Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Freebie - Subtraction Bingo

My classes are currently studying subtraction in our math classes. One of the ways that I like to have students practice is through a lot of different interesting centers. One of the centers that they are working on for the Subtraction Unit is called Subtraction Bingo. When I explained the activity to my students they seemed very excited to get started on putting the game together.

 The first thing the students have to do is answer the subtraction problems that will be used to create the Bingo board. There are 25 different subtraction problems for them to solve. These problems focus on 3-digit subtraction, with and without regrouping. This is probably as close as I get to a math worksheet outside of the homework I assign each evening. The problems that the students solve will be used as the spaces on the Subtraction Bingo board.

After the students solve the 25 problems, the questions are cut apart from each other. The students will need to choose 24 of the 25 problems to create their Bingo boards. Once the problems have been cut apart, the students will use a glue stick to glue the problems to the 24 spaces on the empty Bingo board. This lets the students create their own boards and each board will be different.

When the students have created their boards, it is Bingo Time! I have all of the differences on little cards in an envelope. The students take turns pulling out the differences and reading them aloud. If a student has that number on his board, he gets to cover it with a marker. The first student to cover five spaces in a row is the winner.

Subtraction Bingo is a lot of fun and I want your students to enjoy the activity as well, so I have made it free from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I hope you can use it and would love to know how it worked in your classroom. Hopefully it will be as a big a hit in your room as it is in mine.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Math - Earth! Water! Fire! and Switch! - Exciting Math Games for 3rd Grade

Today is the first installment of what I hope will be an ongoing series. I'm trying my hand at doing a video each week to highlight something I am doing with my math students. This week I am sharing with you two of the math games that we are currently using in my math class.

The first activity that I share is called Switch!. The set my students are using is designed to help them develop some mental addition skills. I don't think they realize what they are learning. All I know is that I have three sets of the game in my room and all three sets are in high demand.

The second activity that gets highlighted this week is Earth! Water! Fire! This particular game is similar to Paper, Rock, Scissors, but with a slight twist. There are three sets in my classroom right now, all focusing on multiplication facts. It is my sincere hope that I will have a whole classroom of students who are fluent in their multiplication facts...before we even start teaching multiplication next quarter. I'll be making other sets soon to focus on division facts as well.

Please leave me some feedback on the video. I would love to hear what you liked and what I could do better next time.

If you are interested in any of the products I shared today, please be sure to visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to get more information on how you can add them to your classroom.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How To Have a Miserable School Year

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Update:  The 2013-2014 school year was so much better than previous years.  I had a new team and a new co-teacher.  I also made certain that I had a better attitude about things and it made a whole world of difference.  Here's hoping and praying that next year (with more changes on the horizon) will be just as good.

Last year was a terrible year. I was unhappy and I made sure everyone knew it. There were a lot of things that I wish I could change about last year, but that is in the past. This year, however, I have decided to have a better year. There are, as usual, things that are beyond my control about the school year. Everyone has those. But instead of focusing on the things we can't change, we need to take charge of the things that are ours to take care of. With that in mind, here are three ways to guarantee you will have a miserable school year.
Continue to Focus on Things You Cannot Change. - Every teacher faces struggles in their classroom. Every teacher has challenging students and difficult parents. Some teachers have the privilege of working with special education students or with students who are so new to the country that they don't even know what the bathroom is in English. That doesn't mean you can use those challenges as an excuse for poor performance or a lack of planning. As teachers we have to take the class we are given and do our very best to teach those students the content and how to become the best human beings they can.
Make Excuses Based on Time Constraints. - There is never enough time in the day. We all have to go to meetings, then go to more meetings, and we have to end the day with more meetings. The lessons we planned will ALWAYS take more time than we have to give them. You will be absolutely miserable if you can't get past the fact that time is short and students take a long time to do EVERYTHING. There is nothing I would love more than to get to the end of a unit, knowing that I had a ton of extra time. That's just not the case and making excuses about why I can't everything done because of data meetings, team meetings, and home responsibilities will make sure I have a terrible year.
Refuse to Try Anything New. - Everyone has their favorite assignments and projects. We tend to get a bit possessive of the way we teach and it is hard for us to deviate from the norm. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't try something new. We need to be willing to "roll with the punches" and try something new, not just because it is new, but because it might have a better result than that worksheet you've been doing every October since you made the switch from mimeograph to Xerox. And, yes, I used to teach with a woman who had her boxes. She had a September box, October box, etc. If it wasn't in the box, she didn't teach it. Needless to say, she spent a lot of time complaining any time something new was introduced. Don't be that lady.
There you are. Follow those three steps and I guarantee you will have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad school year. Promise.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Using Scavenger Hunts in Math

I am a big believer in having my students engaged as much as possible when they are practicing math skills. My team uses a centers-based teaching framework so that we meet with smaller groups of students. To do this, we need incredibly engaging activities for the other students to be working on. This is a strong area for me and something that I love doing.

