Posted in Math

Does Your Math Community Need a Jumpstart? Try this…

It’s the middle of the school year and things can be tough in a math classroom; especially now! Do you feel like you are struggling to get a math community going in your class? Do you have students who sit back and let others do all the work solving problems in math? Do you struggle to get kids to talk to each other about math? Do you have kids who give up quickly? If you answered “YES” to any or all of these questions….read on!

Now, think about all of those fabulous movies that have featured some pretty tough problem solving like Apollo 13, Hidden Figures, or The Imitation Game (just to name a few). What do they have in common? They all document real historical events in which people worked collaboratively to solve problems. In all of these movies as well as in real life mathematicians are standing up solving problems around chalk boards, white boards, as well as writing on glass.

Hidden Figures

Hmmm….you’re probably asking yourself…”what does this have to do with building (or rebuilding) my math community”?

Research Reveals Easy Solutions

This past summer while reading the book by Tracy J. Zager, Becoming the Mathematics Teacher You Wish You Had, I ran across some research that really made the wheels in my brain start turning (pgs. 321-324). Research done by Peter Liljedahl found that if we want to build collaborative math communities we have to create the right environment to foster “thinking classrooms”. Liljedahl found that if students are standing and working on vertical non-permanent surfaces they were:

  • more eager to start problem solving,
  • involved more discussion and collaboration,
  • had greater participation from a higher number of students,
  • had greater persistence in problem solving.

While reading this it occurred to me that simply having students stand to solve problems at white boards might just be a game changer. I thought about all the times I had to work with people to solve tough problems and I realized that often we scribbled thoughts and ideas on my whiteboard to work out the problem AND more often then not we ended up standing…even if we started out sitting.

Setting it up

The keys to set up this collaborative structure:

  • have students stand to solve a problem.
  • each group of students needs a non-permanent surface to write on (white board, chalk board, or glass).
  • each non-permanent surface should be mounted vertically.
  • each area will need a basket of markers (so that each student can have a marker in their hand and contribute to the ideas).

Experimenting with the Idea

The first time I tried this was earlier in the year with each of my PK-5 grade level teams in a CFIP meeting (Classroom Focused Improvement Process). We were working on writing a problem based lesson to incorporate a rich problem that I pre-selected for their upcoming unit. The first thing I did was split the team into 2 smaller groups and post the problem on a vertical surface. The teachers in each group had to work together to first solve the problem. The collaboration that ensued was nothing short of REMARKABLE! The administrators in the room even remarked at how much more lively the conversation was and how much more productive the time was than normal (normally we sit around a table to do this work). When they had finished I asked the teachers what they noticed about how I set up the problem solving and how it impacted their work. The teachers were also struck at how different it felt to solve problems standing up. I then challenged my teachers to try it out in their own classroom.

The Idea Takes on a Life of It’s Own

Fifth grade teachers solving a tough problem together!
First Grade teachers tackle a Place Value Problem together!

The very next day one of my 5th grade teachers tried it out in his classroom by assigning each group in his room either a part of a white board or some sticky chart paper on his walls and having his students stand to solve their problem. Right away he came to tell me how much MORE ENGAGED his students were and how positive the lesson was.

So…that weekend he went to Home Depot and purchased some white smooth bathroom paneling (which is cheap and they will cut for you for free) and cut it into large rectangles which we used velcro to attach to his walls so that every group in his room had a space to work. Then, the idea started catching on throughout our building, Word of mouth is amazing!!! Within a week a teacher on another grade level had bought boards and started having not only her class solve problems on them but also write collaboratively during their reading and writing time. Several weeks later our principal jokingly said to me, “we’re not going to have to worry about budging for more furniture next year since all the kids are standing up to work!”

Just Try It!

This phenomenon has been going on in our building for several months now. Not everyone has bought into these ideas but many have (and those that have will tell you how much of a difference it makes). Now when I model lessons I make it a point to have students stand and solve on vertical surfaces (even if it’s just chart paper). I used this structure to teach a 3 act lesson in a third grade classroom on Friday and again the teacher remarked at how EVERYONE was engaged and was astonished that no one gave up! I’d say that is a WIN!

