Monday, August 10, 2015

Getting Ready for Back To School - 1

It's the season when school begins to start all over the U.S.  Teachers are back in classrooms getting ready for students, students are awaiting teacher assignments and picking out first day outfits.  Some have already started and are in a week or even two and others have a month yet before returning.  I begin this Thursday, with students' first day on the following Wednesday, August 19.  I've been in my room here and there over the last two weeks to get things organized and set up.  This will leave me with my PD days to plan my lessons and not stress about room readiness.  I feel lucky that of the 4 days of PD that my district gave us this year, only 2 of them contain meetings.  I will have all of Friday to plan, half a day on Monday and half a day on Tuesday.  Our meet the teacher time will be Tuesday afternoon, so everything must be ready by 1:00 pm Tuesday!

I'm planning my next few posts to introduce you to my classroom and how I've prepared for students.  First tip, make sure you're room is welcoming on the outside, not just the inside.  I used the Ecostatic cling white board sheet from on my classroom door to help welcome students to my classroom.  My 11 year old daughter was excited to decorated it for me!  I love that it clings to my door with static electricity, so does my custodian!  Tapes can take the varnish off the doors so it's always a trick as to how to post something welcoming up on the door.  This was perfect.  I will probably still add some bulletin board border around the sheet to spruce it up a bit.  I'll be placing the student desk name tags around the sign for meet the teacher.  Students will take their tag off the door and choose their desk and attach the tag to the one they choose.  We switch desks at the beginning of each month, so they'll only have their chosen seats for the first two weeks.  This time allows me to get to know them and better understand where to seat them in September. It also gives them choice and ownership right off the bat. 

It is a little difficult to smooth out, you can still see a few bubbles there.  It's easy to clean off if you do so right away, but if you leave the dry erase marker on for more than a few hours, you'll need to use the specialty white board cleaner spray to get the marker off.  These will post on any smooth surface, so consider turning your cupboard fronts into whiteboards and windows and doors. These would work great for around the room writing or group work.  They're reusable and you wouldn't have to use and throw away large chart pages that are sometimes very expensive.  

Ecostatic also makes the cling sheets in smaller notecard sizes.  I posted one up on my fridge for reminders.  They might come in handy at school near your desk, but I couldn't really think of a reason I'd use the smaller size at school in place of regular sticky notes.  Perhaps you can think of some ways you might use them. 

Whatever you decide to use to decorate the outside of your room, it's great to have some way to welcome students and families into their new classroom.  They'll be spending a lot of time there, and they want to know it's an inviting and comfortable place to be.  

How do you decorate the outside of your room to welcome students and families? 

Note: sent me the Ecostatic Beginner Kit free to review.  Opinions and my use of the product are my own from my experience with the product.  Links in this post are not affiliate, they only direct to the website. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Schneider Pens... Totally Awesome Pens!

However much we might hate to see them, the back to school ads have started.  Some of you just finished the last school year and some of us are half way done and others of you are nearly ready for the next year.  Wherever you fall on that scale, you'll want to know about these pens that I just discovered.  Most teachers I know are suckers for great office supplies, I am one of those suckers.  This pen is going to be my go to pen for writing notes and such.

The best thing about these pens? They are manufactured in Germany, but are distributed by one company here in the U.S. that is women owned and operated.  They also prefer to hire individuals with special needs that might not otherwise find employment.  Those facts alone about this distribution company make this purchase a feel good one.

One of the best things is that there are several different points to choose from, so you can go with the type you like best.  The Porous Point Pen is much like a felt tip pen that many of you use.  However, it's very thin at 0.8 mm.  The wider barrel makes it a dream to hold as you write.

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The Slider Edge Ballpoint Pen writes very smoothly.  It has a triangular shaped barrel which I loved because I love the Ticonderoga triangle pencils. The cap fits snuggly on the end so you won't lose it.

Also in the ballpoint family are the Slider Basic XB,

Slider Ballpoint Pen ,

and Slider Memo Pens which come in several colors and would be great for color coding or correcting.
They all write wonderfully, you just have to choose the style of barrel that fits your likes best and then get one!  

Happy back to school shopping!

*I received these pens free for evaluation and in exchange for a review from  The review is my own and I receive no other compensation.  Links above are not affiliate links. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Building Mathematical Comprehension Chapter 2

Mathematical Vocabulary, that's the focus of Chapter 2 of Building Mathematical Comprehension.

