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Leave Work at Work (Most of the Time..)

Hi There!  REAL TALK here. Last year was the year I thought I was going to leave teaching. It was rough.  My school was a deemed a low-performing school and we were required to have an extra hour of reading instruction.  We did get paid for that extra hour HOWEVER, let me tell you it was hard.  We only had 30 minutes of planning time four times per week and with the extra hour, the school day ended at 2:45.  Tack on bus duty and I wasn't done until 3:30.  Contractually, we could leave at 3:45.  15 minutes at the end of the day for planning. 15 minutes is not enough time to get much done.  I ended up staying and working at school until about 5:00 every day.  I was stressed, tired, and bringing work home with me was causing resentment after such a long day. I had to find a way to streamline my workload.  I developed a system to make every spare minute count.

Here's the thing, if you want to leave your work at work you have to commit to making the most of your time at work and find a routine that works for you.

1. When are you most productive?
I'm a morning person.  I like to get moving early and get to work while the building is still quiet.  I turn on my computers, get a peppy playlist playing, brew my coffee and tackle a stack.  I'll spend 30 minutes grading or getting copies and lessons ready before the bell rings.  There are NO distractions early in the morning - the phone doesn't ring, colleagues don't stop by, there are fewer emails, and no social media notifications.  Those 30 minutes in the morning are usually my most productive!  Maybe you are not a morning person - you might carve out your 30 minutes after school but my suggestion is to close your door to minimize interruptions.

2. What do your REALLY need to grade?
Don't collect everything!  Think about what you really need to look at closely to see how your students are doing and collect just that.   For additional grades, I keep a clipboard with a a blank student spreadsheet that I use throughout the week.  As students are working independently, I'll write notes or do a scan for a quick grade (check +, check, or check -).  I can easily input this as a classwork grade or use it to decide on my small group reteach activities.  I will collect classwork after students have had a chance to practice a skill and do a more thorough grade for my grade book.  I usually do one quick scan per day for each subject and collect at least 1 classwork assignment each week for each subject area.  This helps to tame my paper stacks!

3. How do you like to plan?
I don't like planning on the weekends!  We give so much of ourselves to our students and our school community during the week that our weekends should be ours!

There are so many different ways to plan and it's also very dependent on what your administration wants.  I set aside 1 hour each month for each subject and plan a rough outline for the month.  My outline will include the standards, essential questions, and a sequential list.  I do not include dates so I can easily make adjustments as I teach. I use my curriculum resources, my own created resources, and search Pinterest or TeachersPayTeachers to fill in any gaps.  (Our curriculum for EVERY subject has many gaps and I need to look for outside resources to supplement).  Each week, I'll firm up my monthly outline and make adjustments as needed.  I put my outline on a Google doc so that I can access it from anywhere (and share with my colleagues) but my day to day plans are still paper and pencil in my beloved planner.  I like to start this process at the beginning of each month and have it done by the end of the month.  Some times I get this done early, some times I'm not able to carve out enough time during the month and barely make it but I rarely spend time at home doing this anymore.

4. What is your end of the day routine?
What do you do for the last 10-15 minutes before you leave school? Come up with a simple routine that will make your life easier the next day. I like to straighten out my desk and have my curriculum resources and copies organized by subject. I file papers I'll need later in the week or month in a giant file tub with folders for future activities, interactive notebook pages, mini-assessments, and assessments organized by subject.  I pull from this tub for the next days resources. I just stack what I need for the next day on my teaching table (where my document camera and teaching computer sit).  You might like to keep a folder with materials for each subject or for each day of the week - just find the system that works for you so that you have materials where you can find them!  Spending a few minutes before you leave will allow you to come in and just get to business!

Leaving work at work  gives my life more balance than I've had before.  I have more energy when I get home.  I'm in a better mood for my family.  I'm able to plan and cook healthy meals.  I have more time for me - a nice walk, working in my garden, and more.  Are there times where I need to work extra or stay late?  Of course, but it's not every, single day.

I hope some of my tips are helpful to you.  What are some things you do to make the most of your busy work day?  I'd love to hear how you make the most of each precious minute!

Multiply Fractions Using Area Models with a Freebie for YOU!

Confession.  Math was my worst subject in school.  Calculus?  I honestly don't know how I survived college level calc with Dr. K.  I think he just took pity on me.  

Looking back now, I had some not so great math teachers.  I don't want to be that teacher - I mean, who aims for "not so great"?   I want to be the teacher that I wish I had when I was young.  Now, I LOVE math and LOVE teaching math.  I want my students to LOVE math too.  That's a lot of love.   To become the math teacher I wish I had, I seek and create ways to make math meaningful, hands-on and fun!  

