Monday, July 25, 2016


This summer has been a little unusual. After seven years, I'm leaving the only school I've ever worked in and moving to a very different school.  I've taken a break from blogging, but not from professional development. My summer has been filled with preparing my classroom, research to help me learn to best reach a different population of students, the occasional Twitter educhat and #BOOKQUEST!

Last April, I noticed a tweet from Cara Cahill looking for book loving teachers interested in creating a book study group. I responded along with about ten other teachers from around the United States and  #BOOKQUEST was born. After several tweets to authors active on Twitter, our group secured several ARCs. An ARC is an advanced reader's copy released for promotion before the official publish date. Once one of the #BOOKQUEST members finishes a book, it is mailed on to the next teacher on our list. We discuss books on Voxer and leave post-it notes on the books before we send on to the next member. 

As a life-long book geek, I've found it really exciting to read advanced copies of books. It's like being let in on a huge secret. In one book the first chapter started with a gray box and the words Art to Come. At first I thought it was a clue to the story, but felt silly when I saw the same box at the beginning of the next chapter. The art wasn't ready yet. The publisher was leaving a blank space for the art. 

Although I have to mail the books on to the next member on the list after I finish, I'm adding the release dates to my calendar. I want to be able to add a copy of each to my classroom library. All of the ARCs I've received have been excellent and I can't wait to share them with my students. Below I've included a short review of the ARCs I've read. Two more came today, so I hope to be able to post reviews of those for my readers later this week. Once again, Twitter has expanded my professional horizons. 

The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes by Wade Albert White
Anne has spent her whole life at Saint Lupin's Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children, but I can assure you that Anne is most certainly neither wicked or unattractive. She is brave, loyal and determined to find out where she came from. I'm afraid that giving any more information might spoil this wonderful book for the reader. It is the type of book that should be unrolled slowly in layers like a delicious, flaky cinnamon roll. Each plot twist and turn should be savored. This unique book has the magic and mystery of Harry Potter, the adventure of a Lightning Thief quest along with a vague connection to the television show Lost. This is a must read. I have no doubt it will become a classic and look forward to reading the next installment in the series. 
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: September 2016

Lou Lou and Pea and the Mural Mystery by Jill Diamond
Lou Lou loves gardening and admires her best friend, Pea's excellent manners and fluent Spanish. Minor crimes start happening in their beloved neighborhood, so Pea and Lou Lou set out to find the culprit. Although Lou Lou and Pea are polite and kind to everyone, they are also independent, intelligent and resourceful. I loved getting to know both of them and think they are excellent role models for young girls. It is a darling book and recommended for ages 8-12. 
Publisher: Frarrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 18, 2016

The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston
Called Mouse by her friends and family, Cadence Jolly is an introvert in every sense of the word. She learns to find her voice and embrace the talent she is hiding from everyone. In a world of Pippi Longstockings, Junie B Jones and Clementines it is interesting to peek into the life of a very different character. I think many students will identify with her shyness. Unfortunately, it is still rare to come across an African American main character in middle grade novels. Cadence, her family and friends are realistic and authentic characters. I look forward to reading this aloud to my students in January. 
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Release Date: January 2017

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Twitter: Connecting Kids and Authors

I devoured books as a kid. My mother was an avid reader, too. She made sure we had shelves of books at home and regular trips to the Andalusia Public Library. I always believed that anyone could love reading if they just found the right book. My daughter is not a reader. I tried for years to find her the right book. There were a few bright moments. She stayed up way too late one night to finish The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl. She adores Shel Silverstein's poems and has memorized several.  Every time I saw a flicker I would try to fan the flames, but her interest would sputter out. Finally one day when she was in 4th grade she looked at me and said, "Mom, reading is work for me. It is fun for you. I have to work so hard to read that it makes me not like most any book."

I backed off after that conversation. I tried to explain that if she read more, she would become a better reader and it wouldn't be so hard. We started reading books together. Each of us would read a page and it helped. Now that she is in 7th grade she is a better reader, but she still doesn't choose to read for fun. My experiences with my daughter have helped me become a better teacher. I work very hard to make books exciting in my room. I introduce kids to all types of books and constantly read kid lit so I'll know what to recommend to each child. Most of the time it works, but every year I have two or three kids like my daughter. They haven't met a book yet that was truly worth the extra work it took to finish it.

This year one such student borrowed The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier from a friend and loved it. He kept asking me if I knew of any other books similar to it. Finally in desperation, I turned to the same place I turn for most teacher advice these days... Twitter. I was hoping someone in my extensive PLN would come to the rescue.

Imagine my surprise when the very, next day I received a reply from Max Brallier himself. My students were in art class and I had to force myself to not run down the hall with my laptop to swing open the art room door and interrupt.

Oh my goodness! I had fifteen minutes until my students returned from art, so I raced to the school library and found Big Island by Doug TenNapel. I flipped on my projector and hooked my computer up. When the students returned, I showed everyone Max Brallier's responses. I don't think the kids could have been any more excited if the President of the United States had been tweeting to them.

Before the day was over, I noticed that another Twitter notification had popped up on my phone. This time Doug TenNapel chimed in to give his support.

