Friday, February 7, 2020

Giant Yohaku!

A few years ago, I discovered Yohaku puzzles which are an excellent way to engage all learners in your classroom.  They might be the ultimate low floor, high ceiling math task.  We have used these puzzles in grades 1-6 and revisit them frequently.  They make an excellent addition to math menu and can be accessed by all learners.  They are an easy way to start differentiating your math practice.  Kids love solving Yohaku puzzles and creating their own.  You can access a bunch for free here or check out the collection of books on Amazon

My students had the grand idea to create a GIANT YOHAKU board in our front hallway.  We used paper from our rack of large paper rolls.  They are about one square yard each.  We wanted to laminate them so that we could use dry erase markers on them so we made them as large as our laminator is wide.  After creating a set of Yohaku puzzles that each have multiple correct answers, we made sure we had puzzles that ranged from easy to quite challenging.  We put them up in order from easiest to most difficult and pinned small squares of microfiber cloth and a string with a dry erase marker.  We put up a few signs to invite folks to solve these puzzles.

What happened next was truly amazing.  Despite most kids being exposed to these puzzles within math class over the weeks leading up to this project, these giant puzzles made Yohaku a school community project.  Suddenly, kids from different grades were comparing puzzles and parents got involved since the front hall way is where parents wait to pick up kids.  Even some community members who are not usually part of our school got involved during town wide events.  These puzzles got solved over and over again in many different ways.  Folks were free to erase and start again at any time and the students who helped me with this project and myself would erase them all a few times a week so we could start from scratch.  I wish I had taken a picture of all the different ways these got solved because that itself would have made a great follow up to this!

This week I also started a brand new Facebook group for teachers who want to  start working on ways to differentiate and personalize learning.  It is a place where I will be sharing extra tips and motivation and also a great place to ask questions and learn from other teachers who are walking down the same path.  It is free to join and a great choice for any K-6 teacher who wants to do more to meet the needs of all his or her learners.  We are just getting started so it might move slowly for a week or two but as more teachers join and contribute their ideas it is sure to become a rich mathematical community! 

We got a lot of our Valentine's Day favorites out this week and had a great time trying out some new Valentine and winter freebies that are part of our new grades 3-5 math freebie bundle!  

Have you ever tried a Yohaku puzzle?  What is your favorite low floor, high ceiling math task?  Please respond in the comments below! 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Reflections on Our First Global School Play Day

Today is our first snow day of 2020 and I have to say, it is nice to have an extra day off!  Yesterday was a busy day at my school, we participated in Global School Play Day in the morning and then our students went home and we had professional development in the afternoon.  I have been leading a group of teachers working on differentiating math class, trying out math menu and focusing on the big ideas in math class.  It takes a lot more energy to lead inservice training than it does to just sit and listen so today I am taking a much needed day to slow down, snuggle my babies and reflect on our first Global School Play Day.

First, there were certainly mixed feelings for staff about spending a day "just playing"  but since it was already an early release day for our students and we all know we get way less done when our schedule is interrupted, staff had a generally positive attitude about the whole thing.  The other thing that happened was that many of our classroom teachers were participating in a full day of district led professional development and that meant a LOT of substitutes in our building for the morning.  This meant some shifting about of staff so that there were familiar adults in each space. 

Kids were allowed to bring toys from home as long as they had no screens, batteries, plugs or weapons.  This meant a lot of lol dolls, legos and sports equipment made their way into school.  We also have various toys, STEM type building materials and a huge pile of cardboard boxes.  We had a bunch of classrooms open, the gym, the music room and the playground as choices.  We did two sessions and took a break in the middle for kids to go back to their homeroom for snack and attendance.  Kids were welcome to move about the building freely.  Areas of the building that were closed had closed doors and kids knew ahead of time which spaces would be open. 

Adults were asked to stay out of the way unless behavior became unsafe or if a kid asked us to play.  Some kids had a hard time settling in at first and moved from room to room looking for friends or the right space to play in.  Some spaces like the gym got to loud for some kids and they went in search of a new spot to play.  In my space, there was a lot of building going on.  Of course my classroom has a lot of different STEM challenge type toys anyways and the kids adore them.  Also many kids brought Legos into my room and dolls.  Pokemon cards were also very popular.  There was also a pile of cardboard boxes in my room and it was amazing how the play changed when kids started dragging those out. 

