Madly Learning about All Things Teaching: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Technology


What these Grads taught me.

Well it is that time of year again when the small group of students that I teach set to graduate. My first set of students from this school are set to graduate soon from grade five and go on to their next school. Even though I am on maternity leave I feel that it is important for me to say good bye to these kids. I will miss them for many reasons and of course there are some things I will not miss. 

Here are some of the things I learned from this group of students. 

1.  Consistency is Key- planning routines, setting up routines, practicing them, and reinforcing them is so important. When students know what you want and can predict your responses and actions it makes life easier for you and them. 

2. Homework Sucks - I don't like it any more then they did. My homework was generally self directed learning. It was encouraged and rewarded. However it was not assigned, marked, or corrected. 

3. Projects are awesome -  this group was like a dog with a bone. They loved projects and in response I have begun to explore inquiry and project based qlearning. I only hope to get more effective at this type of teaching. 

5. Technology Rocks - we blogged, connected, explored, and communicated. Having a class website was invaluable as a tool to communicate and share ideas. When used as a one way street to share information with parents it works. Boundaries are VERY important so as not to be connected all the time and teachers should be very careful about the tone and type of content shared. Stay away from opinion, negativity, or directing action. 

6. Making Connections -  get to know the students personally and take an interest in who they are.  It helps to understand what makes them tick. 

7.  Work with the Power- in every group of students there is a power structure and a social dynamic. Know who the leaders are and use them to help. Turn negative leaders into positive allies. Understand who has no power and work to balance the scales. 

8.  Let them save face - try to never address a child for their negative behaviour in front of their peers. Always try to talk one on one and remove the offending child from the group. Yes of course that's hard. However have a space like a time out spot In Your room where they can go. If you can't address the behaviour you want stopped find the nearest well behaving children and reward them. 

9. Boys are different- in a class full of boys you see very quickly how you must Change your teaching practices to meet the needs of boys. Flexibility, differentiation, and allowing them to move is very important. 

10. Have high expectations - want a good class well then expect a good class and don't allow an alternative. If you want  them to raise their hands then never answer a child who calls out and do not talk over them. Command and demand their attention but do t expect what they can't do. A ten year old can't sit for an hour and listen to you lecture so dont do it. If you respect their limitations and expect the best you will be happy with the results. 

Good bye to my first class from this school may I have taught you as much as you taught me. 


Top 10 reasons you should ditch your student desks

So are you as tired as I am with the disgusting state of black holes that you have in your room called student desks. I was so although I wanted tables I went with those desks flipped around zip tied together. Had to take it slow in case I regretted it. Let me tell you I didn't and it was the best decision I have ever made. Here are my top ten reasons why my students don't need desks. 

10. No more disgusting black holes... I don't know about you but many of my students used their desks as a place to shove anything and everything. You name it food, clothing, garbage, multiple pencil cases (not sure why a student needs three pencil cases but I digress), student books, text books, etc etc.  By turning their stuff around they could no longer hide their junk they had to deal with it and actually put it where it belonged. 

9.  No more lost work...I don't know how many times I would hand out a paper and ask them to put it in their notebook only to find that they didn't and lost it. Valuable time lost having half your class trying to find their work during the next lesson. Or realizing three days before the test that the notebook they are to study from is empty. By flipping my desks student work was kept in Group bins organized by subject and table group. Each group worked together to hand out notebooks. Collect notebooks and keep bin organized. Sure occasionally a student lost their work but this new system greatly reduced that and often someone in the group knew where it was or helped to find it much quicker. 

8. Teaches organizational skills.... With the mess unable to be hidden students had not choice but to keep organized no rewards needed for clean desks. No period a week lost on dumping a desk or me needing to give up my lunch to keep students in for making a mess.   Life lessons early for students put it where it belongs so you can have it when you need it. 

7.  Goodbye hoarding...hello community... Students had to learn to deal with their stuff and to pair down on the hoarding tendency of some to have 3 pencil cases full of stuff they rarely used.  This always drove me nuts the amount of money spent on school supplies at the beginning of the year which was lost, gone, or forgotten about by November.  Now I inform parents and students that special supplies can be kept in the child's backpack for art class or other special times. However students were encouraged to donate supplies to the classroom and to share pencils, rulers, erasers etc from a group bin. 

6. A place to call your own...Sure they had an assigned space but student seating was far more flexible in my room. It always has been really. Often colleagues comment on how students are rarely caught sitting at their desks. This is true my thought is work where you are comfortable as long as you are working. This would be even better with tables I am sure as it allows for more flexible groupings.  

