Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Real Value of a Teacher

It's around this time of year when I start feeling over-worked, over-stressed, and pretty much burned out. Don't get me wrong, I still love teaching, but all of the pressure and stress catches up to me. I get so caught up in the details that, while important, can suck the passion and life out of any teacher.

Am I caught up with my RTI paperwork?

Am I serving all of my students appropriately for their tier 2 interventions?

Are my lesson plans written in the correct format?

What should I do about these new behavior issues?

Am I doing enough test prep?

Am I doing too much test prep?

Does my test prep actually look like the real test?

Will I have taught all of the standards before my students are tested?

Have I moved too fast?

Am I implementing standards based grading correctly?

Have I documented appropriately?

How can I motivate my students?

What should I do about all of these absences and tardies?

How can I squeeze in one more conference?

Where have all my pencils gone?

How am I already out of copies?

You get the picture. I get caught up in the details and start sweating the small stuff, as well as the big stuff.  It's sad, because I allow myself to lose sight of what matters most, and I question my value as a teacher. It's during this time that I think it's essential for teachers {me} to step back and reflect on why we teach.

I know it sounds cliche', but teachers have the unique opportunity to impact, shape, and change lives. That's a pretty big deal. We may never know the end results of our efforts or just how far our reach will go. I have to imagine that we'd be more than a little surprised and may feel a little more validated about all of the sacrifices we've made for our students. You may never hear these words but...You are important. Your students need you. Your work and effort is appreciated.

That being said, now that we are right in the middle of the most stressful time of the year, I want to encourage everyone to take time to reflect on what's most important and to look for the small joys in the day. It's too easy to allow outside factors to rob us of our passion, enthusiasm, and love of teaching. My goal for the week is to celebrate the victories, ignore the negative, and hang in there one more week until Spring Break!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

March Math Centers

March is here, which means it's time to introduce all new activities for my math math work stations. I typically, like to phase in a few stations at a time, rather than introduce 12 activities in one day, but that didn't work out because of our six recent snow days. I usually phase the stations in, because it's next to impossible to keep my students' attention for a long enough period of time to teach 12 different activities. I've found that when I hurry through my explanation of the centers, I pay for it later with student confusion and off task behavior. However, we all know that teachers have to be flexible and able to adapt, so I did what I could and we're now moving forward with some serious test prep stations!

Station 1 
This station consists of my Test Prep Task Cards which are all multiple choice questions that cover all of the third grade Common Core Standards. In this station, students use the error analysis form that I blogged about here (free form included) to find the correct answer, as well as to explain why the other three answer choices are wrong. This is a great way to help students find those tricks that appear all too frequently on standardized tests.

Station 2
In this station, students solve a variety of measurement problems including elapsed time, mass, and volume. These task cards are in my Spring Math Centers for Test Prep. I also plan to add a little extra area and perimeter practice to this station within the next week or two.

Station 3
I love these task cards from Rachel Lynette. I think that this set of task cards provides just the right amount of challenge for my third graders. Initially the task cards were a bit tricky, but not so hard that my students couldn't do them or became discouraged. Instead, they were just challenging enough to keep students completely engaged.

Station 4
This station is a great place value and forms of number review. It allows students to practice reading and writing numbers in standard form, expanded form, written form, and with pictures of base-ten blocks. These task cards are in my Spring Math Centers for Test Prep.

Station 5
This set of task cards is pretty self explanatory. It's a collection of spring themed addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division word problems.
Since the word problems won't take my students too long to complete, I added a a little multiplication and division puzzle activity that is a lot of fun. This allows students to review different representations of multiplication and division through grouping models, arrays, and repeated addition or subtraction. These are also in my Spring Math Centers.

Station 6
I wasn't sure if I was going to share this picture or not. If you look carefully, you'll noticed that I was using task cards for the wrong month! Just call it wishful thinking! I do have a March version that I'll have to dig out, because we weren't quite ready for April. This are in my Spiral Math Review Task Cards.

Station 7
I started using Xtra Math after Christmas, and I absolutely love it!!! I'll share more about this program in detail in the next few weeks. In a nutshell, it's a program that can be used on a computer or ipad that allows students to practice their math facts. Students start with addition and work their way toward subtraction, multiplication, and then division facts.

Station 8

This station let me know that we still have some more work to do with different types of graphs. There are six different spring themed graphs, and four task cards to go with each of the six graphs. The graphs included horizontal and vertical bar graphs, picture graphs with a key, and line plots that included fractions. I think the picture graphs were what gave my students the most trouble, so we'll be sure to squeeze in a little more practice. These are also in my Spring Math Centers.

