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Celebrate Christmas with a FUN Math Project!

{This is an updated post from last year!}  
The week before winter break is always an exciting time in the classroom and it can be a challenge to keep students on task and learning!  Students seem even more energetic than usual and less focused on learning.  I'm always looking for fun and meaningful ways to integrate the holidays into my classroom to keep my 5th graders focused on academics.   My 12 Days of Christmas Math Project is challenging, yet fun, and allows students to practice problem-solving skills by calculating the cost of the 12 Days of Christmas.



I start by having my students read the lyrics to the "12 Days of Christmas"(I like to play the song as they read along). I have my students highlight the gifts for each of the 12 days of Christmas as they read. Next, I give them the 12 Days of Christmas Task Page and review the three tasks they are required to complete. 

Task 1: Calculate the cost of each gift
Task 2: Calculate the total cost of all gifts given on each day
Task 3: Use the calculations to answer questions 



After we review the tasks, I give my students the 12 Days of Christmas price list.  There are two price lists options to choose from - whole numbers or decimals to the tenths place.  The two different price lists make this activity perfect for third, fourth, or fifth graders! You can also differentiate this activity in your classroom by giving each student the price list that suits their needs best.  Students can work independently, in partners, or in cooperative groups to complete the project.

Students use the recording pages to calculate all of the costs.  You can choose to let your students calculate the costs on paper or give them a calculator - I switch it up depending on my students. While they are working, I like to project a Yule Log video on the board and play holiday music in the background.

Answer keys are also included.  If you would like to share this activity with your students, you can find it  HERE!

Happy Holidays!

Give Thanks: Gratitude Activities for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is always a great time to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for!  In my classroom, I like to work on writing activities the week before the holiday to think about the people in our lives and meaningful ways to show our gratitude.


I've created an "I Am Thankful" poem template for students to share their gratitude and I love how simple and beautiful the poems turn out!  Students just need to come up with something or someone they are thankful for and write their ideas around that topic.  The most popular topic is FAMILY.  I model an example for them using my family to help them get started.



Next, they create a "Give Thanks" mini-poster.  There are two boxes to complete for family and friends, and a third box to write about why they are thankful for their family and friends.  I allow students to write or draw (or both) in the family and friends boxes and require to complete the "why" box in writing.



Finally, students write notes of gratitude to special people in their lives.  I ask students to write at least two (but more are encouraged) - one to a family member and one to someone outside their own family - such as a favorite teacher, the principal, a custodian, a bus driver, a babysitter, etc.

I ask my students to share their poems and mini-posters with their families on Thanksgiving day and help them deliver their notes of gratitude to the special people outside of their family.

The Give Thanks poem template, mini-poster, and notes of gratitude are available for FREE in my TeachersPayTeachers store, HERE.

I am thankful to YOU for stopping by!

With gratitude,
.

Making Math Fact Practice FUN!


I am ALWAYS looking for new and fun ways to help my students practice math fact fluency!  Last year, we began doing Math Fact Relay Races.  I listed the numbers 1-12 on the board and made 2 of them.  In the center of the board, I wrote the operation and a number.  To make my life even easier, I created a Google slide that I can just pull up and project on the board any time we have a few minutes to play!




To play:

1. Divide students into two teams however you like (my students really enjoy girls vs. boys).  The number of the students on each team does not have to be the same but it should be fairly equal.
2. Each team lines up in front of their side of the board - the blue team and the red team.
3. Give the first person in line for each team a dry erase marker.
4. Use a dry erase marker to write a number in the  x or + bubble in the center.  
5. Students take turns filling in a box on their side with the answer!  For example, if I wrote a "3" in the x bubble, students would find the product of 7x3 and write 21 in the 7 box.
6. Once a student answers a question, they go to the end of the line.
7. The first team to answer all the problems from 1-12 correctly, wins a point that I tally on their side.

There are two ways to play.....

Multiplication:

Or addition:


I encourage teams to help each other with the answers since the goal is to have students learn the math facts.  My students LOVE to play this game and we play it any time we have an extra 5 minutes or when I think my students need to get up and move a bit.  When one relay race is finished, just erase the number and the answers and begin another race.

Just for stopping by, you can grab a free copy of my Google slide file!  Just click HERE, and you will open up a link and be directed to create your own copy!  There are two slides, one for addition and one for multiplication.  

Enjoy!