On Monday morning, my student proudly announced he had finished the book Friday afternoon. He read all weekend and made his AR goal this week for the first time all year. So are these two authors just particularly friendly and twitter savvy? Maybe... but I think most authors would be thrilled to hear from kids who love their books.

For instance, over the weekend I visited my nieces. I gave a copy of Josh Funk's awesome picture book, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, to my 4 year old niece.  She is a picky eater and I thought it might encourage her to try some new foods.  Since I was still flying high from my Twitter success, I decided to post a picture. I told Piper that I would tell the author she liked it, so she carefully chose her favorite page to display.

I now believe most authors want to hear from children enjoying their books.  Writing can be a lonely job! What better motivation could there possibly be to keep plugging away? After the experience in our classroom last week, my students want me to tweet so many different authors. I've promised I will let each one choose a favorite author to tweet. Each one will give the author specific feedback on one of their books. The students have already been warned that not every author will respond, but they are still hopeful. 

Twitter has already changed my teaching by expanding my PLN, reigniting my passion for teaching and giving me confidence to blaze new paths. Now it is changing my students' lives directly by helping them find a passion for reading. 

My daughter is thirteen. Maybe it isn't too late for her! 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Classroom Clutter

I've been on a declutter kick for the past few weeks. I'm organizing all of my resources. Soon I plan to write a lengthy blog post detailing my new organizational system for task cards, games, and other academic resources. It is changing my life! My class finished a little early today and I was able to pass out math games to small groups to practice skills from earlier in the year within minutes. I should be finished organizing everything by the end of next week and I can share lots of pictures of the end result.

For the time being, I'm posting this handy graphic from Quill with tips for organizing classroom clutter. Hope you find it useful!

Click to Enlarge Image

Organization Hacks That Triumph Over Classroom Clutter
Brought to you by Quill

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Flexible Seating for Flexible Students

Creativity, collaboration, critical thinking skills, and rich communication are just a few of the things teachers are demanding of elementary age students these days. Teachers are hoping to help build these skills in students and when you see a glimmer of the end result it is beautiful. But as with many beautiful end results, the path can be rocky and ugly. We expect our students to be flexible and constantly try new learning strategies, move from subject to subject with a couple of minutes transition, and continuously adapt to new technologies. For some reason desks in rows facing forward, just doesn't quite seem to fit this type of learning environment. 

I believe if we want students to eagerly tackle any new challenge through critical thinking skills and creativity with a positive attitude, we are going to have to model the same behavior every single day. When I was first introduced to flexible seating, I was intrigued but had many questions. I wrote a blog post last fall when I finally took the plunge. I remember being curious if it would actually work and if it would be beneficial to students. Now that my students and I have lived in our flexible seating world for several months I thought it might be helpful to the hesitant teacher for me to explain how the rowdy kids in 3 make it work.

Low coffee table, rugs and standard height table at front of room.
Side note: My entire front wall is painted with whiteboard paint. It is incredible!

Where did all the furniture come from?

I spent $10 for the body pillow and bought the three blue rugs for $29 each. Almost every other piece of furniture came from the school storage building. I asked the custodian to help me find any table that could be adjusted to different heights. The only other table was an old coffee table we had at home in our shed. I wanted students to be able to sit on the floor and work at a table. 

High table with stools at the back of the room.
The red bench was discarded from the media center a few years ago and I snatched it up.

All of the furniture I added was discarded from somewhere else. It isn't in great shape, but after a good scrubbing it was all serviceable. The rug under the table is a new hack. This week two friends decided it would be fun to put the rug under the table and work in their "cave." I told them it was fine as long as it didn't become a distraction. I drew the line when they taped notebook paper together to form a curtain around it. I like to keep eyes on everyone! In the beginning, one of my students was afraid he would miss his desk, so I left four in the room. He has continued to choose a desk every week. 

One of the original well-loved baskets that has seen better days.

Where do the students keep their stuff?

This was my biggest concern. At first, I bought plastic baskets at the Dollar Store. Some of the first baskets started cracking within a few days. Since they were $1, I thought I could afford to pick up replacements. Interestingly, I've noticed some students don't mind when the baskets start to break as long as it is still serviceable. The blue basket above is cracked around the top edges. Other students start asking for a new one at the first sign of wear and tear. 

This $1 basket has held up better than most.
She keeps all small supplies in the fluffy pink pencil pouch.

On my trip to buy some replacements, I was disappointed to find the Dollar Store no longer carried these baskets. The other large baskets available for $1 actually turned out to be much sturdier. My students are still using both versions. The students keep all of their supplies in their baskets. Any small items like pencils or crayons are kept in a pencil pouch in their basket. When I ask students to put everything away, they know this means anything they own in our classroom should be in their basket or out in the hall in their backpack. It's actually made cleaning up the room much quicker.

One of the newer, sturdier baskets and no, they are not all this neat.
Some have papers sticking out all over the place. 

 I had no idea where we would store all of these baskets and had visions of me trying to convince my husband to build an elaborate shelf system one weekend. A student actually thought of the solution as I wondered out loud. The students keep their baskets with them during the day. The baskets are either on their desk or on the floor beside them. It saves so much time to have everything within an arms reach. After I tripped over baskets twice, we made a new rule. All baskets on the floor must be under the table or desk, or against a wall. At the end of the day the students simply move all of the baskets on top of a desk or table. Since we have so few desks, our room is much more open. Our custodian appreciates how easy it is to sweep and mop our room after school.