5. Oops I forgot to collect that notebook...well with group bins picking up a group of books or returning them for that matter is easy. Walk over to the group bin and grab them. No need to  rummage through each students desk at the end of the day. Saves time and effort. 

4.  More Community building... My students sit in groups from day one to day 194.  The groupings rarely change except for a few students here and there.  Students have classroom jobs and group jobs. The table leader delegates responsibilities to other to ensure the operations of the group are running smoothly and in an organized fashion.  Sometimes a group gets this right and sometimes they struggle however this is a great learning opportunity to celebrate a team that is working well and to use as a model for how other should operate. A great life skill that they can all take into adulthood.  

3. Books last longer... When notebooks are shoved in desks they rip bend tear and disappear. When they spend most of their time living in a box only used when the student needs it they last a lot longer. You replace them less and that saves everyone money. 

2. I hate paper...ok so this may be just my personal vendetta against paper but what I couldn't stand the most was the piles and piles of paper that I could see falling out of student desks or the piles of paper that I had to use to re photo copy daily. Perhaps this only created an out of site out of mind experience because I certainly didn't use less but I didn't see it which helped my teacher induced OCD.  

1. Managing a well oiled machine... I am sure this whole idea of flipping around your desks sounds like a management nightmare.  It does take a lot of rehearsal and structure to train student to this new system. However the work is WELL WORTH IT!!

Here is what you need to get this up and running in your classroom
A) groups of desks in 4-6 
B) zip ties to keep those desks together
C) shelves around your room to store textbooks
D) square plastic file boxes one for each group
E) hanging folders for each subject
F) group bins one for each group
G) donated supplies (pencils, rulers, etc)

H) table leaders - elected monthly. They are in charge of collecting and distributing notebooks and textbooks from the group bin. Delegate other tasks as required. 
I) deputy table leaders- assume the table leader role in the event of an absense. They also act as supply manager to keep group bin organized. 
j) time... Make sure you give students time to hand out and collect notebooks during transition time. 

Have you ditched your desks?  What is your experience?  willing to give it a try? I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment and share your experiences.  


Tech Tools for School: Google Drive

I hate paper.  This is a problem for a teacher because we are very regularly buried in paper.  Some days I feel like I am drowning in paper...we hand it out, we hand it in, we mark it, learn from it, store it, shred it, cut it, glue it, display it, save it, etc.  It really is a problem for most teachers.  So what can we do to reduce our reliance on paper.  I could pretend that this is altruistic on my part and that I am writing this on a mission to save the environment but I am not.  This is because I hate organizing paper and can never find what I need when it is needed. I rely on technology to do this for me. (computers have a search function my file cabinet does not)

This is why Google Drive is a perfect solution for the hand it out and hand it in problems with paper work.  Give your students a google drive account (my school board has done this for me) and have them type out their work and hand it in there.  This is great for Writing drafts.  I don't know about you but I hated hand writing multiple copies of my writing in school and this is an unrealistic practice for students to do these days. They would not do this in real life why do it in school.

What can it be used for

  • Typed good copies
  • Exit Cards or Assessment Check ups
  • Tests
  • Presentations
  • Posters
  • Forms (parent or student use)

What you Need
Access to computers
Internet Access
An Idea of what you would like typed.

How I Use it...

Special Education: First I use this for students with special learning needs that have assisted technology needs that require them to type on a computer.  Last year I had three with two more on the list that needed technology.  Using Google drive means that they type all of their work on this service and you can monitor and provide feedback immediately.  You can also help guide their writing by providing prompts and help with the editing.  Additionally gone are the problems with...."I lost it....", "I forgot to save it...", "I left my USB at home".  Google Drive saves it automatically and you can see the revision history and monitor how they have used their class time.

Writing Drafts:  My students get to write weekly about anything they want.  They choose one of a selection of writing forms that they have chosen as a class and write a rough draft in their notebook.  Once a month they choose a draft and type it out in a "better copy" to be edited and reviewed.  This "better copy" is typed on Google drive.   They log in to their own drive accounts. (I have also done this where we have a shared account but it gets cluttered quickly) They then type out their "Better Copy" and email it to me.  I review them provide them feedback for them to improve their work all done within Google drive.  They make the corrections and hopefully by the end of the term they have one or two polished pieces of writing that they can really publish.  These are substantial pieces of writing so I am looking more for quality rather than quantity.  I have found engagement on this is also high as students are writing about what interests them in a form that they are interested in.

