Building Teamwork Through Math Games

It's the start of another school year and with it comes all of the excitement, anticipation, and craziness!!!! There is always so much to do once you finally have your kiddos in front of you-teaching procedures, getting to know them, reinforcing positive behaviors, etc. 

One of the things we really wanted to spend time on at the beginning of the year was helping students to learn how to work together. The goal being that we will have less issues with students working in groups throughout the year. We decided to use some fun math games as a way to help them to get some practice with problem solving while working as a team. We did a different game each day and switched up the groups for each game. 

We begin with reviewing place value in third grade so we decided to create games that centered around this topic. Check out the games that our students played!

Card Swap
In this game students are put into groups of 4. There are 16 cards and each student gets dealt 4 random cards. The goal is to get the 4 cards that are connected with each other in some way in front of each student. In this case, they have to get four cards that represent the same number in different ways (base 10 blocks, written form, standard form, and expanded notation).The only catch is they aren't allowed to talk!  

                     

What's My Number
In this game the same 4 digits are passed out to one student and the rest of the group. That student creates a number and hides it. Then the rest of the group has to work together to try and figure out what the number is asking only yes and no questions that they agree on together. 


                     

Guess the Rule
For this game, one student chooses a rule. The rest of the group holds up number cards and the student with the rule tells them if the number goes in the yes or no category. After they have sorted the numbers, the students must work together to try and figure out the rule!

              


                

In all honesty, some groups struggled more than others at first in figuring out how to play the games, but once they caught on they had a blast! It was a great opportunity for students to really solve problems together and they were very motivated.  After we played the game the first day, a student came up to us beaming and said, "This was so much fun!" The words that warm every teacher's heart :). We would highly recommend you try out some math team building games as school gets underway. If you would like to try out these math games, they are a part of our Back 2 School Math Pack. Check them out here on TPT. 

Happy Back to School!!!

New to Flexible Seating? Here's 10 Things You Need to Know

One of the hottest trends in the education world today is flexible seating in the classroom. We know you’ve heard about it, seen millions of pictures on Instagram and Facebook or seen it on your Pinterest feed. We all know that pictures taken of classrooms to post online are often times staged (aka….you won’t see any messy papers jammed in the desk, pencils on the floor, and all the books in the library are perfectly placed and color coordinated.) This blog post is as real as it gets! You’ll get to see our classroom in action and a true picture of how we implemented flexible seating. We’ll also share with you 10 mistakes teachers make when starting flexible seating and how to avoid them!

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #1 Not Having a Plan

Before you introduce flexible seating into your classroom, it’s important to make a plan for organization of your students’ materials. What will you do with their notebooks, textbooks, and writing supplies? Will you share materials at tables or will everyone still use their own supplies? We decided in our room to have students keep their own supplies in a zippered pouch. They store all of their notebooks and supplies in a cubby that is attached under our tables. These cubbies are great if you’re lucky enough to have them. We assign each student to a “home base” which is where they keep their things. It’s also nice for taking attendance in the morning so you can quickly take a look around the room and know who’s absent that day. Throughout the day, our students visit their home base often to grab supplies needed for the activity we’re currently working on, but they don’t have to stay there if a different spot works better for them.

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #2 Not Making Your Expectations Clear

You’re probably thinking right now, “Of course I would make my expectations clear!” Our tip here is to encourage you to take time to really show your students how to correctly use and take care of their new seating options. For us, we took a good chunk of time to first go over our general expectations for any of the seats. We had our students help us create a poster that we keep on display all the time. We also took a class period and went into detail with each seating option and talked about what a student should look like and sound like using that seat. As with any procedure you teach at the beginning of the year, students will do it best if you MODEL, MODEL, MODEL and then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. It’s helpful at first to give each student a chance at trying out each of the seating options so that they can practice using it correctly before you allow them free choice.

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #3 Teaching Your Expectations but Never Revisiting Them

One of the biggest mistakes in implementing flexible seating is to initially take the time to teach expectations, but never revisit those expectations again. As teachers, we all know that it often takes several opportunities of hearing information before a student truly understands and can apply it consistently. The same is true with your expectations for flexible seating, especially after a long weekend or Spring Break. We keep our expectation chart up all year long as a constant reminder to students and we often refer to it if we see a student not using a seat in an appropriate way.

