Today's post is a little more serious than I usually go for, but it's something that is near and dear to my heart at the moment.

My mom sent me a poem called "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann today.  It's just lovely.  Anyway, I couldn't shake how this poem made me feel in light of all that is going on in our world today, and as teachers, a huge part of why we went pursued a teaching degree was to let the future of the world know that they are important, they are valued, and that they are loved.  It is SO hard to remember on the days when the students know need this reminder most are the ones you want to yell at and send in the hallway and to tell them just how obnoxious and naughty they are.  But, I truly believe that so much of the violence in our country is a cry for help.  A cry from someone who doesn't feel valued and loved, and a cry from someone who needs to know that they are a child of the universe, no less than the tree and the stars and that they have a right to be here.  As a teacher, I hope when my students leave my classroom at the end of each year they feel more valued than on day 1.  I hope they learned academic stuff, too, but if they learn but one thing, I hope they know that I love and value them.

Oh Factor Tree! Math Carnival Part 2

So a few lovely, kind people were interested in the rest of the stations for my math carnival, so instead of trying to type it out on my phone for Instagram, I thought I'd just post about it here!  I don't have pictures because I haven't pulled everything out yet, so it's just ideas.  Sorry 'bout that!

These stations change each year based on what the group needs.  We usually host the carnival the second to last Friday before Christmas or sometime during the last week before Christmas break.  NOT the very last day because we get out at noon and eat lunch at 10:30.  And it's just a crazy, crazy day.

I use the math carnival to review a few topics that I noticed my class struggled with during the main instruction or things I don't want them to lose from the beginning of the year.

Oh, Factor-Tree

This station reviews prime factorization of numbers.  I cut out a Christmas tree from a poster board and laminated it because I wanted it to last.  On a yellow star, I write the number I want the students to "prime factorize."  On red circles to represent ornaments (or whatever color), I write every number involved in breaking the number down to prime factors.  Example:

Every number gets put on a red circle.  I like to cut straws in thirds for the lines.  :)  In groups, students are supposed to build the tree from top to bottom.  If they have extra numbers, they have to rearrange until every number is used!  My parent helper has a detailed answer key to check it, though I've been fortunate to have parent helpers that have helped enough that they already know how to do it.  Win!  I usually make 5-6 different problems to complete.  Remember, they are only at each station for 15ish minutes.


You can change this to whatever you want to suit your theme: elves, Santa, Claus, reindeer (if you want a longer round), etc.   This is to practice basic multiplication facts.  Instead of just adding the numbers together, I like to have the kids add the number and then multiply them by a certain number for each letter.  ex: for the u, everything gets multiplied by 6, for the n, everything gets multiplied by 9, etc.  My old teaching buddy actually has a product for it here if you'd rather not make it yourself:

The detailed instructions are here:

Divisibility Rules

One year our kids really struggled with this.  We wrote out numbers, placed them in a brown paper bag, and then the kids had to figure out which numbers they were divisible by.  We chose 4 digit numbers so they actually had to apply the rules.  :)  It was pretty low key.  You could have them roll the dice to come up with their own numbers or make it a scavenger hunt.

Moveable Fractions

This year my kids need practice with operations.  We've done a million hands on lessons, but they need to improve their speed because they can't rely SOLELY on drawing it out.  (Not that I am opposed to drawing it out - I think its CRITICAL for deep understanding, but speed and fluency in math is also important).  So I'm using this that I created for my first group:

I'll put this group in the hall with some Christmas music.  They'll LOVE it!

Mostly this is just a time to review and make it fun!  If students earn a sticker at each station (just for participating and not being obnoxious and genuinely trying), they can cash their stickers in for a homework pass after Christmas break.  I also give everyone a Christmas word search so that if their station ends early, they have something to work on, and my parent helpers aren't scrambling. 

Hope that helps my friends, you can make it though these last few days!!!

Christmas Math Carnival

You guys!  It's the most wonderful time of the year when I get to wish for snow and drink hot cocoa that has a candy cane as a stirrer.  YES!  Please don't hate me for being a winter-obsessive.  I love the snow - skiing, coats, boots, scarves, and NO WEEDS GROWING IN MY GARDEN!  Y'all.  Do you even know big my gardening/yard work struggle is?  Ask my neighbors.  They'll tell ya. 

PS, I just purchased Photoshop Elements.  The bottom picture is a free program, the top is Photoshop.  It's a JUMBO learning curve, but I'm liking it so far!  Any tips and tricks, send them my way!


My old teaching friend and I came up with the idea to host a math carnival during December as a way to review some key math concepts before the long break.  We picked out 4 topics that students had struggled to master so that we could reteach and review them, but we wanted to do it in a fun way! 

