see: 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Area or Perimeter?

Ever notice how kids have a hard time keeping track of which meaning goes with the word "area" and which meaning goes with the word "perimeter"?

My kids used to, but then I made up a couple of tricks that helped the kids remember which one was which.

Area is measuring squares.  Both words have the are in them, which I emphasize when I teach it.  I also make a hand motion that reminds the children that we're talking about a full surface.

Perimeter measure around the sides.  I emphasize that r in both words, and make a hand motion moving around.

You know, I'm kind of obnoxious about the way I repeat it over and over, making the same hand movements, and emphasize the are for area and the r in perimeter.

But I've had former students tell me they remembered the difference between area and perimeter and they repeated the movements I used to make when they were in my class.

I also made up this activity for the children to practice the differences between the two.

When my students do this activity, they repeat my gestures every time!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Means Science, Social Studies, and a Freebie!

This year, Spring arrives in the Northern Hemisphere on March 20th at 1:14 am EDT.  This is a great opportunity for a Science lesson as well as a Social Studies lesson.  It's also an opportunity to celebrate!

I found a couple of videos to explain how seasons work.  These are cute, but I have yet to find the perfect video about seasons, so if you know of a good one, I'd love to hear about it!

My kids tease me that I turn everything into a mapping activity.  Ok, I confess, I have a passion for Social Studies, and I love sharing what I know about the different places around the world.  As the seasons change, it's another opportunity to share what places have spring while others have autumn.  And of course, the places where the seasons never change, or don't change much!  Words like equator, tropics, and polar regions are used a lot!

And of course, Spring is an opportunity to have some fun.  Feel free to download my Spring Game Freebie!  This Spring themed game board can be used with the addition cards that come with it, or it can be used to practice any skill the children need.

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Check out this linky!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick's Day and Family Heritage

Believe it or not, this is my third post this week about St. Patrick's Day! I'm thinking I must really like St. Patrick's Day!

Well, I do! Can you tell by the way I dressed for school yesterday? (Pay close attention to the green toenails and the green sandals... in March!)

Well, I think the kids had a good time yesterday, and I think they learned something, too! We've spent a few days talking about how our country is made up of people from many other countries. (E Pluribus Unum means "one out of many"!) I was surprised to find that most of the children had no idea what countries their ancestors came from.

By the way, I'm Irish and Polish. My Dad's family came from Poland and my mother's family came from Ireland.  My students enjoyed hearing my family history. They loved hearing about how my grandmother left Poland at a young age, got on a boat, and came to America. They thought it was cool that the first thing she saw in America was probably the Statue of Liberty. Of course, as I was talking, I was showing them on the map where my family came from in Europe and how they crossed the Atlantic around the turn of last century before there were computers, Xbox or even many cars.

This is what my dad looked like when I was in high school!
My dad teased my mom about being Irish and teased the Irish in general. Ironically, exactly ten years ago today, he died on St. Patrick's Day. So this bittersweet memory is one of the other faces of St. Patrick's Day for me. But it's mostly about happy memories of my Dad.  My Dad was my hero. He was a very successful high school football coach. Not only did he win a lot, but he influenced a lot of high school boys in a very positive way. People still talk about him today, in fact, this fall, they named a street after my dad, down by the old football field where I grew up. See this post for details about that special day!

Besides talking about my family heritage, we watched videos of Irish dancing, listened to Irish music, wrote about leprechauns, played learning games with an Irish theme, and dressed in green. Oh yes, did I mention that I've been talking with an Irish accent for most of the week? (That theatrical background comes in handy in the classroom!)

We did have a little trouble with leprechauns. Somehow a leprechaun got in the classroom and changed the color of our morning letter. He also turned some of the desks around, and rearranged our class schedule. Apparently the leprechaun took the blame for a couple of other incidents I didn't even know about. We were grateful that the leprechaun stayed away from the bathroom this year, after all, last year he left glitter in the toilet. (The first grade teacher from that crew was thrilled to hear they remembered that!)

By the end of the week, one of my little ones told me that she was half Irish. She wasn't sure what the other side was. I'm still surprised that more children didn't know about their family history. Granted, after many generations, most of these children are a little bit of everything, but it's a great connection to history as well as learning about the map. (Brain research tells us that children remember better if they have a personal connection. What could be more personal than your family?)