Questions and Considerations

If you have read this far you might be interested in trying out this structure in your classroom. Since I have been sharing this idea, of solving problems standing while working on vertical non-permanent surfaces, I have been asked these questions many times. These are things you might be asking yourself:

  • “If they are working on the walls don’t kids look at the work of other groups?” YES and thank goodness they do! What a great way to cross pollinate ideas! If they are struggling and they “steal” an idea from another group then good I’m glad they did because they got something to help them continue to persevere!
  • “I’ve heard it is best to let kids choose where they want to work to get maximum engagement – is this really better?” In my experience when you let kids choose where they want to work they chose the floor. Then I often see 1 or 2 kids in the group working and the others are laying on the floor completely disengaged from the work. Standing doesn’t allow them to disengage.
  • “Won’t they get tired of standing?” Just like anything else balance is key! I’m certainly not saying that kids should stand up all day long but…if you want them to work cooperatively to solve a problem or create something you should consider this for that part of the lesson or day.
  • “What if my students need to use manipulatives to solve the problem? How does that work if they are standing?” This is a great question! I just make sure that each standing group has a table near them that they can use their manipulatives on adjacent to their writing surface on the wall.
  • “I don’t have the money to purchase dry erasable material or have the space to mount them can I still do this?” YES! While “non-permanent” surfaces help people feel like it is ok to make mistakes I have found that giving them chart paper works almost as well also. I just make sure they know they can have more than one sheet if they them.

I hope this post has inspired you to give this a try. Feel free to comment or ask questions!

Posted in Tech Tools

Are you using all the tools in the Swiss Army Knife of the Google Suite?

What, you may say, is the Swiss Army Knife of Google Suite?  This phrase was coined by Kasey Bell and Matt Miller, of the Google Teacher Tribe Podcast, as an affectionate nickname for Google Slides.  At first I thought this was a silly but the more I listened to the ideas from various episodes of the podcast and after taking Kasey Bell’s Google Slides Master Class, I too see Google Slides as more than just presentation software.  

Too Many Google Docs to Grade!

Google Classroom is FANTASTIC but if you are like me, you can quickly tire of opening each of your student’s individuals google docs to grade and assess their work!  To combat this problem, Kasey and Matt talk about using google slides for student work as opposed to individual google docs.  This allows not only the teacher but also the students to view and give feedback to each other simply by paging through slides as opposed to opening multiple documents.  This concept intrigued me; it’s wasn’t rocket science but a slight change in my thinking about student work.    So…I wanted to try it out!  

Last Wednesday was a teacher professional day for WCPS (Washington County Public Schools).  My job on Wednesday morning was to run a mathematics professional development (pd) for my 80+ teachers.  So I decided that this was the perfect time to try out Kasey’s idea.  

Trying Out This New Idea

During my math pd I was teaching a lesson that could be adapted from PK all the way up to grade 5 (thanks Beth Kobett) titled Counting Collections.  Each group of 4 selected a bag of everyday items (most had 100 or even 200 or more items inside). 

The first task each group had before they could even open the bag was to “Notice and Wonder” about the contents of their bag.  Normally when I do this I have groups of teachers or students write these things down on chart paper and then we share out.  But, with such a large group (in a cafeteria) this wouldn’t have been very effective.  So I created a common google slide deck (aka presentation) where each group had their own slide that was pre-formatted with the boxes they needed to fill in.   I added directions in the NOTES box on the slides as well.  When finished I could have groups look at and comment on other’s thinking as well as being able to show them quickly on my screen.  

These are the directions that were in the notes section of the google deck. 

I have to say…this simple little idea worked like a charm!  It was quick and easy and aloud us to share out ideas much easier.  Had I have had more time I would have had groups comment on others slides directly using the comment feature.  

Classroom Application & Setup

Using this in the classroom is very easy.  Think of something that you would normally have your students do on separate google docs and instead try it out in one shared google slide deck!  

Next comes the creation of the slide deck itself; which is very easy!  Follow these steps:

  • Open a new Google Slides Deck.
  • You might want to add a cover slide first so that if you open the slide deck later you know about this project.
  • Add a slide and make the text boxes the size and font you want, set up the background,  and write directions in the notes box to help your student understand the directions (or expectations or success criteria for their work). 
  • Copy and paste the slide you created enough times for all of your students or groups.
  • Open the share setting and be sure that anyone with the link can edit the slides.  (This is usually the step I forget.)
  • Share the link with student via google classroom.