We set up 4 different stations in each of our rooms and mixed our kids and split them into 8 groups.  (By the way, they thought this was AWESOME to do math with the "other" 6th graders.  Ha!)  I also enlisted some parent volunteers to help out, though it's totally possible to do without them (though if you CAN get them in your room, DO IT!  It's so great to build great parent-teacher relationships). 

At each station, students earned a sticker on their carnival "ticket" for participating.  At the end, they could cash it in for a math homework pass.  This, my friends, is like winning a Golden Ticket into Willy Wonka's factory in our class because homework passes do NOT come easily.

This year, I'm replacing a station that I've used in the past.  My class really struggles with making simple mistakes with their math facts & remembering Order of Operations.  #pleasetellmeyourkidsdotoo  They know the ins and outs of the algorithm, and they can tell you why it works.  But they just go too gosh darn fast, and they mess up in one little place, and I worry about equations after the break because little mistakes like that just make or break a formula.  Ya know?  So, I'm throwing in this tasty booth.

What you need:
Hershey Kisses
Hershey Minatures
(you really can use whatever you'd like, I just like these)

Those cute little Avery circle labels.  I didn't have them when I came up with this, but next year if I'm feeling like I want a cute booth, I will use those!

Put a number on each Hershey Kiss.  For differentiation, some groups can have fractions while others have simpler numbers.  I'd stick with 0-14 and use each number several times.  Maybe like two times with 8-14 and three times with 0-7.  This is a very careful set-up....can you tell?  On your Minatures, put a label or Post-it note on the bottom with a number.  These are the target answers.  Students take 5 kisses and 1 miniature to create their problem.  It plays just like Krypto, so if you've never played that, check out this video below...thanks random nice man for saving me time! :)

Here's a free PDF of the recording sheet for your kiddos!  I usually only give them 15-20 minutes at the station, so they generally get through 4-5 problems in that time.  It's a blast for them!

Elf on the Shelf in Your Classroom: 25 Days of Problem Solving

December is SO magical!  I remember my first year of teaching, I was just itching to get the Christmas season started in my room.  As soon as Halloween ended, I couldn't wait to implement all of the fun Christmas traditions I'd been dreaming of and planning all through college.  I waited as long as I could, but I didn't quite make it to Thanksgiving.  *ashamed, I know*  By the time Christmas actually rolled around, we were SO OVER IT!  Even my students were tired of Christmas music!  I was a total humbug that year, and I vowed to never EVER do that again.

And yet, here we are before Thanksgiving talking about CHRISTMAS!  :)  Don't worry, there's a reason!  I'm hosting a giveaway for a fun, new product for December, but I want the winner to have it BEFORE December begins!

The other morning I was in the shower getting ready for the day.  I have a love-hate relationship with showers (love them, HATE drying/curling my hair, and air drying looks like a lion got electrocuted), but I seem to get my best ideas for school in there.  So this little idea popped into my head of a way to do a "middle school/grown up" version of Elf on the Shelf and actually make it fun and educational.  As soon as I got out, I had to just dump all of my ideas out before they got away!  Click HERE to get this product on sale!  It's on sale through 11/20/15!

This set of problems features 25 problem solving and critical thinking problems!  (Mostly 25 because 12 just was NOT enough!)  I thought it would be fun to hide a problem somewhere in the school each morning (nice and early) and students can find and solve it each day.  If they turn it in with a good effort, they get a point.  If they get it right, they get a prize!  I've also thought of incorporating this into my behavior management system where the kids earn letters to a word throughout the day and if they get the word, we get to solve one of these the last 10-15 minutes and then they are entered into a drawing.  I haven't decided yet! 


There are 6 different varieties of student response sheets to fit the needs of you and your students.  I am going to be giving only 1-2 problems a day, so mine will be a quarter-sheet sized paper for each day so that the students have some space to work out their thinking!  Then they can just fold that paper up and enter it in the drawing.  I'm all about making December easy!

Anyway, take a look at some of the sample problems and be sure to enter the drawing on my Instagram account!  @6thgrademarksthespot  Along with the digital file for you and your grade-level team at your school, you'll also receive a set of COLORED questions that are task-card sized that are laminated and cut.  I am so thankful for all of you, so here's my way of saying THANKS to you!

**Please see terms & conditions for entering on Instagram**

A Long, Long Time Ago I Can Still Remember

I know that I'm a day late in getting this posted...since Veteran's Day was yesterday and all, but it just wasn't going to happen.  Sorry y'all!  Fortunately, this is an activity that isn't necessarily a Veteran's Day only activity.  It's terrific for all of November as we turn our focus to gratitude.

