Tales from Outside the Classroom

Using the T-Method for Tricky Measurement Conversions

This year when I was teaching elapsed time, I taught it with the backwards N like I always do, and with timelines.  So many of my kids got it, and rocked it, and moved on through it.  For some of my kids, though, they just couldn't get it.  They couldn't remember what numbers went where, and it just didn't click with them.  So, I had to try something new.  This method worked for them pretty much immediately, so I thought I'd share.  I call it the T-Method because the first thing students do is start out with a lowercase t on their paper.  We also used the same method when we were doing perimeter and needed to add lengths together, or subtract lengths in story problems.

I will say that some of them sound a little bit complicated once you start doing lots of conversions.  However, once students understand it with easier problems, it's really not complicated for them at all.

For problems where the start time and the amount of time that has passed are known the following steps are used.

 First, the start time is included and then the elapsed time is included.  Each side is added independently of each other.  Then, students identify if they need to regroup into a new hour.  I use the term regroup because it's what we use with addition and subtraction and help related it for them.  The final time is then left.

Because we use the language START, CHANGE, END when we are working on addition and subtraction at the beginning of the year, it transfers right over to elapsed time.  Subtraction is done when the end time is given, but either the start time or the time that has passed are not.

 This is also an example of when students are unable to complete each side independently.  Students immediately identify that they cannot do 20-40, and that they need to regroup to continue.  Once they have a new starting time, they can subtract each side and have the missing time.

This is when things get a little tricky.  Upon first looking at this you would think I'd lost my mind.  But here's an example story problem.

Sarah's family was driving across the country on a road trip.  They reached Florida at 2:20 a.m., and immediately went to bed.  They drove for 12 hours and 40 minutes.  What time must they have started their drive?

Because the start is unknown, it's a subtraction problem.  First, students identify that since they traveled after midnight, they have to convert into daytime.  They add 12 hours to the start time.

Once that's completed, they have a new start time.  Now, they are unable to do the minutes, so they again regroup.  Now, again, this seems like a lot of steps and quite complicated. Because it's 12 hours I also talk to my students how that 12 just basically cancels itself out.  But if 11 hours were used in this example, the steps would be used.  Once students have mastered the steps from above, it really is simple for them to add the one additional step.

We also transferred the same steps to adding and subtracting lengths and then converting them.
 Again, each side is done independently of the other until the end when it's analyzed to see if it needs to be regrouped.

While this takes me back to my days in Geometry doing proofs over and over again, that little line in the middle really helps my kids not just carry and borrow between.

If you're looking for additional practice on these skills, check out the products below.

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GRIT: What is it?

I originally heard of Grit during a conference when we were discussing leadership in membership organizations.  Someone shared this Ted Talk from Angela Lee Duckworth.  I immediately thought of my students.
As a former teacher, Duckworth wanted to see what kept students engaged and successful with school.  And what she said made so much sense.  In education classes in college I was always told to encourage students for their effort, instead of their performance.  And I don't think any of us are oblivious to the fact that many teacher-pleasers work hard and give a good effort, and aren't always just the smartest kids in the class.  But it's made me think more in depth about who I am as a teacher, and about grit in general.

Grit is hard to define in just a couple words.  It's that perseverance that you see.  That strength that allows people to overcome difficult times.  That allows them to rise above.  That je ne sais quoi (thank you Google for understanding my very un-French spelling of those sounds to give me that spelling) that makes someone like Michael Jordan go from not being chosen for his high school team, to being one of the best professional basketball players in history.  It's strength, perseverance, stubbornness.  Grit.

Ask any teacher what they think about helicopter parents, and about society in general, and often the response is that we are coddling children too much, and aren't letting them explore and experience enough.  We're so quick to swoop in and protect children from experiencing discomfort or struggles.  I do my best to offer thinking time, and encourage my students to give their best response.  But am I doing enough to strengthen their grittiness?  To keep them moving even when times get tough?  Am I preparing them for a successful life by ensuring their grit grows?  What more can I do in the classroom to help cultivate grit in my students?

