Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Upgrading

Sometimes I drive myself crazy changing things that don't really need changing.  I'll redo my lesson plan format, or reorganize work station folders, basically anything other that what I really need to be doing.  This week I've had the urge to spruce up some of the worksheets we did earlier this year (anything other than getting my report cards ready).  I'll share them as I finish, so be sure to visit again soon.  The first one I have ready is a rounding worksheet to give students a little extra rounding practice.



We've continue studying fractions, and I've realized that my students desperately need some manipulatives for understanding equivalent fractions.  I'm now waiting on an order from Lakeshore Learning, and I'm so excited you'd think it was Christmas.  While we wait, we're working on adding and subtracting fractions with common denominators.  I know that's not technically in our standards, but I don't think it will hurt anything to introduce the concept a little early.


I've pretty much given up hoping for nice weather to conduct our heat experiments (we have to do them outside), so I've skipped ahead to magnets.  I just love teaching magnets, because they're fun and easy!  It just doesn't get much cooler than floating magnets:)







Sunday, January 27, 2013

Test Prep

High-stake testing evokes a passionate response in almost all teachers.  I have my own strong feelings, but that is for a whole other blog post.  For now, I'm just accepting that as long as I teach third grade, standardized tests are going to be part of my life.  Regardless of my feelings, my students will have to take a high-stakes test this spring, and my value as a teacher will be judged on my students' scores.  No pressure.

I've known people who believe that teachers should not do any test prep whatsoever, and I've heard of others who more or less stop teaching to prepare for state tests.  Personally, I think you have to find a good balance of preparation, and I try to avoid either extreme.

I usually don't think too much about testing until January, and then I start feeling the pressure.  It's almost like I wake up one day and realize just how much I still have to teach and how little time I have left to do it! Fortunately, I feel pretty good about my students' basic math skills, because we do our Numer of the Day and Weekly Word Problems every single day.  I know my students can do the basics, and I'm very pleased with their ability to solve word problems.

In addition to all that we already do, I also begin adding short doses of test prep into my instruction.  I try to make my math lessons engaging, conceptual  and authentic, so my students typically have very little experience with multiple choice questions.  My students are easily tricked by wrong answers and often try to choose the first answer that could possibly work, rather than the best answer.  I've looked high and low for standardized test practice for the new math Common Core Standards and haven't been able to find exactly what I was looking for, which led to my newest creation.

I've made a new version of math Common Core Math Assessment that is in a multiple choice format.  I really like the short answer version, but I feel that my students could really use the extra practice in a testing format.  I've created a multiple choice assessment practice sheet for each of the math Common Core Standards that I will use to prepare my students for our state test.  (All of the questions are different from the ones in my original Common Core Math Assessment packet.)  When I created the questions and answer choices, I tried to concentrate on the style of problems that give my students the most trouble, and I tried to think of common error patterns when creating my answer choices.




I've already started using these with my students, and it has definitely alerted me to some areas we need to go back review.  (This is especially nice since I was out for ten weeks this year.)  I have been recording my students' scores in the table below.

Click on the picture for an editable copy of the table.


I give an assessment right before we begin our math work stations. They are super quick and easy to grade, so I quickly grade them and use the information to determine which students to meet with that day.  I group students according to what they need to work on.  For instance, I always have a handful of students that just need to slow down and think about their answers, so I'll pull those students back and meet with them for a few minutes.  I may have another group who did well but got confused on one or two questions, so I'll meet with those students to discuss the wording of the question and how and why they were confused on that question, which usually doesn't take too long.  I'll spend a great deal of time with my students who truly did not understand the concept.  While I am meeting with groups and individuals, my other students are working in stations as usual.

Here's a look at the new test prep assessments.


Be sure to check out the preview for a couple of FREE pages.  You can try it out first and see if you like it!



Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pencils, Fractions, and Valentines....Oh My!

Last March I spent quite a bit of money on a new Bostitch electric pencil sharpener.  It lasted me the rest of the school year without any issues, so I was very pleased with my new purchase, because I usually go through at least one pencil sharpener a year.   Unfortunately, despite all of my directions and modeling on how to correctly use a pencil sharpener, I had someone try to sharpen a crayon.  It didn't work.  {I really do have a good procedure for sharpeneing pencils, but this was one of those darlings who has such a difficult time listening to and following directions.}  We finally managed to get it working again, but it would just barely sharpen our pencils with a pretty dull point.