When I was getting my arts integration endorsement, we had a few classes on technological arts.  We were challenged to create a video with technology that our students had access to so that we would be familiar with it.  I've made a few movies in my day, but our school has Chrome books, and those don't come preloaded with video editing software.  There WAS an online program called Mozilla Popcorn that is an online video editing program.  And it's my favorite four-letter f-word: FREE!  Unfortunately, they no longer support this service,'s not available to make new videos.  :(

It's pretty basic, but, hey, when you're teaching video and movie creation to 11 year-olds, basic is okay!  Our other challenge was to become familiar with Creative Commons licensing for pictures & music.  When I was in junior high, I was in a choir that sang the song "In Flanders Fields."  I loved the song because it was gorgeous, but it wasn't until years later that I understood the meaning.  I decided to create a video that featured the song along with pictures and to use the original poem as a close read for my students to launch a more thoughtful essay on gratitude.  I was worried that my students would totally miss the point and think it was weird, but I should have learned to NEVER EVER underestimate 6th graders.

I had my kids read the poem first without any background.  (At this point, we had done a lot of close reading, so they knew the drill of highlighting, writing, notating, etc. and writing about their first read.)  We talked about it and I asked them what they thought it was about.  The first read most of them said, "I'm kind of confused...what's a lark?"  Ha!  Gotta love kids.  Anyway, I slowly introduced more information before each respective reading: history of the author, the story behind the poem's authorship, and where/what Flanders Field is.  I honestly struggled to hold back tears by the end of the third read as students where pulling out some SERIOUSLY DEEP MEANING!  They were so moved by this short poem.

For the fourth read, I asked them to watch the video and write down their thoughts as it went along.  As the video ended, not a soul moved.  They quietly left my room for lunch, and they frequently talked about how much they enjoyed the lesson.  It's one that I've used again and again because it is so powerful to instill deep gratitude in our students.  After all, we have SO much to be grateful for.

This would be a powerful way to begin a class project of sending letters and packages to troops overseas or to begin a social studies unit on WWI & WWII or The Revolutionary war (or any war really) so that students have a little more respect and understanding for those who have given their lives fighting for freedom.

I'm including the links for the background info and the video I used.  Because of the CC licensing, you are also welcome to use this video and edit it as you wish, so long as you are not seeking financial gain for the video, pictures, etc.  I'd LOVE to hear how it goes in your class!


Ohhhhh my lanta.  This was the project that just wasn't meant to be...according to fate that is.  In the course of my attempt to complete it, I have had to recreate it due to computer (user error, ha!) issues and I had to solve every card twice because I accidentally shredded the first one when I was anger-cleaning.  Yes, that's a thing at my house.  When I get really mad, I clean frantically, but it's usually in haste.  I was tired of the ghastly amount of junk that comes into our mailbox each day, so in anger I went to shred it.  Along with my SHOWN WORK!  Sigh.  But!  It's done!  And I love it!  And it's posted!  If you're interested, click any of the pictures or HERE and they'll link you to my TpT store where it's currently on sale for this weekend! 
Imagine me fistbumping you.  Because I am THAT excited that this is finally LIVE!!!!!!!!!
I love QR codes!  They make immediate feedback so easy, and what middle schooler doesn't love pulling out their phone without fear?
These cards have multiple versions so that you can use one product with a variety of levels.  One version asks students just to explain how to break the shapes apart without the pressure of calculations.  The other version requires calculation and for students to decide which dimensions are actually necessary-some cards have extraneous dimensions!  It's good for them!
Every teacher needs simplicity in their lives without worrying about compromising the content.  There are multiple student work pages so that you can pick what works best for YOU!

The cards are designed on single pages so that you can pick you'd like to have them printed.  Work mats?  Yup.  Mini task cards?  Just tell the printer what to do!  Every teacher uses task cards so differently, so I want to make sure you get the options to do it just how you want without the hassle! 
I am stoked about these y'all.  Let me know how you use them in your room!  I can't wait to hear!

I Love Books and I Cannot Lie

It really is no secret that I love books.  I'm pretty sure most teachers do!  As I was doing a bit of book organizing in my library over fall break, I pulled out a few of my all-time favorites so I could share them!  I do this pretty regularly with my students because sometimes they just look at the library and think, "There's so many that I don't even know where to start."  I pull a few out here and there and talk about what I loved about each one.  Almost always those books don't go back in the shelf for a while.  Kids just need a little help sometimes, even the big kids!

The Giver and Wonder are two books that are talked about on nearly every upper elementary teacher blog, so I won't spend much time.  They are great, and you should read them.

Avi has FANTASTIC BOOKS!  However, I must admit that my favorite is The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.  Do your class a favor and get a newer copy of this book (probably within the last 10 years?).  The old copy has a girl in colonial clothing and my boys were just not that into it.  However, they enjoyed the story line, but it took a LOT of chapters to get them convinced that it wasn't a "girl" book.  :)  Almost all of them liked the newer version's cover.  Yes, we all judge books by their covers despite the old adage.