My four desks in the middle and a small, average height,
round table are the only items in the center of our room.

How do students choose seats?

As with anything, some places in the room quickly became coveted areas. I didn't want to have students arguing over seats. On Monday morning, I draw names and students are allowed to pick seats in that order. I had planned for these to be their assigned seats all week. Since I have 22 available places and only 18 students, I've noticed students will move during the week to a new seat. Of course, that often creates a chain reaction of moves, but the students usually do it during snack or lunch. Sometimes they've noticed the place they chose just isn't very comfortable. Other times, they realize they've been reprimanded more than usual for talking and probably need to sit by someone else. In six months, I have never had to make a student move to another seat. I have made suggestions when I notice an issue, but I've never had to force a student to move.

How does it affect behavior and engagement?

The flexible seating approach is a novel idea. Teachers are always exposed to new ideas that sound awesome. Several years ago, I had all of my students sitting on yoga balls. For my class that year, it was a disaster. I'm willing to try anything, but I've learned to judge everything and decide if it is truly beneficial to my students. There is no question that the students prefer this approach to seating. They have more room to spread out, and students love choice. However I've seen tremendous improvement in behavior. Allowing students to move so freely gives them an easy opportunity to make good choices. My students have risen to this responsibility. I was very clear that this is a privilege, and it can be taken away. I've also not had a single student or parent complain about the person sitting next to them in six months! How awesome is that? 

I work with students from my kidney shaped table, but some students also choose to sit there.
They know they might have to move if I need to work with other students.
I've found some students really like sitting this close to me, because it is easy to ask for help quietly.

I was more concerned about engagement. I was surprised to find out that my students seemed more focused on lessons and whole group instruction.  Giving them the freedom to easily move away from any distractions has proved to be very beneficial. Students organically move around the room during small group work. 

At the back of the room, I have a taller table with adult sized chairs.

What about next year?
As a teacher I'm sold on flexible seating. I think it has made a positive difference for my students. As we near the end of the year, I have no doubt I'll always look for ways to incorporate this into my classroom. I would suggest that teachers considering ditching the desks try it for a few months. My administration was very supportive, and our custodian who did most of the heavy lifting was intrigued by the idea. Even if you don't have that much help, start small. Buy a few rugs or large bath mats. Move the desks to the edge of the room. Look around your house or in thrift stores for old coffee tables or high top tables. I would love for you to let know how you figure out a way to make it work.  After all if we are expecting our students to flex their brains with creativity and critical thinking, we can do a little of the same and give them the proper environment for that type of important work.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

ADHD Podcast Link

On Thursday night I participated in my first live webcast. It was a learning experience and so much fun! Teachers Talk Live hosts live webcasts on education issues. A podcast on ADHD in the K-12 classroom may now be downloaded from iTunes at  A direct link is available here. Please let me know what you think!

Bring the Benefits of Homeschool into Traditional Classrooms

Over Spring Break I visited my brother and his family. Last summer they bought their dream home on top of a mountain in North Carolina, and my sister-in-law started homeschooling my niece and nephew this year. Although I have never been tempted to homeschool my children, it is the right choice for their family. After spending several days with them, I have to admit I'm a little jealous. I'm not so jealous of my sister-in-law. If homeschooling is anything like the other ways I labor for my teenage, not-so-little darlings, I am quite sure it is a thankless job most of the time. Teaching is a such a difficult job, and I have no illusion that homeschooling is any easier. Mostly I was jealous of my niece and nephew. I noticed advantages homeschooling allowed them over my own students. On the long drive back to Florida, I pinpointed each of these advantages and thought through how I could make adjustments to my classroom to balance the scales a bit. Before teachers start getting defensive and blowing up my comment feed I need to point out that I believe the classroom does offer some advantages for students over homeschooling, too.  It just isn't the focus of this blogpost.

As students, my niece and nephew are allowed to work in a comfortable environment. If it is time to read, no one expects them to sit at a desk to do it. Not only are they not confined to one spot in a classroom, they aren't even confined to their home. On a restless day, the learning can be moved outside, to the library, or to a local park. If my nephew needs to get up get some wiggles out by running around, he isn't going to disturb an entire classroom. He's only going to annoy his sister, which is pretty much a brother's job anyway!

Teachers in many classrooms are already addressing this issue through flexible seating environments. If you aren't familiar with this concept, there is an excellent article on MindShift about Erin Klein's approach and Kayla Delzer's blogpost on her Starbuck's inspired classroom is fantastic. Using these articles for inspiration, I ditched most of my desks and redesigned my classroom a few months ago. My students have been more engaged and love the freedom. My school is located in a downtown area, so we don't have large, grassy areas to enjoy during learning. We do have a courtyard that is open most of the day. I've committed myself to taking my students out to the courtyard for lessons at least a few times per week. Since I don't like sitting still myself, I've always taken short breaks with students to do a few jumping jacks or stretches. Last week I discovered GoNoodle. It is a game changer! If you teach elementary students, and aren't familiar with GoNoodle, stop reading this blog right now and check it out!