VOILA!  That’s it!  Really….it’s that simple!  My only other suggestion is that if you think you might use this slide deck again with different students or another year, I would make a copy to keep that is clean (minus the student work) so that the next time you use it you can make a copy and the slide deck is ready to go!  Click on the button below to see the template I created for this lesson.

The great part about this is that the formatting is set by YOU before you even start.  Fonts are chosen, text boxes are created and the background is ready to go.  Now you can certainly have students change this but, this means students will spend more time actually working on the content and less time playing with the formatting.  

Realtime Interaction with Students

Another positive of having students work on a common google slide deck is that the teacher can quickly see what all students are working on from their own devices.  Because you don’t have to open multiple documents to see student work you can see what students are working on in “real time” and are able to give feedback verbally or using the comments feature.  

One way to quickly see where a student is working on your common google slide deck is to simply double click on their icon at the top of the document and it will take you to the page they are work on.  

Posted in Math

Math Night… It’s All in the Cards

Many schools host Math and Reading nights each year.  For a large school….this event can be overwhelming!   At our school our Math Committee is responsible for the planning and execution of this important outreach event.  Each year we try to come up with new and different ideas to give parents tools to support their student’s development in math since many of our families are with us for up to 7 years (we are a PK-5 school).

Last Year

Last year we had station rotations which included teachers demonstrating math routines, problem solving strategies, math fact strategies, Number Talks, and the game Tenzi.  From our parent feedback the Tenzi station was the best received part of the evening.  (If you are interested in the ways we adapted the game for each grade level follow this link:  Tenzi K-5 Game Variations.  So based on this feedback we thought we would try an “all game night” this year.

This Year (11.14.18)

So this year we decided to create games for 3 grade bands; PK & K, Grade 1 & 2, and Grades 3-5 using a deck of cards.  Parents also told us that they preferred to be able to float between rooms as they liked with out a structured rotation.  Another challenge we had was that many of our families have children across many grades and we needed to be able to accommodate all ages in each room during our event.  

For our math night we began by having our cafeteria staff serve a spaghetti dinner to all of our families from 5:15-5:45.  From 5:45 until 7:00 pm we had parents choose rooms to learn to play a range of math games using a deck of playing cards.  Each room had a teacher to teach each of the three grade band level games.   Every 18 minutes we used our PA system to instruct families to choose a new room to learn different games.  At the last rotation each child received their own set of playing cards and a ring colored cards that had the game directions on the front  and a QR code with video directions on the back.   In addition to the card games students our fabulous Tech Ed teacher had the entire library full of coding & computational thinking activities for students and parents to interact with.  

Math Spirit Week

I would be remise if I didn’t mention that we also had an entire spirit week around our math night as well.  Mrs. Joy Gallupe, one of our intervention teachers, came up with this fabulous idea and we all had a blast with it!  Each day we wore something that related to math.  On Monday we had to wear a shirt with a number.  Lots of teachers used the numbers that students wore in math activities that day.   Our students (and teachers) always enjoy spirit week!  

Set Up Notes

Room Setup:  Here is an overview of our set up.  I have removed our teacher names but indicate on this sheet where they were filled in.  We used classrooms in one hallway adjacent to our cafeteria so that it made moving between rooms easier.  We marked the rooms with a red ballon at the door so that it was clear which rooms were bring utilized.  

Game Directions:  The game directions were cut to be 1/4 page size and hole punched in the upper left hand corner.   Additionally each grade band was printed on a different color card – purple for PK/K, peach for 1/2, and green for 3-5.  All of our games complete with QR codes and in this folder

Staffing:  We had over 150 parents and students attend and had 7 rooms set up (6 with card games and 1 with technology).  Each room had 3 teachers (21 total), 3 teachers/admin as floaters and greeters, and our cafeteria staff to serve the dinner.  

Final Thoughts

We all know how beneficial parent nights are but they can certainly be challenging to coordinate.  To me it’s sort of like “planning a big party” and that can be overwhelming to teachers that are already stretched thin.  We tried to keep our evening simple but still have a high level of impact on helping parents know how they can help their students with math at home.  For us it was important to give parents fun ways to to help reinforce their student’s number concepts (including math facts).    