My first year teaching 6th my fellow teacher friend introduced me to this book.  We both read it to our classes at the beginning of the year and the kids LOVED it!  A ton of my students bought the book at the book fair or the book order to read along.  Win-win there my friends!  I read the first book out loud and then had the remaining books in the series in my classroom library.  They rarely are found IN my library.  They're usually on a desk.  Ha!

I have read so many Andrew Clements books it's ridiculous.  However, Frindle is hands DOWN my all-time favorite.  It's such a great discussion for words and how "texting" and "selfies" didn't really used to be words at all!  It's usually a crowd favorite, though I have found that a lot of my students are love-or-hate readers on this book.  Andrew Clements book typically feature a manipulative and clever protagonist that overcomes some sort of school system or educational set back.  Most kids can relate, but every year I have a few haters.  :)

So many great books here.  The Giver is such a great book because it really gets kids thinking.  I often save this one for a read aloud towards the end of the year, but I think it could also be a terrific book for the beginning of a 6th grade year (in Utah we teach government systems in social studies, and I really think this could be eye-opening!).  I love that students begin to value the importance of making wise choices.  My reading groups love this book and The Unwanteds (not pictured because it's checked out!) and comparing the two.  One of my FAVORITE things to do with The Unwanteds is to tie the importance of art and creativity into it as a launch and selling point to get kids to buy in to our increased participation of the arts.  (I have an arts integration endorsement and I am a HUGE advocate of the arts and the kids love, love, LOVE it.)

I am not a scary person.  I hate scary movies and scary stories.  When I was in fourth grade, my teacher had a copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in her room and I read about 4 of them.  Guys, it took me years, YEARS, to go into a bathroom and look in the mirror at night (even with the lights ON).  Wait Til Helen Comes was a book I had to read for a children's lit class in college and it even scared me then.  BUT!  I think her books are fabulous.  Her books are great mentor texts!  Some classes I've had can totally handle this as a read aloud in October, but some have a few more sensitive souls (like me!), so just be aware that some kids are legitimately terrified.  It's a real thing!  

What are some of your books that you swear by in the upper grades?  

Techy Apps that Add to Learning

If you read my last post, you already know I have a little obsession with the app Explain Everything.  No, not because they are giving me all sorts of goodies (they don't even know I've written this post, nor do they even know I exist!  Ha!), but just because I LOVE the app.  It's available on Apple devices as well as the Surface.  Here are a few other uses for the app! 

If you are fortunate enough to have iPads in the classroom, this can be so cool!  I'm thinking about downloading a few planet/space graphics and having students arrange them.  Or telling students to position the moon's orbit and position during a new moon, full moon, waxing gibbous, etc.  How about asking students to position the Earth in relation to the sun when we hit our autumnal equinox?  Or labeling parts of a plant?  Or parts of a bacteria?  Okay.  I'm stopping now.  But seriously, you guys, wouldn't you think a test is about 10 million times more exciting if you could just map it out rather than "A, B, B, D, C, C, true, false?"  Me too.   

This is one of my favorite ways to use this.  I have class blog that I update daily with assignments and links for stuff in class.  I like it because I can't have students say, "Well, I didn't know that was due."  Students like it because they HAVE to use the computer to check their homework.  (Not really, we also write this stuff down in their planners, but they sure like to tell their parents that!)  Parents like it because they can help keep their students caught up.  (I don't accept late work, and that's a blog post for another day.)  I will often post math videos on this blog for my kids as well as their parents.  I cannot tell you how many Parent-Teacher Conferences I heard, "I know my child is struggling in math, but I didn't learn it this way, so I don't know how to help them with their homework."  It was frustrating for everyone, but especially parents, and it often fueled to their reasons we shouldn't have the Common Core.  So, I started posting quick videos on the blog.  This was one of the BEST things I did for parent-teacher relations.  My principal asked me what I was doing to make parents so happy, and if I could teach other teachers how to do it as well.  I also loved that parents could now help out at home!

Where I teach, students are involved in about 20 million after school activities.  They are still in elementary school, but they usually play sports, an instrument, are involved in church activities during the week, have family night scheduled, and a lot of my students are also in charge of babysitting their younger siblings for an hour or so.  Anyway, they rack up a lot of absences, but I expect my students to also be in charge of their own learning.  I do not track them down and say, "You were absent, here's what you missed."  That's their job.  Now, a lot of times they missed something new in math, but trying to coordinate times to get them caught up gets SO messy because I also want 20 minutes of lunch where I can talk to an adult.  Or close/lock my door and just enjoy the peace.  So!  I post videos on our blog so that students can get themselves caught up on what they missed.  If they are still struggling, I am totally willing to give up my lunch (I'm not THAT mean) to make sure they understand it, but these kids are headed to junior high where their new teachers have 200 students coming through their door each day.  They HAVE to learn to be responsible and take charge, and the best time to learn is BEFORE grades count.  If they get it down early, they can more easily keep their grades up when it matters most!

