Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cyber Smile Sale on Teacher's Pay Teachers

This is a great opportunity to stock up on products from TPT! 
Don't forget to shop Monday and Tuesday.

.160 × 200

Friday, November 27, 2015

I Scream! You Scream! We All Scream For Ice Cream!

Encouraging an entire class of students to truly master all of their multiplication facts, is one of the hardest parts of my job. It is kind of like house-breaking a puppy. You can explain it until you are blue in the face, you can offer incentives, you can offer consequences for failures, and you can look up endless advice on the internet and in books from experts who promise their way is foolproof. Sometimes none of this makes any difference. Just like I have a five year old dog who still occasionally has accidents, almost every year I have a student or two who can not master all of their facts.

 When my son was in 3rd grade, his teacher created an ice cream party incentive program. He vividly remembers this because he did not earn cherries, but snuck one anyway. A little girl in his class ratted him out to the teacher. Why is it we always remember the embarrassing moments more vividly than the triumphant ones? Last year, I crafted my own system for ice cream multiplication.  Although I won't promise that it was foolproof, it definitely helped.

After Christmas, we will launch our Ice Cream Multiplication Incentive.  For each multiplication quiz 0-12 the students pass, they earn a part of their ice cream sundae. Mastering all of their zero facts earns ice cream, mastering all of their ones facts earns a bowl, and so on until they earn the cherry on top after mastering all twelve facts. My Ice Cream Multiplication Celebration is available on TeachersPayTeachers. I have a color version for sale, too. Although I'm not sure who has the budget to run that many copies in color! Of course you could also visit the wonderfully free site, Math-Drills to print your own timed multiplication tests, come up with your own schedule and write your own parent letter if you, like me, have blown through most of your classroom budget already.

I have a few other tricks for helping students learn their facts that might help. If we are learning twos facts, I make the children count off by twos each time we line up.  Of course, this is super easy for third graders. Not so much when you start learning sevens facts. I make nametags for each child and myself with the more difficult facts we are studying each week.  For instance my nametag may say 7 x 8.  For that week, I will only answer to Mrs. 56. The students love this. The best part is catching me forgetting to call someone by their fact answer name.

How do you encourage students to master their multiplication facts? I would love to hear your tried and true techniques!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am fortunate to spend this Thanksgiving at my in-laws home. Waking up to their beautiful view of the lake is always a treat. Those close to me know that my life has not always been easy, but I have always tried to have an attitude of thankfulness despite my circumstances. Some days it is harder than others. Today it is easy.

As I reflect on the people in my life, I am truly grateful for the most amazing co-teacher. Cathy is one of the most intelligent people I know. She cares deeply for her students and works so hard to make sure she is reaching each one. Cathy keeps me grounded, while giving me the support to fly into any crazy, new idea I may have. I know that seems impossible that one person could do both things, but that is just how incredible she is. Without her wisdom and support, I wouldn't be half the teacher I am.

In an effort to be more efficient with instructional time and increase student engagement, Cathy and I try to design our reading lessons around novel studies. We choose novels that tie into our social studies and science curriculum. For instance, during our study of Ancient Rome in social studies our students learn about Simple Machines in science. We discuss how the Ancient Greeks invented catapults, but the Romans used levers and wheels to improve on the design. The students read either The Time Warp Trio: See You Later, Gladiator, I Survived The Destruction of Pompeii, or Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez. 

It is difficult to manage three different novel studies at one time. We usually rotate back and forth between a whole class novel study and differentiated groups. After the break, we will all read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It is so much easier for the teacher to have the whole class reading the same book. It just isn't always best practice for us. Every year, we seem to have a big gap between our readers' abilities. This gap generally closes to some extent by the end of the year. I had an incoming third grader's mother tell me she read the entire Harry Potter series and the Hobbit over the summer. She took the Accelerated Reader test on all of them at the beginning of the year and passed. I can't have that child reading Magic Tree House books all year! 

