Monday, December 11, 2017

Gatekeepers: Let's Talk About Teaching

If you have ever read the blog Forever in First, you know what in inspirational educator Tammy McMorrow is. The good news for all of us in the education world is that she has now written a book called Gatekeepers: Let's Talk About Teaching. She is a very well read author and brings a lot of other experts into this book.  She has been a first grade teacher for over 20 years but this book is really fitting for all educators.  She writes a lot about teaching writing but the lessons learned are those that would apply to teachers of any subject at any grade level.
The format of this book is short chapters based around a quote.  There are 50 chapters but they are quite short, around 300 words on average.  They can be read in any order and are great short pieces that helped me reflect on my practice and think about what is next for me.  I read the first half of the book in one sitting and then decided to slow down a bit and read a little each day.  I also did something the author says she does herself and began a journal collecting quotes and ideas from my professional reading.  I had this beautiful journal laying around waiting to be used and I have to say it is so nice to have all my thoughts about my professional reading collected in one place instead of on sticky notes all over the place. 

Here are a few quotes from the book that I found memorable along with my own reflection on them.

From Chapter 26. Slow Down to Speed Up

"Being deliberate and explicit about the smallest of details is essential.  If my students don't know what I expect of them, come January they are certainly not to blame when things are not going as planned.  It takes a considerable amount of time, patience, and energy to be deliberate in those first several weeks though, especially when curriculum is impatiently piling up.  Rushing into the academic  fray too early without a sure foundation could sabotage everything. "Slow down to speed up" is my mantra"

This chapter really resonated with me because when I read it in early November, I was just begging to feel like I was getting out of the back to school rush.  Some years that busy back to school time seems to go on longer than others and this year was certainly one of those years.  In the moment, it can feel painfully slow and almost agonizing to make sure classroom routines and procedures are set up properly, but it is always worth it in the end.  Thinking about the idea of slowing down to speed up is a great way to frame it and remind myself that the speed will come later.


From Chapter 28: Grace

"I often envision the teaching profession as a path without end.  It's occupied by teachers but all at different points.  They're all moving but at varying paces.  Then I spot myself.  It's plain to see how far I've come, and I can identify many teachers who are currently where I once was.  They deserve my grace.  I can also look ahead to where I'd like to be and see many teachers occupying that space.  I hope they show me grace as well."

This quote really made me look at other teachers in my building and in the world in general that I know and to think about where they are along this path in relation to myself.  I have so many things I want to accomplish still as an educator and it can often seem like I have so far to go.  However, when I look back to where I came from, I see an equally overwhelming amount that I have already accomplished.  It is so helpful to me to think about my teaching career as this path without an end.  It makes me proud of what I have accomplished and hopeful for my future.

From Chapter 42: The 3 R's of Teaching

"Simply put, reading + risking + reflecting = meaningful change.  I suppose we could call them the 3 R's of teaching.  Is this equation evident in our schools, or, better yet, in our own classrooms?"

Doing a lot of professional reading has been a great way for me to make meaningful changes in my classroom.  Some of the biggest shifts in my practice including formative assessment and number talks came from reading about them, trying them out and reflecting on how well they worked.  I can't emphasis enough how much reading about teaching and trying new ideas has moved me forward as an educator.  I know that not all teachers have made room in their days for this type of professional reading and I have been thinking about ways to help them increase the reading they do.  One thing is sending shorter, blog post length links to them.  Another idea is sharing podcasts I enjoy or encouraging teachers to sign up for a free trial of Audible.  There are quite a few good general education books available in audio format now. 

Gatekeepers was an inspirational read and would make a great holiday gift for your favorite educator.  