Know When to Walk Away and Know When to RUN!

Teachers are pretty tough cookies.  Kids might try to pull the wool over our eyes, but we know their tricks.  Misbehavior doesn't scare us, but there are two words that scare a teacher more than any:

Nothing makes a deathly ill teacher feel well enough to trek into work like those words, and taking personal leave better be for a REALLY good vacation!  Two years ago, I was invited to be trained in art education.  I was stoked because I am a huge advocate of the arts in our school system.  It was totally paid for by our district and a partnership grant with the local university.  I was going with two other rockstar teachers from my school.  Buuuut there was a catch.  I had to miss 10 days of school over the course of the year for trainings.  10 days of sub plans normally means 10 days of lost instruction.  Holy Hannah.  Talk about scary!
My kids that year could not afford 10 days of lost instruction in math.  I had a great sub (the same one for all 10 days!), but she wasn't trained in common core math.  I remembered reading Ron Clark's book where he shared an idea: make a video of yourself teaching for the kids!  I thought I'd give it a try. Worst case, it totally doesn't work, but I really hadn't lost anything by trying, right?
I had purchased an app called Explain Everything where I could write while I recorded my voice.  I recorded a sample problem, then asked the students to complete a problem with each other and then I walked them through the solution, and then a final problem that they were asked to solve on their own.  The sub was supposed to make sure the students were working and checking in on their work.  I would ask students questions in the video, and the sub was supposed to pause the video while they answered.  The first time they were totally freaked out!  Ha!  But, I asked the sub to write down if the student had been working when their name was called and I gave them participation points. 
While I wouldn't recommend teaching every lesson every day like this, it sure saved me some days.  Students still had "me" there to help them through, and then I could just do a little bit of reteaching instead of a whole day of reteaching when I returned. 
You can check out one of my videos below or follow me on YouTube by clicking the icon on the upper right of my blog!

This post was written purely because I love the app.  I have not received any compensation or promotion or contact from the app's developers or it's affiliates. :)

Spelling Correctly = Job Security plus a Holiday FREEBIE

When I was an intern my first year of teaching, we had monthly meetings with all of the interns in our district and our CFAs & Liaison (basically the people who observed us very regularly and offered more support than I could ever thank them for!!!).  I love these people to this day.  Each month, they'd give us tips & ideas and a little something that we could use in our classroom the next morning without any preparation on our part.  For October, they gave us these!  I laminated mine and put a little magnet on the back so they'd stick on my whiteboard, but you could simply balance them on the marker holder/lip thing.  I am drawing a blank on its "real" name.  Ha! 

They were a class-wide behavior idea to use each day.  As students are on task, clean up their tables quickly, return from recess on time, remember to raise their hands, everyone turns in their homework, etc. (really WHATEVER you want them to do), they can earn a letter!  There were also times that they lost a letter if they couldn't stop chatting or if they earned a poor score from their science/history/art/PE/computer class that day.  If they DID earn all of the letters by the end of the day, they could pick a little prize out of "The Cauldron!"  Thanks Dollar Tree!  The prizes were stupidly cheap: those nasty ring spiders, a bouncy eyeball, vampire teeth, but, I tell ya, those 3rd graders LOVED IT!  (My first year of teaching I had a no-sugar policy, but candy also works great!)  With my younger 3rd graders, I had to set a 5-second decision rule or else there were some kids who would pine over which color of spider ring to get.  It's a big deal folks. 

With my 6th graders, the prize cauldron actually went over really well, though sometimes instead of a prize, I'd have the reward be a homework pass (this was usually if they had been super amazing all week) or pencils.  A few times it would be to get to have an afternoon recess for 10 minutes and that was a prized reward! 

I love mixing things up each month because the same old routine gets too easy for the teacher and my class always got sick of it and the novelty wore off.  I have nothing against easy, but it is so easy for me to get into a rut that is easy for me but not really appealing to my kids anymore.  Plus, October is always a crazy month with too much candy and too many changes in the weather to not have something up my sleeve! 

I have made a little freebie of these behavior cards for you!  However, they don't say "Witch's Brew" and I will tell you why (other than the fact that they're not mine to duplicate).  Sometimes, these letters get mixed up on your board when you have a substitute and the "B" gets put where the "W" should go.  I know, I'm saving you a trip to the principal's office.  That's because we are good friends.  :)  So!  The free ones I have for you say "Spooktacular" and "Pumpkin Patch" if you're not feeling the whole Halloween vibe but you still need a little sanity saver this month. Instead of a cauldron, you can easily use one of those cheapy pumpkin candy holders or a cornucopia!  Whatever floats your boat.  Happy Haunting! 