What's your family heritage? Are you Irish, or only on St. Patrick's Day?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mapping Freebie

I revamped my freebie from Read Across America Day to include all 50 states and some bodies of water.

I think it's important that little ones become familiar with maps.  I bring out the maps in my classroom all the time.  In fact, my little ones tend to tease me and say "there she goes again" when someone mentions a place, and I pull down the map or start to google on the laptop/ projector.  Of course, I consider that a compliment!

Brain research teaches us that making connections helps new information stick.  When children have conversations about places on the map, they're making and reinforcing those connections.  The children in my second grade had delightful conversations when using these maps.  I love the excitement when they realize they knew something about a place on a map!

I have some boys that are real sports fans, and they were making their own icons on their maps for their favorite sports teams!

Click HERE to download freebie.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Report Cards, Meetings, Full Moons and Maple Sugaring

Report cards are keeping me busy!
Fellow bloggers, did you every have a day where you just really couldn't wait to get home from work so you could blog?

We just got back from a lovely week off, and jumped onto the treadmill at a very high pace.  As usual after a vacation, the kids came back tired.  I suspect they stayed up later during vacation, and had trouble getting back to their regular times.  I find it takes a few days before they're back on schedule.

Today I had the gift of time!
There was a staff meeting after school on Monday.  After that I stayed and did my regular planning, then did some report card work.  Tuesday was another hectic day, more rushing, lots of  assessments to be graded during the day, and more report card work after school.  Today I had a parent meeting before school, giving me just a few minutes before my usual Wednesday morning meeting.  (Other teachers cover our classes every Wednesday for 45 minutes so we can meet.)  This is, of course, a great thing, except that it's tough being out of the classroom first thing in the morning.  Not being there to keep the routine intact throws things off kilter every Wednesday.  I lose instruction time, and the kids aren't starting the day in an organized manner.

Walking in the woods isn't such a good idea for me.
Now the week hasn't started well at all, but two things happened today that helped turn things around:  first of all, it's the first day in weeks that I had 100 % attendance.  For some reason, I don't feel complete if someone's missing.  I've had some kids that have been sick a lot lately, and I worry about them.  (I know, I'm such a sap!)

At lunchtime, I checked my email and had the second piece of good news:  my social studies committee meeting was cancelled!  I do enjoy this committee, but I really appreciated the gift of time!

So, I managed to stay in school for several hours after school.  I got more report card stuff done, and I caught up on three days worth of paperwork including several assessments that I need to determine report card information.
I hate missing out on valuable field trips!

I also wrote a letter to parents about Monday's field trip to a Maple Sugar House the kids will be visiting on Monday.  I'm totally bummed that I'm unable to go with them.  (I had a stroke a couple of years ago.  Although I'm doing pretty well, I struggle with a few things, like balance.  Walking in the woods is NOT a good idea!)  So I've been getting the kids all excited to learn about the maple sugar process, and I can't even go with them!  Sigh!

I think there might be a full moon out there!
 I left school quite late, but satisfied that I wasn't "drowning" anymore!

That's when I noticed the full moon in the sky.  Yep, that sounds about right!  Funny how teachers can always tell when there's a full moon!

Well, I finally got home and decided NOT to do any more work on report cards tonight.  I had too much on my mind, and I needed to blog.

Now I feel better!  Thanks!


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ten Ways I Have Grown as a Teacher from Blogging

This will be my tenth set of ten!

If you haven't been following my blog, I decided to celebrate my 100th blog post by making ten lists of ten.  I've written about lots of things lately including blogs that inspire me, great children's books, brain based learning strategies,  motivating students, picture prompts,  things for students to work on during reading groups, learning games, things to do with a list of 1,000 numbers, and test taking ideas and strategies.  I have to say, it's been an adventure and an inspiration.  I've had no problems coming up with ideas, and I'm feeling pretty good about these blog posts!  I hope you have liked them as well.

Being a reflective person, I decided I want my tenth set of ten to be a reflection on the blogging experience so far.  Here are my Ten Ways I Have Grown as a Teacher from Blogging!

1.  Blogging has reminded me of the need for teachers to share.  I've been lucky to become acquainted with lots of other teacher bloggers.  (Much of this is due to Charity Preston's Teaching Blog Traffic School, which has given me most of the inspiration and knowledge that I have about this blogging stuff!)  Chatting with other teachers and exchanging ideas and strategies makes teaching so much easier as well as so much more fun.  Within the blogging community, there are incredible teachers who are more than willing to share ideas.  It's always been my philosophy in teaching to share ideas with anyone who asks.  Unfortunately not all teachers feel this way, but I'm always honored when others like my ideas.  I'm also enthusiastic about helping ALL children learn, not just my own class.  I've never been in this for the personal glory, I'm in this for the kids.