One groups of kids started building the Titanic out of cardboard and tape and within 10 minutes, so many kids were building things with cardboard that we had to get MORE boxes and eventually used every piece of cardboard in the school!  The kids playing with LOL dolls and trucks started building houses and shops.  They started incorporating other objects like digiblocks, small cups, craft sticks and more.  All of the sudden, everyone was building and making stuff to go along with whatever they were playing.  It really reinforces the idea of the book Not a Box and why giving kids time to make and create things is so important.

By the end of the morning, kids were trying to figure out how they could transport their boxes and creations home and what they were going to add onto it and what else they were going to make out of cardboard. There was a spark of creativity and an excitement about play that  was contagious.  I think a lot more kids went home and played the rest of the day instead of going home to sit in front of a screen or play with electronics which is pretty common on these early release days in the middle of winter. 

I think our first time trying the Global Day of Play was a success and I am sure we will be doing it again next year.  If you want to join us, you can get more information here!

If you teach grades 3-5, you won't want to miss out on this great bundle of 10 winter and Valentine themed goodies that I put together with some of my math blogger friends!  Head here to sign up and grab this freebie!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Fill Your Math Centers with FUN: 10 FREE Activities for Grades 3-5

Are you feeling like you’re in a winter slump as you head into the month of February?

Although we’re past the busyness of the holidays, we’re not yet into the warmth and sunshine (and home stretch feeling!) that spring brings.

Never fear! I’ve got just the thing to liven up your math lessons and re-engage your students to help you get through the next few weeks.

Several experienced math educators have put together their best freebies for February in one download, just for you.

This collection of 10 FREE games and math challenges for grades 3-5 will save you time and help your kids to practice and review essential math skills.

Some of these downloads have a Valentine’s Day theme (so go ahead and prep those now!), while others simply have a winter theme that you can use all month long.

Math Skills Your Kids Will Use in These Games:

    •    Using known facts to solve harder multiplication facts

    •    Using the doubling & halving strategy to solve multiplication facts

    •    Multiplication & division fact families

    •    Finding equivalent fractions & decimals 

    •    Comparing, adding & subtracting fractions

    •    Time & Elapsed time word problems

    •    Multiplication & division word problems

Whether you teach 3rd, 4th or 5th grade, you’re bound to find something new and fun to help your kids build number sense and take a break from your normal math routine.

Ready to grab this set?? Hop over to this page to sign up!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

My Favorite New Counting Videos

About 5 years ago, I started a very popular series on my blog called Teaching Math with You Tube Videos.I have posts about







Teen numbers

Area and perimeter

Addition facts

Subtraction Facts

 They are a great way to get a little movement break while still working on important math concepts. These little movement breaks have been super important as we have transitioned from summer vacation back to school 5 days a week. 

I try to keep these posts up to date and have deleted and added videos to each of them a few times a year.  They still get lots of visits each month and are a great way to have all the content from one topic in one area.  The creators of these videos have done an awesome job creating new content and I just wanted to share with you some of my new favorites.  Some of these are brand new videos that were released this summer and a few are new to me favorites.

Counting With Grandma and Grandpa

This is a new series of counting videos and my students love them!  The first one counts by 1's to 100

This one is a counting by 5 video with Grandma and Grandpa at the beach

Counting by 2's with Grandma and Grandpa on the farm

Counting Songs for Bigger Kids

My students have been loving using You Tube math songs for brain breaks since Kindergarten.  By the time they get to grade 2, they have seen most of them plenty of times and are ready for some harder counting series.  These videos are becoming much easier to find!

Do you have any favorite new counting videos? Please share in the comments below!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Hailstone Series Numbers

We are on day #5 of back to school and I wanted to share a fun lesson with you all today.  We start each year with the Week of Inspirational Math published by You Cubed.  We have been starting the year this way ever since I read Mathematical Mindsets and it has been a great way to jump into a new year and set classrooms up for success.