Resources we Created Mentioned in this Blog Post

Thank you!

Thank you to my Math Committee Co-Chair, Adrienne Haden for all the time that you spent with me putting all of this together along with our fabulous Math Committee team members!  I also want to thank the many teachers and staff members that came out to teach the games:  Mrs. Water, Ms. Fox, Ms. Johnston, Mr. & Mrs. Taylor, Mr. Wood, Mrs. Stanton, Mrs. Smith (and her intern), Mrs. O’Connor, Mrs. Newman, Mrs. Gruhler, Ms. Bailey, Mrs. Franklin, Mrs. Matuszewski, Mrs. Cupaiuolo, Mrs. Gallupe, Mrs. Haden, Mrs. Gearhart, Ms. Caudill, Mrs. Haupt, and Mr. Hurley!

If you have any questions feel free to email me: or .

Posted in Math, Misc. Ramblings

Who Needs a New Math Game….YOU do!

As a child of the 70s and 80s, before the internet and electronics, I grew up playing games.  We’d spend Sunday afternoons at my Grandparents playing card and board games with our cousins.  While I love technology I feel like there are so many important lessons that children miss out on by only playing electronic games.  Not only do they miss out on the social skills you gain by playing games but also children (as well as teenagers) miss out on learning how to strategize, problem solve, and think critically in a fun and engaging way.  So as a teacher and parent I strive to bring games to my children and students.  It’s an important part of learning.

So…I could go on all day about some of the games I have found and fallen in love with over the years but today I want to share with you a brand new game I just received; Boom Goes the Dynamite!  I saw this game on Facebook when they launched their Kickstarter campaign.  I was so intrigued and excited by their game that I actually contributed to their kickstarter campaign and thus received my copy cheaper than what it costs on the shelf and got mine before it is in stores.

Disclaimer…Let me also note that I have not received anything to promote this game – I purchased the game on my own and the opinions here are my own.

So…let me tell you why I love it…

This game is basically a match game on steroids…meaning not only do you match numbers but players use addition and subtract to make cards that they flip over that don’t match….match!  When I saw it I knew it would be great for our early grade students (K-2 and even grade 3).  Now, if you get the game you will discover a couple of x2 and /2 cards in the deck.  You can simply remove those when you only want to add and subtract.  So for grades K-2 I would take those out and then as they learn about multiplication and division, in grade 3, you can put them back in.

Tonight I played the game with my 15 year old and I secretly think he had fun!  Of course it doesn’t help that he beat me!  The game only took us about 8 minutes to play.

Check out the video of how to play!  If you decide you want to purchase be sure to click the link above to purchase from their kickstarter campaign.  You can also like the game Facebook page.

Posted in Misc. Ramblings, Reading

Growing Readers with Reader’s Notebooks…Part 2…Grades 3-5

“Free!”  It’s amazing how one little four letter word can generate so much excitement in the teaching world!  About a month ago I create a post titled Growing Readings with Reader’s Notebooks with a subtitled of FREE Notebooks Included.  Well…let’s just say it was one of my most viewed posts to date.  In that post I shared my reader’s notebook templates for grades K-2.  In response, I had a lot of upper grade teachers (3-5) asking for my templates for intermediate notebooks.

I have always felt that my K-2 notebooks should be a stepping stone to a more traditional regular old spiral or composition book style reader’s notebook.   I really feel like in the upper grades the notebooks need to be more flexible as a tool.  But…how would I roll out and use a blank notebook in these grades?

A colleague and principal friend of mine, Carly Pumphrey, shared the book, Notebook Connections; Strategies for the Reader’s Notebook by Aimee Buckner, with me just after my first blog post.  She said that it was suggested to her by another teacher and she was eager to read it.  Well…that’s all I needed.  I was on Amazon placing my order before I left the parking lot of her school.  Now, mind you, with a copyright of 2009 this is not a new book but after reading the book I found it to still be relevant and helpful.

Before we talk about the “how” of the notebook it is important to keep a few ideas in mind.  First, student should have choice as to how they respond to reading.  Buckner says, “Sometimes being too open-ended is overwhelming and being too restrictive leads to contrived responses.  It’s a delicate balance” (15).    I want students to use the reader’s notebook as a tool to capture their thinking and understanding of the text.  If we give students a structure and closed prompt every day this is not likely to happen.