That was right around the time I left for my maternity leave, so one of the first things I did when I returned to work was find a new pencil sharpener.  My teaching partner told me about the new sharpener she bought from Classroom Friendly Supplies.  She went on and on about how great this new sharpener was, so I had to check it out, and she was right!  It is so awesome!  I had read blog posts about it before, but I'm ashamed to admit that I really didn't pay that much attention to them, because I wanted an electric sharpener, and I knew this was a manuel sharpener.  



It is so surprising to see how small, fast, and sturdy this sharpener is.  It is just as fast as an electric sharpener, and my pencils sharpen to a perfect point.  I think what impressed me the most was that my partner had her sharpener since the first of October, and it still worked like it was just out of the box.  It's definitely my new favorite classroom supply item!  Here's a link if you're on the search for a new sharpener.

Two weeks of rainy weather played havoc on my lesson plans.  Three out of five days we had a two hour delay, and one day we had to dismiss early.  While I could certainly get used to sleeping late {or as late as one can with a 3 year old and 3 month old} I had to skip many of the lessons I had planned for the week, so I'll be playing catch up for a while.

We did get the opportunity to complete one of my favorite fraction lessons where students have to find different fractional parts of pattern blocks.  I love any math lesson that involves manipulatives, integrates writing, and covers multiple math topics!


Somehow I did carve out enough time to finish up a new Valentine's Day packet.  


I was a little afraid that the title would run off some people, but I just couldn't resist:)  This packet includes five language arts activities that would be perfect for centers or stations.

There are 24 dictionary skills task cards, with a combination of guide word questions and words with multiple meanings questions.


There are also 12 cards where students correct Valentines themed sentences, with capitalization and punctuation mistakes.

There are 24 cards in a parts of speech sort that include nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.


There are 9 sentence pairs where students have to combine two sentences into either a complex sentence or a compound sentence.
The last activity has students identify the verb's tense and then correctly spell the other two tenses of the verb.

Hopefully, my students will LOVE it!!!  Here's a link if you're interested.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Bulletin Board & Spiral Language Review

I do all that I can to make my language lessons fun for my students.  We do all kinds of activities, projects, graphic organizers, songs, and plays.  You name it, and we do it!   I also try to embed grammar into my writing lessons as much as possible.  Despite all of that, I still occasionally have students look at me like I'm crazy when I ask them to identify a noun.  Really?  It's so frustrating, because I know they know what a noun is.  I've come to the conclusion that in language, like math, students have to practice skills on a consistent basis. One of my very favorite phrases is "practice makes permanent".   I read it over and over again while I was completing my Ed.S on brain research, and it continues to impact the way I teach.  I am in no way, shape, or form a worksheet heavy teacher, but I do believe that that practice is essential.  I recently created a series of Common Core spiral language review worksheets for third grade to give teachers an easy way to consistently review the array of language standards:
Nouns (identify, possessive, plural)
-Verbs (identify, tense, subject & verb agreement)
-Adjectives (identify)
-Adverbs (identify)
-Pronouns
-Capitalization
-Punctuation
-Spelling
-Synonyms
-Antonyms



I plan to use these as a weekly review, possible for language homework, so I've create 36 worksheets-one for each week.  As soon as I posted the third grade version, I had many requests for a fourth grade set.  Of course I wanted to help my fourth grade friends out and thought I'd just whip them out in a couple of days......wrong.  Oh my!  I cannot believe what fourth graders are expected to know.  I spent HOURS and HOURS last week teaching myself about relative pronouns and adverbs, progressive verbs, and modal auxiliaries.  I'm thrilled to say that I finally have them finished and posted as well.


You can check them out here, and there are a couple free pages in the preview, so be sure to download it first!

Several weeks ago I found the most adorable bulletin board created by Kelley Smith.  It was full of facts about snow, and it was the cutest thing ever!  I used the idea of her bulletin board to create my own Fractionology bulletin board.


I've added fractions on a number line, fractions in a set, and an area model to the bulletin board.  It's a little hard to see on the picture, but there are fractions on all of the snowflakes.