So Cathy and I are always trying to find a way to differentiate our reading in a way that we can manage. The novel studies offered on TeachersPayTeachers have been a huge help. For more popular books, there are many different ones to choose from. Unfortunately, I fell in love with Moving Target before I realized it was a recently released book.  There were no novel studies available, so I created one for us to use. It is available on TeachersPayTeachers

How do you differentiate your novel studies? Has someone figured out a manageable way? Please share! Cathy and I are always looking for a better and more efficient way to reach our rowdy kids.
I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and are able to take a few moments to reflect on the wonderful people in your life who help you be your best. 
Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

MakerSpace Inspiration

All of my students eagerly dive into any assignment that includes creating an object from our MakerSpace closet. When they have a clear objective, it is easy to decide on a path. I've noticed some students are a little overwhelmed when the closet is opened up during free time. They want to create something wonderful. They just aren't quite sure where to begin.

One afternoon I spent about thirty minutes researching interesting crafts for kids and creating a padlet full of ideas for my students. I tried to pick things my third graders would be able to create on their own with just a little help from me. My students know that I will try to help them find any supply they need, if they just ask. I usually wait until mid-year to share the this with students to see what they will come up with completely on their own. I thought other students might enjoy my MakerSpace padlet, too.

By the way, I adore  If you aren't already using it in your classroom, you should check it out. It is a great way to share several age-appropriate, on topic links with your students quickly. The best part is the padlet will still be in your account next year when you teach the same topic again!
Happy Making!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

MakerSpace Simple Machines

The Rowdy Kids in 3 love our classroom MakerSpace. Although this type of space for older students might include 3D printers, saws and soldering irons, my third graders have a closet stocked with duct tape, yarn, stickers, paint pens, feathers, legos, blocks and any other craft supply I happen to find on clearance. It also includes trash, lots of trash. Anything destined for the recycling bin is rescued for our MakerSpace closet. My students bring in old boxes, bubble wrap and plastic containers from home, and it isn't uncommon for other adults at the school to drop off interesting packaging.

When I made the move from Kindergarten to third grade, I was struck by how little crafting of any type students are exposed to after Kindergarten or first grade. Besides adding a drawing to a paragraph, their creative expression beyond creative writing was almost nonexistent. I noticed the students loved to draw during free time, so I started gathering other supplies. Soon we had a large pile of odds and ends. Our facilities manager brought me a large Rubbermaid container to keep it in. As the students brought in more items, the container could no longer contain the mess and their current works in progress. Some mornings it was obvious the custodians had been given clear instructions to keep our pile in check. I added a sign that said, "THIS IS NOT TRASH. IT IS A PILE OF POSSIBILITIES!" At the end of the school year, we learned that third grade would move into another building. The new classroom had a closet and much more storage space. I think it was an attempt to give me space to organize the rowdy kids' mess.

My students often ask to "makerspace" during any free time. With pressure to master so many standards, free time is rare. I begin looking for ways to utilize our MakerSpace across our curriculum. Every time we use our MakerSpace it makes a terrible mess. It takes far longer than simply asking students to draw a picture. Parents are often puzzled by the strange creations their students proudly bring home. I believe the benefits of allowing students to plan and create on a regular basis, far outweigh these drawbacks. Makezine has a great article with information on MakerSpaces at MakeZine MakerSpace.

Last week during our unit on simple machines, I assigned student groups a type of simple machine. Each group was tasked with creating an example of a simple machine. It didn't have to be a full scale or working model, it just had to show me that the students understood their assigned type of simple machine. I'm including pictures of my students' creations because I want it to be obvious that these are not professional models of simple machines. I will accept almost anything a student can defend based on the skills being taught. I love nothing better than a noisy, messy classroom full of engaged students.  If you would like to try this in your class, check out my Simple Machines Maker Activity on TeachersPayTeachers. It includes a reading passage, vocabulary, and paragraph writing assignment.

Light Bulb
One student noticed plastic cups
have threads like a screw.
Balloon Car


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Minecraft Natural Resources Activity

My students love Minecraft. During Rainy Day Recess, a group of students will sit together in a corner and collaborate as they build together in creative mode. My first year as a third grade teacher one of my students had absolutely no interest in science, and little interest in any other subject. He was an intelligent kid with little motivation. One day his exasperated mother exclaimed, "All the kid cares about is Minecraft!"