Modeling is the second, important idea to think about as a teacher.  We, as teachers, will have to model the many different ways that we can respond to what we are reading.  If you find that your notebooks are not turning out as you would like or envisioned then think about what you need to model to help improve students responses.

Another key component to the reader’s notebook is the  importance of students collaboration and conversation.  If you want students to develop their ideas about what they are reading and writing they need to TALK before, during, and after they write!  Buckner says, “I’m not asking questions and looking for specific answers.  We’re talking about our thinking during our reading of the book.  As I teach comprehension strategies and the children become used to thinking while they read and to recognizing that thinking, the conversations initiated and generated by students become easier and more natural” (106).  These conversations lead to better written responses.  You will notice that every single lesson idea posed in this book has a component where students are TALKING about what they are reading.

So…how do we start with Reader’s Notebooks in the upper grades?  First I would suggest that you need to determine your purpose for the notebooks in your classroom.  Ask your self these questions (Buckner, 115):

  1. What reading curriculum objectives/standards am I trying to accomplish using the readers notebook as a tool?
  2. What writing curriculum objectives/standards will the reader’s notebook support?
  3. How often will students write in their reader’s notebook?
  4. What will students be responsible for having their reader’s notebook.

I would suggest writing down your answers to these questions.  They will help guide your instruction with the notebook as well as help you reflect and refine your notebooks throughout the year.

Then…where next?  The really neat part of this book is that the author poses lesson ideas and then shows you what it looks like and sounds like in action along with sample student responses.  Here is the progression of notebooks in the course of a year:

  • Getting to know students as readers (Chapter 2)
  • From Comprehension Strategies to Notebooks (Chapter 3)
  • Reading Like a Writer (Chapter 4)

The book finished up with how to dig deeper and assessment as a tool for teaching.

This book contains many mini-lessons to help roll out the notebook and writing responses as well as strategies to comprehend and go deeper with the texts we are reading.  To help you get started I pulled out the first four lessons she writes about using to jump start the year.  Most of these lessons can and should be revisited throughout the year as well.  I pulled out lesson and then included some of the information from the text that would help you grasp the full concept of the lessons.

Here are those lessons:  Reader’s Notebook Lessons from Notebook Connections . If you haven’t not read this book and want to dig deeper (because there is so much more that she says that is fabulous that I couldn’t possibly capture in one blog post) you can find on Amazon for $21.  It is a small and fairly short book only 145 pages!  Check it out!

Be sure to keep checking in on the link above as I’m going to continue to add more lessons which are modified from the book.  If you are a google drive user and you “add the folder to drive” you will automatically have the latest and greatest lessons.

I look forward to continuing the conversation about Reader’s Notebooks throughout the summer and this upcoming school year!


Posted in Reading

You NEED Nonfiction Mentor Texts to Teach Text Structure!

As teachers we constantly seek to refine our practice of teaching so that we “open up a world of possible” for our students through reading!  Teaching text structures is one such way to help students make sense of their reading. Respected reading expert Stephanie Harvey says, “text structures gives readers a better shot at determining important information when reading nonfiction text.”  Whether or not a reader is a striver or a thriver text structure will help students make sense of what they are reading (or even listening to or watching, i.e. audio or video).

In my county (Washington County Public School, MD) we teach 5 structures for nonfiction and 1 structure for fiction.  The 5 nonfiction structures we focus on are:

  • description,
  • sequence,
  • problem & solution,
  • cause and effect, and
  • compare and contrast.

I have created an overview sheet of the 5 structures that WCPS uses.  Click here for a link to this document.

The fiction structure we teach is the rising action structure of plot. The image below is from  Click the image to see the original document.

On a side note, I had a teacher ask me via a Facebook post if 5 structures I mentioned above for nonfiction could also be seen in fiction.  I do believe that within the rising action structure a character can experience problems and solutions, cause and effect, etc…  but the general structure for a “story” still generally follows the rising action structure.  So, for this post I am focusing on nonfiction.  