Although my sister-in-law follows a curriculum, she still has an enormous amount of freedom in what and how she teaches. She is able to let her students decide which topics they want to study more in depth. Choice in learning is a strong motivator for students. My nephew is creative and enjoys math, inventing and programming. He happily shared a project he completed on Archimedes. I have designed many projects for my students, but I believe true project-based learning is the key to bringing that type of individualized learning to our students in the classroom. Project-based learning is more than just having students complete a project on a topic instead of learning about the topic from a text book. In PBL, teachers give students learning targets and a framework. In a well-designed project, the students will learn about the content and meet the learning targets while completing the project. They are also given the freedom to take the project in different directions based on their interests. At the beginning of a project, the teacher should know exactly what she wants the students to understand at the finish line, but she shouldn't really know exactly what their finished project will look like. I'm striving to reach this level with my students. It is certainly a challenge. Websites like BIE and edutopia have many resources to help in the quest.

Finally, the most obvious benefit for my niece and nephew is how well their teacher knows and understands them. She has years of experience dealing with their learning style, behavioral issues and individual personalities. I have always said that it is imperative to love each one of your students and have their needs as your primary goal. That is easy for a mother. Teachers have to truly seek out something to love about every, single student.

We will never know our students as well as their parents do, but we can work hard to embrace the uniqueness of each child. I ran into a parent not long ago. She was gushing over how much her son enjoys my class. Although he had a rough year last year, he has made incredible progress this year and loves school now. She was attributing his success to how well I understand him and his personality. I pointed out to her that she was the reason I understood him so well.  I call every parent in my class, the week before school begins. Most don't recognize the number and in my week before school rush, I'm secretly grateful they didn't pick up. Usually I just leave a message. This mother had called me back. She outlined the struggles her son had in the past, and told me about his personality. He has a lot of charm and bravado, but he is actually very sensitive on the inside. Quite frankly he can dish it out, but he can't always take it. I identified with what she was saying. I may or may not live with one or more people with this same personality trait. (They are sensitive. I'm not going to name names.) I most likely would have eventually figured this out about him myself, but I might have hurt his feelings and disconnected him from the classroom in the process. Moral of the story is to talk to parents. Instead of being grateful when the answering machine picks up during those introductory calls, let the parents know you really want to speak with them about their students and will be calling back to touch base. Everyone wants to be known and loved for exactly who they are and your students are no different.

I have an enormous amount of respect for my sister-in-law. Homeschooling is a difficult job, but it has many benefits for the students. There is no reason, we can't try to bring some of those benefits to our traditional classrooms. It may take a great deal of work, but I don't have to have given birth to my students to know they are worth the effort.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Building an Empire of Support: Professional Learning Network

"Do you have a PLN?" That question caught me off guard during a faculty meeting about a year ago. Uhm, I checked out Pinterest occasionally for ideas. TeachersPayTeachers was a constant source of inspiration and assistance, but besides the amazing teachers in my building I didn't really connect with other teachers at all. I didn't even know where to begin, but I figured it out! And now I'm going to help you figure it out, too, because my #PLN is amazing. I have never been so inspired or driven to reach each of my students in the best way possible. Before, I felt like I couldn't afford the extra time it would take to reach out to others, but now I feel like I can't afford not to reach out. The ideas I've discovered and the psychological support I've received after a long day at school are totally worth skipping a few minutes on Facebook reading about an old classmate's latest trip to Aspen.

So, where do you begin? Most of you probably already have accounts on many of the social media sites. I already had a facebook account, but I set up a page just for my education posts. Since I started seriously building my TeachersPayTeachers store about the same time I developed my PLN, I came up with a catchy name, too. Amy Sellars is a little generic and I thought people might remember me better if I branded myself as The Rowdy Kids in 3.  The facebook page was simple. I invited all of my facebook friends that I already know are teachers to like my Rowdy Kids page and I post anything education related to that page.

I had stalked Pinterest for a long time, but I finally dove in once I started creating products for TpT. I don't have a lot of followers on Pinterest. I really only use it to post my TpT products, but I have been able to pin zillions of great ideas from others. If you are a little introverted and aren't ready to start actually conversing with teachers you don't know, Pinterest is great for cyberstalking other teachers' ideas.

Lately I have become Twitter obsessed! I highly recommend you create a twitter handle solely for professional purposes. Don't follow your old boyfriend from high school or the neighbor down the street, unless one of them is an awesome teacher! I only follow teachers and education related companies on Twitter. Every single time I open that app, I am bombarded with amazing resources, blog links, ideas, quotes and website links related to education.  It is a little slice of professional development heaven, and I can access it while I'm waiting for my oil to be changed or in line at the grocery store.  Don't worry about how many people follow you. You aren't 15.  You don't need others' approval. Just make sure you are following great, inspirational people. Since you don't know any of these people in real life, you don't have to worry about unfollowing someone and hurting their feelings. For instance, I found one of the accounts I was following had a few good ideas, but she mostly complained about things that were wrong with education while offering no solutions. I want some positive energy from my PLN, so I just unfollowed her.

