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Gotta Get a Gimmick!

There is a song from the Broadway show Gypsy called Gotta Get a Gimmick! Many of you may know I'm a big fan of musical theatre, and have performed in many, many productions of theatrical shows.

In fact, I tend to be rather theatrical in my classroom, too.
(You might have guessed this from my profile picture.)

This post has nothing to do with that show.

But, seriously, have you ever noticed how a silly little gimmick can grab the kids' attention and turn a mundane task into something exciting! I'm sure you've done it!

Here are some gimmicks I've used!

Giant Dice: I'm sure you've seen these! I could have given these little guys a worksheet to practice adding 3 addends, but the giant dice and the whiteboards made them forget they were practicing a skill!

M&Ms! This lovely lady found the M&Ms a fun way to make sure she was leaving spaces between words!

Brain Breaks! These two cuties are doing wall push ups. The kids absolutely love this stuff! Plus, they need it! These two are playing a game that has the Brain Breaks build right in, but they don't need to be "built in". Brain Breaks should be a big part of every day! It's amazing what a small amount of movement or a change of pace can do for learning!

Mini Cards! These young gentlemen are practicing addition with 2 digit numbers. This is another case where a worksheet would be sufficient, but these little mini cards just make it so much more fun for the little guys! They love these!

Bracelets! These bracelets are simply beads (from any craft store) and pipe cleaners. This particular one was made for the new year, and was a chance for the children to practice facts that add up to 14. They can manipulate the beads to make 8+6 or 9+5 or other combinations.  My students love these bracelets so much, they even make them at indoor recess!

I have plenty more, and I'll bet you do too!

I don't believe in ALWAYS using a gimmick. Sometimes they just have to work. But sometimes they need a little something extra to get them going!

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I Won Big in Vegas!

I won big in Vegas! No, not THAT way, but I did spend \$6.00 to come home with this:
Yes, that says 24 cents. I could have cashed it in, but I thought the voucher was a much more entertaining souvenir!

So the gold I came back with wasn't cash, it was far more valuable. It was knowledge!

Honestly, many of these things I knew, but this was reinforced by my 4 days in Vegas with teachers!

The Golden Nuggets from Vegas:

1. Collaboration! There is strength in numbers. When teachers (or anyone) share ideas and work together, supporting each others efforts, everyone wins! This concept was truly evident this week. I saw  many cases of teachers giving "shout outs" suggestions, advice, and encouragement to other teachers, and it warms my heart. I've never been much of a competitive person. I'd much prefer that we all get along and work together, which I've always found to work best!

2. Work With Good People! The above picture is a great example of what I mean by "Good People"! The person on the right is Paul Edelman, the man who created Teachers Pay Teachers. He gave the Keynote address at the Teachers Pay Teachers conference and made it clear he has gone out of his way to hire "good people". He clearly has, and there's no question that he is one himself! (I showed him a picture of my lovely daughter, whose college career is a reality because of TpT! We had a great conversation!)
On the left is Deanna Jump, the #1 seller of Teachers Pay Teachers. I'm lucky to have met Deanna at last year's get together, and was sitting right up front for her part of the Keynote address. She told her story, and it was clear to all that she is a good person! She's humble, genuine, and down to earth. I met many people over the last few days that met that description!

3. Take Risks! Yep, I always knew that taking risks is important, but I was way out of my comfort zone for a lot of this week. I'm basically an introvert, and I'm often shy, especially around people I don't know well. Wednesday night was the blogger meet up. There were several hundred teachers, all talking at once, most of whom I'd never met. My natural instinct is to run away when it comes to large groups, but I bit the bullet and started chatting and circulating! I'm so glad I did! I talked to people that I've "known" for years online through blogs and facebook, but I finally met them face to face! There were others I wasn't familiar with, and I'm glad that has changed! I forced myself to go right up to strangers, introduce myself, ask them about themselves, and pushed myself to keep circulating. I'm so glad I did!

4. Have something Memorable! Despite Rachel Lynette's suggestion to keep profile pictures "professional", I'm glad I have used the picture I have, which is far from professional looking! (Rachel DID give her disclaimer: "If something is working for you, keep doing it!) I've used my silly pose as my profile picture for a while, and more people recognized my picture than remembered my name or my logo. That taught me I needed to keep using this picture, because I want to be remembered! I suspected this was the case, so I made nametags with that picture on it, and wore them most of the time in Vegas!
I have to admit, that silly picture represents me as a teacher. I'm pretty animated, energetic, and fun. I've even been known to tap dance on a table to hold the kids' attention!
I also made a point to include my maiden name on my nametag, since I chat with many teachers on facebook, and that's the name I use. Most people are visual, so even if they can't remember it, they'd recognize it!

5. The Best Form of Professional Development is Talking to Other Teachers! I doubt there are any teachers who don't agree with this one! I went to 4 valuable sessions sponsored by Teachers Pay Teachers on Friday. I learned a lot from those sessions. I can honestly say I learned even more from the times I got together with other teachers. We had the blogger get together on Wednesday (which I met a lot of people, but actual conversations were tough because it was crowded and LOUD!) We had the Happy Hour on Friday, plus, many of us got together for meals and activities. We had some amazing conversations at these get togethers. Topics included our classrooms,  Whole Brain Teaching, blogging, facebook, TpT ideas, Instagram, and even a few non-teaching ideas, such as weddings, divorces, our children, and the men in our lives! Honestly, those get togethers are the times I'll remember the most, and were the most valuable to me professionally.