This is the first time in a VERY long time that I've been allowed to have any type of bulletin board other than posting standards, so it's been fun to be a little more creative than usual.  I bought all of the supplies from MPM School Supplies, and I was thrilled with all of my purchases.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fraction Fun & The Heat is On

I knew I enjoyed teaching and that I had a great group of students, but I had no idea just how much I missed it until I returned to school this week.  I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to get back into the groove, but it really did feel good to be back in the classroom.  It helped that we were able to start some really fun units with lots of cool activities.

We've just started fractions in math, and I'm really trying to beef up my fraction lessons, because I want to create a complete third grade Common Core fractions unit in the near future.  {My poor students have to be the Guinea pigs on all of my new ideas.}  My class already had a pretty good grasp on the concept of fractions in an area model, so this week we're focusing on fractions on a number line and fractions in a set.  I absolutely LOVED the lesson we did using candy for fractions in a set.  I got the lesson from The First Grade Parade's Cara Carroll.  It is such an awesome activity!


I also learned an important lesson about practicing what I preach.  I didn't read carefully and bought the wrong thing!  I saw the Skittles logo and the number 8 and assumed there were eight bags of Skittles.  Much to my last minute surprise it was a combination of Starburst and Skittles.  I had to get someone to make a quick run to the Dollar Store for me, so I could have enough for everyone!  Don't you just love those last minute surprises!



We also began our heat unit this week, which is fun because there are many hands-on experiments we can do while studying heat.  Our first lesson was on sources of heat.  I used to think that would be such an easy concept for students, but I was wrong.  For some reason, they really have a difficult time identifying sources of heat.  I think they may get a little confused between sources of heat and insulators.  For example, they almost always think a jacket or blanket is a source of heat.  To help my students get a better grasp of this idea, I set up several stations around the room with different objects, and students had to go to each station to determine if the object was a source of heat.  If the item did produce heat, they also tried to identify the energy source of the item.

They rubbed sandpaper on pieces of wood.


They carefully, observed the heat produced by flame in the candle.


They felt the heat from a lamp.

They also found some things that do not product heat.


Here is a copy of the recording sheet that we used for the experiment.  You can click {here} or on the picture for a copy:)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Here We Go & 100th Day of School

You know, just when you think you've got it figured out and everything's clicking, life has a way of throwing you a curve ball.  Since Will was born, I have been diligent in creating good sleep habits and getting him on a flexible schedule.  It's been a lot of work, but it was so worth it.  He was falling asleep in his crib and almost sleeping the whole 12 hours.  Everything was going great.  I had a little time at night to get things done, and I was finally getting enough sleep so that I wasn't too worried about going back to work.  Enter the flu.  Oh my.  My three year old came down with it the week before Christmas, and now our almost 3-month old is sick with the flu.  It has been so frustrating and sad since there is really nothing we can do for him since he's so young.    It just breaks my heart to see sick babies, even if they're not mine.  Praise the Lord, he's on the mend now, but I think we're starting back at square one as far as sleeping goes.  We spoiled him rotten while he was sick, and now the only place he wants to sleep is in our arms.  This has made one sleepy mama!  It was worth it though, and I'd do it all over again if it would help.

{I swear by the book 12 Hours Sleep in 12 Weeks.  I used its strategies with both babies, and it worked perfectly.  I love how clear the steps were, and that I didn't have to let them cry it out.  It is a quick and easy read, and it just makes sense.  I also like that it's a little more flexible than some of the other methods I've read about}


Just when I thought I was ready to go back, I'm worried about my own sick kiddos and how I'll function on little to no sleep.  I guess that's what coffee is for:)


The good news is that while I've been at home, I was able to work on a couple new products.  (There was no way I was taking the kids out in public, and I don't really watch a lot of tv.)  One product that I'm really excited about is the 100th Day for Big Kids.  Having only taught upper elementary, I've never done anything for the 100th day of school.  It all just seemed a little too young to me.  Every year the 100th day would roll around, and my students would always be so disappointed that we weren't doing anything to celebrate.  It made me feel like a big ole meanie!  I don't want to be the teacher who takes the fun out of school, so I had to get a little creative and develop something for the 100th day that would be fun, yet grade level appropriate.  I've made a 12 page mini book, and each of the 12 activities is based around 100.  For instance, one of the activities is to find all of the factors for 100.  I think this will be a great way to have fun and incorporate concepts learned during the year.


I hope everyone had/has a great return to school for the last half of the school year!  Now I've got to go find out when our hundredth day is.  I'd hate to miss it!