One of the centers that my students love the most is the math scavenger hunt. A scavenger hunt is an activity where I scatter review questions around the classroom and the students have to look around and locate the questions. The questions are not hidden in difficult places, but I do try to mix up the numbers of the questions. Question 5 might be hung next to question 22.

Right now, my students are working on completing an addition scavenger hunt. There are 22 questions (covering all of the skills we are teaching in this unit) hung up around the classroom. My students go from question to question, answering as they go. It is fun to see if they will answer the questions as they find them or to watch them hunt around and try to do the questions in order. Each scavenger hunt has an answer sheet for the students to record their answers on (in case I need a formative assessment or something). Before the Addition Scavenger Hunt, we did a Place Value Scavenger Hunt. When I passed out our Centers Grid for the week, they (both classes) were very excited to see the Scavenger Hunt on there.

If you are interested in using a Scavenger Hunt in your classroom, the hunts that I have made are available from Teachers Pay Teachers. I also included a QR code on each question, so students using iPads or iPods can check to see if they got the answer correct. It is a lot of fun and very engaging for the students.

The Addition Scavenger Hunt and the Place Value Scavenger Hunt are available at my TeachersPayTeachers store, along with many other math activities and games.  I would love for you to check out the products I have available.  I would also love to know what centers you use in your math time.  Please leave a comment below to let me know what your students love doing to help them practice their math skills.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Importance of Binder Rings

Always put your task cards on a
binder ring!
I shared the other day about introducing my new third grade students to math centers. One of the centers that I introduced was "Check Writing," which has the students writing numbers in standard and written form on a specially designed check that I created just for the center. I made three sets of the task cards on cardstock, cut them out, and laminated them. I carefully put them into three groups (there are 24 task cards in each group) and put the task cards into envelopes for the students to pick up when they chose that center.

Everything was going swimmingly with my centers. At least until clean up time came. Maybe it is just a third grade thing, but clean up seems to be a disaster every day. Children who were behaving wonderfully seem to lose their minds when it comes time to put things away. This is especially true for task cards that come out of envelopes.

Now maybe I wasn't specific when I gave the instructions, but I'm pretty sure that I said to make sure that all cards that come out of envelopes go back into the same envelopes. This, of course, was not the case. When I started to clean up from the day, I noticed that one envelope of cards was very anemic while another envelope looked as if it had just enjoyed a seven course meal. Instead of returning the cards to the correct envelope, the students just shoved the cards into whatever envelope they could find. I even found some of my Check Writing cards in envelopes with Pirates vs. Ninjas, another place value center. I had to sort all of the cards (again!) to make sure they were all there.

So I wised up. I probably should have done this to begin with, but I invested in some binder rings. I put all of the cards on rings. It was beautiful. And the best part? No cards got misplaced! I am a genius. Now, I just need to remember to do it again in the future.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Introducing Math Centers

One of the things that I am big on in teaching math is math centers. My team and I work hard to create some exciting centers for the students. I want them to be practicing the skills that we are teaching, but to do so in such a way that they don't realize they are learning. If the rest of the year continues the way our first day went, I think I might be successful at that.

The first centers I introduced were place value oriented. We have been focusing on the skills of writing numbers (in standard, word, and expanded form), comparing numbers, and rounding numbers. With that in mind, I created a number of centers to help reinforce those skills.

The first center I introduced to the students was something I call "Catch The Fly!" This activity allows the students to compare numbers using the symbols for greater than, less than, or equal to, but does it in a way that encourages a bit of fun. Instead of using the regular (boring) symbols, the center gives students special frog symbols to use. Each of the numbers being compared has a fly over it, so the frog is trying to eat the bigger of the two flies. The students were very excited about this one and were meticulously cutting out their frogs.  The only thing that I would change about this center is the fact that the frogs they are using are black and white.  The actual file has them in color, but that is a lot of color ink to use when making enough sheets for the whole class to use.