Station 9
I love these math vocabulary task cards, because I think that vocabulary is such an important part of math instruction. I also like the fact that these task cards review important math terms through such a large variety of questions. My favorite cards are the analogy cards, because I love see my students think about the relationship between words. Students also have to find antonyms, synonyms, represent terms, and determine which word doesn't belong in a set of words.

Station 10
These task cards from Teaching With a Mountain View are some of my new favorites! They are all multi-part problems that require students to use critical thinking and to apply different math strategies. I think these are going to be a huge help as we prepare for the constructed response portion of our state test. 

Station 11
Station 11 had two activities from my Spring Math Centers. One set of task cards was a geometry review where students drew and identified different geometric figures, with a focus on quadrilaterals. The other set of task cards was a fraction review that emphasized comparing fractions with like numerators or denominators.  I allowed students to complete the set of task cards of their choice.

Station 12
For now, station 12 is my Scaffolded Time Task Cards. These cards begin with very simple time questions and then progress to more difficult elapsed time problems. Once students become comfortable with the more basic questions, I'll also add my Elapsed Time on a Number Line Task Cards to the mix.

I plan to keep all of these task card in rotation until we are finished with our state test in early April. We counted today, and we have March and one week in April and then it's testing week. We won't do stations during that week of school, and after that we'll start a whole new group of activities!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Get Ready for a Sale

I've been out of school so much the past two weeks, I'm starting to wonder if we'll ever actually finish the school year! I can't complain though. I have absolutely loved being at home with my little ones, and it's pure bliss not getting up at 5:30 everyday. It's also given me a little extra time to finish a new product just in time for the first TpT sale of 2015.

Everything in my TpT Store will be 20% off February 25 and 26.  Use promo code HEROES for an additional 10% off your purchase. I have a few new resources that I want to make sure you're aware of for the sale. You can use the links to check out each category.

No Prep Math Packs-I just finished the Area and Perimeter Printable pack, and I love it just as much as the multiplication packet and division packet. It will be the perfect compliment to my Fun with Area and Perimeter pack that contains performance tasks and activities.  Each of these include interactive and engaging printables where there is no prep needed.
Test Prep-I also recently finished my 3rd Grade Math Practice and 3rd grade Language Practice with both include constructed response practice. I have several other test prep products that are sure to help get your students ready for the big test! Some of these include a language and math spiral review in a short answer and multiple choice format.
I've been adding to my task card collection over the past several weeks! I will eventually have one set of task cards for every Common Core Standard! I also have monthly spiral review task cards.
I hope you take advantage of these great deals!!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Math Practice

I recently blogged about my language arts practice pages, and I certainly don't want to leave out my new math practice! That has become a staple in my classroom, and I love it. I'm using it for my weekly math homework assignment, and it correlates perfectly with my morning work. This is different from my morning work, because it does not include the months of the year or days of the week. It also does not include seasonal word problems, so that any page can be used any time of the year (I'll probably save this until January each year). This also includes all new questions, so there won't be any repeats!
There are three parts to each page: math skills review, word problems, and multi-part constructed response problem. The skill review covers all of the basic third grade skills (place value, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, geometry, rounding, fractions). These are very basic questions that do not require a considerable amount of higher order thinking. The word problem section contains one-step word problems that use all math operations. There is typically a variety of addition, subtraction, multiplication or division problems in that section. I've been using this format of word problems since the beginning of the year with my Weekly Word Problems, and it makes a tremendous difference with my students!

My favorite part of the review is the constructed response portion. These questions are all multi-part and require students to explain and represent their thinking through multiple representations. The problems include high order questions and require the application of a variety of math concepts-they are not just multi-step word problems. I'm not going to lie. This type of problem isn't easy and require a lot of modeling and practice.

Just like the language arts version, the math pack is also 100% editable. I think this is especially important in math, because sometimes I find problems that require skills that I haven't introduced yet, so I need to make adjustments to those questions. I also like to use my students' names in the math problems just to make them a little more interesting for my class.

You can get a sample by clicking on the picture below, so you can try it out!
You can see the whole product here in my TpT Store!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Language Arts Practice

As much as I try to ignore it, the stress of high stakes testing has been creeping up on me lately. I try to put it out of my mind and have faith in my students, but it's much easier said than done. Let's face it, my value as a teacher is determined by those test scores, and we're all going into the test blind this year.

I'm a big believer that test prep should begin at the beginning of the school year through sound instruction on appropriate content. I don't believe that test prep is something that should be crammed down students' throats the last couple months of the school year. I've created a couple new products that I started using in January to help with test prep. I'm using them to practice and review skills that historically give my students trouble, as well as practice multi-part problems for constructed response questions.
There are three parts to the language arts version: grammar, vocabulary, and comprehension. The grammar questions cover many different skills through mentor sentences.