Gettin' Fresh

One of the most difficult things for me in the TpT product creation process is NAMING THE PRODUCT!  Seriously.  It's a life struggle for me.  Giving essays titles was always, always the most dreaded part of writing a paper because I always felt like it sounded like the teacher from Charlie Brown.  #whawhawha.  So, when I was trying to come up with a cool name for these little strips, I wanted to find something catchy and original.  I wanted it to rhyme with "strip."  I used a rhyming dictionary and the best result: bean dip.  Guys, I really REALLY wanted to call these guys bean dip strips.  I'd love to go through the trademarking process on that!  Ha! 
So, I went for task strips since they're a lot like task cards, buuuut they're little strips instead to keep things fresh in your classroom!
Click on the picture to find this product in my TpT store!
I seriously love fall so much, but it is a challenging time for a teacher when Halloween draws near.  Hence this little lovely that I love so much: I can review ratios on Halloween so that I don't have to teach a new concept on Halloween that I know won't stick, but I also don't have to throw academics to the wolves either!  Review is so important! 
Hang in there guys!  May the force be with your teaching cause you've got this!

Birthday Celebrations in the Classroom

Fewer things are cooler as a kid than having your birthday at school.  Songs, surprises and really just the whole attention thing is awesome.  Apparently I'm just a birthday & attention diva.....

My very first year of teaching, it was actually an internship that my university had secured by partnering with several local school districts.  It was so exciting because I had my VERY own classroom.  I made half salary as an intern, and even though it was more money I'd ever had in my life every paycheck, I knew I was still on a strict budget (read: I was still a poor college kid).  While attending the summer wedding reception of one of my besties from my elementary ed classes, I noticed the gorgeous, white and pristine chair covers that adorned each chair with a simple, pink blush sash.  I thought to myself, "Those would be fun in a classroom for celebrations-every kid would love that!"

I went home late that night with those chair covers stuck in my brain.  I thought that they'd be super cool on a chair for a student's birthday in super bright fabric with balloons printed on it.  This way they'd be reusable year after year, and I wouldn't have to buy/make birthday gifts every year that would consume my personal budget.  I called my mom (aka the master seamstress) and proposed the idea.  She said she had just seen the perfect fabric (it was exactly what I had in mind!) at Jo-Ann's and said that she'd make one for me!  They are my favorite thing for birthdays, and I've actually avoided posting the pictures on here for four whole years because I didn't want it to be in every other classroom and ruin the novelty & magic!  Ha!  I'm so selfish. 

I traced the chair on butcher paper with the chair on its side and on its back, and that's how we got the measurements accurately. 

Front views:

View from the back - don't you just love that little bow?  :)

Underneath the chair there are eight ties to tie around each leg so it doesn't wobble around.  This was my mom's idea who is also a teacher.  She knows about those wiggly littles! 

You can still buy this fabric from Jo-Ann's!  Click HERE for the link.  There's some really cute fabric that's new, too, right HERE!  (I'm not compensated for it, nor is this post sponsored or anything.  I just like the fabric!)

Happy Birthday-ing!  Go make one or two (or three if you're like me and had 3 students that shared a birthday, and none of them were twins!)!  What do you do for birthdays in your class?

Mystery Math Sticks: Make them ACCOUNTABLE!

As promised in the last post, I wanted to share an idea on how I do group work (most especially in math).  My first year of teaching, I wanted my students to do a ton of group work.  After all, I learned in college that being able to collaborate was a 21st century skill and we needed to make sure we gave our students opportunities to be successful in the real world.  Well, group work seemed like it always became social hour, and my students hardly got anything done.  I discussed the problem with my mentor teacher, and she suggested I go and observe a fourth grade teacher at our school. 

WOW!  This teacher was so gifted in how she taught.  Her classroom was far from quiet & traditional, but that's what made it work so well!  The kids were solving math problems like crazy, they were explaining their thinking, and they just seemed to be soaking up every word she said.  I needed this gift!  After watching, she and I sat down and talked about things that I really liked and questions that I had.  She shared these popsicle sticks that she had had (in her words) "for a million years."  The thing was, though, they were magic!  She had a group points system in her class, but it went far beyond the "best group" or the "most on time" etc.  At the beginning of every problem or question they answered, she pulled out two sticks and kept them a secret.  She would make her way around the room and observe students, get them back on the right track, and generally just talk math with them.  The ones who were finished helped others or perfected their work.  Just keepin' it real, but my classroom never, EVER looked like this yet. 