The very, best part of Twitter is something I didn't even know existed until about a month ago. Twitter Chats! Get this! There are groups of people out there that get together at the same time each week, and tweet about education topics. Someone is the moderator and posts the questions on their website ahead of time. I've even learned to use tweetdeck and schedule my responses ahead of time, so I don't miss anyone else's genius tweets. Incredible, right? There are all types of #educhats. My favorite is the #tptchat, but I'm constantly looking for new ones. There are elementary math chats, middle school ela chats, and anything else you can dream up. There is probably even a chat for educators in just your state, or the math curriculum you are using. You know that one peppy, super positive and creative teacher in your building. Well every single teacher on Twitter chats is one of those. I promise you the burned-out, negative Nancy that you dread getting caught in the copy room with is not spending her Sunday evening on Twitter.

I found building my PLN empire really wasn't that time consuming. I did stop spending as much time socially on Facebook, but quite frankly that old classmate goes to Aspen every year. Reading about it just makes me jealous. I'd rather head over to Twitter and become inspired by incredible teachers all over the planet.  Don't forget to be one of those incredible teachers, too. The next time you have a lesson that works out great, snap a pic of it with your smartphone and tweet it. Just make sure to get approval before you post any pics of students. Some schools don't care, but mine doesn't even like me to do it when you can't see the child's face. I learned that lesson the hard way! Don't feel too bad if someone doesn't like it right away. Rome wasn't built in a day and your empire won't be either. I promise if you tag @therowdykidsin3 in your tweet, I'll like it for you and retweet it. Share, share, share your awesomeness and learn, learn, learn from the awesomeness of others.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Mental Math and Money Madness

Am I the only teacher who cringes when I see a parent on facebook bashing Common Core math? My school didn't adopt Common Core standards, but we do teach a Singapore-based math curriculum so the concepts are very similar. Many of the Common Core standards were designed with Singapore-based math in mind. Why you ask? Because it works!

Buy, Sell, Save!

Singapore math teaches children the why and how of math. Kids memorize algorithms just as we did as kids, but they develop a much deeper number sense, too. The first year I taught Math In Focus was a mess. If you are in the middle of your first year, don't despair! The main reason I struggled was because I never developed a strong number sense myself. Math was my worst subject in school. I made my only C in elementary school in math. By the end of that first year teaching, I could add three and four digit numbers in my head! Mental math became my best friend. Trust me the concepts work! Now the worksheets some teachers send home with students are another story. Writing down something you work out in your head, is very difficult. Writing it down and leaving blanks for a student to understand and fill in later, is next to impossible.

Buy, Sell Save Game

I teach my students all of the strategies, but when I test them I allow the students to use any strategy that works for them. Practicing mental math strategies is a must! I am constantly trying to develop new ways to let them practice without filling out more of those crazy worksheets. Right now we are learning to add and subtract money mentally. I can't wait to share this new game with them after Spring Break! It includes 60 word problems. Students start with $30 and add or subtract as they draw word problem cards. The first one to save $100 wins the game! Check out Buy, Sell, Save! on TpT.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Crazy Parents and Burned Out Teachers

To maximize their learning potential, students need support from teachers and parents. Unfortunately, this parent-teacher relationship is vulnerable. More than two decades ago I was majoring in Advertising at the University of Alabama. One of the first lessons we were taught was to control the message. Teachers are able to influence the message to an extent through newsletters, emails, phone calls, and notes. Proactive teachers use all of these methods to help parents visualize what is happening every day in their classrooms. However, the bulk of the message is communicated to parents through their children. And we all know you can't ever control what a child is going to say.

As much as my early degree in Advertising has helped me understand the importance of communication, I have still sat in conferences dumbfounded at a parent's inaccurate perception of their student, me or my classroom. I have been fortunate to work in a school where the vast majority of parents give teachers the benefit of the doubt. At our open house night I always tell parents they can ask me anything. I say, "If you don't like something or don't understand why we do it that way, ask me. I can explain why it works best that way, or I may say that I see your point and can make adjustments." A few weeks ago I had a parent text me to ask if we were behind in math. Her friend's third grader at another school was learning concepts in math we hadn't addressed yet. I was thrilled that she asked. I would far rather have her ask me than start texting the rest of the parents in the class asking what they thought. I've spent a lot of time and energy building strong relationships with my parents. It isn't always perfect. Sometimes you have to have difficult conversations. Sometimes parents do not want to hear what you need to say. I've found in these circumstances it is imperative that the parents understand you truly love their child. Because I was a mother of school age children before I became a teacher, I've always felt parent communications was one of my strengths.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on the other side of the parent-teacher conference table. My son has recently entered high school. It is the first time since he was in second grade that I have not worked full time at his school. His teachers have always been my colleagues and we have had excellent relationships. I have independent children and I try to let them manage their own lives as much as possible. I knew he loved his new school and I knew he spent a good bit of time on homework every night. However his grades were not meeting expectations. One class in particular seemed to be giving him trouble. I called friends in the same class and asked about their experiences. I asked my son how the teacher ran his class, posted assignments, and provided feedback. I called a few friends with children in the same class to gauge their experiences. Almost all of the information I received reinforced the idea that the program my son was in held him to a very high standard, but was not holding the teachers to the same accountability. I emailed the teacher to ask for advice on helping my son. The teacher only replied after three weeks when I sent another email to an administrator. His reply was filled with excuses and a scathing description of my son's lack of effort in class. He offered no advice to help my son. My son is far from the perfect student, but I had never received that type of feedback from a teacher. Fortunately the administrator insisted we schedule a conference.