2.  I've made teacher friends around the world, at many different grade levels.  As I mentioned, there are plenty of teacher bloggers in this teacher blog community.  Now although I've never met many of these people, I know a lot about them!  Between reading their blogs, and following their tweets, facebook pages, and Pinterest pages, I feel they are friends.  Yikes, that almost sounds like I'm a stalker!  I'm really just a person who enjoys getting to know people, especially teachers!  We share a common bond.  As a lover of social studies, when a place comes up in conversation or in a book, I can tell the kids... I know a teacher from ... and the kids are thrilled!  (Brain research teaches us the importance of making those connections!)

3.  I learn from teachers at completely different grade levels.  I come from a family of teachers, and I always find it interesting to see how much I have in common with my brother, who teaches at the college level, and my sister who teaches at the high school level.  In fact, I'm always amazed at how much I had in common with my Dad, who was a high school football coach!  The size of the student really doesn't matter that much.  Teachers are caring people and have many of the same strategies and concerns no matter how big the student is, or what they are teaching. Since I've been blogging, I do tend to visit mostly blogs of teachers who are in the primary years, like myself, but I visit a lot of other teacher blogs where the content is far from beginning readers and writers.  Yes, I even learn from physics teachers and algebra teachers!

4.  I've learned more computer tricks.  I certainly haven't mastered HTML yet, but I understand it better, and have become acquainted with lots of little tricks and websites since I've been blogging.  There are things I do regularly now that I never would have tried a couple of years ago.  I certainly have a long way to go, but I've really learned a lot, and plan to continue learning!  (The way technology keeps changing, continuing to learn really isn't an option anyway!)

5.  I'm more focused on how children learn.  One of the topics that always catches my attention is brain based learning.  I've found lots of wonderful resources on this topic, and I'm developing an understanding of how the brain works.  In fact, I like to think I'm becoming an expert on brain based learning.  (Although I admit, putting that in writing makes me nervous, as I also know how much more there is to learn, that even scientists don't know yet!)

6.  Putting myself in the place of the learner forces me to think about learning.  As a teacher, I know what it's like to want the learner to learn.  As a learner, I can remember the challenges, frustrations, and successes of the learning process.  Since blogging involves a lot of learning, it gives me a stronger connection with my students:  I know what it's like to be them!

7.  I've been making better materials for my own students.  I've always made things for my students.  Of course, all teachers do this.  But now I find myself making things with a little more care, thinking that there must be other teachers out there who could also use this.  I find myself thinking, how could I make this so that more levels could use it, or so that larger groups could participate, or how could a teacher differentiate for lower/ higher students.  So I make it a little more detailed, with a little more thought, and I put it up on Teachers Pay Teachers as a freebie for anyone who might be able to use it.  Then I find myself looking at other materials on the same topic, looking for ways to improve upon it even more!

8.  I have plenty of free teaching materials at my fingertips.  Sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers, Classroom Freebies, several Pinterest boards and several teacher blogs I visit (see The Cornerstone for Teachers) are constantly giving out freebies.  I'm always amazed by how many games and activities teachers make that practice and develop the same skills my kids are working toward.  There's a whole lot of great stuff out there, and most of it is free!  The more I explore teacher blogs, the more I know exactly where to find just what my kids need!  (If I can't find it, I'll make it, and share it with someone else!)

9.  I've learned about Whole Brain Teaching  With all my reading on how the brain works, I've discovered Whole Brain Teaching!  Visit their site, check out a few of their free videos and free materials, and see how they've taken research on the brain and put it into classrooms for optimum learning.  I'm totally hooked!  I even attend their weekly live Webinars every Tuesday at 8 pm!  (But they can be watched anytime!)  I use many of the Whole Brain Teaching techniques in my classroom, and I couldn't be happier.

10.  I do more reflecting on my own teaching.  I've always been a naturally reflective person, but now that I'm a teacher blogger, I am even more reflective.  My own experiences in the classroom are what inspires my blog posts.  As I go through the day, I'm always thinking... would this be interesting to blog about..?  Would other teachers benefit from reading a discussion on what happened in reading today..?  I'll bet other teachers would love to hear how my students reacted to this book...  and so on.  I'm constantly reflecting on how I can make my classroom the best it can be, and how I can share it with other teachers.