At the end, she would reveal the mystery sticks and award points accordingly!  Amazing!  The very next day I tried it, and honestly, not a ton change, but there was PROGRESS!  Over time, and especially the next year, I was amazed at how 10 little sticks could make such a difference. 

The little sticks in my picture are hardly cute, but they are totally functional.  But!  I made these for y'all!  For FREE!  Because that teacher saved my group work, so I'm going to just pay it forward.  What I love about these sticks is that it's not all about being finished first.  I think that sometimes makes kids sloppy.  So, sometimes it's about being first (10% of the time if we're getting technical here about our theoretical probability-ha!), but a lot of times it's about explanations, being patient, and helping each other out. 
When a group finishes, they raise their arms to an "x."  (This helps me know who's done vs. who needs help).  When I check their work, I either tell them "nope" or give them their order number (first, second, etc.) and they write it on their board because I can't keep track of who finished third.  My brain needs working memory elsewhere!  A lot of times I'll guide them if they're totally off track, but if it's my higher performing kids, I just say no and walk away.  It's good for them to look through notes and see what they missed, even if it's just their units!  For a FREE DOWNLOAD, visit my TPT store at the link HERE!  There are 3 different color schemes and a black & white version to keep your printer happy.  :)

Task Card Tutorial Series: How I Use Task Cards

Hey y'all!  I'm not from Texas or from the south.  My sister is, and one summer I lived there with her.  I loved the word "y'all" and that everybody calls everybody else "sir" and "ma'am."  Several years later these favorite words have stuck around, even though the rest of my siblings think I'm ridiculous and laugh at me!  Being the youngest is rough, guys.
I use task cards all.  of.  the.  time.  Mostly I use them in math, but occasionally I use them elsewhere. I think they're fun & different, and I love that I can assign certain students particular numbers or I can just pull out one or two and work with a few students at a time.  They are a lot less intimidating vs. a worksheet for a student that looks at a worksheet and sees 20 opportunities to fail.

Basic Differentiation.  Most of my task card sets come with a recording sheet.  Depending on how much time I give them, I often tell them they have to have 10 (or whatever number I feel appropriate) to go to recess.  Our math block is first thing in the morning, and I LOVE that their brains are fresh.  I'll tell my students that getting the minimum done isn't going to get them an A+ on the participation portion of the assignment.  It's average effort so it results in an average grade.  If they get additional problems done, this is how they can get themselves up to 100%.  Always, always, always this is lenient.  Some of my struggling students feel like they can't get 10 done, so as I'm working with them, I often tell them that working with me counts for two, and I'll sign off a square.  Or something like that.  (Occasionally I will lower the number to give those students an opportunity to feel like they are super successful, and like I said, this system is flexible.  Often my hardest workers are the kids who have the hardest time, and I don't hesitate to give them full participation if they are working their tails off)  Mostly I use this system to keep the kids accountable while I work with other kids so that there isn't as much funny business going on.  I also keep a rule that no more than 3 people can work at the same problem at a time.  There's days where I throw in incentives if kids get all of them done like a homework pass or something, but I don't do that every day.

Massive White Boards  My Texas sister is also a teacher and curriculum designer and administrator and a million other amazing things because she is super teacher/woman.  But seriously.  She observed a teacher who used jumbo white boards for group activities in math.  I fell in love with it instantly.  I went to The Home Depot and bought some shower board.  (I have searched for it online EVERYWHERE and I can't find it, but I know it exists!)  It was like $10-$12ish for a large board, and I asked the nice employee man if he would cut it into smaller pieces so that I could use it in my classroom.  #teachercard  I ended up with six 2'x2' boards (roughly sized).  I will group my students, give them each a different marker color, a jumbo board and a task card.  They have to solve it together.  I use my group sticks to listen in for specific things in their conversation (I need an entire blog post for come back next time. :))  Then, the group will raise their hands until I can come check the board.  A lot of times (depending on the group) I will tell them "yes" or "no" but I won't tell them why.  Sometimes all they're missing are the units, sometimes they have a decimal in the wrong place, etc.  I like to make them review their work instead of becoming dependent on me to tell them what they did wrong.  Also, they lose their spot as "first finishers" if they missed something like that, so over time they get really, really careful.  Win!

Gym Math  My room is right down the hall from the gym, so if the gym is open, I'll often take my task cards down there and spread them out all over the entire gym floor.  I make my students do some sort of movement between cards (crab walk, hopping, 10 jumping jacks, etc.)  This is especially my favorite on a Friday or before Christmas/Easter break.  At first they'll roll their eyes, but pretty soon they think it's pretty fun.  6th graders crack me up.

Draw-A-Problem On days when no one seems to feel motivated to get anything done, I play a game called draw-a-problem.  Every few minutes, I draw a problem number out of a hat.  Any student who has completed the problem can come up and I'll quickly check their work/answer.  If they have it correct, they get a prize.  If not, they have to go fix it.  It's really simple, but it helps them want to solve it right.