Sunday, December 10, 2017

Looking at Strengths

Over the past few years, I have put a very high priority on keeping up with professional reading.  As my kids have gotten older, we seem to be on the go more than ever and I found my pile of to be read books growing and growing and very little reading getting done.  After discussing this with a colleague I decided what I needed to do was give audio books a try.  I signed up for Audible, got 2 free audio books and was off and running.  After my 2 free books, I decided to stay subscribed and now I can download new audio books whenever the mood strikes. I have found that teaching books specifically about math are pretty limited,but general books on education, leadership and mindset are almost all available on Audible

The first book I listened to via Audible was Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath. (He also wrote one of my FAVORITE picture books How Full is Your Bucket?)

I have been in a teacher leader position in my school since almost the beginning of my career.  Much of what I have learned about being a leader has come from experience and mentors.  I am now interested in exploring more about leadership and how I can take things to the next level.  I read Lead Like a Pirate back in March which is much more specific to education than this book.  Despite the fact that this book was written for leaders in general, I got a lot out of it.  

The biggest thing I took away from this book was a deeper understanding of my own strengths as a leader.  The book details many different strengths and comes with an access code to the leadership version of Gallup's Strengthsfinder Program.  The strengths the program identified for me are Achiever, Maximizer, Learner, Activator and Arranger. Each of these is described in detail in the book but I also received a customized report about how exactly each of these applies to me.  I was surprised how well this assessment pinpointed my strengths and to some extent, even parts of my personality. 

Another huge take away from this book was about looking for strengths in others.  It really made me think about how to best utilize members of my team and my colleagues to support me, my students and the mission of our school.  There were certain strengths that when listening to them talk about, I would think so clearly of one teacher or another that I have worked with.  Looking at people's strengths has helped me make ground as a leader in just a few short months. 

What other books about leadership would you recommend?  If you use Audible, what education books are available in this format that you would recommend? Please respond in the comments below! 


Friday, November 3, 2017

Let's Talk About Multiplication Fact Fluency


Earlier this week, I shared this post about memorizing facts versus knowing facts from memory. In this post, I talk about how I used to think timing kids daily on multiplication facts was the backbone of my fourth grade curriculum and how my perspective has shifted over time to one where I believe kids should know their facts from memory rather than through memorization.  If you are not familiar with this idea, here is a video where Graham Fletcher explains it better than I ever could.


After re-sharing this post from last summer on my Facebook page, I received the following comment from Michelle:

"While I agree that strategy is the way to go (it's the only way we teach math facts), I'm second guessing myself when it takes 15 mins to work through a 2-digit x 2-digit multiplication problem bc every 'part' (when using partial products for example) has to be worked out using a fact strategy when kids don't know their facts well. It takes soooo long. I'm so proud when my intervention students get the correct answer but it might take 40 mins to do 3 problems and I start to second guess myself-should I be drilling them more often. I know that they know AND can discuss the fact strategies they used as they go, but I sometimes wonder when is the leap to automaticity going to come. Maybe I need to just be more patient? I'm speaking of intervention students that are seen multiple times per week. Taught the multiplication strategies last year, didn't retain the strategies over the summer, now reteaching but feeling stagnant...guess I'm just having trouble bridging the gap b/t them knowing the various strategies and automaticity. I am supposed to be teaching division to one of them but it is so so difficult when they don't know their mult. facts. This student can complete problems correctly using 100 bead number line or draw a picture and circle groups (divisor) but w/o that are completely unable to make an educated guess bc multiplication facts are not solid. I just hope I'm doing the right thing focusing so much on strategy. Would really love for them to be proficient by the end of the year."

Here is how I would respond to Michelle and to anyone else facing this struggle.

Michelle makes some excellent points!  Their strategies do need to have some level of efficiency.  First of all, are your students fluent with adding 2 double digit numbers mentally?  The ability to do this is the backbone of multiplication fact strategies and is a super important pre-requisite skill.  This is one of the many reasons I hold off on introducing the standard algorithm for addition.  If this is a skill you find is missing in your students, here are some great games that can be done to get your students comfortable with this important skill. Another excellent resource is the Number Talks book which offers a great framework and specific problem strings that can move your students forward with mental addition strategies.