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #4 Forgetting that You’re Still in Control

Some people think that giving students the choice to pick a seating option that works best for them means that they no longer have any control over the classroom environment. This is simply not true! The most important rule on our expectation chart, and one that we revisit often, is: “Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Warnock have the ability to move anyone at anytime.” This is such an important guideline to put in place because there will be students who make unwise choices with their seats. They will choose to sit next to their best friend and try to talk instead of focusing on their work. Having this rule on our expectation chart gives us the power to allow student choice while also ensuring a successful work environment for all.

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #5 Redesigning your Entire Classroom Overnight

When we first heard about flexible seating, we were excited about the possibilities and wanted to dive in head first! While it’s exciting and tempting to completely overhaul your entire room overnight, we found that it works best to start small. Can you use anything you already have in your room and repurpose it? Are you able to take the legs off of a table to place it lower to the floor? Sometimes making small changes and implementing them slowly allows both you and your students to better adjust to the change. It’s also helpful to only introduce one new seating option at a time and wait until your students have mastered using it before introducing a new one.

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #6 Spending Tons of Money Out of Pocket

How much money did you spend on your classroom last year? If you’re anything like us, it was probably a lot. Implementing flexible seating will require an initial investment, but there are options that can save you a lot of money. Almost all of our seating was purchased by a grant through Donor’s Choose. All it required was a short explanation of our classroom and project to be posted. We signed up during the Target match, so much of our project was funded by Target. There are often companies that offer match opportunities, and you can sign up to receive email notifications when one is available in your area. Here is a link to our funded project if you need ideas on writing your own.Your school PTA/PTO might also offer teacher grants, so make sure to check with them too!

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!


Mistake #7 Buying Everything New


While it is fun and exciting to open new boxes and packages, you can find many great seating options that are used. Think outside of the box! Look around your house (and your classroom) and ask yourself, “How could I use this in my classroom?” Garage sales and Goodwill are also great places to purchase things. In our classroom, we repurposed some old crates and turned them into seats with just a few dollars spent on plywood, fabric and foam. We’ve also seen pictures of teachers getting old tires from mechanics and adding a pillow inside (what a creative idea!)

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!
Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #8 Forcing your Students to Stay in the Same Place All Day

In our classroom, we allow students to change their seat throughout the day. We often notice that students might choose to sit in the morning because they’re not quite awake yet and stand in the afternoon after coming in from recess. If you think about yourself throughout the day, you probably notice that you have different levels of energy too. Allowing students the opportunity to pick the best seat for them at that point in the day is very beneficial. We have a rule that says, “If a spot is not working for you, ask to move to a better spot.” Having this rule allows students to become self-aware of their learning styles and helps them become more self-directed learners. Notice that we don’t allow them to move whenever they want (remember you’re in control!).  Rather, we have them ask us if it’s a good time to move so it’s not too disruptive.

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #9 Not Informing Parents

Flexible seating is a huge shift in thinking from what “traditional school” looks like. In our experience, parents and administration were much more open to the idea of flexible seating once they were informed about it. We included a paragraph in our teacher introduction letter that is sent out to parents during the summer. In this letter we stated that our classroom looks different from what they’re used to and gave a short explanation of how flexible seating works. This cuts down on the shock parents and students might feel walking into our room on Meet the Teacher Night. We also send home a more detailed letter explaining why we do flexible seating. You can get this letter for free in our store by clicking HERE.

Do you use flexible seating in your classroom? This blogpost shares 10 mistakes to avoid when implementing flexible seating in your classroom. Includes a FREEBIE!

Mistake #10 Being Afraid to Try Something New

We all like to be comfortable and, let’s be honest, it’s sometime easier to do things the same way over and over again. It would be easier (and sometimes quieter) to just assign seats to students, but is it what’s best for kids? Sometimes it’s necessary to step out of your comfort zone because the benefits far outweigh the risks. This has proven to be true in our classroom. Implementing flexible seating has empowered our kids, increased student engagement and has helped us prepare our students for the real world. What an amazing journey that would never have happened if we stayed “comfortable”.

And the Winner is...

We just finished our election unit and the students had a blast choosing the winner of the election! In the previous post, we talked about how the students narrowed down the four characters from books we read to them to two nominees: Otto and Grace.

Next up, it was time to prepare for the debate. The students pretended that they were the nominee for their party and filled out a paper where they persuaded others why they should be the next president. Students then had the opportunity to debate with a student from a different party. 