6. Leave Room for Swag! What you see in the above right picture is only part of what I brought home with me! Yes, I somehow managed to get that suitcase closed, but it was a real struggle! My roommate, Heather from HoJo's Teaching Adventures managed to have a good chuckle while I sat on my bag and struggled to zip it!

7. There's No Place Like Home! I've always felt the best part of any trip is coming home. I had 4 fabulous days in Vegas with hundreds of AMAZING teachers, but it sure was good to be home! Even though it's all over, no one can ever take those memories away from me.

One more piece of advice: if you're like me and find it impossible to sleep on a plane, don't take the "red eye". At some point I may get enough rest and start feeling human again, but I don't think that will be this week!

I'm sitting here watching the annual 4th of July Boston Pops Concert and swelling with pride for my country.

It seems these concerts just keep getting better and better! Back in the old days, we used to drive down to Boston, spend all day saving our spots on the Esplanade, then watch the concert live. The traffic and crowds never bothered us, it was always worth it!

Nowadays I sit in my living room and watch it on TV. It's not quite as exciting as watching it live, but it sure is more convenient!

In honor of the holiday, I've created some brain breaks with a patriotic theme.

Research tells us that moving aides learning by bringing oxygen to the brain! I do love to include anything the kids are learning as brain breaks. I usually manage to include seasonal or holiday brain breaks when I can. These Patriotic Brain Breaks can be used for any Patriotic holiday: Constitution Day, Veterans Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, or Independence Day!

See the image or see here to download this fun resource: Patriotic Brain Breaks!

Ten Reasons My Students Play Lots of Games

I have been fascinated with the brain and how it works for years now.

I do a whole lot of reading about the brain. I have a ton of books about the brain and learning. I follow several online journals and newsletters, and make note of any articles that have something to do with the brain and how it works.

Here are some of the things I've learned about the brain:

1. Practice Makes Permanent! We know that “Practice Makes Perfect” is a fallacy since we know if a child practices something incorrectly, he learns it incorrectly.  Whatever they practice needs to be accurate so the child learns it correctly. (I’m sure you know how hard it is to break a bad habit!) Games can be played over and over, giving the children plenty of opportunities for practice!

2. Practice with Feedback is even better!  As the
children work in pairs or small groups, the teacher or the partner should immediately say the correct answer if it’s not given. That feedback is essential! I emphasize partners checking answers during game playing.

3.  The Brain is a Parallel Processor! Brains are
much more likely to remember something if the learner
uses more than one process.  If the children are
looking at the fact, saying the fact out loud, and making gestures or moving manipulatives on the tens frame,
they are more likely to remember the information than if they just looked at it. I expect my students to say say facts out loud during game play.

4. Brains Need Social Interaction!  When children work together, they are keeping the brain happy. Social interaction is HUGE when it comes to learning!

5. Emotions play a big role in memory! A little healthy competition gets the blood moving, bringing oxygen to the brain and helping the memory do its thing. They sure love to win! (But make sure they know how to lose as well!)

6. Brains remember patterns! If you organize information
by patterns, it helps! An example might be learning math facts by fact family or sight words by word family. These two fact fluency sets are based on patterns.  Brain Friendly Addition and Subtraction Fact Fluency and Brain Friendly Multiplication and Division Fact Fluency

7. Brains remember colors!  Seriously! Using color
helps the kiddos remember! The above fact fluency systems are color coded for better learning!

8. The Working Memory can hold 2 to 4 chunks of information at a time! This is why I suggest starting many games with just some of the cards, not all the cards at once!

9. A little bit each day is more productive than a lot,
once a week! I like to spend 5 minutes a day with
math facts games, 5 minutes a day practicing sight words games, etc. This is so much more valuable than a half hour once a week!

10. Music helps the brain organize data! It is recommended that appropriate background music is played during practice times. When possible, play music during game time! It really makes a difference!

Doesn't this make you want to play games?

Quick, Easy, and Honest Feedback!

Brain research tells us that honest feedback is essential in order for learning to happen. Common sense also tells us that children need to know if they're on track.

I make a point to give honest feedback whenever I can.

On written work, I use 4 highlighters: red (or pink), yellow, green, and purple.

Here's how it works:

If I highlight the child's name in green, that means they're doing just what's expected, they're right on track!

If the child's name is highlighted in yellow, that means he's on track, but needs to be careful about something. (I usually write a little note to let them know.)

If the child's name is highlighted in red (or pink), that means stop! There's a problem here. (We usually have a little conversation.)

But there's one more: if a child's name is highlighted in purple, that means his work is above and beyond expectations. Purple represents royalty, so I'll often bow to these children!

For most papers, like homework, the only mark I make is the highlight at the top of the paper. Sometimes I'll focus on a specific skill, and make a note and highlight about that topic or skill. In the spelling papers below, I focused on the correct formation of the lower case m.

Then, of course, I'll find a little something spectacular that a child has done, and I'll make a point to make a purple star right on that part of the paper.

I often hold up these papers for the children to see. The next day, many children are doing the same thing on their papers. It's amazing how happy it makes the children to get a little positive attention!

On the paper below, I've made purple stars for children showing their work in math.

Well, there you go! It's easy to remember. It cuts back on my correcting time AND it gives the children the honest feedback they need!