Once you are feeling good about your students' fluency with double digit addition,there are lots of ways to work on building efficient strategies.  I know it can feel like you are moving backwards to have to go back and work on multiplication fact strategies but it will pay off in the long run.  Your work with double digit multiplication and with division will be so much easier if your kids have efficient strategies for multiplication.  Again, I have to say the Number Talks book is an excellent resource that provides a framework and specific problem strings that will move your students forward on fact strategies.  Here are a few of my other favorites for moving kids forward with fact strategies:



Your students are lucky to have you Michelle!  I am sure you will make a big difference for them.

What advice would you give Michelle? Please respond in the comments below

In other news, my blogging friend Tammy from Forever in First recently published an amazing book about teaching!  She has been an inspiration to me for years and I can't tell  you how excited I am to read her book!



Monday, October 16, 2017

Sharing the Good Things Happening In You School

In the past few years, the political make up of our schools has been changing a great deal.  The way schools are funded and the amount of local control in schools has been changing.  There has been a huge push from our state government to consolidate school districts and push some of the local control to the district level.  This has resulted in many fears from parents, teachers and community members about losing their local, small town elementary schools.  They are rightfully afraid that these schools will be closed and our children will be sent to larger regional elementary schools.  I get these fears from the perspective as a teacher who works in a small school and as a Mom who loves the small school her own kids attend. 


In our school, so many wonderful things happen that the general public is not aware of.  Some parents who are well connected to the school have a pretty good idea, but I often think the community in general lacks specifics about the good things happening in their school.  Thinking about the change in political climate and understanding the fears of other teaches and parents about our small school being on the chopping block in the next few years, I have been thinking a lot about how to promote our school and share all the wonderful things happening here. 



1. Video 

Last year, when I was researching ways to get out message out to parents, I stumbled upon Your School Rocks... So Tell People.  This book was full of great ideas that really helped me see the potential to up our game in several areas, including video.  Last spring, I challenged myself to create at least one video a week showcasing something going on in our school and after a few weeks, it got to be part of my routine and the response I have got is amazing.  I use the iMovie app for iPad to edit video clips, add text, etc.  We have been loving using video so much that this year, I have many students so excited to create their own videos that we are doing a trial of WeVideo which seems to be the go to video editing software for use on Chromebooks.  We are working on creating videos highlighting out behavior expectations for PBIS, math how to videos, trailers of upcoming events and so much more.  We share these videos on social media, the school website and on teacher blogs. 

2. Social Media

Our school district has a Facebook page and a twitter account that previous to reading this book, I hadn't paid much attention to.  After reading this book, I immediately looked into who was providing content on these platforms and made sure to send content their was as often as possible.  I am also working on organizing teacher take over days where different teachers get control of the account for the day/week and provide a detailed look into their classroom.  Since I work in an elementary school, we are trying to reach parents on social media, and Facebook is definitely the place where we can find most of the parents.  The book had an excellent chapter on using Instagram to reach your students which I think would be perfect for middle and high school age kids. 

3. School/Teacher Blogs

It is the expectation in my school that all teachers maintain a classroom blog where they share pictures, videos and updates at least a few times per month.  These are linked from the school website and it can be hard to see how much they are getting viewed or how helpful they are to families and the community.  They are a huge asset when someone new is looking into working at or sending kids to our school because they give a great flavor of what we have to offer.  My own blog is also used to curate online resources so it gets a lot of views at school and at home.  When I started adding videos that featured the students and videos that students helped create the engagement on the main page of my blog went up by 500%! Video is so powerful!  

4. Alert the Press

When something special is happening at your school, let the local press know.  Our smallest local paper is always interested in reporting on events happening in our schools.  They sometimes send a photographer & a reporter and other times they ask for more details and a picture that one of us took at the event.  Just a quick email to let them know what is happening in our school has resulted in positive press for us multiple times.  It is free and requires minimal effort. 