 I've often caught myself only calling on the volunteers.  Those teacher pleasers.  The ones who are always paying attention.  What happens to the rest, though?  They think they can hang out at their desks, disengaged.  They think, "Oh, she's not going to call on me because my hand isn't raised."  They don't think paying attention is important  This is often especially true for those kids who struggle.  They struggle so they disengage because it's hard.  But, because they're disengaged and not paying attention, they aren't learning what they can.  And it becomes a vicious cycle.  Call on non-volunteers.  Use ClassDojo's random feature, pull sticks, or use some of those great tech options to ensure you're reaching everyone.  If students think they're going to get called on, they'll stay more engaged.  They'll volunteer more when they think they know an answer.

As teachers, we're taught to and encourage wait time.  We ask a question and then let it simmer in the air a bit before we start calling students to call on, or ask them to share with each other.  However, I've noticed with myself, that when I call on a student and they don't know an answer, I choose someone else.  Instead, students should be encouraged to spend the time they need to come up with a response.  That pressure with everyone watching, and that silence, is often awkward.  However, students need to be taught to push through those difficult and awkward moments.  They need to be taught to give the best response that they can, even if they need another few seconds to get there.  

In this age of high-stakes testing we're always looking for ways to up the rigor on our classrooms, it seems.  Close reading, with students interacting with rigorous tasks, is now being taught to teachers across the country.  We're being asked to move away from the leveled reading movement, and give students texts that are much higher than their current reading abilities and scaffold students through it.  I have always been a vocal supporter of leveled guided reading and giving students opportunities to navigate their way through texts, however, after hearing Dr. Tim Shanahan speak regarding close reading it makes so much sense.  Students need to struggle with difficult texts.  They need to develop and utilize strategies like looking for keywords in questions to help them with responses to the text.  The same is true in math.  I developed my 3rd grade multi-step story problems for exactly this reason.  Last year, on our state test, my students seemed to shut down.  The questions were hard.  And, even though we had practiced story problems many times, they let the test win.  They didn't give their best effort.  They looked at it and essentially gave up and didn't try.  So, every day students work through a problem.  Sometimes twice a day (once independently and once with a friend), but at least one every day.  I want to encourage them to keep trying new strategies.  To keep working through it.  To be sure they know they can do something, a method, a picture, something, that'll help them push through.  They might not get the answer right, but they worked hard and got an answer.  Sure, the correct answer is important, but so is taking risks and building confidence.

This is not a new concept, but a great reminder.  Students should be encouraged for their effort, and the process of working, instead of just the product.  Students shouldn't just be praised for getting an A, but praised for working hard to get that A.  Just as students should be praised for working hard even if they get a C if they're applying the strategies you've been working on.  Telling students "I can tell you took your time and did your best" is a great way to praise their effort and their work.

Students need to move outside of their comfort zones.  They need to be given a pile of material and create something out of it.  Whether this is a STEM based activity, an arts activity, or generally just being given large product choices to show their learning, students need trial-and-error to figure things out, to figure themselves out, and to grow.  Activities like figuring out which foil boat will hold the most amount of pennies, really help students push through their frustrations, try new ideas, and, often, discover more about themselves.

I've just ordered this book by Paul Tough and look forward to reading it and get more insights on grit.
With that said, I've found biography information that states that he is an author, but I can't find any educational background.  I'll continue looking for additional information from Angela Lee Duckworth as she furthers her research on grit.

If you'd like to read more, here's an article from Scholastic's Parent & ChildEdutopia, the New York Times, and NPR.

Not everyone buys into the Grit mindset, and some valid points are made.  Here's an article that is from The Washington Post, that has value in it's concerns.  While we want to encourage students for their effort, and for continuing to persevere through struggles, we also don't want to be in a society where every child gets a trophy for showing up.  Students also need to see that sometimes their best isn't good enough, and that's okay.  We also need to teach students the value in recognizing when trying new things, rather than sticking with something that isn't successful, is also okay, and is beneficial.

What are your thoughts on grit?

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Teaching Students to be Problem Solving Ninjas

For years I've taught my students the same problem solving process.  However, this year I spontaneously put a new twist on it, and it's stuck better than ever before.  As I was telling students they need to go through the steps to attack the problem, I added on that they attack the problem like a ninja.  Eyes lit up.  Smiles grew on faces.  They all wanted to be a ninja.

As we talked about it I found more ways to apply the ninja scheme throughout the process.  Now, students know they need to attack the story problem before battle so that they can win.  It's cheesy, and I know not everyone approves of having ninjas in their classrooms with swords and nunchucks and such, but it's really stuck with my students.  They even proudly exclaim "Miss Maguire, I was a ninja and I beat the problem!"