The teacher was no better in the conference. He was defensive and continued to insist it was all my son's fault. I could go into specific details, but it isn't important. At the end of the conference, not only had I still gained no insight into helping my son, but I was afraid I had made him a target. This teacher was clearly burned out, angry and giving minimal effort to reach his students. The administrator sent the teacher back to class and asked me to stay for a little longer. She didn't blindly defend her teacher as so many administrators have been know to do. She had emailed each of my son's teachers and asked their perception of his performance as a student. She also had a conference with his English teacher and provided a sample of his work to compare to another anonymous student's work. She pulled up his standardized test scores to help me determine if it was an ability issue. At the end of the conference I was sure of a few things.

First of all the original teacher wasn't holding up his end of the bargain, but my son clearly was not giving his best effort in any of his classes. He had never really had to study to maintain good grades, and it was obvious that he needed more help learning solid study skills. I had taken my experience with one teacher and projected it onto the entire program which was unfair to the other teachers. I had listened to other parents perceptions and somewhere along the way had mixed up their children's complaints with my own child's. I was amazed at how quickly I had become one of those parents. My child isn't perfect. I never claimed he was, but I had not given the teachers enough benefit of the doubt. This didn't do my child any good at all. Now I'm taking a more active role in helping my son transition to high school.  I will also be more understanding the next time I have a parent-teacher conference with one of those "crazy" parents. After all, if I can go from zero to crazy in no time at all... just about any parent can. If I want my students' parents to give me the benefit of the doubt, I'm going to have to do the same for them.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Declaring War on Math Anxiety!

Blank stares. Yesterday, I sat at my kidney shaped table with five students still struggling with long division and ten empty eyes stared back at me. Ten beautiful eyes that I've watched sparkle with curiosity and discovery this year. Ten eyes that were connected to five competent and bright brains. As a new teacher, those empty eyes would have frustrated me. I would have complained the students just weren't trying hard enough. After seven years in the classroom I know the truth. This is my fault. Somewhere along the path to mastering long division, I had slipped up and allowed these perfectly capable students to believe it was a concept too hard for them to grasp.

Anyone who has taught for very long and takes the time to truly connect to their students has seen this phenomena.  For some children when a problem is perceived as too difficult their brains simply shut down.  This is most evident to me in math. Specifically in math that requires multiple steps, such as long division.  Yesterday, one of my students who has mastered all of her multiplication facts could not tell me how many groups of 2 she could make from 4.  She was attempting to divide 47 by 2.  The multiple steps of Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Divide, Multiply, Subtract had her all discombobulated.  Once I started walking her through it and asked her what she would need to multiply by 2 to equal 4, she looked at me with those empty eyes.  Actually empty isn't the right description. Those pretty brown eyes were swimming with a mixture of fear, panic, and sadness. She has made great strides in math this year. She had begun to believe she is good in math and all of that confidence was crumbling in front of my eyes. I grabbed four markers because they were the closest objects to me, "Honey, divide these markers into two even groups." Yes, I call my students honey, honey bun, sweetie, darling, and the occasional sugar plum. I'm from south Alabama and these terms of endearment are as natural as the camelia trees blooming in January.

My student's hands trembled a little bit as she reached out for the markers. All of a sudden, those bright eyes flashed and looked up at me."Oh! It's 2. Like 2 x 2 = 4," she said before she dissolved into giggles. The other frustrated students around the table looked up from their work and started to giggle, too. Before I knew it they were all laughing out loud with her. What renders a bright student incapable of answering a question they could have answered without hesitation fifteen minutes before? 

I woke up before anyone in my house this morning and curled up on my sofa with a cup of tea determined to research the problem until I found out. I ran into a few roadblocks. First of all, it just took me three wordy paragraphs to explain the situation. I wasn't sure how to type that into a Google search. Most of my searches for students blanking or freezing brought up examples of children with serious attachment issues or autism. There are good articles on test anxiety. I assume it is related to this issue, but it isn't exactly the same. We were still in the explaining and teaching phase. I have children standing on the edge of a cliff, but I'm right beside them. I want to know how to walk children back from that ledge with my words and actions.The best information I found was in an article by Dr. Rick Nauert on He reports on a study from Stanford University School of Medicine that involved scanning the brains of 2nd and 3rd graders as they completed math problems. According to Dr. Nauert's article, "They discovered that those that felt panicky about doing math had increased activity in brain regions associated with fear, which cause decreased activity in parts of the brain involved in problem-solving." This tell me that when one of my students looks at me with those blank eyes, I need to stop.  I've already lost them. Their problem-solving part of the brain has already gone to sleep. 