5. School Website

Is your school website kept up to date?  For many folks, your school website is the first thing they see when they search for you and you want to make sure you have enough information posted that they can really get to know your school.  Also, you want to make it a place where students and families return to over and over again to get the information they need or to catch up on the news.  Make sure your school website is updated at least weekly to get the most out of it.  Regularly sharing pictures, videos, newsletters, etc is a great way to keep things fresh. 

6. Get Folks Inside the Building

One of the best ways to get parents and community members up to date on what is happening at school is to invite them to come in.  When they are in the building, they not only get to see what is going on, they get to feel the culture as well.  We try to invite parents and community members in at least a few times a year and are now looking for ways to invite them in even more frequently.

7. Class Dojo

Class Dojo is an app that another teacher in my building began playing around with last year and I can't say enough about how much it improves communication with families.  This year, we have several teachers using it in my building and my own kids' school is using it school wide.  I love it so much from the perspective of a teacher and a parent.  It is a communication app that lets teachers and parents share videos, pictures and messages.  A teacher can post to the class board where all families can see it or to each students' individual stories.  It is enough like Facebook, that parents seem to figure out how to use it quickly and it can really improve communication.  I have not yet found a way to use it to communicate to the community at large but it cannot be beat for communicating with parents. They also have GREAT videos about Growth Mindset! 

How do you share the good things happening in your school? Please respond in the comments below. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

When You Don't Agree With Your Child's Teacher

I have known a lot of teachers.  First as a student, then as colleagues and now as a parent   I have been very lucky that my children have had wonderful teachers who I absolutely treasure.  I love their school, the sense of community and the teachers willingness to go above and beyond.  I am trusting these folks with the things that are most important in my life which has really forced me to reexamine my own role as a teacher in other students' lives.  These teachers and my kids' school is such an important part of their life and their happiness there is vital to the happiness of our family.
A situation recently arose where the teacher of one of my children made a decision that I did not agree with.  It was a decision that made me and my child feel unwelcome in their school.  My emotional response to this decision was dramatic and I can't remember the last time I was this upset about something.  I was in the place of the irrational parent rather than the calm and reassuring teacher.  Being in that role was new to me, and I really had to think about the best way to approach this with my child's teacher. 

Talk to the Teacher First

In my case, talking to the teacher was actually done by email.  I did not grasp the entirety of the situation when I picked my child up that day and once I did understand what had happened, I was much too emotional for an in person discussion that day.  In fact, I waited until the next day to begin composing the email and I went back to it several times throughout the day to make sure it was conveying what I needed it to without being too emotional.  The point here is that this was a decision the teacher made, and I needed to talk to her first before complaining to other staff members about this decision. 

Assume Good Intentions

This teacher is one my family has known and loved for years.  I know she has always had the best intentions her students and their families.  I went on the assumption that she was not purposely trying to make families feel unwelcome. 

Think About it From Her Perspective

I spent some time thinking about why she made this decision.  I thought about some of the changes that happened in the school this year and how the number of students in her class has gone up quite a bit.  I also thought about the fact that she seems to have some very challenging students this year and how that might be affecting her. 

Encourage Others

I heard a lot of grumblings from other parents the day I picked my daughter up from school.  I know from experience that parents are much more likely to complain to other parents than to tell the teacher directly why they are upset.  When other parents complained directly to me, I encouraged them to call, email or talk to the teacher about their concerns rather than to other parents.  If the teacher does not know multiple parents are upset, there isn't anything she can do about it. 

Follow Through

In my case, several emails back and forth to my child's teacher was enough to defuse the situation and have her reconsider her decision.  Whatever agreement you come to, make sure you hold up your end of the bargain.  If you get what you ask for make sure you say thank you. 

Mend the Relationship

I can be super challenging to disagree with someone you like and respect.  Even if you come to an agreement in the end, it can do damage to the relationship.  Things might feel a little awkward for a while and you may have to go above and beyond to be friendly and to help repair the relationship. 