When modeling the use of text structures in read aloud or shared reading it is really important to, as a teacher,  be able to quickly put your hands on mentor text for each type of structure.  So yesterday I started creating separate lists of mentor text for each nonfiction structure.  I wrote a post on both the Notice and Note Elementary and the Reading and Writing Strategies Communities on Facebook asking for suggestions from teachers.  Between the time I posted and when I finally went to bed I had many book suggestions and even more people wanted a copy of the “final” product.  It just goes to show you how valuable social media is!  I took all of the nonfiction suggestions and added my own as well.  I felt it was really important to have some “newer” texts on the list.  Additionally, WCPS teachers, will find that I tried to incorporate some of the books that we received this spring.

Keep in mind that these lists will be an ONGOING project.  They are in a google form so that I can add to them at any time as I find books or as teachers suggest and share books with me.  So…I wouldn’t suggest printing this.  If you are a google user just use the “add it to my drive” feature.

Also note that I tried to sort them by grade band; primary (PK-2) and intermediate (3-5) but this in itself was different.  Many upper grade people can, very skillfully, use a lower level text to teach intermediate concepts.  So…keep that in mind when looking at the list.

In several cases there were entire series of books that could have been added to the list.  Instead of listing every title as a separate line item I made a note under the author’s name.

I want to give a special note of thanks to my colleague and friend, Kevin Sandall, for suggesting that I add the articles from NEWSELA to the list.  Kevin pointed out the NEWSELA already has currated lists for each of these nonfiction structures and he used a bunch of them with his fourth graders this past year.  I simply linked their lists to my sheets.  Thanks Kevin!

So…where are this magical mentor text lists?

Follow this LINK to access my folder of the 5 nonfiction mentor text nonfiction text structure lists!

Feel free to keep suggesting nonfiction books for me to add!  These sheets will get better and better and longer and longer as a collaborative effort.  You can always email me at or just leave a comment below.  Thanks again to all the suggestions made by teachers all over the world via the Facebook post!

PS…don’t forget is a great place to get cheap books in hardcover or softcover.  They may say scratch and dent but I’ve never bought a book from them that didn’t look nearly perfect!  Oh and through the end of July 2018 they are have a 25% off sale on all children’s books.

Posted in Reading

Growing Readers with Reader’s Notebooks

One common comment I hear teachers make is, “My students are reading and can talk about what they are reading but they do not respond well to what they are reading in writing!”  Reading and writing go hand in hand…the more the read the better they should be able to write.  But, often times the writing is a barrier for students.  How can we begin to break down that barrier?  I think the answer partially lies in the use of Reader’s Notebooks.

In the last school year our entire county focused on getting back to the basics of the Reader’s Workshop model and getting kids to LOVE reading.  Sessions were offered last summer and throughout the school year for teachers in our county as well as the specific professional development in our own building.  One part of that professional development was based on the 4 ways that readers respond to what they read.  Readers can…

  1.  react to the text by telling what they learned.
  2.  ask questions about things they read.
  3.  make a personal connection to what they read.
  4.  learn something new about things they read.

About mid-year one of my Kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Jen Barlup, came to me and said that she wanted to start teaching her K students to respond in writing to what they were reading.  She really felt like they were in a good place with reading and wanted to push them to that next level.  So she and I crafted our first version of the Reader’s Notebook together.

Kindergarten Notebook File (FREE)

Kindergarten Notebook File with Lines (FREE)

In our notebook, we incorporated the four ways to respond with a structured notebook that allowed students to write and still allowed them room to draw pictures if they needed to.  We both felt it was also important that this what not something they had to write in every time they read a book…we wanted to keep the joy of reading.  Jen decided to use this notebook a couple of times a week.  Sometimes she would ask them to respond to one of books they were reading by choosing and writing ANY one of the 4 responses of their choice.   Other days she would ask them to choose a book and have everyone write a specific response.  For example, she would say, “Today I want you to choose a book and respond in your reader’s notebook by writing down a questions that you thought of while reading.”  No matter if it was a day when she gave them choice in their written responses or a specific response at the end of her workshop she would have students share those responses with the class.

By the end of the year word had spread about our Reader’s Notebook in Kindergarten.  In fact grades 1 and 2 asked me to craft a version for their grade level.  Keeping in mind that I want students to, eventually by intermediate grades, use a blank notebook to respond so I wanted to scaffold a little less in my grade 1 and 2 notebook.