A few brave students even volunteered to take questions from the audience and tried to answer from Grace or Otto's perspective.
The students "campaigned" for their candidates by creating posters and finally, it was time to vote! They filled in their ballots, the votes were counted, and the winner was...


                               
Grace! 
Image result for grace from grace for president
We loved how engaged and excited our students were during this election unit. We hope that you give it a try and let us know how it went in your classroom. Thanks for stopping by!

The Election Process- A Literature Based Unit

Elect a President

It's time to elect a new president and our students are hearing about the election every where they turn. We wanted to come up with a fun way to teach them about the presidential election using a kid-friendly approach. We went searching for picture books that would help us to engage our students and found these great books: 



Then we decided to hold our own classroom election with the characters from the books as the candidates. We discussed important vocabulary such as nominate, election, and constituents and introduced a new character each day by reading one of the books. The students completed a story map for each book and filled out a character sheet that allowed them to take a deeper look at each of the "candidates". 
 After all four characters were introduced, it was time to choose two nominees. The class was split into two political parties and they came up with a name for their party. We assigned two delegates to each party. Then it was time for the national convention! Students in each party were split into different sized groups to represent how states of different sizes contribute different amounts of votes. Each small group decided which of the candidates to give their votes to and each party in the end selected a nominee to represent their party. Our students chose Grace and Otto to be the presidential nominees!


Next up our students will prepare for the debate and create campaign posters before the big vote. Stay tuned for the next post with the results from our class election!

Until then check out all of these activities and more in our Elect a President Unit by clicking on the picture below: 



If you have any awesome election activities you do in your classroom, we'd love to hear about them! Thanks for stopping by!

Let the Games Begin!

I don't know about your students, but ours were all about the Olympics at the start of the school year! They were inspired by the performances of all of the amazing athletes. We thought it would be a good idea to channel all of that excitement into a fun math activity for the beginning of the school year, The Place Value Games!

We knew that we wanted to do something that would be relevant in future years, even when the Olympics weren't taking place, so we decided to create interactive games that could be played any time. Our students had a blast competing against themselves and each other while getting in some great estimating and place value practice. In the end, we recognized the "high scorers" in each of the events.

*Teacher tip: Introduce 1-2 games each day and let students have a chance to practice. Once they have had an opportunity to play each game, have a day where all of the game stations are available for the students to rotate through. Believe us, it will make your life a lot easier ;).

Check out the different events below:

One-Handed Cube Grab- The students practiced their estimation skills by estimating how many ones cubes they could grab in a single hand.

Stack Em’ Up- In this game, the students used their creativity and engineering skills to create a tower of tens rods within a one minute time limit. They practiced counting by tens as they determined the value of their final tower design.


Bullseye- This was a fast paced number building game where the students raced to create a given number with place value blocks before their opponent. 


Guess My Number- The students worked to solve number riddles using number/clue cards.


Race to 1000- A dice game that challenged the students to strategically use their knowledge of place value to reach 1000 without going over. 



We had such a great time celebrating the Olympic Games and practicing our place value skills! If you want to host your own games, check out our product by clicking the picture below.



Set up your Classroom Library like a Pro!

Have you ever walked down the aisles of a bookstore and marveled at their organized displays? It just makes you want to find a comfy chair and curl up with a good book, right? Have you had the same aspirations for your classroom library and to your dismay, fallen into an unorganized, overflowing mess? If so, you're in the right place, we're here to help you...