 Kids always want to race through problems.  I've found that they read the problem and immediately start underlining and circling.  When they do this, they often target unnecessary information that thwarts their efforts.  I teach my kids to read the problem through the entire way the first time before they start finding information so that they already have the question in their head as they are doing it.

 I've found that underlining and circling, as well as crossing out unnecessary information really helps students identify exactly what is being asked for them to find.

 Identifying what is known and what is unknown helps students find the relevant information and identify the irrelevant information.

 By identifying the known information, the students can figure out what operation is being used and can then write the equation.

Students use strategies like drawing a picture, making a table, guessing and checking to solve problems.  We discuss and practice these strategies throughout the year.

Teaching students to check their work is crucial, especially because so many don't do it, or don't see the point in doing it.  Have you ever told them to "Go back and check your work" and they just look at the page and say it's been checked?  It makes me crazy but so many students do just that.  I teach my students to use the inverse operation to check their work to prove it's correct.  Just as in reading we use text evidence to prove our answers, in math we use the opposite operation to prove our answers.  I'd love to tell you that every single student does it now, but of course that doesn't happen.  But, a girl can dream, right?

We practice problem solving every day as a warm up to our math block.  I've found students really need time to try out the strategies, opportunities to explain what they did, and time to work together to brainstorm and make mistakes.  Students have 1 problem to do each day in their table groups and then we go over it.  During this time we focus on strategies as well as correct answers I want students to continue to try new ones out and feel comfortable with them before high stakes testing.  We use my 3rd Grade Daily Story Problems because they spiral through a variety of standards each month, are multi-step, and are rigorous.

I've created a bundle for the entire school year.  During the second semester I also send additional pages home for students to practice independently, and for parents to see the rigor that's expected for applying the skills we're learning.  To check out the bundle, and download sample pages to try with your students, click the image below to head to my TpT store.

To save paper (because giving students 25 pages each month) I print two per page and then double side them.  To print two per page you just change the settings in the print dialogue box under page scaling.

We also practice story problems based on specific, targeted skills like Area & Perimeter or Elapsed time.  To practice those, we use my Story Problem Task Cards bundle. I generally print these out to use during small group instruction with me.  You can check them out by clicking the image below.

If you want to teach students how to be Problem Solving Ninjas, and use these posters with them, just click the image below to head to my TpT store and download them for free.

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Assessing and Scoring Fluency

7 years ago (um, wow!) I was a reading teacher in a K-5 building.  We revamped our report cards that year to be very standards focused.  Indicators based on the standards were broken apart into the report card and each received their own score which then made up the overall grade.  One of the teachers came to me and said...
At the time, all of the K-2 teachers were using DIBELS.  However, this was the original DIBELS (before the accuracy rate was included).  The teacher didn't want to give the students' grades just based on accuracy.  She contemplated giving a percentage based on the students' automaticity in relation to the norm.  However, as she described, that score in no way reflects students reading more than the target to determine intervention.  So, basically, if that was used, students would have been considered fluent readers as long as they weren't in need of intervention.  And while that's not a crazy thought, it in no way incorporates how students sound, or if they read really, really quickly and made a ton of mistakes.  I didn't have a good answer, so I took to the internet.  And found nothing.

One of the first things I found was the NAEP Oral Reading Fluency scale.  I was excited to find something that gave tangible characteristics for how fluent readers should sound.  But, of course, I didn't think that should be the only thing students were rated on.  I took my knowledge of accuracy rates, the DIBELS automaticity benchmarks, and the prosody scale from NAEP and turned it into a 12 point rubric.  I then emailed the fluency guru, Dr. Tim Rasinski to see if I could get his input or if he had any recommendations.  I fully expected no response.  I mean, who am I?  And he's an innovator.

Guess what?  He responded.  Not only did he respond but he said that they were "really, really good".  I died.  I printed out that email to have forever and then I died.

Fast forward 6 years and a few things have changed.  First, DIBELS now gives benchmarks for accuracy rates for each grade level.  The automaticity scores have also increased as demands have increased.  While I do not think DIBELS is the end-all-be-all of reading, I do think that their figures have been normed and are research based so I used them as the basis for reworking my rubrics.
The automaticity rates vary from the DIBELS benchmarks in a couple ways.  First, students need to score ABOVE the benchmark to receive the full points in this area.  This is because DIBELS is intended to identify struggling students, and not students who are above grade level.  Also, the automaticity level 3 incorporates all of the 'strategic' area from DIBELS.  This is because students can be fluent readers, with a high accuracy rate, and still be a bit slow during an assessment.  It doesn't mean that students aren't fluent.  If students are not reading with proper prosody, and are also a bit slow, then their score more accurately reflects that they need some strategic assistance with their fluency.