Grade 1/2 Reader’s Notebook File (FREE)

In this next notebook we wanted more space to write.  You will see in this version that students have lots of room to write and the back of the notebook includes a genre list and log.   

In addition to using Reader’s Notebooks when sharing in whole group, this is also a great tool when conferencing with students.  It is helpful to be able to see not only how they are responding to text but the types of text they are reading.  This notebook is a great way to set goals with students.  I encourage teachers to use post-it notes to record student’s strategies and goals to follow up with inside the notebook.

Keep in mind that it is really important to TEACH and MODEL how you students should respond to their reading through the reader’s notebook.  This is not a notebook to just put in their hands and expect them to do well.   It might take a week or more of mini-lessons to model the use of the notebook.  Also keep in mind that we DO NOT want to kill the LOVE of READING…students do not need to write about what they are reading for every book or every day.  It’s all about balance!

If you choose to use this let me know how it goes.  I really feel like everything I do on my own and with my teachers is a work in progress.  I’m open to feedback and push back because it only makes us better teachers!

Printing notes…in our school system we are VERY fortunate to have a Print Shop.  We are able to send this file to printing and they make our books.  We have used spirals in the past but we really love this printed on 11×17 paper and folded and stapled in the middle.  Our print shop prints on both sides of the front and back covers as well.  If you choose to use these files you may not be so fortunate but know that this can also just be run out of standard copy machines and bound as well.  

Posted in Book Reviews, Reading

Who Doesn’t Need Some High Interest Non-Fiction?

As an elementary teacher I’m always on a mission to find high interest books for our classrooms; both fiction and non-fiction. Here in our last few days of school many of my teachers are inventorying their libraries and preparing for next school year. Several have mentioned to me that they would love to get some new and fairly inexpensive books for next year. So…here I am…once again on a book hunt.

Many of you know that I really cannot resist buying books and I also love a great bargain. So many teachers purchase booms with their own personal money so I try to find good deals wherever I can. One of my go to places for quality cheap books is You can find hardbacks and softcovers of many wonderful children’s books at this site. I have even purchased books in hardback for less than $7 and found that they were signed by the author when they arrived! I often will get 15-20 hardback books for less than $100! Tomorrow (June 12) they are starting their 15% off sale. Check it out!!!!

But I digress…In my most recent order I purchased some Ready to Read Science and History Fun stuff books; each was $1.79 in paperback. They came today and boy…these are fabulous! These are short chapter books which are geared toward 2nd-3rd grade levels. Each book is filled with colorful and inviting illustrations. In addition, the text is highly engaging. The topics in these books will entice your readers to add these titles to their reading list. A few of these topics include the secrets behind candy, the scoop on ice cream, history of cookies, secrets behind fireworks, the deep dish on pizza, the innings and outs of baseball, stellar space travel, and many more!

These books would also make fantastic read alouds for teachers to model great strategies that good readers use. In fact, our WCPS teachers have a few Ready to Read cultural books in our grade 2 text sets that were purchased this spring. This Ready to Read series focus on countries and their cultures and is titled the “Living in…”. If you want your students to learn more about places in the U.S. be sure to check out the Wonders of the America series also. All of these books are just as fabulous as these Science and History of Fun Stuff books.

If you are interested in a complete lists of the books in the three Ready to Read series I mentioned above here is a link to each set of books. If you decide to purchase be sure to check first and see if you can get them on sale from Book Outlet!

Be sure to check out the book trailers for these books on the Simon and Schuster Youtube Channel.

History of Fun Stuff Series

Science of Fun Stuff Series

Living In…Wonders of America


Here is a book trailer for one of these fabulous books titled, The Innings and Outs of Baseball!



Posted in Math, Misc. Ramblings

Fact Fact Off!

Who couldn’t use a quick and easy new game to practice addition and multiplication facts that is fun and involves a little bit of strategy?  My eleven year old son, Ben, and I dreamed up this little game this evening.  This is a game that you could use in your classroom OR played at home and can be adapted in lots of different ways.

Materials:  You will need a standard deck of cards with jokers.

Card Values:  For this game we designated the Joker as a wild card, meaning you could make it any number you want when it is played.  We made all of the Aces = 1, Jacks = 10, and Queens and Kings = 11.