So, where do you begin? Before you can create the classroom library of your dreams, you have to have books! Now, you could spend tons of your own money (and you probably still will) on buying the newest and greatest books for your students to love, but there's so many ways to get books for cheap (or free!) Here are just a few ideas:
  • Garage Sales- people usually always have children's books at garage sales and you can usually find them for pretty good prices. We always make sure to let the seller know that we're teachers, and that we'll be using the books for our classroom library, and they usually give us a better deal. Sometimes they even let us have them for free! Another great idea is to leave your contact information with them and ask for them to donate anything that they don't sell after their sale is over. 
  • Scholastic Book Orders- our students always love when they see a new Scholastic book order in their mailboxes! It's really easy to sign up to receive these and you can earn free book credits for the books your students purchase. 
  • Scholastic Warehouse Sales- if one of these is being held near you, you have to go! Basically, Scholastic rents out a warehouse and sells tons and tons of books DIRT CHEAP! You can also volunteer to help during the sale and receive a discount on the books you purchase. 
  • Other Teachers- check with the other teachers at your school or in your district. Retiring teachers are often looking for new homes for their books. Other times, teachers will go through their own libraries and weed out any titles they don't need or have multiple copies of. 
  • Your Local Library- see if your local library ever holds sales for books that aren't in circulation anymore. Many times they will have a "Fill a Bag" sale where you can buy as many books as you can fit in a grocery bag for a low price. You can find a sale near you here! 
  • Ask your Friends and Family!- if you have friends that have older kids than the grade that you teach, then they probably have books that their kids have outgrown just laying around. I'm sure they would love to donate them where they would be put to use again. 
  • Birthday Books- if your school has strict rules about students bringing in treats for their birthday, then ask them to donate a book to your classroom library instead. You can even let them sign a special "Birthday Book Plate" to place inside. To make them feel extra special, let the Birthday Kid do a book talk, or read the book to the class first. 
  • Check Facebook- this may sound like an odd combination, but Facebook has tons of selling groups and "virtual yard sales." You can even check for groups in your area to make pick up quick and easy. 
  • Target Dollar Spot or Dollar Tree- no explanation necessary! :)
  • Donor's Choose- this is a great website where teachers can create a project, and others can choose to donate any dollar amount to help them fund their idea. 
Ok, so now you're swimming in books and you probably look something like this:


The fun has just begun, time to organize! The first thing you'll want to do is stock up on matching baskets to house your books. We love these from Really Good Stuff and we love them because they're so heavy duty, but they are a bit of an investment. If you're on a budget, Dollar Tree and Target have excellent options too. Just make sure to pick a color (or two if you want to separate Fiction and Non-fiction) that makes you happy! Make sure that you purchase some bins that are skinnier (for chapter books) and some that are wider (for picture books). We've found that the best bins for picture books are actually dish pans and they're usually cheap too!

Once you have books and bins, you have to decide how you want to organize. We've decided to organize by genre because we feel that it's more real life and how kids would see books organized if they walked into a bookstore. We also want our Third Graders to practice finding"Just Right Books" on their own. Other options could be: by subject/theme, series, or leveled by reading ability. It really doesn't matter how you decide to organize as long as you stay consistent and think about what will work best for the age of students you teach. 

So now all of your books have a home in a bin! It's time to label those bins so your students can find books easily AND put them away correctly. There are lots and lots of options for library labels on Teachers Pay Teachers (6,191 of them to be exact!) We purchased these labels from Core Inspiration by Laura Santos because we loved the style, and she included everything we needed. You can find labels that match your classroom theme or colors as well. You'll want to print these out on cardstock or photo paper to make them a little more durable and also laminate them as well. 


It will take a while to cut all of those out, so prepare yourself with snacks and get ready to Binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix. Once they're all cut out, you're ready to attach them to your bins. We like to hot glue them on because it's fast, easy and the labels stay put all year. You could also use velcro or packing tape works well too. 

The final piece to your beautiful organized library puzzle is to add a coordinating label to the front of each book in your library. This way, students can easily see where each book belongs and will (hopefully) put it back in the correct bin! 

Congratulations! You now have a beautiful, organized and functional classroom library! We hope you've found this post to be helpful. If you have any library tips to add, please leave a comment below, we'd love to hear from you! 



5 Steps to Creating Expert Problem Solvers

In teaching math to third graders, one of the skills that we always found to be the most difficult was how to teach problem solving. How do you teach an 8 or 9 year old how to carefully read a problem, pull out important information, choose a strategy, solve, check the solution, and explain how they solved it when they can barely sit still for more than 5 minutes!!! And yet that is what we were being asked to do year after year with our students. After honestly feeling like we weren’t doing the best job in getting our students to persevere (we know you teachers out there love to hear that word) in solving problems, we decided that it was time to try something new. And if YOU persevere in reading this blog post, you will find a FREEBIE and a chance to win a giveaway at the end!

We thought about what we wanted our students to be able to do as problem solvers. In addition to all of the skills mentioned above, we knew we also wanted them to be able to verbalize how they solved a problem to others, to apply what they learned to new problems, and to even be able to create similar problems of their own. From this desire, our Problem of the Week was born!


Use this daily in your classroom to build and enforce critical math problem solving skills and strategies.  A Common Core aligned math problem solving product that takes students step by step through the problem solving process.

