Got to Teach!: 2016

I Can’t “Picture” Myself Teaching Without This!

As teachers we all have a few (or several:-) classroom "must-haves" that we will never be without.  Whether its a special brand of pens or the perfect staple remover, there are those special items that we must have in our classrooms at all time.  I have gotten together with the bloggers over at Upper Elementary Snapshots to tell you about my Classroom Must Haves. Let's face it...these are the things I can't "Picture" myself teaching without! Plus, be sure to check out how to collect lots of "Must Have" freebies and enter our Giveaway at the bottom of this post!

1. Must Have Supply

If there was just ONE classroom management tool I could have, it would definitely be this visual Time Timer. When it comes to teaching time management, this timer is a gem! I use it for unpacking and getting settled in the morning, independent work time, and clean up at the end of the day.  I even use it to keep myself of track while teaching.  

2. Must Have Book

Every year I start my read aloud with Crash by Jerry Spinelli.  The kids LOVE it because its hilarious and the characters are very relatable to both boys and girls.  I love it because it has a powerful message about bullying and friendship, which is perfect for setting the tone of classroom community at the start of the year. 

3. Must Have Resource

I also couldn't "picture" myself teaching without my 5-A-Day Spiral Reviews for Math and Language.  I waste no time previewing and reviewing important concepts with my students.  I begin with whole group lessons where I model and discuss each of the activities. I don't worry too much if there hasn't been a formal lessons on a particular concept; I treat those items more of a preview. After a few weeks, the students really start grasping the format and I can begin to transfer the workload to them. Eventually, when the students are working independently on the review, you will simply spend time correcting and discussing their work in class

4. Must Have FREE Resource

Get your classroom ready with these Common Core Mathematical Practices Posters! They will not only brighten up your room, but they will also serve as a great visual reminder of the 8 practices .

After you've downloaded my freebie be sure to visit each of the blogs below to add 12 more FREE RESOURCES to your own collection of things you can't picture yourself teaching without. Afterwards swing by our collaborative blog, Upper Elementary Snapshots for lots of great content and ideas you can put into practice in your own classrooms as well as a chance to win gift cards to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Teachers Pay Teachers so you can stock up on your own Classroom Must Haves.

Tips for Teaching Students to Think and Respond with Depth and Complexity.

I recently blogged about engaging your students in critical thinking over at and thought I would expand up this topic with a few tips for implementation.  My above post mainly covered what the 11 "Thinking Tools" of critical thinking look like in the classroom. I made a little "cheat sheet" that you can download for free {HERE}

teaching students to think and respond with depth and complexity

The information can be a bit overwhelming, but I promise you incorporating this into your instruction is WELL worth it.  

Here are a few pointers for you to get started:

1. Print the Critical Thinking at a Glance "cheat sheet" and keep it near you when lesson planning and when having class discussions. It can really help you elicit student responses for each of the "Thinking Tools".

2. Start off with incorporating just a few of these "Thinking Tools" at a time.  Don't even look at the rest, and really just focus on learning and teaching 2-3 at a time.  This is especially important if you teach younger students or students who are completely unfamiliar with these "Thinking Tools".

3. Teach one "Thinking Tool" at a time using something the students are already very familiar with, like a picture book that they have ready multiple times.  I use fairytales for this, but you could also use familiar fables and myths too.

4. These are not just for gifted or high-achieving students.  Make sure you are using these with your English language learners, special needs students, and on-grade level students as well.  They will benefit greatly from these and will really rise to the occasion.  

5. Don't try to hit the ground running.  It's okay to really take your time with implementing these. The benefits will not be lost, I promise you!

6. Head over to my blog post at UpperElementarySnapshots and download the FREE Critical Thinking Bookmarks for a quick and easy tool to use in your classroom.

Hands-on Fractions: The Key to Understanding

When it comes to teaching a true understanding of fractions, concrete models are key.  Students really need to "interact" with  a variety of fraction models before symbolic representations can enter instruction.  However, as we all know, time is a precious commodity in the classroom and teachers (especially in the upper grades) are not always able to carve out enough time to incorporate the hands-on and concrete actives that we know are so valuable to our students.  Here are a few activities that will improve understanding of fractions and that do not take a lot of time or money to implement.  

1. Pipe Cleaner Number Lines

Number lines are so helpful when teaching fractions.  They allow for students to see visual representation of fractions and glean a better understanding of the part-to-whole relationship.  They also illustrate the additive nature of unit fractions.  These Pipe Cleaner Fraction Number Lines are so simple and easy to make!  You can download the template that I made {HERE}.  