The study divided the students into two groups. One group claimed they felt panicky about doing math and the others didn't. Although the article didn't state it, I'm going to assume that those students who claimed they feel panicky about doing math would also claim they were bad in math. The interesting part of the study is that the children in both groups had similar IQs, reading and math abilities, working memory and generalized anxiety levels.  Math anxiety is real, folks, and it isn't related to ability. Isn't related to ability? Students who feel they are bad in math, may have just as much ability to tackle math as the "good math students?" Maybe I'm making too big of a leap but maybe there is no such thing as being bad in math.  After all, I know all of my students are capable of mastering third grade math. A few may take a little longer to grasp it, but they are all going to be able to do long division by the end of the year. Instead of spending hours on Pinterest and TPT looking for a better way to explain it, perhaps I need to spend more time looking for ways to ease that anxiety, so the problem solving center of their brains will be able to shine. Good thing we have an awesome school counselor and two of my dearest friends are phenomenal psychologists.  I have some phone calls to make. I'll keep you updated as my rowdy kids and I launch our war on math anxiety!

I highly recommend you read Dr. Nauert's entire article. It has excellent information.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fun Valentine Bookmarks for Students

Almost all of our students give candy to each other for Valentine's Day.  Each of them go home with enough sugar to keep them energized for days.  My co-teacher and I wanted to give the students something different that was fun, useful, and inexpensive. Oh, and neither one of us had a great deal of time last week to devote to the project. Thankfully, I had a brainstorm while brushing my teeth on Thursday morning.

I thought it would be funny to use a website to put our faces on funny pictures and create bookmarks for the kids. My amazing co-teacher pointed out that it was a great idea, but would be cuter with the students' pictures instead of ours. It took much longer to create the bookmarks her way, but she was absolutely right. The bookmarks turned out to be adorable and a big hit with the kids. Since we already had cardstock and access to the school's color copier and laminator, our only cost was the ribbon.

There are several free sites that will let you add your face to another photo. The best one I found that had choices appropriate for third graders, was Photofunia. I recommend taking a simple photo of each student early in the year, so you will be prepared when genius strikes at the eleventh hour. I set up a simple template with a message and inserted the jpegs downloaded from Photofunia. By the time the bookmarks were finished, I didn't have much time to take pictures before handing them out to students on Friday afternoon. The pictures aren't great, but you can get the idea. Please leave comments below of your best student Valentine ideas. Hopefully, I can start a little earlier next year!

Share the Love of a Good Book!

Last week, my class focused on the important skill of summarizing a text. A few of my students were struggling with this and I wanted to find a way for them to gain extra practice without making them feel like I was just giving them extra work. Since I couldn't find anything that seemed to fit on TeachersPayTeachers, I decided to create it myself.

I have written off and on in journals for years, but have found that I am much more engaged and consistent now that I have a blog. Having an audience makes all the difference. Of course, at this point the audience of my blog may only consist of my co-teacher and my best friend. I think even my husband only skims it.  Still it is an audience. My students needed an audience for their summaries.

My students have been fired up about reading since we returned to school in January. They share books and recommend books to each other from our classroom library. With the book fair at our school this week, everyone was talking about books and I needed to capitalize on that. I could have had them write simple book reports and read these out loud to the class, but I knew our week didn't allow enough time for that. What gives information about a book, but is far shorter than a book report? A book review!

Using the format of Somebody, Wanted, But, Then, So, I created a form for students to fill out about a book they had recently read from our classroom library. I added a second form to include more information about the book. The students needed a little help filling out these forms. I sat at my kidney shaped table with six students and provided support as they each chose a book and completed the forms. Once the forms were completed, the students simply filled in the blanks to write a book review. It was necessary to read back over their writing and add a few words here and there, but for the most part I was impressed with their results.

It was time for an authentic audience. Potential readers typically read book reviews, so my students visited, typed in their review, and downloaded a qr code link. They added this qr code to a Google Doc along with the title and their name. Once it was printed, I taped the qr code to the back of the book from our classroom library. Now anyone considering reading each book, can scan the qr code and read the student's review.

Although I initially created this for my students that needed extra summarizing practice, by the second day every student in my class was asking to write one. I found my stronger readers needed very little help with the format. We use Google Classroom, so many of them were surprised how easy it was to create the qr code and insert it into the Google Doc. Students have asked if they may write one every time they read a book from our classroom library. Students asking to write more? Nothing warms my heart more! As a Valentine's gift to my dear readers, I've put my QR Code Book Review product on TpT on sale from February 14th to February 17th. Show your students how much you care by giving them an opportunity to write for an authentic audience.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

QR Code Quick Start Guide

The rowdy kids in 3 love using QR codes. It makes them feel very tech savvy! I've incorporated QR codes into our school day in many different ways. One way that is mutually beneficial to me and the students is to add the QR codes to task cards. I link the QR codes to the answers to each task card question. It is super simple and allows the students to check their own work and works so much better than simply printing the answers on the back of each task card. I know the students can't check the answer until I give them a device with an app to scan the qr code. It eliminates any temptation to take a peek before solving the original problem.