If you have used Week of Inspirational math in the past, you might know that each year they release a new week.  The week consists of math tasks most of which are low floor high ceiling and videos about having a positive math mindset.  This year, instead of releasing a new week, they re-did the website and it now allows you to pick and choose tasks, videos and other inspirational math options.  I have been working with classroom teachers to take turns picking and choosing old favorites and trying out some new tasks.  Yesterday when I was doing a quick browse on the Week of Inspirational math page, I found a task about the Hailstone series.  This is a series of numbers that I have explored with students in the past but one that I haven't revisited in quite a number of years.  I decided to try it out in my third and fourth grade math class.  

If you are not familiar with the Hailstone series, let me give you a quick summary.  You can start with any positive integer (counting number).  If the number is even, you cut it in half (n/2).  If the number is odd, you triple it and add one (3n+1). Mathematicians have found that you can start with any number and follow these steps, you will always end up with 1.  They have not found a number that this doesn't work for yet, but they also haven't proven that it works for every single number.  This means it is kind of an unsolved mathematical mystery which is an angle that my students always seem to find very intriguing.  The reason it is nicknamed the hailstone series is that the numbers go up and down similar to the way hail is formed in a thunder cloud. 

I started the class by asking kids what they knew about hail.  The kids were quite surprised by this question and quickly engaged with their classmates on a discussion about what they thought they knew about hail.  After sharing as a group, we watched this quick video clip about how hail is formed.  Because they had already had a chance to activate prior knowledge about hail, they were very interested. 

I then spent a few minutes engaging kids in a review of odd and even numbers and did a quick number talk about strategies for cutting numbers in half.  I then explained how the hailstone series worked and we tried it out for a couple of single digit numbers.  Once kids understood how it worked, I had them try a number in pairs.  We had kids coming to the board and adding their ideas to the ones that were already up there.  We came back together after a bit and kids got to share what they noticed.  They were very excited to take what they noticed and try it out on a few more numbers so we made some time for that before wrapping up class for the day.  This is the type of problem that was a great review of important math vocabulary and worked on computational fluency all in the context of exploring a larger mathematical mystery.  It was engaging and motivating for my students, I knew I wanted to repeat it later that day for grades 5 and 6. 

In fifth and sixth grades, we had even more fun and excitement because we had to spend less time reviewing things like halving, odd and even and were able to jump into the actual series faster.  They are also much more fluent with computation and were able to generate numbers faster.  They noticed SO MANY mathematical patterns and were making and testing conjectures left and right.  After exploring the numbers to 11 as a group and in pairs, some kids were excited to continue going in order while others wanted to jump around.  I gave them the option of either and they had so much fun playing around with math.  They worked so hard and were so engaged and excited.  At the end of class, I heard one boy say to another, "I am going to work on this all night.  Why don't I facetime you and we can do it together!".  Music to my ears.

This type of problem isn't done after one class period so we put some of our work up on a bulletin board in the hallway where kids can keep exploring this series and adding to our work over the next few weeks during math menu time or even at home!  We listed the series of for the first 15 or so numbers on chart paper, leaving room for kids who were going in order to add to it later.  We also decided to add index cards for those numbers kids did out of sequence.  I can't wait to gather them around this board in a week or two and see what new understandings emerge!  They have some big questions they are still working on answering and for now I am quite content to leave them unanswered and to let them keep exploring!
A big thank you to You Cubed for putting the Week of Inspirational Math out there and working so hard to promote positive mindsets.  Jo Boaler, the creator of You Cubed just release her newest research on mindsets, Limitless Mind!  I think this would make a great book study!  My copy is due to arrive this evening and I am sure it will inspire me to do more with my students.  

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Countdown to SUMMER!

Hello friends!  First blog post in 10 months!  The time has just gone by so quickly this school year!  After the hardest year of my teaching career last school year, I am just wrapping up the best school year I have ever had.  Life lesson: The principal you work with can make a BIG difference in your happiness, productivity and general well being.  