Un-Homework: Using Tasks to Build Community and Connect with Families


My school is a Title 1 school with 100%  free lunch.  For the 11 years that I have taught here, I have struggled with getting students to complete and turn in homework.  My frustration with my students was growing until one day I really thought about it.  Why aren't they completing homework? Why do I need them to complete homework?  I wanted them to do homework to practice what they learned in school so that they would learn study habits and improve academically. The problem was that the students who were completing the homework were either students who didn't really need the practice because they already understood the concept or students who had help at home.  Both of these types of students usually got everything done correctly.  The other type of student completing homework were those who were getting it all mostly incorrect but trying.  The rest? Students who never even tried (and this was about half my class).  Rewards or consequences given for completing or not completing homework were not effective - the completion rate remained the same.  Also, report after report on recent research on homework for elementary school students show that it is not effective.

My philosophy on homework began to shift.  Many of my students do not have support at home to get their homework done - not all of them have someone at home reminding them to do it, they may not have a pencil, or a quiet place to concentrate.  What really changed my mind though?  I put in 8-9 hours at work every day.  I don't want to go home and do more school related work (and I am annoyed when I have to).  My little friends put in 6 hours at school every day - why should THEY want to go home and do more school work?  Being at home should be the time to relax, play, and connect with family NOT stressing over math problems.  


I've decided to assign "Un-Homework" tasks weekly to my students. The tasks are organized into four different categories:

  1. Acts of Kindness
  2. Good Habits
  3. Create
  4. Real World Math & Science

I chose different categories so that we could rotate through different types of tasks in a routine pattern that would enhance our classroom community and discussions.

I assign a new task every Monday.  I print out a small task card and have my students glue the card into their planner.  We discuss the task as a class and share tips on how to organize the information.  Most tasks, such as recording how much fruit you eat during a week or recording how long it takes to get ready for school each day, we choose to record directly in our planners.  Other tasks, may require students to use a separate piece of paper to draw, write, or create a table to complete the task and some tasks require students to interview, help, or do an activity with a family member.
Tasks are due on Friday and we talk briefly about the task each morning as we discuss our agenda for the day.



On Fridays, we have a morning meeting and include a discussion of the Un-Homework task.  If students were asked to collect data, we might put together a class graph or chart of data collected.  If students had to draw a picture or write a comic strip, they would be given a chance to share their creation.  If a math task was assigned, for example, "Keep track of how many hours you sleep this week", we might decide to extend the task by calculating about how many hours each student sleeps in a year.  We might also discuss why sleep is important and talk about how many hours of sleep we should try to get each night.  

Here is a chart we made while discussing how many times students helped their family at home during the week.  My students loved this task and they really enjoyed how much positive feedback they received from their families for helping!  My hope is that assigning acts of kindness or good habit tracking as a task, will help students to keep on performing the task without it being assigned - a win-win situation for every one!


Guess what happened to the homework completion rate in my classroom?  It went up. By a lot.  I still have several students that don't complete the tasks each week but it's not the same students each week - sometimes they're just busy at home, or forget, or don't care for the task.  The great thing is that they can usually participate in the discussion anyway; they can still share a chore they did at home to help out, what time they usually go to bed, or an observation they made about the moon.  Students love to share their task results on Fridays and look forward to our Friday morning meetings.  My students' families LOVE being involved as well.  The task is usually not difficult but can be meaningful.

My students are now enjoying homework and love to share the tasks with their families and the results with their classmates on Fridays.  I love that the tasks are helping us build a classroom community and allowing students to get to know each other better, talk about good habits, discuss real world data and observations, and share their creativity!

Think about meaningful tasks you could assign to your students instead of traditional homework.  You could create your own Un-Homework!  If you prefer, I have created a resource with 40 different tasks with the 4 different categories.  Check out my Un-Homework Weekly Tasks, here.  You can rotate through the 4 different categories or assign the tasks in any order you choose.  A checklist is provided so that you can keep track of tasks already assigned.

I would love to hear YOUR thoughts on homework!  How does it work in your classroom?



Come Visit My 4th Grade Classroom!

As usual it's been a very hectic start to the new school year!  Come join me for a quick tour of my 4th grade classroom!


After four years in 5th grade, I have been moved to 4th grade.  This was not by choice but I am embracing my new grade level, new teammates, new students and enjoying it already!  One of the biggest challenges of changing grade levels?  MOVING!  I had to pack up all of my stuff at the end of last year and then had to wait until the carpets were cleaned before I could unpack in my new room.  I was a bit miffed about not being able to get into my classroom earlier but in hindsight I think it was for the best.  I spent the least amount of time I've ever spent setting up my classroom and that means that I spent more time enjoying my summer and my family!