How has blogging or blog hopping affected your teaching?

Ten Test Taking Thoughts, Practices, and Strategies

Jennifer from Empowering Little Learners is having a Testing Time Linky.  She's got 9 questions, and I added one of my own to make this my 9th of ten sets of ten!

1.  Where do you teach?  I teach in New Hampshire.

2.  What grade do you teach Second grade.

3.  What tests do you give?  We give the Unit tests that go along with our reading program and our math program.  (Reading Street and Everyday Mathematics)  We recently started using DIBELS, which I love so far.  There is talk of a similar Math test next year, which I would also love.  Statewide testing starts in October of 3rd grade.

4.  Does the test count for anything for you personally?  Luckily, the test doesn't affect our pay.  I'd be very concerned about that, since I got most of the low readers again this year.  I don't have a problem with that, since I'm very experienced and know what to do with the lower readers, but it wouldn't be fair for my pay to be based on the results of a lower group.

5.  What do you do to prepare for the test?  We are exploring test taking skills and strategies.  I have shared answers to open response questions and discussed why they are good answers.  We have talked about some strategies such as reading all the choices and eliminating the ones that can't be true, and looking back to the text for key words.  For open ended questions, the children are taught to re-read the question and make sure their answer makes sense with the question, and that it is answered completely.  This is a skill that requires practice.  I'd love to do more work on test taking skills, since testing is here to stay, and we want our kids to have success.

6.  Can you use the data from the test to help drive your instruction?  I find the DIBELS information very reliable and helpful.  It gives me specifics about what the children know, and make it easy to figure out if there's a deficit in the child's learning.  I'm looking forward to a similar math assessment.  It's harder to use the state testing to drive instruction since we get the results 6 months after the tests are given, but if the results show the kids are weak in certain area, that gives us some information about where we might need to be stronger with the next year's tested kids.

7.  If you are comfortable, how do you feel about the test?  I do have mixed feelings about the tests.  I like to have as much information as I can about the kids.  It backs up what I know, which is helpful for report card and conference time, and it tells me what I need to teach.

Om the other hand, testing is hard on the kids as well as the teachers, and it takes away from instruction time.  The Reading Street tests are tough because they're on the computer and need to be done in one session.  For young kids with short attention spans and limited reading abilities, they are learning to "give up" and "click through" to the end of the test.  That's certainly not what we want the kids to do!

When the state testing comes in October, the whole school is affected, even though only students in grades 3 - 5 are tested.  Schedules are changed in order to give students maximum time for testing.  Teacher Assistants are pulled, every space in the school is used, even the library is closed.  This takes most of the month of October, which is prime learning time.  (School starts late August/ early September around here, so by the time the kids are settled into the routines and are ready to really learn, the whole routine is changed and they're in testing mode for a few weeks.)  For the most part, we learn a lot from the testing, but is it really worth the pressure?

8.  How long do the tests take?  The DIBELS test is done one on one, and takes about 15 minutes per child.  The Reading Street and Everyday Math tests each take close to an hour, give or take  The state tests take most of the month of October.

9.  Do you have any tips?  It's important to make the students as comfortable as possible for the tests.  I like to play music before the test, and give plenty of opportunities to move during the tests.  Brain Breaks are important, as the brain needs oxygen and kids need to move.  I recommend Brain Gym exercises, but any type of movement is necessary.

As far as test preparation goes, feedback and communication are essential.  The children need to know how to approach the tests, and how to use the information given to figure out answers.  This doesn't come naturally.  Many tests use language that is different from what the children are used to.  Use of "common questions" that are released each year are recommended for the children to get used to the testing format.  The students should have plenty of practice on open ended questions, and should be shown what the answers should look like.

10.  Additional Challenges and Information  One challenge in my school district is that the tests aren't aligned with the report cards, either by timing or by the standards assessed.  The DIBELS are given in September, January, and May.  The report cards are done in November, March, and June.  The standards that are assessed on our report cards aren't the same things that are tested on any of the tests we give, so we have to assess those skills differently, in addition to all the other tests we give.