Homework Card Every once in a while, I'll print off a mini set of task cards (see this post) and give each student one card to take home.  They can glue it on to a piece of paper and then return it with the work underneath.  This is hands-down one of my students' favorite things because they can't get over the fact that they don't have to take home their huge math book and that they seriously only have ONE math problem for homework (which is hilarious because I really try to keep them between 5-10 every other night!  Ha!)  The little things, y'all.  Kids love it!

Well, that's about all I have in my hat of task card tricks!  What are some ways that you implement them?

Task Card Tutorial Series: Going from Color to Black & White

Growing up, my mom always told me that I would've made a great Catholic.  Each night before I shut my little eyes to go to bed, I'd run through the course of the day.  If I felt like I'd done something wrong, said something that wasn't very nice, or stood by as another kid was a bit mean to a classmate, I had to confess to my mom or else there was no way I'd be getting any sleep.  I'd be racked with personal torment alllll night long.

Not much has changed.  It's high time I made a confession: despite my very, VERY large collection of task cards, I have only three sets in full color.  There.  It's out in the open, and now I'll be able to sleep tonight knowing that all y'all know I'm a total cheapskate.

Most of the time, I print my task cards in black and white on fun and bright colored paper, and then I laminate them so I don't have to reprint them next year.  Lamination stops my students from poking the cards, rolling the edges or coloring on them.  (Please tell me I'm not the only one with students who feel that non-laminated goods are free game??!!  Someday I'll do a post on my pet peeves.  This is right up there with folding the corners of my books instead of using a bookmark.....)

For this tutorial, I'm using Adobe Reader.  I like Preview on a Mac, but I like Adobe Reader more.  I find that I have fewer printing problems when I use Adobe.  With your task cards (or any PDF product) open, you'll want to get to your printing options.  You do this by selecting File>Print or using the shortcut CTRL+P (CMD+P on a Mac).  You should have this window!  Just check the grayscale box and then you're off to see the wizard!

If you have a B&W laser printer, this is the way to go.  Our school only has printers that print in black and white, and since I am allowed to print for free, that's the route I usually take.  They still look great!  Here's what my Translating Algebraic Expressions product looks like:  (you can buy it here)

Here's to simple ways to save money and still have fun, cute stuff!  :)

Task Card Tutorial Series: Making Any Set into a Mini Set!

OUR A/C IS FIXED!!!!  'Tis a glorious thing indeed!  Our temperature gauge did in fact reach 90 inside our house, so I was one happy lady when the A/C man came knocking on my door.  :)  This was my life until Wednesday.  Only it should've said "inside" as well!

My students are obsessed with task cards.  I don't know what it is about them that make 12-year-olds go wild.  Maybe it's because it's not a worksheet, so they suddenly think their lives have a bit more freedom.  Ha!  I love them for a million reason (which you'll see in the last post of the series), but I really love using them in small groups and reteach groups.  One of my biggest reasons for continuing to use task cards in my classroom is because they provide a very easy form of differentiation.  I usually spread them out all over the room and make a rule that only three people can be at one card at a time (otherwise every card's a party which means only 2 problems get solved in the class time).  This allows those students who find the topic really easy to accomplish a lot, while I can monitor and pull kids that I see having a tough time.  Sometimes I'll wander around with the answer key checking what they've already completed quickly to see where they're at, and I'll pull kids that way.  Other times I pull them based on what I saw earlier in class or from their homework.  I don't do it the same way each day - so official, I know.  Anyway, the task cards are great for me to use at the back table because one question at a time is WAY less overwhelming than 30 problems glaring at a student who doesn't fully understand.  In fact, I find that a lot of my students perk up and start wandering over after I've helped a few with a statement like, "I am having a bit of trouble on this problem, and I heard you talking about it.  Could you help me on this part?"  Um...yes?!  It's good stuff, guys.

A mini-card next to the regular task card

I really like to have two sets of task cards so that I don't have to search around the room for the card I need, but sometimes printing two sets of cards gets spendy with ink, paper and lamination, so I like to make "mini-sets."  I first read about the idea from Mary at Teaching with a Mountain View/Teaching with Task Cards, and her tutorial is VERY easy to follow, and you can read about it HERE!

Tiny little cards!

Not only do they save me a bit of $$, but my students (okay, let's be real, the girls) think they're just the cutest little cards that you ever did see.  I sent a mini set home with a student who was absent once, and she was pretty excited that she got to take the mini-cards home!  Those little things...

Are these not the cutest things ever?

Do you make mini-sets?  What's you're favorite use for them?

The set featured in these photos is my Translating Algebraic Expressions set which is available in my TpT store here!