This is the view of my entry way.  I happen to LOVE the color of the walls - it's my favorite color and it makes me smile every single day.


Right next to the entrance is my classroom library area.  My books are not totally organized yet but I will be putting my students to work on that soon!  I have a toy box that I found in my attic that is stuffed with a pile of fluffy pillows, some re-purposed patio chair cushions, a bungie chair and a small ottoman.  Over the chair, are reading genre posters and in the large tall bookcase in the corner, I have leveled readers, math books, and a collection of puzzles and games.  The bulletin board is empty and awaiting our Language Arts anchor charts and book challenge materials.


This is the view of my room from my desk.  I have 22 desks set up - three rows of 2 pairs of students plus one row of just a pair of students and then a long row of 4 students on each end.  I like my students working in groups and needed a layout that would accommodate the large desks.  So far this arrangement is working well!


I LOVE that my classroom has a huge wall of windows (it's very difficult to take a good photo here due to the light).  There is a whole wall of cubbies that I'm using to store manipulatives, dry erase boards, clip boards, centers, and extra textbooks.  This area here is my homage to Space Camp!  I had the opportunity to attend the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy this summer and it was the most amazing professional development experience!  My flight suit is ready for "Flight Suit Fridays" and I have my newspaper articles, autographed astronaut photos and other fun stuff. My students love looking at my mementos and they love hearing stories about Space Camp (thank goodness they love it because I LOVE talking about it!).


This is my desk.  It's small and I don't sit at it much during the day but I do most of planning here in the afternoons.  My favorite item over here is my coffee maker in the corner!  I splurged on myself this year and love having a cup of coffee in the morning and after dismissal.  This splurge was totally worth it.  


On the front wall, I have our essential questions and our class schedule posted.  I also keep my Friday "gift bags" here.  I pass out raffle tickets throughout the week and raffle off these 3 surprise bags every Friday.  My students are really working hard to earn tickets and it has made our Fridays very exciting!


This area is where I spend most of my time.  This computer is connected to my projector and document camera.  My students use the document camera to share their work and strategies. My favorite read aloud EVER also sits there (can you tell what it is?) and you can see our classroom rules - we only have 2 very important rules!



This is my small group table. When the floor lamp is on, it signals "Do Not Disturb".  My students love coming to the table and love sitting on the stools I found at Family Dollar ($5 each!  For real!).  I also have growth mindset posters on the wall behind my chair. We are working on growth mindset every day and we discuss it when we work in our small groups.  I will also use this area for conferencing, discussing their data, and setting goals with individual students.

Thanks for stopping by my happy little classroom!  I can't wait to share some of the things we'll be working on throughout the year!

3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students - Tip #3





This post is the last in my series on 3 simple tips to help manage difficult students.  You can catch up on the original post here and read in detail about Tip #1 here and Tip #2 here.  In this post, I'm going to explain tip #3 and how I give all of my students a safe, quiet place to calm down whenever they need a break.


In my 10 years of teaching, I've noticed that more and more students come to school unable to self-regulate their feelings and emotions.  My school has been implementing trauma-sensitive training to make our school a safe place for students - academically, physically, socially, and emotionally.  A trauma-sensitive approach is beneficial for ALL students.  Many children who have experienced trauma have difficulty managing their emotions and can react in an extreme way to a minor difficulty. These types of students are usually on the radar of a counselor or administrator but there are ways to help students learn about their emotions and teach them strategies to cope with them.

To help students understand and manage their emotions, I've set up a "Calm Down Station" in my classroom.  I have an old carrel-style desk in a corner of the room. At the desk I keep a stash of tactile toys that students can use to help alleviate stress, anger, or frustration.  I keep a small box that contains things such as a bean bag, modeling clay, pattern blocks, and foam dice.  I carefully select items that are soft and won't create much noise.  At the Calm Down Station, I also have a cup of colored pencils and an assortment of paper and coloring pages, a mirror, stuffed animals, and a glitter wand.

Over the course of several days we discuss as a class how at different times, different people have a range of feelings and emotions.  We talk about positive and negative feelings and how these feelings can impact our lives in positive and negative ways. 