I spent that evening getting a lesson in all things Minecraft from my son and daughter. Our class happened to be studying Natural Resources. The next morning, I asked my student to design a Minecraft Natural Resources Museum for extra credit. He worked on it that night and brought his laptop in the next morning. I hooked his laptop up to the projector and he showed the whole class his museum. This was in the early days of Minecraft, and the students were blown away. I was, too. Not only had he built a museum and categorized the resources, he had built a solar powered flying boat to show how he could use an alternative energy source.  His entire attitude about school changed, as did the students' perception of him.  I think it was the first time that I realized that a little extra effort and time to reach a specific child, could really make a difference. Third grade can truly be a turning point in a child's education.  So many children turn a corner during that year, and learn to enjoy learning. I'm constantly striving to find new ways to help facilitate that shift.

The next year, I developed a project around the concept and my entire class worked on it together at school. If you would like to try the same in your own classroom, check out my Minecraft Natural Resources Activity, or find a ten year old to teach you about Minecraft and develop your own activity.

Oh and if you are still wondering if Minecraft and other building games are a worthwhile activity for your students, I would like to introduce you to one of my 3rd graders this year.  He was asked to design a column to print on the school's 3D printer in Technology.  We had been studying Ancient Greece, and the Technology teacher had developed a project to supplement our lesson on Greek architecture.  He proudly told me his was super cool, because he learned how to make modifications in Roblox and did the same thing in the 3D software.  That is so incredibly awesome that I don't even really understand what he is talking about, but he does!  He is using technology that would have been taught only to adults specializing in that field just twenty years ago.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


I have used Bloglovin' for quite some time. I don't have much time to peruse blogs, but I love that Bloglovin' will just send me updates from my favorite blogs. If you download the Bloglovin' app for iPhone, you can read all of your favorite blogs in one place. If you decide to sign up for Bloglovin', make sure to follow my blog! Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Taking the Stress Out of Math Test Review

The closer we get to a math test, the more stressful math class becomes.  I know there is a limited amount of time to help each child master the skill.  We started using Math In Focus three years ago.  I finally have a group of students with enough experience with this Singapore based curriculum, that I feel like we can move at a reasonable pace.  However, we still have that test deadline looming and not everyone is ready.  After a particularly stressful day-before-the-test review, I invented a better way.

In 3B, the rowdy kids have a Math Dance Party.  Task cards with review questions are placed around the room.  Each child has an answer sheet and a pencil.  I play appropriate dance music, and the kids work on the problem in front of them.  When they solve the problem, they may dance to the music.  When the music stops, everyone moves to the next task card and starts again. The task cards are closely matched to the test.  If a child is able to get most of the problems correct with music blaring, I assume he or she is well prepared for the test.  The rowdy kids have a blast dancing and burn off some energy.  It also lets me know who is still struggling.  If several students missed the same question, I know it is a topic I need to review.  Any set of task cards in any subject will work for a dance party as long as you have enough cards for each child.  If you need to review for Math In Focus: Chapter 4 for 3rd Grade, Subtraction to 10,000, visit my TPT store for the same Subtraction to 10,000 Dance Party used by the rowdy kids in 3B.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Telephone Book Tag

Over the weekend, our school was inundated with telephone books.  About fifty phone books were left at the front door.  I think they purposefully deliver when we are closed, so we can't refuse the books. No one in our school actually uses a telephone book.  For goodness sakes, even our kindergarteners know how to use google. In an effort to rid the front office of the telephone books, our clever, yet OCD, facilities manager said, "Hey Sellars, surely you can come up with some crazy, educational use for all these telephone books." We've worked together for a long time.  I know all about his OCD tendencies, and he knows I never back down from a challenge.

Although I love how independent my students are when it comes to technology.  There are a few skills that need sharpening.  One is looking up something in a long alphabetized list.  We do use dictionaries on occasion, but my students are more likely to lookup a word on Many of the rowdy kids in 3B are a bit on the competitive side.  I've learned that any type of competitive game, keeps them engaged much longer.  We play many different types of games, so that all of the children have moments of success.