When it came time to start multiplying fractions with my 5th graders, I remembered how difficult it was to use area models with my 5th graders last year.  It was so difficult because our district-provided math text has students creating fraction models in tiny boxes and then shading them in.  Ironically, the lesson is titled "Hands-On Multiply Fractions".  Drawing models is not hands-on enough for me!
I had an idea to use clear fraction models that they could overlap to see the area models multiply. I immediately thought of overhead transparency film and that YES I could print models on this!  I created fraction models, printed them, cut them out and viola! Perfect.  

I allowed my students a chance to play with the models first.

Next,  I modeled how to multiply fractions using the area model using this terrific online interactive, http://www.geogebra.org/m/40578.  I also modeled how to use the fraction transparency models using my document camera.

I let my students "play" with the models on their individual white boards.  They created and solved their own problems.  They LOVED this activity.

I created area model problem pages for students to use the models to create and solve the problem and then draw the models and the product.

I've created a freebie of the fraction models just for you!  Click on the image below to download the fraction models!

This freebie is just one page of my 30 page resource  Multiply Fractions with Area Models that is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store!  This resource includes a set of expressions and product models for students to sort - great in workstations for extra practice.  

Use task cards with the fraction models.....
for students to practice multiplying fractions with the area models.

This also helps students practice drawing the area models.

This resource also includes expression cards to match with the product model for even more practice.
Check out my resource by clicking here.

Start the New Year Off Right in Your Classroom!

Happy New Year!  I always like to start the new year with renewed energy and a positive outlook.  I am excited to get back into the classroom with my sweet students - I've missed them!  The school year is nearly half-way over (already??!) and I want to continue pushing my students to learn and grow to be their best!  I want to maintain a positive and safe classroom environment - the new year is a perfect time for a review of procedures and to introduce some new ideas!

Here are 5 things I plan to do to start the year off right:

1. It's the FIRST Day!  You've been on break for a bit now, right?  So guess what? Your students (and YOU) are a bit out of the school routine.  While it's not actually the first day of school, try incorporating some fun activities to review procedures and expectations.  At the beginning of the year, I show a meme slideshow to go over procedures in my classroom.  My students love it! And the best part?  They remember the procedures! Search the internet for a couple of silly memes that will help you review your procedures.
2. Check IN! Now that I've had a nice relaxing break away from the classroom, I realize that I miss my students.  The first week back, I will make a point to have a personal conversation with each of student to check in with them about their break and get a feel for how they are doing. Unfortunately, some of my students likely did not have a fun and relaxing break.  I want to welcome them back into the safe and structured classroom environment. I want to work to rebuild and maintain a connection with each student for the rest of the year.  I keep an actual checklist so that I can write down the date we chatted and what we talked about.  Showing that you really care about someone takes just a little bit of time but has huge and lasting benefits.

3. Be POSITIVE!  I plan on starting the new year with a fresh, positive attitude.  I will reward good behavior A LOT the first weeks back.  I will embrace getting my students to "clip up" the behavior chart, writing positive notes to parents, and giving out tickets to our weekly raffle. Negative behaviors will be addressed quietly and privately with students with gentle reminders in the classroom and a conversation at recess.

4. Build COMMUNITY!  Make it a fresh start and incorporate community and class-building activities. If you expect students to work together collaboratively you MUST teach them and show them how in fun ways. I do this by incorporating a morning meeting with each of my groups.  We get to know each other by sharing and learn to work together by playing  games. The games can be quick and simple like "Telephone" or "Two Truths and a Lie". We also discuss classroom issues and brainstorm ways to resolve them.  I dedicate at most ten minutes every day for our morning meeting and usually add a longer fifteen minute session once a week or as needed. If the weather is nice, take it outside for a breath of fresh air! 

5. REFLECT!  Make the new year a great one by incorporating student reflections and goals.  I have my students reflect on their learning every Friday by writing about 3 things they learned during the week.  They then write about whether it was easy or challenging for them and why. My students keep a Digital Learning Reflections Journal with their data and goal-setting slides.  Teaching and modeling to students how to reflect on what and how they are learning is such a powerful way for students to really think about their thinking.  It also gives them opportunities to look back and set meaningful goals for themselves as they move forward in their learning.  You can easily do this by having students writing each week in a new or existing journal.  To make it even easier, you can check out my Digital Weekly Learning Reflection Forms in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here or click on the image below!  I have a PDF version in my store on Teachers Pay Teachers store as well! 

I hope you can use some of these ideas in your classroom in the upcoming weeks!  
What will you do to start the New Year off right?
Happy New Year!

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.....


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.  


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?

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