Presentations: With the interest in project based learning, although I am a newbie only dipping my toe in at this point.  Having students work on projects for science and social studies is important to me.  I find that students internalize their learning when they have buy in and a project helps in this area.  Google Presentations is a great tool that students can use to make a visual presentation to present their ideas.  The added benefit that they can work on the project both at home and at school without needing to worry about duplicate data or losing information on a USB stick.  If all of the information is online then you help to eliminate the "I forgot my research at home"

Take it Slow

With each year I try to introduce new technology ideas into my classroom and make them routine parts of my teaching.  Try using this Tech Tool in your Classroom and see how you like it.  I have just started over the last few years with this and I can't wait until I get this up and fully functional as part of my everyday practice.

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What's up with Me

Well it has been an amazing last few months in my life and as a result I have again neglected my blog.  I hope you understand why....

This is the newest addition to my family....another little girl.  Boy is my husband in trouble.

She is a great baby and we are all very excited to welcome her home.  My eldest daughter is very excited to be a big sister however is finding it hard to share Mommy.  I am very lucky to get to stay home on maternity leave for awhile and my goal is to go though all of my junior files and start to post them online here.

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Monday Math Mania

Today is the start of Monday Math Mania.  After an idea to keep me blogging given to me by new friend Tammy Aiello at I have decided to start a new feature

This week in math my class was focusing on learning various mental math strategies that will help us to learn how to solve addition questions in our head without the need for the a calculator or a pencil and paper.  I feel that it is important to teach these strategies prior to teaching the student the standard algorithm.  By doing this students can learn flexible thinking in relation to numbers and learn how to make math easier for their brain to to handle large numbers in their heads.   I feel that the standard algorithm is very important for students to learn as it is a quick strategy for pen and paper math problems later.  However teaching students to be flexible thinkers when it comes to numbers is essential to them having a comfort with numbers.  

Throughout this unit I keep repeating to my students to train their brain to work smarter not harder.  That is a key idea when using mental math strategies.  I tell students that some numbers are friendly and some are not. Friendly numbers end in 0 and 5.  These are nice numbers that are easy to add in their head.  I tell them that zeros are really friendly they are your best friend and fives are a close friend.   I am honest with them that sometimes when I look at an addition question I get overwhelmed because I cannot see the answer.  However, by using friendly numbers and flexible thinking I can turn unfriendly numbers into friendly ones.  I find that this is a helpful strategy for students to learn.  

Prior Learning Needed

Before I begin teaching this unit it is important that students have an understanding of the following math principals.  
1) Understanding place value system of the numbers they are required to add
2) Understanding that there is more than one way to represent a number
3) How to write numbers in expanded form 
4) Automatically know most of their addition facts to 20 (teaching grades 3-5 most of my students have these strategies when they arrive in my classroom.  If they don't then I always teach the more primary strategies of adding single digits such as doubling, doubling plus one, count up, tens frames etc.)
5) Counting up and counting back by 10s starting at any number 


Place Value: 

The first strategy that I teach is building on my first math unit of the year, place value.  I begin the addition strategies unit by having students draw out the place value pictures for each of the numbers in the questions. Then I have them count up the totals in each column.  Using this strategy students can see the action of carrying groups of ten over the the left.  This is the same process that happens in the standard algorithm used later.  Additionally students can visually see the number split up in to its place value columns.  My students and I developed a code for drawing out the place value system with a set of symbols for each column.

Open Number Line

This is a strategy that allows students to draw out their math.  This is especially helpful with students that are visual students.  It allows them to break apart numbers and focus on simple easy jumps.  It also is a great strategy for differentiation. It allows students with gaps in their math learning to make jumps that make sense to them.  If they can count by 10s but not 20s.  Count by 2s instead of 3's they can.  The focus of this strategy is to have them counting by number larger than ones.  I start with jumps of tens, fives, twos, and the left overs.  My video here explains how this strategy works.  I used Educreations app to create this video.

Front End Strategy

This strategy allows students to break apart numbers and add the tens and the ones separately Students should know how to write numbers into expanded form and understand that the number 43 is the same as writing 40 and 3.  

Compensation Strategy

For the final strategy I teach the front end strategy.  Students look at the question and borrow from one number and add it to the other number to change the question to an easier question with friendly numbers.  Students learn with this strategy that there are many ways to write the same question.  59+43= is the same as 60+42= .  This flexible thinking about questions is an important strategy to use in math.  I always tell my students that they should make their brain work smarter not harder.  

How to Practice

I teach math every morning and students start their day with a Daily Math Sheet.  This is a daily page that can be used every day.  I start the day with a new number of the day which students use to answer the questions on the morning math page. Follow the link to download it free from my TPT store.  

 I have included it here as a freebie for a limited time.  
First 250 downloads are free!!!
I will also included a link to my smart notebook file that I use to teach these strategies along with a few others. Just trying to work a few kinks out. 


Hope you enjoyed by first Monday Math Mania!!!

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