To play Telephone Book Tag. The students each stand behind their desk with hands by their side. On each desk is a closed telephone book.  The teacher begins the game by calling out a random name from the telephone book.  The first student to correctly locate the name is "it."  This student comes to the front of the room and randomly chooses another name.  After a student has been named it twice, he or she is crowned Telephone Book Tag Master.  Telephone Book Tag Masters no longer play, but help struggling students find names faster.  If you have the extra time, you could even make crowns from pages from the extra phone books for the Masters.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Failing Up on a Rainy Sunday Afternoon

Like many teachers, I've used Teachers Pay Teachers for the past few years.  Several of my colleagues recommended I start posting some of my creations, but my first attempt can only be described as pathetically halfhearted.  In August of 2013 I signed up to be a seller and posted the Place Value Chart Signs I had designed for my own classroom.  It was my first product and it was listed for free.  In the past two years, it has been downloaded 367 times.  Woohoo! Sadly, my first paid product, Place Value Dance Party, was not quite so successful.  It was only downloaded once.  I guess I'm not the only one that peruses the free products before I pay for anything.

My son started high school this fall and is taking a Digital Design elective.  His excitement about this class reminded me why I majored in Advertising and Graphic Design twenty years ago.  So, I'm challenging myself to post one new product each week.  I'm already constantly creating new resources for my own students.  It just takes a little more effort to post them on TPT.

As a working mother of two teenage kids, it isn't like I have free time.  I could let the whopping $1.80 I've made on Teachers Pay Teachers in two years deter me from devoting any more time to this endeavor. However I'm jumping in with both feet!  I teach my children to embrace failure. Without failure we would never learn to push ourselves harder. We would never learn to accept our own shortcomings, so that we can grow, learn and become better.  You must take a risk to fail. Risk takers rule the world!

Click the title to download my free Place Value Chart Signs.

Be Kind. Work Hard. Have Fun.

The rowdy kids in 3B have three rules.

Every single time there is an issue in our classroom, it boils down to the breaking of one of these three rules.  If you are goofing off with a friend during centers, you are not working hard.  If you are cutting in front of someone in line or excluding them on the playground, you are not being kind.  If you are in tears because you are so stressed over a test, you are no longer having fun.  The last rule may be the most important.

Teaching is a stressful job.  I am often overwhelmed with the responsibility.  Not only must I keep my students safe emotionally and physically all day, I must make sure they are meeting an enormous list of standards and expectations.  If you are a perfectionist, it is an impossible job.  I've never met a teacher that felt she was doing a perfect job all of the time for every student.  Quite frankly I would be very wary of such a teacher.  There is a high probability that she doesn't have a clue what she is doing.  As a side note, be very wary of teachers who give all As to every student for the very same reason.  Good teachers know that there is always the possibility that the lesson could have been a little more engaging. Lying in bed at night, all types of thoughts run through our heads.  Maybe I should have listened more carefully to the student complaining for the twenty-eighth day in a row that his stomach hurt, because he just threw up on my shoes.  Perhaps if I had found five minutes to sit one on one with the struggling reader and discuss cause and effect she wouldn't have failed her reading test.  Much like parenthood, teaching is a series of failures interspersed with rare, glorious moments of triumph.  It is easy to focus on the failures. The failures wear us down and make us frantic to squeeze in one more lesson, one more worksheet, one more assessment, or one more activity.  The frenzied characteristics of a person who feels like they are on the brink of failure, is not really the ideal leader to be stuck in a room with eight and nine year olds all day.

That's why the last rule is the most important.  It applies not only to the students, but also to the teacher.  Despite my best efforts, there will always be failures in 3B.  I teach my students to be kind, work hard, embrace the failures, laugh at themselves, and try again.  I tell them if they are trying their very best, it is always enough.  This blog is a forum for me to document my attempt to follow the very rules I have set for my students.  I challenge all frantic, frenzied, failing teachers to do the same!