  1. Shuffle all of the cards and place them face down in a pile.
  2. Each person takes 3 cards (and hides them so that no one, but themselves, can see them).
  3. When each round begins, each player chooses a card from their hand and lays it face down in front of them.
  4. After both players have a face down card each player takes one of the remaining cards from their hand and places it face up beside their opponent’s face down card, as shown below.  So, in fact you are giving your opponent a card which they will use to make an equation in the next round.
  5. Both players turn over their original card and multiply the card they were given by the card they had placed face down.
  6. The players both state their equation and product.  For the hand show above Ben had 6 x 11 = 66 and I had 8 x 10 = 80 so I would win all 4 cards.
  7. The player with the highest product wins the round and takes all of the cards on the table (4).
  8. At the end of the round each player will have 1 card left in their hand.  They will save this card for the next round.
  9. At the beginning of each round players take 2 more cards so that they have a total of 3 cards in their hand (this gives players some choice in what they play) and repeat steps 3-8 until all the cards from the face down pile are gone.
  10. When all rounds are complete players count the cards they won and the player with the most cards wins.

Special notes:

  • If a player places a joker on the table they will state the number they want it to be when they state their equation and product.
  • If the product is the same, play a second round and the player with the highest product will win all 8 cards instead of 4.


  • For younger grades use addition.  Players will find the sum of the two cards.
  • To make the addition more difficult you could have players take 4 cards and lay 2 face down in addition to the one their opponent gives them.  Then players would find the sum of 3 addends.  In this variation, the player with the highest sum would take the 6 cards on the table instead of 4.
  • You can always change up the value of the face cards.  For example Jacks could be 10, Queen could be 11, and King could be 12.

The possibilities are endless!  We made a little video to help explain the rules.  We hope you enjoy the game and share it with your students!

Posted in Social Studies

Where in the World…A Way to Engage Kids at the End of the Year



Where in the world is…(go ahead….say it, or sing it, you know you want to)…Carmen Sandiego?  Now there is a blast from the past!  The geography game (circa 1985) and show, of the same name, was all the rage in the mid 1990’s.   The show came out as a response to a National Geographic survey that showed that Americans had very little knowledge of geography.  So…what does this have to do with engaging kids at the end of, what seems like a crazy long school year?  Lots!  If you loved Carmen Sandiego, want to engage kids, help them become better at geography and at the same time want to build their problem solving and critical thinking skills then you need to check out GeoGuessr!

I have to tell you that my teenager introduced my husband and I to this nifty game a month or so ago and we’ve been hooked ever since.  Geoguessr can be played from the website as well as from the downloaded app or any device.  You can play as a single player (which we do but we tend to play it together) or compete against others.  The premise of the game is simple…you are dropped in the middle of google earth and you have to figure out where in the world you have landed!  You can use your ipad or keyboard keys to navigate in the google maps…traveling as far in any direction as you like.  Along the way you look for clues as to your location.  When you think you know your location you open the world map and drop a pin.  Then it calculates and scores you points based on how close you are to the location.  The closest we have been able to get is 13 meters.  The closer you are…the more points you gain.

Now…my husband and I believe that smart people use their resources and tools…so when we see things we use another device to look up more information to help us.  My teenager thinks this is cheating.  Regardless, you learn a lot about geography and problem solving skills no matter how you play the game.  Sometimes it is very tricky…you might be dropped in the desert or if you are lucky, in the middle of a city where there are lots of road signs.  We use geographical features to help us, languages on signs, and even things written on the sides of vehic

There are a couple of differences between the app and the website.  If you play the app, you will need to gain points to unlock specific regions.  If you play online, you can choose locations without gaining points.

If you decide to use this in your classroom there are lots of options.  The first time I would suggest that you play as a whole class with the site projected on a screen so the whole class can see it and interact together to learn how it works.  I would also suggest making a process chart of “clues to look for”; things like geographic features, road signs, the language on signs, street and route names, etc…    Then you could have students play in teams or compete against each other.

I’ve made a quick little screen cast to show you what this looks like in real time.  I hope I’ve peaked your curiosity enough to check out this little gem!  If you use it, be sure to tell me about your classroom experiences.  I would love to hear what happened in your classroom!