Another center that I rolled out for my students today made them feel really grown-up.  This center is called "Check Writing."  The students get to use the skills of writing numbers in standard form and written form to fill out a check for an amount that is listed on the task card they have chosen.  They were so excited to be writing "real" checks, especially when the task card told them to write a check to their teacher.  I did have to correct one student who wrote "My Mom" when the task card instructed her to write a check to her mother.  It did make me laugh.  This center has the students writing four separate checks and the hardest part for them so far was knowing what the date was.  We had to stop and have a mini-lesson on how to use this great new invention known as the calendar.  I just wish the checks they were writing to me were real.

One last center that I want to share with you is the one the students were most excited about.  This center, called "Pirates vs. Ninjas!" has the students comparing numbers, but they are doing it through an exciting card game.  Each student is given a deck of cards and an activity sheet.  With a partner, the student will flip over his card while his partner does the same.  They compare numbers, write down both numbers, and then determine who the winner is.  After 10 rounds, the player with the most wins is the champion.  My students loved this activity because there was a competition aspect to it.  All of the students wanted to play, but as I only made two sets of the cards, this one was in high demand during both math groups.

Each week, I try to have at least nine centers for the the students to choose from.  All of the choices are self-selected, but the students have to complete a certain number of centers before the end of the week.  This is often their favorite part of math time.  I really enjoy seeing them get so excited about applying their learning (even if they don't always realize they are doing it.)

If you are interested in learning more about the centers I shared above, or would like to purchase copies of your own, Catch the Fly!, Pirates vs. Ninjas, and Check Writing are all available for purchase at my TeachersPayTeachers store.  If you make use of them, I would love for you to share how your students responded to the activities.

What centers do your students love the most?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thinking Like a Scientist - Diet Coke and Mentos

During the first week of school, our third grade students talked about what it means to be a scientist.  We brainstormed and came up with ideas of what a scientist does.  These included saving the environment, building technology, and discovering things.  After we made this list, we drew and colored what the students thought a scientist looked like.  Nearly every kid drew a scientist with gloves, a lab coat, and goggles.

The lessons culminated with a lesson on how a scientist discovers things.  I taught them that a scientist begins by asking a question, sometimes even lots of questions.  After coming up with the question, the scientist develops a hypothesis, what he thinks will happen.  Next, he conducts his experiment and records his data.  Finally, he analyzes the data and comes up with his conclusion and determines if his hypothesis was right or wrong.

The big event for the week was the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. Many of our families were gracious enough to donate the needed materials. We chose Diet Coke, diet lemon lime soda, and diet root beer. We also used mint-flavored Mentos. Here are some of the results:

Needless to say, the students had a blast participating in the activity, even though I was the one having all the fun. This is a really easy and exciting activity to do and only needs a few materials. There is a website devoted to the science behind this experiment with a lot more videos. The website is called EepyBird.com.

Many of the students were asking me about the special tube I used in the experiment. I used a special tube that attached to the top of the soda bottle and allowed me to load the Mentos into the bottle and pull a string after moving safely away. That tube is called Steve Spangler's Geyser Tube. The Geyser Tube not only kept me dry, it also controlled the flow of the "eruption" from the soda, allowing it to go much higher. The Geyser Tube can be purchased at Amazon.com, but I have also seen them at Cracker Barrel and sometimes at toy stores in the mall.

It was a great first week teaching science and I am looking forward to the exciting things we have planned for teaching matter.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Using Dice in My Math Classroom