I've recreated the rubrics for grades 2-6.  There are different rubrics for the beginning, middle, and the end of the year.  Between those benchmarks, the rubrics can also be used for progress monitoring or formative assessment purposes using the rubric from the previous benchmark period.  They can be used with any grade level one minute cold read.  My basal includes a set of assessments for cold reads, so I use those along with the rubric to score my students, because the grading piece is still missing from the basal.  With one strand of the Common Core standards tied to fluency (RF.4) for each grade level, it's important to me to have a tool that accurately depicts students' fluency so that I can report the information accurately to parents.

If you'd like to download the rubrics for use for your students or your school, click the image below.

If you're looking for tools to help your students become more fluent readers, check out my

Fluency Building Phrasing Task Cards

Fry Sight Word Phrase Powerpoints

How do you give students a grade on fluency?  Is there a rubric or tool you are already using?
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Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

After a couple weeks, and a much needed break, we headed back to school last Tuesday.  Monday we were off for a furloughed records day, but I thought it was amazing to only have a 4 day week that first week back.  With it being a shorter week, switching things up in my reading block a bit, and wanting time to review procedures, I decided not to do our regular reading block.  Instead, I introduced Martin Luther King, Jr. to the kids.  As luck, our mother nature, would have it, Tuesday was our only day in school last week, and thanks to that, we'll now be attending on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day, so I'm sue we'll continue to study his life and legacy throughout the next couple weeks.

To begin, I did my annual reading of Martin's Big Words where I purposefully put select students in the back of the room, tell them they can't sit up or stand to see, and then begin very quietly reading to the group in front of me.  I generally make it about 4 pages or so before I give in to the complaints that the kids in the back can't see, and I call everyone forward.  I realize that this might be a little controversial for some, but it works for my students and I.  After we finished reading, we discussed how Dr. King used his words to create positive change in our country, and how we often spread messages of love.  I then challenged my students to think of what they can do to create a positive change in our classroom, and community.  I tied everything into bullying because it's something the kids can relate to and have seen in their daily lives.  We turned it into a Pop Art display in our room.  To see all of the details on how we set it up, click the picture below to head over to the Ellison Education blog to see the information.

I found these anti-bullying pledge cards at Dollar Tree over winter break and grabbed a set.  They were the perfect tie in for bullying and helped bring relevance to our studies.  Plus, the kids really benefitted from a reminder about being kind to each other.  They were starting to nag and nit pick each other.  I also love that they were only $1!  Holla!

We then started reading about Dr. King with a much more complex text than Martin's Big Words.  This three page biography goes through Dr. King's childhood, to his work with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to his meetings with President Kennedy.  We've been practicing close reading with the text as well.

Not only are students interacting with a complex text, but the comprehension questions really require the students to go back to the text to find evidence to support their answers.  The questions are inferential, so it really helps stretch the students.  With testing season just a few weeks away, we really need to practice test taking skills in relevant and meaningful ways to help prepare the students.

You can download this freebie from my TpT store by clicking below.

If you like this set, it's part of my larger African-American Heroes set.  It includes biographies on Dr. King and 8 other African-Americans who helped bring change to America.  Each biography includes real photographs, and constructed and extended response questions for each text.

You can get this unit by clicking the image above or below to head to my TpT store.
I'd love to hear other ideas for how you incorporate Dr. King's memory into your classrooms.  We're going to continue to talk about him the next couple weeks and then continue going through and studying people like Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, The Little Rock Nine, and Madam C.J. Walker (which is really relevant for my kids since we're in Indiana).

How do you teach Dr. King in your classroom?
I'm also linking up for Hump Day Highlight with Mrs. Stanford's Class.

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This is Your Year!

Each new year always brings along a string of resolutions for people.  Do you set a bunch of resolutions each year?  Do you follow through with them?