  • Version 1-Students have to find all of the nouns, pronouns, and verbs in the mentor sentence. 
  • Version 2-Students find the adjectives and the nouns the adjectives describe, action verbs, and punctuation marks in the mentor sentence.
  • Version 3-Students find the adverbs in the mentor sentence. They also change all of the singular nouns to plural nouns, and identify the subject of the sentence.
  • Version 4-Students combine two sentences and add different parts of speech to their new sentence.
  • Version 5-Students correct a sentence with two or three errors.
In the vocabulary portion, there is a huge emphasis on prefixes, suffixes, and root words. Students will also work with homophones and idioms where they will identify them and use them in sentences. Dictionary skills almost always give my students trouble, so there is one dictionary skill question on each page as well. Those questions include guide words, alphabetical order, determining the correct meaning, and context clues.

I think I'm most excited about the comprehension portion of this assessment. These questions can be used with almost any third grade level (or above) book. The constructed response questions will require students to dig deep into the text and apply the the close reading skills they have learned throughout the year. Answers will need to be written in paragraph form, and students will be expected to use text evidence in their response.

I think most people are most excited to hear that I've made all of the practice pages in an editable format. This will allow you to tweak the file and make any changes necessary to meet the needs of your classroom. You can click on the picture below for three FREE sample pages!
You can see the product in my TpT store here!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Magnet Activities

I love teaching about magnets, mainly because it's probably the easiest unit I teach all year. My students have some background knowledge from first grade, and the third grade content isn't too difficult. Plus, I get to do really fun hands-on activities with my class. I used my Magnet Investigations Booklet that I made several years ago to introduce the concept. I did make some changes to it, because I can't keep printing in color ink and the black and white copies didn't look that good. You can click {here} for a copy of the booklet.
There is a hands-on activity on every page. The main focus of the majority of the activities is that magnets have a north and a south pole, and that the magnetic field is strongest around its poles. To teach this, students make a magnetic train where they join bar magnets together through their north and south poles. Students also make floating magnets with magnetic rings (this is always the favorite). Of course, I do have a couple activities where students find things that are and are not attracted to magnets. I always make sure I have something aluminum for this activity, because it's not magnetic.

One of the more complicated activities demonstrates how a compass works. This always leaves my students amazed, and it's a great way to review a little social studies!

To implement the activities, I give each of my groups (four students in a group) a kit of magnets and any needed supplies and a booklet. Students work through the booklet at their own pace, but I do encourage them to move at an appropriate pace.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Linear Measurement

Now that I'm kind of, sort of finished with my fraction unit, I can finally start my favorite math unit of the year-measurement! Finally!! Not everyone is 100% ready to move on from fractions, but we really can't wait another week to get started on measurement. (I'll continue to have my students practice fractions through their morning work and in my small groups.)

I start my measurement unit with reading a ruler to the nearest one-fourth inch. My students typically come to me with a solid foundation of how to read a ruler to the nearest inch, so I'm able to hit the ground running.

I introduced reading a ruler with an interactive notebook activity from Blair Turner's math INB packet. In the entry, students label a large ruler with 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 increments of each inch. I like tying this lesson into reading and labeling fractions on a number line.
Then, I gave my students some very basic independent practice. This allowed me to see who needed a little extra work. One of the most common mistakes was confusing which whole number to write, so I've addressed that with those who need it. I made two of these worksheets, so I could use the additional copy to reassess as needed.
Once I felt like the majority of the class was ready to dive-in to some authentic measurement activities, we completed two simple activities that were fun for students. In one activity,
 students measured the lengths of different objects around the classroom. They found the length of a book, scissors, glue bottle, and glue stick. They also measured the length and width of a piece of notebook paper. I tried to choose common objects that would be easily accessible, as well as objects that would not be too difficult to measure. Some students tried to round all of their measurements to the nearest inch, rather than the nearest one-fourth inch, so we had to work on that a little. I also saw some students wanting to add one-fourth to all of their measurements, so I had to explain what it meant to measure to the nearest one-fourth inch.
We also completed a scavenger hunt by finding items with a given measurement. I've done something like this in the past, but this had a little twist, because of the measurements with 1/2, 1/4, and 3/4 inches. This was by far my students' favorite activity.
Today, students created a line plot by measuring ten pencils to the nearest 1/4 inch (I can't believe I forgot to take a picture). They recorded the length of each pencils in the table on the top of their page. Then, students used that information to create a line plot to show the lengths of the pencils. At the bottom of the page, students asked two questions that could be answered by using the line plot. Ex: How many pencils were longer than five inches?
Tomorrow, I hope to have students complete a similar assignment with a bit less structure to give them a little more practice with measurement and line plots. For those Common Core teachers out there, the standard this is working toward is 3.MD.4...can you tell I like that one?!

I've compiled everything together for you to grab in one easy download. Just click HERE for a copy!