There are several ideas on graphic organizers and some bulletin board ideas offered in this chapter.  To be honest, I didn't do as well with vocabulary this last year as I had in the past.  As I reflected on the year, vocabulary building and instruction was an area I let slip.  I know how important it is to teach proper vocabulary to students, especially in mathematics.

One thing that I think was very helpful to me was a professional development where we collaborated vertically with the grade level teams below and above us specifically in the area of vocabulary.  We discussed the vocabulary that was currently being used and then suggested vocabulary we'd love for the grade level below us to begin implementing and using.  This was very eye-opening to my team as we spoke with the 6th grade team.  We learned that there were some key vocabulary terms that if we used in 5th grade, would be tremendously helpful to students in 6th grade as they deepen their level of mathematical knowledge.

I would strongly encourage you to get with the grade level teams ahead of, and behind your own and have a vocabulary conversation.  It can be informal and take just a few minutes.  You might be surprised at what you discover either about your own instruction or the instruction that might be happening before your students arrive in your classroom.

I think it's extra important for primary grade teachers to use correct vocabulary.  As a first grade teacher, I was certainly guilty of using "simple" names for math terms because I thought the true vocabulary words would be too difficult.  I soon realized that if taught correctly and used over and over, young students can understand the vocabulary just fine and it sets them up to be more successful in the future.

One of my summer tasks is to create a template/master of a student interactive math notebook to guide me through next year.  Vocabulary will be a strong part of that notebook.

How do you make sure your students get explicit math vocabulary instruction?  Be sure to check out the other posts on Chapter 2 linked up below.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Building Mathematical Comprehension Chapter 1

Now that summer is here, I feel like I can blog again!  Whew, the school year can be busy.  I'm keeping busy through the summer though working on extending my knowledge to be a better teacher for next year.  I love participating in summer professional book clubs.  I plan to join Angela at The Cornerstone for Teachers for her facebook book club of her books beginning in July.  I'll be posting about some of the other books I'm reading as well throughout the summer.

This post, however, is all about the first chapter of Building Mathematical Comprehension.  Abbey at A Teacher Mom is hosting this study.  Be sure to check out the link up to see all the posts from participating bloggers.

A Teacher Mom

To be honest, I've had this book a few years and have skimmed it here and there.  I tweek the structure of my math instruction each year and I'm still looking for a model that will work well for my students and for me.  I'm excited to read the entire book and hope that it will help me get closer to that perfect model this coming year. 

Chapter 1 focuses on comprehension strategies for Mathematics.  Not surprisingly, reading and math comprehension strategies are very closely linked! The biggest take away for me from this chapter is that we need to use a very similar gradual release model that we use in reading with math as well.  

We need to be very explicit in our gradual release: 

1. Explain WHAT the strategy is. 
2. Explain WHY the strategy is important. 
3. Explain WHEN to use the strategy. 
4. Model HOW to use the strategy. 
5. GUIDE STUDENTS how to use the strategy. 
6. Students INDEPENDENTLY use the strategy.  

Think about the "Think Aloud" lessons you often do in reading.  We need to do "Think Aloud" lessons during our math instruction as well.  This model will be great for introducing students to using comprehension strategies in deciphering their math problems. The remainder of the book goes more deeply into each of the comprehension strategies of:

  • Making Connections
  • Asking Questions
  • Visualizing
  • Making Inferences and Predictions
  • Determining Importance
  • Synthesizing
  • Monitoring

I'm really trying to move to a more conceptual/exploratory math model to introduce math concepts.  So I wondered if this explanation model would fit into also sharing mathematical solution strategies.  I think that this can certainly happen during the discussion and wrap up phase of those activities.  I also think that we can teach students to model and explain their conclusions using this pattern.  Students can explain to their peers WHAT the strategy is they have determined, WHY it would be helpful or important, WHEN the strategy is useful or if there are circumstances when it fails and model HOW they used the strategy.  From there, they can guide their small group or class to use the strategy and time can be given for students to give the strategy a try.  

This model of students leading the way would need to be carefully constructed and I think the teacher would need to carefully select students who give a full presentation and limit it to 2-3 strategies, depending on the concept. 

How do you facilitate comprehension in your classroom?  Do you consciously use a think aloud method for teaching comprehension or solution strategies to your students?  

I'm excited to learn more explicitly about using each of these comprehension strategies in teaching mathematics. Come back each Tuesday for the next 2 months for ideas on the rest of the book.  Join in the conversation by leaving comments on the posts. 


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