Have you ever disagreed with your child's teacher?  How did you handle it? Please respond in the comments below! 



Sunday, October 8, 2017

Fall Math Fun

I am loving the fall weather we have been having this week!  It gave me a chance to get outside with some special Kindergarten kids and do some play based math activities using natural materials.  It was such a nice way to spend some time outside learning together! 



We started by going on a little nature walk with a few buckets and picking up some beautiful leaves, acorns and pine-cones.  Then we dumped our treasures out on the table, grabbed a few fine pointed sharpies and got to work exploring and adding some mathematical details to our fall materials.  We started by writing numbers on leaves.  Some kids wrote numbers to 10 while others wrote some random numbers they knew. 


We have been doing a lot with the 10 frame model recently and I wanted to capitalize on this so I used some of the larger leaves to draw some 10 frames which led to a lot of ordering and matching activies. 


Some kids are ready to look at addition and subtraction facts so we added leaves that had the symbols for +, - and = and they were able to use these with the numeral leaves and natural counters to create equations. 


Many kindergartners need plenty of practice with one to one correspondence and matching objects to numerals.  The acorns, pine-cones and number leaves let them have lots of experiences with this! 


We put everything in a bin and brought it inside to explore for a few more day.  The leaves will crinkle up along the edges and be unusable if you don't put something heavy on them when they are not in use.  I forgot this important step and ended up replacing them with artificial leaves that I had left over from another project. These materials placed in a sensory bin or sand table will give your kiddos opportunities to revisit them over the following week.


To connect our outdoor exploration of natural materials, we made this fun fall themed number craft.  This is a great way to reinforce many models and makes an excellent fall bulletin board display. 

How are you embracing fall with your children or your class?  Please respond in the comments below! 






Saturday, September 30, 2017

Teaching Math With You Tube Videos: Subtraction Facts

In the past few years,  I have posted some of my favorite songs and videos about shapescountingmultiplicationcoinstimefractionsteen numbersarea and perimeter and addition facts.  I try to keep these posts up to date with the latest songs and videos I am using with my students.  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 forget how busy the back to school season can be and now that things are finally calming down, it is so nice to be back to sharing things with you on my blog. 

This week, I have had subtraction on the brain as we have been working on subtraction in the fact range in both grades 1 & 2. We are are playing a lot of games, using the same deck of cards over and over.  When kids master one deck of cards, I change them out for a more challenging set but the rules of the games don't change.  This really helps me personalize learning! 
Movin' It Math Subtraction Facts to 20 Cards

We have been getting tons of movement in playing Movin' It Math but today I want to share with you some of the other ways we have been using movement and music to practice subtraction facts.  

When You Subtract With a Pirate

This catchy tune from Harry Kindergarten Music gets at two big ideas for subtraction.  It includes the word difference and talks about how you are getting less.  There are some great examples, all with facts in the under 10 range. 

Subtraction Song for Kids

This song from Jack Hartmann is a great way to get kids up and moving.  This song is easy to sing along and dance with.  All examples are facts under 10. 


Subtraction Halving Numbers Math Song

This song is a great way to look at the half facts for numbers up to 24.  It is produced by Dream English Kids which is a You Tube channel that is very new to me. 


My Dog Subtraction

This video uses the "take away" and "minus" language. 


One Less Number Game

Another great song from Jack Hartmann, this one is based on the idea of one less.  Numbers go up to 100.  



Adding and Subtracting

Another Harry Kindergarten Music song!  This one has a lot of different language in it and highlights the differences between addition and subtraction.  


Do you have a favorite song/video for teaching subtraction? Please share in the comments below!

Looking for more work on subtraction facts? This cards can be used in 11 different ways and are an excellent way to increase subtraction fact strategies and fluency! You can use them to work on facts to 10 or facts to 20!

Movin' It Math Subtraction Facts to 10 Cards