There are several websites to generate QR codes, but my favorite is QR Code Generator. This site is completely free. Most only offer a limited amount of QR codes for free or limit how many characters you are able to use. To link an answer, click on the icon of a page and enter your answer in the box. The site automatically generates a QR code. Hit the download button and choose jpeg. An image of this unique QR code is downloaded to your computer. Just insert that image into your document. If you are using a ready-made worksheet, just print out your QR code and paste it onto your worksheet before copying for the students.

Once the QR code has been generated, in theory it should work indefinitely. I have yet to have a problem with QR codes no longer linking to the original information.  The QR Code Generator site also allows you to make color QR codes, but I prefer to work in black and white for most situations.

To see an example of task cards with QR code answers, check out my Multiplication Review product on If you have any additional questions about using QR codes in the classroom, just leave a comment below or send me an email.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Learning Games

Kitten Rescue

As a third grade teacher, I find multiplication terribly frustrating. Having my students truly master math facts, seems to be just beyond my control. I can teach the concept of multiplication and provide practice, but nothing seems to work like old school drill and kill. Many students need to practice every single night to accomplish mastery and most 8 year olds just don't have that level of dedication to school work. Of course it comes easily for some students, but I have a soft spot for the others. I was one of the others. I try to explain to my students that math will be easier for the rest of their lives, if they take the time to learn the facts now. I explain that I took too long to memorize my math facts. I don't always admit that there were a few facts that I still had to think twice about until I started teaching multiplication in my late thirties. Yep 7 x 8, I'm looking at you.

Kitten Rescue Multiplying 0 - 6

As education shifts away from simply memorizing information, math facts remain one of the areas where rote memorization is still necessary. We now attempt to teach students to think for themselves, find solutions, solve problems, and become independent learners. In the area of math, this is infinitely more difficult if a student is still trying to count out 7 x 8 on her fingers.

Kitten Rescue Domino 
Playing Cards
I love knowledge. I love passing new knowledge on to my students. I even love math now, although it was my absolute worst subject all through school. I blame it on not mastering my math facts in third grade. I believe with the right attitude learning anything can be fun. I don't create games for my students to make math fun. I believe math already is fun. I create games for my students, because I believe a happy child at play remembers information better than a bored, stressed child.  A roomful of happy children at play soaking in new knowledge they will use for the rest of their lives. Is there anything more beautiful?

To add a little fun to your multiplication practice, visit my TPT Store to purchase my latest product, Kitten Rescue Multiplication.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Learning to Work Smarter, Not Harder

My co-teacher and I work too much. If we were both single, it might not be too much. However, our lovely families would prefer we cut back significantly. We have had many long discussions about why we work too much. It seems to be a combination of our ridiculously high expectations of ourselves, the lack of a curriculum in any subject except math that fully meets the needs of our particular students, and a mild deficiency in organizational skills.

We've tried to lower our expectations a bit, but we are overachievers. It is in our DNA. After a great deal of searching, we've yet to find an ela curriculum that is any better than the one we have now. Like many teachers, we find ourselves constantly supplementing. If you know of a third grade curriculum that incorporates grammar, writing, and reading skills into novel studies, please let me know. One day, Cathy and I may write it ourselves! Finally, we had to admit that the only solution was to become better organized.

The Rowdy Kids in 3

Luckily, Monday and Tuesday were work days and the children didn't return until Wednesday. It gave us a little time to reorganize. We are both the type of people that will do anything in the world for someone else, but tend to put off anything for ourselves. The beauty of being in your forties is that you know enough about yourself to make realistic goals. Cathy and I made a list of all of the planning duties for the week and divided it up evenly. I knew this would not be enough to keep me on task. I am easily distracted. So, I made a list of all of my planning periods. These are arranged around my students' enrichment classes. I assigned a few tasks for each planning period being careful not to overfill any one slot. I still need time to go to the bathroom, deal with a student issue or return a parent email. Each task is for the following week, so we will always be a week ahead.  This should allow us some extra time to come up with those wacky, creative, last minute ideas we love. Since we were doing the tasks for each other and not just for ourselves we are hoping it will help us hold ourselves accountable.

It was a wonderful and workable plan. I was very proud of myself. Unfortunately, I became very sick on Tuesday morning... very, very sick. I will not go into the gory details, but I assure you I was not going anywhere near my little darlings. It was Friday before I returned to school. Missing my students coming back from Christmas break was the worst and I was so sad that I hadn't been able to keep up with my lovely, little schedule and plan for the following week. Refusing to be defeated so quickly, I stayed until 5:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon catching up on all my tasks. I was tired, but it felt great to walk out of school completely caught up. 

The Rowdy Kids in 3

On Saturday mornings, I usually wake up before everyone in the house and work on plans. Since that wasn't necessary, I took the time to improve a science activity. Every year as we review the water cycle, I let my students write and produce a play explaining the process. Sometimes we do it in small groups. I usually film it and call it a movie instead of a play. They create make-shift costumes and backdrops. It takes about three class periods to complete. In years past I've just explained the assignment to the kids, but yesterday I created a cast list, task cards for each student job and a rubric to judge their final product. I added teacher directions and posted it on TeachersPayTeachers. My students love creating movies and hopefully other students will enjoy it now, too.  Wish me luck! Perhaps 2016 will be the year I finally find my inner organizing neat freak.

The Rowdy Kids in 3: Task Cards