Some of my favorite things to use in my classroom are dice. We use dice for just about everything. They are incredible versatile and be used for nearly every math topic. As I get ready to teach place value, I will definitely be using more dice. And the best part is that my students love to use the dice as well. Of course, we have to have a "mini lesson" on the proper way to use dice (no throwing, no launching into the air, etc.), but, once they know the right way to use the dice, we always have a lot of fun.
While most people think of just the 6-sided number cube that is used in most games, there are actually a large number of different dice, ranging from 4-sided to 12-sided. In my class, we use 6-sided cubes, 10-sided dice, and 12-sided dice. Here is a list of some of the things I've used dice for in the past.
  • Making numbers for rounding
  • Place value games
  • Addition problems
  • Subtraction problems
  • Multiplication facts
  • Division practice with remainders
The list of ideas is infinite, limited only by your imagination. Dice are a great way to add some rigor and challenge to your students' math skill practice. It definitely beats always giving them worksheets.
The problem that I ran into was the fact that I only have a small number of dice. I think I currently have six of the 10-sided dice and six 12-sided dice, in addition to a number of 6-sided cubes. This limits the number of students who can participate. Unfortunately, the price for the dice were also a bit expensive. At our local teacher supply store, the dice were between $1.50 and $2.00 each. This doesn't sound like a lot, but when you have to buy a lot of them, that price adds up quickly.
The other day on Amazon.com I came across an item called Pound-O-Dice. While I don't know if it exactly 1 pound of dice, I do know that it was exactly what I was looking for! The Pound-O-Dice gave me a huge collection of dice. I received 4-sided, 6-sided, 8-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided, and 20-sided dice. And not just a few. In total, I think I received over 100 dice in the Pound-O-Dice. The price was about $21.00, but I recently receive an Amazon.com gift card for taking an online survey. Even at $21, the Pound-O-Dice was well worth the money.

12-sided dice - Great for multiplication

The package came with all these
number cubes.

Look at all the 10-sided dice!
What ways do you use dice in your classroom?  Do you students enjoy using them?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school. I don't need to go into all the details of what that entailed because I'm pretty sure that if you are reading this, your first day was fairly similar to mine. Meet the students, go over procedures, answer a million questions about when is lunch and when do we go to recess, etc. One thing that stuck out from today, however, was a beautiful little gift one of my students brought me. Here is a picture of it:

To be honest, I'm not even sure if she know how special it was to me. Here's the back story: When she and her family came to visit at Open House, I was teasing her little brother about needing to have a joke every time he came to see me or wanted to come into the classroom. He just laughed and walked away, not really understanding what I was doing. It would appear that my student took me seriously, so she went home to find and download some jokes to share with me and the class today.

I don't normally get all teacher-mushy, but this definitely made me smile. It was a good first day.

Friday, August 16, 2013

My Seven Favorite Books Growing Up

Growing up I read a lot. Some of my favorite memories were going to the library with my dad, rushing home after school to go to the Bookmobile on Thursday afternoons, and reading by the air vent on cold afternoons. As a teacher, I want to instill that same love of reading in my students today.

Here is a list of my favorite books from when I was growing up. Most of these I read multiple times.

  • Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • Chicken Trek by Stephen Manes
  • Something Under the Bed is Drooling by Bill Watterson
  • The Great Brain at the Academy by John D. Fitzgerald
  • Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
  • Jelly Belly by Robert Kimmel Smith
  • This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall! by Gordon Korman
What are you favorite books from when you were growing up?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Seven Favorite Read Aloud Books

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One of the great joys of being a teacher is getting to read aloud to my students. They look forward to hearing me read every day and even ask for me to do it quite often. I love to try to spice up the story by adding voices and stopping to add some additional information to what I've just read.

Everyone has their favorite read-aloud books. Here is a list of the books that I try to read to my students each year. Sometimes I make it through the whole list; other years I only make it through a couple of them.

  • The Best School Year Ever by Barbara Robinson. The Herdman clan is one of the craziest group of kids you will ever meet and the excitement they bring to their school will keep you and your students laughing all the way to the end.
  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. These stories are short and hysterically funny. When I read, I like to change the names of the characters to students in my class. This seems to make them enjoy the stories even more.
  • The Wish Giver by Bill Brittain. This is a collection of three stories all tied together around the meeting with a strange little man at the church bazaar. It is best to remember to be careful what you wish for, especially when those wishes can be taken literally.
  • No Talking by Andrew Clements. The boys and the girls don't get along, so they start a competition to see who can go the longest without talking. Lessons are learned. This is a great book.
  • Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. Even though the main character is a little girl in kindergarten, my third graders easily relate to what Ramona goes through. After listening to the book, many of my students will continue on to read the rest of the series.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Not a lot needs to be said about this book. The students love the crazy adventures of Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe in Willie Wonka's whacked-out factory.
  • Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. The adventures of Pippi and her friends keep the students enthralled, especially with the fact that Pippi can pick up a horse and has a chest of gold. This is one of my favorites to read out loud.

What books do you read to your students? Do they have any books that get requested year after year?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Seven Favorite Newbery Award Winners

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Every year a book is given the Newbery Award for Children's Literature.  It is supposed to be for the most distinguished contribution to children's literature.  Some years the choice is excellent and other years many people are scratching their heads trying to figure out why a particular book was chosen.