Another challenge in our area is that the students have no motivation to do well, particularly at the high school level.  The tests don't affect whether they graduate or get into college.  They don't get any feedback at all on the tests for several months.  Luckily, many students take pride in themselves and do their best.  Unfortunately, I've heard stories of students doodling on the test booklets and simply not answering any questions at all.

As I'm a big fan of research on the brain, I thought I'd share this article on gum chewing.  In fact, I have a whole Pinterest Board on Brain Research that you might find interesting!

My greatest concern about all the testing we do:  I don't want children to lose the ability to think for themselves!  No matter how many tests we give, and how much test prep we do, our goal as teachers is to help the children become independent thinkers and learners.  I don't ever want to lose sight of that goal!

Hopefully, the tests will become more focused and less time consuming so we can spend more time teaching and less time testing.  However, I do believe that some testing is valuable.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how to get our kids through the tests with minimal tears and maximum success. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Nonsense Word Board Game Freebie

Happy Birthday to Dr. Seuss, and enjoy your Read Across America Day! 

In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, I'm offering this freebie, in honor of the king of nonsense words!

The board game works like any board game, but players must read a nonsense word card before they can take each turn.  Then they can roll a six sided die, and advance their way around the board.

The nonsense word game can be played anytime of year.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying my last day of vacation, before I return next week for what I'll consider Read Across America Week!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Ten Things to do With 1000 Numbers

 Number Sense
Understanding the concept of 1,000 is a tough one for some children.  To help them out, I give each child a color coded copy of the numbers 0 - 1,000.  (Download HERE or click image.) I also have a couple of these posted on the wall.

Number Grid to One Thousand

I find laminating them gives them more durability, and gives them the opportunity to write on them with their dry erase markers.  This really helps them keep track of their counting!

I thought I'd share some of the things the little ones can do with this number grid.  

1.  Talk about the patterns  Understanding the patterns of numbers really helps them understand how numbers work.  Brain research tells us that talking about those patterns internalizes those understandings.

2.  Find any number The more the children find random numbers on the 1,000 chart, the better they get at understanding the patterns and the way it all works.  I'll use cards or dice to find a random number.  If the children draw 3 one-digit cards, they can make a 3 digit number to find.  So if they draw 3, then 9, then 5, they should find the number 395 on the grid.  This is something children can do in a math center.

3.  Add or subtract hundreds  I keep an overhead of the same number chart in order to model how to use the number grid.  With some modeling, the children can learn how to jump 100 numbers at a time.  For example, if they start at 245, in order to jump 100, the tens and ones will stay the same, and the hundreds digit will increase by 1, bringing them to 345.  Modeling this with the base ten blocks really help!

4. Call a number  Have the children find it on their grids, then tell the number that is 100 less or 100 more.  After some practice, they won't need the grids anymore!

5. Follow the leader  Call a number, then have them add or subtract hundreds, tens, and ones until you're done.  Hopefully, they'll land on the right number! For example,  "Start on 384, add 200, subtract 30, add 100, subtract 50.  What number are you on now?"  (This is great for following directions as well as practicing the numbers on the 1,000 grid!)

6.  Practice adding ones and tens through those tough transitions   Transitioning from the 90s to the next set of 100 is always tough.  With guidance, they can work their way counting from one hundred to the next.

7.  Modeling random numbers with the base ten blocks  One child can randomly point to a number on the grid.  The other child can act out that number with the base ten blocks.  For example, if one child points to 582, the other child puts out 5 hundreds, 8 tens, and two ones.  These blocks really internalize the understanding of place value, I use them all the time!

8.  Make a game of it  Children can race from 0 to 1,000.  They can place their markers at 0, then with a roll of a couple of dice (making a 2 digit number), they can add that many tens and ones to make their way across the grid to work up to 1,000.  Again, the more they use the grid, the more they become more familiar with the numbers.  If they are having conversations about the numbers, it will help them understand them.  (I'm already at 832, less than 200 to go!)  Those conversations are important, kids need to talk in order to learn!

9.  Another game  A variation of the above game.  Children can use cards to make a 2 digit number.  This gives the possibility of numbers higher than 66, which is the highest they can make with 2 dice.  The game could move faster.  Again, this game encourages conversations about the numbers, which is exactly what we want!

10.  Number grid puzzles  Give the children any 3 digit number.  Have them fill in the numbers above, below, and beside that number as they would see it on the 1,000 grid.

As you use the grid, you'll think of plenty more things to do with this grid.  I'm sure the kids will, too!
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