My fitness resolutions started to be tackled a few months ago.  I got my new Samsung Gear Fit watch and I'm obsessed.  I use this, along with the S Health app, to track my eating and working out and I've already seen results.  Because it's a smart watch I also can access things like texts and the alarms from my phone.  It's helped make me way less phone dependent in my classroom and has cut out much of the "Who has seen Miss Maguire's cell phone?" that used to happen.

With fitness resolutions already off to a good start, I want to focus this year on time management. I always have a lot going on, and I like it that way, but I often over extend myself, become stressed, and then my major procrastination tendencies get overwhelmed.  There's many days where I come home, sit on Facebook for hours, and accomplish nothing.  I'll look back and wonder where the last two hours went.  I'm going to start using my Plum Planner more often and I'm super excited about this daily to do list from Blair Turner that I'm going to add into my classroom.
{Click the picture to head to Blair's amazing paper store}

I've always previously used my teacher planner to take notes, but it doesn't really give me room to list everything I want to accomplish.  This is going to be PERFECT.  I'm a big fan of to-do lists and being able to cross things off gives my OCD side such a sense of satisfaction.  I'm hoping this helps me stay much more focused and help me complete everything I want to.

What are your resolutions for 2015?  What are you hoping to change for the better?

I'm hoping to add a little brightness into someone's day and help her accomplish her resolutions.  I'm giving away a $10 TpT Gift Certificate (that can be used at ANY store, not just my own).  Enter using the Rafflecopter below.

We also have a HUGE giveaway going on over at Owl-Ways Be Inspired.  Click the image below to head over there for a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card AND enter into the other awesome giveaways!

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December in our Classroom

Is there a teacher out there who breezes through December?  If so, I need her tips because December kicks my butt every year.  This year, things seemed to be crazier than normal.  As a Fine Arts magnet school each grade level gets a month each year to showcase what we've been learning and applying it to the fine arts.  It's amazing.  I wish I had photos to show you of our planning and projects and performances because I was blown away by what the kids did.  We chose to do our Showcase on what we've learned with Sound and Light {as part of our science standards}.  Students created instruments out of household objects with each group using a different way to make sound {pluck, strike, etc}.  In music each class learned to play different instruments and performed different songs.  In art class the students became photographers and took pictures of each other, experimented with the shadows and contrast, and then created Warhol like portraits.  They also did a really cool shadow 3-D project.  Oh, and the classes learned step routines.  That might have been my favorite part.  The entire thing was amazing and so worthwhile.  But, it was exhausting and the last week of school was basically dedicated to rehearsals and wrapping things up.  And my Christmas to-do list didn't happen nearly as much as I had hoped.  We did get a few things done though.

I found this idea for these Subway Art coasters from Runde's Room and loved, LOVED the idea.  It was a great way for me to incorporate the arts in our classroom and was an affordable gift for students to take home.  You can head over to her page to see the step by step directions but here's a few snapshots of us working on them.
After showing students Subway Art and discussing characteristics like style, thickness, direction, and color, students began writing on their square piece of paper.  We had some common words on the board so that students could spell them correctly.

 Then students went over some of their pencilings with black Sharpie so the black parts would come through clearly.  After that, the cards were shrunk, each student got 4 copies, and students colored their designs.

Then, in between the chaos of Thursday and Friday, students Mod Podged the designs onto ceramic tiles.  I helped put additional coats on as well.  I loved this project and look forward to doing it again, hopefully when we aren't so rushed.

I used my Ellison AllStar Machine for a fun craft project for students as well.  I love having my own Ellison machine in my classroom and I love using all of the dies that are out there.  My school has letters and a few other dies, but I never knew all the possibilities that are out there.  Students designed their own fun envelopes and were able to give two sets of IOU coupons out as gifts as well.  As an Ellison Blogger, I shared how we created the envelopes over on the blog.  Check it out.
 You can read about how we created it, and download the IOU tags for you and your students by clicking on either picture and heading over to the Ellison blog to check it out.

On Friday, I wanted a fun treat for my kids.  This was a big hit last year and so I thought I'd do it again.

It's just mozzarella string cheese and Sharpies.  Easy, fun treat.

I also had hot chocolate with marshmallows and whipped cream and we watched a couple movies as well.  I pulled students to the back to work on their coasters, and students worked on their coupons and envelopes throughout the day.  No matter how ready I thought we were- we still ran out of time!  I forgot to pass out the students' books and so they'll be there when they get back I guess.

I hope your last week was a little less crazy than ours, and I hope you got to end last week instead of this week!  Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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