In the past we had given our students daily math and asked them to solve the problems. Then we would go over the strategies and the answer together as a class. We decided that instead we needed to have our students become more independent in solving problems and in order to do that, they needed a method that they could follow over and over again until it became second nature. We created this problem of the week so that each day the students would complete a different step in the problem solving process. 


Use this daily in your classroom to build and enforce critical math problem solving skills and strategies.  A Common Core aligned math problem solving product that takes students step by step through the problem solving process.

On Day 1, our students read over the problem independently and complete the CUBES strategy (Circle the key numbers, Underline the question and restate it, Box the clue words, Evaluate, and Solve). Then they do their best to solve the problem on their own. We really try and encourage them to persevere (there's that word again) without providing too much assistance. There are times, especially when you first start, that students will come up and say "I can't do this" or "This is too hard" and you simply have to give them a smile and say "Do your best!". We realize that as teachers this can actually be quite challenging because we want to help our students, but we find that if we always guide them to the answer, they never feel confident enough to try on their own (especially when the BIG test comes along). 


Use this daily in your classroom to build and enforce critical math problem solving skills and strategies.  A Common Core aligned math problem solving product that takes students step by step through the problem solving process.

On Day 2, students work with a partner to compare answers and strategies for how they solved the problem. After discussing their solution, they decide whether or not they want to keep it the same or change their answer. If they decide to change it, they have to show how they solved it differently. This step actually takes a lot of modeling and practice to get the quality work we want from our students. We find that a lot of times students will just mark that they don't need to change anything even though they might have a totally different answer from their partner. Our goal for this step is for students to make a detailed analysis of another student's work, as well as check back over their own. We did see progress in this area as students became more comfortable with the routine and understood our expectations. After this partner talk, we come together as a whole class and actually go over the solution to the problem. This is an opportunity to see the strategies that students are using, as well as get an idea of where the class is in their understanding of the targeted skill. 


Use this daily in your classroom to build and enforce critical math problem solving skills and strategies.  A Common Core aligned math problem solving product that takes students step by step through the problem solving process.

Day 3 is our explanation day, when the real fun begins! The students are asked to explain their problem solving process in writing. This is usually a very difficult task for students to complete, especially in the beginning of the year, so the written section is scaffolded with transition words to help students structure their responses. After students finish their explanation, we gather as a class and have several students share, making sure to acknowledge what they did well, as well as provide feedback on what could make their response even better. We also MODEL, MODEL, MODEL and when we don't feel like we can do it anymore we MODEL again! Let us just warn you, at the beginning of the year these are AWFUL! But by the end of the year our students improve by leaps and bounds and can more clearly explain their problem solving process.

Okay...on to Day 4! This is usually our students' favorite day of the whole process because they get to show their understanding of the problem in a different way and be creative. On this day the students are asked to create their own problem based on the original problem they solved. In having them come up with their own problem using the same skill, it shows us that they have a deeper understanding of what they learned throughout the week. They also think it's fun to change the characters or the situation. For example, we shared our love of coffee with the students at the beginning of the year and from then on we saw the theme of coffee drinking teachers show up again and again in our students' problems! 

On Day 5, students switch papers with a partner and solve each other's problems. When they return the paper, they check to see if it was solved correctly. Also, sometimes this provides an opportunity to catch mistakes that were made in creating the problem.


Use this daily in your classroom to build and enforce critical math problem solving skills and strategies.  A Common Core aligned math problem solving product that takes students step by step through the problem solving process.

Whew! Are you still with us? We hope so, because even though this it is quite a journey to get your students to become expert problem solvers, it is well worth the time and effort you put in. The reality is that problem solving is a lifelong skill and these tools will help to set them up for success!

Here is what a few teachers have said about using our Problem of the Week in their classes:

"Super useful for encouraging kids to use persistence in problem solving! Thanks!"

"Perfect to beef up my math ideas!"

"This is a great way to go deeper into a word problem and encourage student discussion."


So...ready to try it in your class? 

Click on the pic below to get a one week sample for free!


Use this daily in your classroom to build and enforce critical math problem solving skills and strategies.  A Common Core aligned math problem solving product that takes students step by step through the problem solving process.


But wait...there's more! Enter our giveaway and one lucky winner will receive all four volumes of our Problem of the Week (a $24 value). That's enough to last the whole year! Good luck!

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