Feelings


In groups, I have my students discuss different feelings and what might cause them  Maybe we get grumpy when we are hungry.  I am worried because my puppy is sick. I am overexcited because I'm going to the water park after school today. I am disappointed because I didn't do well on the test.  We then talk about how these feelings might affect behavior at school.  We've all had situations where we have been a negative feeling and couldn't concentrate on a task that needed to be done. We might be really worried about something and spend time thinking about the worry and not focusing on learning. Or we may be so angry about something that we can't sit still and just want to scream. These feelings are OK and normal and valid.  Sometimes though, it can be difficult to manage those feelings and it can affect learning or behavior at school.  

Strategies


Next, students discuss in groups different strategies they can use to calm down so that they can focus on school. We share the strategies discussed as a whole class and then I share some of my favorite strategies. We talk about how different strategies work for different people and for different feelings.  As a class, we come up with procedures and expectations for using the Calm Down Station area.  We create an anchor chart and I hang it on the side of the carrel.  My students are free to use the station when needed.  I monitor the time they spend there and will check in with them after a short time (after a few minutes when we first start using the station) to make sure that they are ok and are focusing on using a strategy to refocus so that they can come back to learning as quickly as possible.  At times, I have had children linger there and I will quietly tell them that they have just a few more minutes and then need to get back to work.  I have also had students who could not calm down and this may require a private discussion with me, parent contact, or a meeting with a guidance counselor.

Reflection


At the Calm Down Station, I also keep a stack of reflection forms.  Students are encouraged to fill one out before they head back to class. Students keep their completed reflection forms in their folder so that students can monitor the frequency of certain emotions and possible triggers as well as identifying strategies that help them manage those emotions.  I make a note of which students have visited the Calm Down Station and make sure I touch base with them during a quiet time to have a brief chat of what happened and if a strategy helped.  This also helps me to identify patterns so that I can be proactive and better understand my students' needs.

Teaching students self-control can be challenging process that takes time and patience for teachers and students.  A Calm Down station in your classroom can be an easy way to give students a safe place to refocus and to learn and practice strategies to help manage their emotions.

I have created a Calm Down Station resource for my safe zone.  I keep a set of "I am Feeling" cards on a binder ring so that students can flip through the pictures and definitions to help identify what they are feeling.  I also have a set of "Calm Down Strategy" cards with different strategies for students to try. If you would like to use the Calm Down Feeling Cards, Strategy Cards and Reflection forms that I have created, you can find my resource on Teachers Pay Teachers, here.


3 Simple Tips to Manage Difficult Students - Tip #2



I'm continuing my series on 3 simple tips to help manage difficult students.  You can catch up on the original post here and read in detail about Tip #1 here and Tip #3 here.  In this post, I'm going to explain tip #2 and how I use my most challenging students as helpers.


Often, the most challenging students are seeking attention in a not so positive way   They don't feel good about themselves and they need your help.  They just want to be noticed, they want to be cared for, they want to be loved, they want to SUCCEED in the classroom and they don't know how. Getting in trouble is a time-honored method of getting out of class and getting out of the work at hand.



I like to make my most challenging student my helper. If  I notice that "Nina" is getting frustrated in math, I might ask her to run a quick errand for me.  "Could you please bring this note to Mrs. T down the hall?"  This allows Nina to have a brief break before she blows up.  When she returns, I'll make a point to go sit with her, thank her for helping me out, and help her work through a problem.  

I  also enlist my most challenging students for help every day in the classroom.  I"ll give them tasks to complete in the morning before other students come in, before instruction begins, during transitions, or at the end of the day (I only have them do tasks during academic instruction if I see an urgent need for the child to have a break from what they are working on).  I might have them straighten out a drawer, erase the board, turn on all of the computers, set up the chairs, wipe down the desks, or sharpen pencils.  A small, simple task, that really helps me in a small way.  This student will the first one I'll turn to for a simple favor.  If they don't want to do the task, I don't take it personally - I'll just say "OK, maybe next time" and give the task to another student.  Most times though, the student will help me.  I don't make a big deal of the task completion but offer a simple and sincere thank you.  After a bit (and it usually doesn't take very long), my most challenging friend will come asking me for something they can do.  Most every one wants to feel needed.  Enlisting the help of a challenging student helps to build a rapport and a connection in a genuine way.

The key to the success of this technique is getting to know your student by looking for patterns of behavior.  What is setting them off?  Is it during math?  A certain time of day? After an interaction with a classmate?  Looking for a pattern and having an idea about what might trigger a student's outburst is when it's a good time to redirect with a simple task in or out of the classroom.  Making a child feel useful and appreciated can help a child feel important, needed, and in control.




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