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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 passed away 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?

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 Things to do With 1000 Numbers

Understanding the concept of 1,000 is a tough one for some children.  
Ten things to do with 1,000 numbers - Here's a freebie 1,000 grid of numbers, along with several ideas to get you started building number sense with your students!

To help them out, I give each child a color coded copy of the numbers 0 - 1,000.  (Download HERE.) I also have a couple of these posted on the wall. 

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!

For a "Count to 1,000" booklet, see here: 
Count to 1,000 Booklet


Ten things to do with 1,000 numbers - Here's a freebie 1,000 grid of numbers, along with several ideas to get you started building number sense with your students!

Ten Easy Learning Games

I love to use games for my students to practice their skills. Games bring into play several important concepts from Brain Based Learning. (Pardon the pun!) Plus, they're fun!

Ten Easy Learning Games -  Here are some easy ways to make learning fun, and all you need are some games you probably have on hand!
FYI - Images are affiliate links to Amazon, in case you're interested!

Here are ten games that are easy to use:

1. Around the World  

This is typically a game to drill basic math facts, but it really can be used in many different ways. The children sit in a circle. One person starts the game by standing behind another child. Those two children compete to be the first to answer a fact. Whoever wins, goes to stand behind the next child. The contests continue around the circle until someone moves all the way "around the world". Math facts on cards work well, but I've also used clocks, cards with money, or fraction cards. I've never tried, but I'm sure it can be played with sight words, too.

 2. Twenty questions 

This game is older than I am, but really gets the kids thinking and asking questions. It's a great time filler.  The only rule: all questions must be "yes or no" questions. After a few times through, the kids catch onto generalities such as "Is it an animal?" With my little ones, I try to limit it to general categories, and I have them write down what they've chosen for the others to guess. (Sometimes I'll even give them slips of paper to choose that are related to things we've been learning.)

3. Jeopardy  

There are so many possibilities with Jeopardy! It does take a little planning, but the kids love it! Here's a link to make your own game!

4. Yahtzee 

This is a great way to practice those addition skills as well as add the thinking skills! It takes some strategy to play Yahtzee! Beware, it's addicting!

5. Apples to Apples  

My students could play this all day, and why not? It practices their reading skills as well as thinking skills such as categorizing. The best part:  you'll hear lots of giggling!

6. Scrabble 

 Combining spelling, vocabulary, adding, and strategy, it's a win-win-win-win, even if they lose!

7. Dominoes 

Dominoes are great for practicing math facts! They add the two sides together to find the sum! The best part is when they get the fact correct, they can build with the dominoes. My kids LOVE this!

8. Twenty One 

If we were in Vegas, they'd call it Black Jack. Yep, it's the same game, without the gambling. Students get two cards, add them together, and decide if they want another card. It's addition and strategy, and it's fun!

9. Dice 

There are tons of games to be played with dice. I have lots of them! The children can add the sum of two dice, or they can add three (or more) if they're ready! They also can roll two dice and make a two digit number out of it, then roll a second two digit number to add (or subtract). I do these two digit number games often, where the children write the numbers on their whiteboards and add them up. Sometimes we use the base ten blocks to "act it out" as well.

10. Any Board Game  

With a little tweaking, one can turn any board game into a learning game. Before each turn, the children have to perform some sort of task. It can be a math fact, a vocabulary word, a math challenge, task cards, or just about anything.

Games are a big part of my classroom, as you might have guessed. This is just the beginning. I'd love to hear your ideas for classroom games, too!

Ten Easy Learning Games -  Here are some easy ways to make learning fun, and all you need are some games you probably have on hand!

Ten Things for Students to do While You're Teaching Reading Groups

One of the toughest thing about being a classroom teacher is keeping those other kids occupied engaged and learning, so I can teach reading groups.  Here are some of the things I have my students work on while I'm teaching groups:

Ten Things for Students to do While You're Teaching Reading Groups: It can be tricky to find activities that will keep them engaged and learning, but not distracting to others. Here are some ideas!

Ten Things for Students to do While You're Teaching Reading Groups: It can be tricky to find activities that will keep them engaged and learning, but not distracting to others. Here are some ideas!1.  Independent Reading  This is the most important one! They do need to read daily, and it should be books at their level. My students browse for books from our classroom library, and keep books in book bags for independent reading time. I also let them relax with pillows. I try to make Independent Reading the best part of the day... it should be! See this post for more about my Independent Reading: Relax and Read!

2.  Reading Response There are so many ways for children to respond to reading. They can draw a picture of characters, write about connections, or perhaps do a variety of reading response activities that are out there!  Check out Teachers Pay Teachers or Pinterest... you'll find a ton of ideas, much of it is free!

3. Read With a Partner This is very motivational for the children, and I sometimes use it instead of Independent Reading. They do love anything social!
4.  Independent Writing  We do have Writer's Workshop nearly every day, but some of the children really love some time to get some writing done during reading group time. Since writing is usually at the very end of the day, they tend to be more productive when they get a slot of time for writing in the morning. It's a win - win! Here's a freebie that mine have always found super motivating: ABC Book.

5.  Word Work This is an opportunity to work those phonics skills!  I tend to keep my word work connected to skills and patterns that we are working on in the reading program, but many of my students also need lots of review on short and long vowels, rhyming words, word families, and, of course, sight words.  There are plenty of resources out there, or make your own! My students love to use their whiteboards, letter tiles, and manipulatives for their word work. Click the images below for links to Amazon. (Affiliate links.)

Ten Things for Students to do While You're Teaching Reading Groups: It can be tricky to find activities that will keep them engaged and learning, but not distracting to others. Here are some ideas!
Ten Things for Students to do While You're Teaching Reading Groups: It can be tricky to find activities that will keep them engaged and learning, but not distracting to others. Here are some ideas!
Ten Things for Students to do While You're Teaching Reading Groups: It can be tricky to find activities that will keep them engaged and learning, but not distracting to others. Here are some ideas!

6.  Literacy Games  Literacy games can include word work, comprehension skills, grammar practice, developing vocabulary or any combination of these. Again, adding that social component motivates the children. Games are such a great opportunity to practice skills, and they keep the children engaged and happy! Here are a few my students have enjoyed: Word Work Games.

7.  Task Cards  Task cards can practice work work, comprehension skills, grammar skills, thinking skills, or even social studies or science! You can make your own or use task card you've found. Here are some ideas: Combined Review Task Cards.

8. Read with a Teacher Assistant or Parent Volunteer I do have few little ones with very short attention spans or just need a little more guidance. These children really benefit from reading with an adult. The adults are encouraged to stop and chat about the story and encourage understanding as well as enjoyment.

9. Practice Handwriting Skills Sometimes they just have to focus on making the letters touch the lines in the right places! We are lucky enough to have Handwriting workbooks, but any paper will do! They can even practice handwriting skills on whiteboards or chalkboards.

10. Practice Spelling Words The children love practicing their words with a partner on their white boards. They look out for each other and the whiteboards are very forgiving. For other spelling ideas, see this resource: Spelling Task Cards.

What do your students do while you're teaching reading groups?

Ten Things for Students to do While You're Teaching Reading Groups: It can be tricky to find activities that will keep them engaged and learning, but not distracting to others. Here are some ideas!

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