*TIP: Use duct tape on the back of the card stock to secure the pipe cleaners.

2. Pattern Blocks

When one of my good friends made the move to upper grades from primary one of the first things I said to her was "Don't give away your pattern blocks!" These "gems" are SO useful with older students, especially when it comes to learning fractions.  Students can explore concepts such as equivalent fractions and greater-than/less-than.  You can present scenarios to your students like: "If a hexagon equals 1, then what does a triangle equal?" or if a hexagon and a trapezoid equals 1, then what does a blue rhombus equal?"
What I also like about pattern blocks is that the "whole" can change, as you can see from the above example; the concept of a "flexible whole" is key for students to understand.

3. Tangrams

Tangrams offer a similar understanding that pattern blocks do.  I like to use both manipulatives to further emphasize the idea of a "flexible whole." Much like pattern blocks, you can present a situation like: "If a small triangle is equal to 1/8, then make a trapezoid that is equal to 1 1/2."

4. Legos

Talk about an abundant resource! Legos are everywhere! You can easily amass a serious collection of these manipulatives for little or no money.  Ask your students to donate their old pieces, check out garage sales, or buy generic "building blocks" which will work just as well.

5. Dominoes

Since these present less of the physical differences of fractions (when compared to the above items), I don't recommend using them first.  They are a great follow-up tool after students have a pretty solid understanding of fractions and fraction relationships.  There are several activities that students can do.  Playing a game of war, where two students lay down a domino and which ever one is greater gets to keep both pieces. The person with the most pieces wins.

Presenting a variety of models is so beneficial for students and even just using two of these ideas will definitely help your students!

Check out my hands-on resources for fractions here:

My Favorite Math Activity!

When I think of all of the teaching "tools" that I have used over the years, one always stands out as my favorite, especially in the area of math -- Math Tiles! I really can't say enough about how effective these are in the classroom.  Not only have they completely changed the way my students approach and tackle problem solving, they engage students and build confidence.  I will never teach in a classroom without math tile activities, and here's why...

1. They are non-routine: Math tile activities can be solved in multiple ways and do not necessarily require a standard algorithm.  Each activity is different and needs to be approached in a unique way.  This non-routine element is essential for our students if we want them to be versatile problem solvers who are comfortable facing unfamiliar situations.  Math tiles truly teach students how to think!

2. They encourage perseverance: When my students first encounter a new math tile activity their initial responses sound similar to... "this is impossible," "this doesn't make sense," "I think there is a mistake on this." This is especially true for students who have never been exposed to math tiles before.  However, after some trial and error, their amazing minds take over and the self-doubt is extinguished.  They soon realized that, with time and dedication they CAN complete these!  There is nothing better than hearing the chorus of  "Oh, I get it!" in your classroom.

3. They build confidence: As teachers we constantly observe students "shutting down" as soon as they are faced with a challenging problem.  Many students are fearful of failure and lack the confidence to try something that looks difficult.  After just a few months of using math tiles in my classroom, I notice a drastic difference in these students.  They become more comfortable with the idea of a challenge.  In fact once they complete a few math tile activities on their own, they are fired up for more and there is no stopping them.

4. They go beyond the standard algorithm: Math tile activities require students to think beyond a standard algorithm or prescribed set of steps.  Students must consider multiple concepts (place value, algebra, operations, etc.) at once.  This depth really allows students to develop a true understanding of math.

5. They save paper: Do you ever feel like a "paper pusher" handing out worksheets to your students?  I  know I did at times.  Once you make and laminate your cards, math tiles require very little paper.  In fact for one set of math tiles (30 activities), students will only use 1 single page of paper! No more running out of copies each month.

6. They allow for independence: Math tiles are the perfect activity when you need to keep students busy in a meaningful way so that you can teach a small group or individual.  If you're teaching a "combo class," one grade level can be doing math tiles independently, while you teach the other grade level a lesson.  I will add that math tiles also make a perfect cooperative activity as well; just have students pair up and keep your ears open for some great "math talk."

7. They are "quick and easy": Not a minute is wasted in my class thanks to math tiles.  They can be done at a moment's notice with no prep and very little transition time. If we finished a lesson early, students could grab their math tiles and activity cards in less than 30 seconds and be working!

8. They are hands-on: Students can actively move the number tiles around as they think through the activities.  This tactile quality adds to the level of engagement and keeps students focused on the problem.

I encourage you to try math tiles with your students! You can download a free set of math tile task cards HERE.  You can make your own number tiles (instructions in the above download above, or you can purchase the ones pictured in this post HERE).If you get a chance to implement these in your classroom, I would love to hear back from you!


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