My kids are getting older and I always imagined I would have more time to devote to my blog and online lesson plans.  The reverse has actually happened.  Instead of being home all the time with early bedtimes, we are on the road so much for school and sport activities.  Summer break is only a week away and there is so much I want to write about so look for a much more regular posting schedule this summer!  

Our last day of preschool thank you gifts!  We went with a handwritten thank you note from my daughter, an assortment of beautiful purple flowers and our favorite spring/summer hand soap, Mrs. Meyer's clean day in Lilac! I ordered extra in my last shipment from Grove Collaborative and will be using these in many thank you gifts this spring!  Small, inexpensive, smells great and consumable! Want to add a little something extra? Slip a gift card to Teachers Pay Teachers or Amazon in there! 
My youngest just wrapped up her last day of preschool today which was fun and exciting and emotional.  All my kids will be in full time school for the first time this fall and that makes me super excited and nostalgic all at the same time. 

Despite a super successful school year, I have been feeling like the daily grind of life has really been wearing down my gears this year.  I have been working hard at being more intentional about how I spend my time and making sure I am finding time for the things that re-charge me (like blogging!).  I have been using some of my Audible credits to listen to some books on productivity and personal growth.  I have recently finished Deep Work, Girl, Wash Your Face, Girl, Stop Apologizing, and Getting Things Done.  Next up on my list are The Power of Habit and Stumbling on Happiness.   It's amazing how much more reading I am getting done with Audible!

I do plan on some summer teaching/math reading as well but still working on exactly what I want to read next!  I am super excited for Jo Boaler's new book, Limitless Mind but that is not out until September 3rd.  Look for a book study on that in the fall!  In the meantime, if you have any summer teacher reading recommendations, leave them in the comments below! 

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

When Teaching Gets Really Challenging

Today is August 1st, the day teachers all over the US transition to back to school.  I myself am only about two thirds of the way through summer but there is something about the calendar changing to August that makes me feel a bit anxious and a bit excited at the same time.  The familiar flutter in my teacher heart that happens at back to school time is definitely there this week.  The new year means a fresh start, new students, new colleagues and new adventures.  I am savoring the last bit of my summer and the extra time I get to spend adventuring with my family but am also looking forward to being back in the routine of school.  I am looking forward to continuing my work on personalized learning and designing math blocks that work in multi-age settings.  I am very happy that I am feeling this way because just a few short weeks ago, my teacher heart felt very broken as I struggled with a challenging end to the school year.

It has been 4 months since I last sat down to write on my blog and in that time, my school year went from okay to overwhelmingly challenging.  There were multiple things that contributed to things going downhill so quickly but much of it had to do with an administrator who changed the climate of my school in a way that made it very hard to go to work each day.  I am not ready to write about the details of the situation but I do want to share that for the first time in my career, I didn't want to go to work anymore.  The climate changed so quickly, that it felt like a completely different place and I was not sure I would ever look forward to teaching again.  I guess I got a strong dose of what teacher burnout feels like and it was more challenging than I ever expected it to be.  I was on the edge of making the decision to leave teaching for good and it is not a place I ever want to go back to again.

I am feeling much better about things now and I am even looking forward to getting back in the swing of things.  The administrator who caused the situation to unravel is not returning and I am hopeful the climate of our school can recover and we can go back to the way things were.  There are a few projects I am really looking forward to tackling, I finally started back on my professional reading and I am even back on my blog writing about this journey we call teaching.  I have grand plans to write more about how I managed to survive the end of the year and what I have done to help me move past it that I hope to share with you in the coming weeks.  I will also be writing about re-establishing a positive school climate and teaching math of course.  I am ready to get back to my series on personalizing learning which has been my focus in my classroom over the past few years and that I have long neglected to share about on my blog.  

If you are thinking back to school and are looking for new lessons, games or activities for this fall, the Teacher's Pay Teachers back to school event is today (August 1st) and tomorrow (August 2nd). Everything in my store is 20% off and if you use the code BTSFRESH you will save an additional 5%

If you have any advice to share with a teacher who has been on the edge of burnout or has suffered from a bad school climate, please share in the comments below or go to contact at the top of this page and send me an email.