I've tried to read a number of the Newbery Award winners and some I've like and others I have not liked as much.  A few (The Giver, for example) I just downright hated.  But I guess everyone is entitled to their opinions and the Newbery Award is not without its controversies.

Here is my list of my seven favorite Newbery Award winners. These are in no particular order.
. This book is a mystery and science fiction novel rolled together. It is about a young girl in the 1970s who is having to deal with the loss of her best friend. No, he didn't die. A lot of mysterious things happen and there is a need to suspend disbelief, but this is one of my favorite books. My wife and I listened to it on our drive home from Disney World this summer. If you like it, you may also want to check out Liar & Spy, also by Rebecca Stead. This woman can write.
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  • . This is a great story about a mouse and other inhabitants of a castle, including a very nasty rat. It is full of adventure and is a lot of fun to read. If you can, try to find an audiobook version. The one I listened to had great narration and really made the story come to life.
  • A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
  • . This is a collection of stories about a young girl who visit her grandmother. Grandma Dowdel is one of the funniest characters in all of literature. A Year Down Yonder is the sequel to A Long Way From Chicago, also a truly hilarious book.
  • Holes by Louis Sachar
  • . The story of Stanley Yelnats, who gets sent to a juvenile work camp for stealing a pair of shoes. He is required to dig holes to build character, but it turns out that the warden isn't telling the whole truth. This story was also made into a really great movie.
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • . This was the Newbery Award winner the year I was born, which may explain my connection to it. This story is a really complicated mystery, but it was a lot of fun to read.
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins
  • . I think this was my first introduction to historical literature. This book is an exciting look at life for a young man during the beginnings of the American Revolution.
  • Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
  • . This is the story of a Birdie and her family in Florida, trying to make a go at a strawberry farm. She is excited to pick the berries, but not everyone is excited to have them around. Those are my favorite Newbery Award winners. Do you agree with my selections? What titles are your favorites?

    Seven Days of Seven Book Lists, Each Containing Seven (or more) Books

    Because I only have seven days until my summer vacation is over, I thought I might end the summer with a series of lists. The lists are about books. I love to read. I love to collect books. Some of my favorite places are bookstores. I remember...wait, I'm getting off topic.
    For the next seven days, I will be making a list of seven books that are special to me in some way. They might be useful in your classroom (some more than others), but all of these books have touched me or been a part of my life in some way. A good book is like a friend. You are never the same after having had it in your life and sometimes you have that "friend" in your life for many, many years.
    Here are the lists that I will be sharing with you over the next seven days. All of the books will be linked to Amazon.com, so if you see one that you like, you can easily pick it up.
    1. My Seven Favorite Newbery Award Winners
    2. My Seven Favorite Read Alouds
    3. My Seven Favorite Books Growing Up
    4. My Seven Favorite Classic Novels
    5. My Seven Favorite Series I Read as a Kid
    6. My Seven Favorite Series to Read (and that all kids should be reading)
    7. My Seven Favorite Books As An Adult
    I hope that the books that I list will strike a chord with you and that you can add some books to the lists as well.

    Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    One Week Until I Go Back to School

    A new school year is just around the corner. Teachers in my county report back to their schools on Wednesday, August 21. I will admit that the summer has flown by this year. My family did have a rather eventful summer, which may explain why time has gone by so quickly.

    Here are just a few of the things that I did this summer:

    • In June, my wife and I took our four boys to Walt Disney World. We decided to rent a vehicle and drive to Florida because the airfare was way too expensive for a family our size. That was a crazy drive (down and back!). However, everyone had a wonderful time and the boys are still talking about the trip. We can't wait to make another sometime.
    • I taught 3rd grade summer school this year in Leesburg, VA. I had a class of 12 students and we worked on Reading and Math skills for four weeks. We spent a lot of time learning basic math facts and answering comprehension questions.
    • I started working on some projects for the coming school year. To this point, I've made a few projects for students in my class to use. There is a site that I discovered called Teachers Pay Teachers, where I can post the projects to share with other teachers. If you are interested in checking out my projects (or the great stuff that other teachers have posted), please visit Teachers Pay Teachers.

    with a new team and new students, I'm sure that the new year will be full of new adventures. There is a possibility that I am switching content areas (from math/science to language arts/social studies), so other new ideas are on the way.

    P.S. I apologize for the blandness of the new blog. Construction is underway.