Monday, February 29, 2016

3 Steps to Easy Comprehension for All Learners


The most important facet of teaching is giving students tools, right?  That's what we have been talking about for the past few weeks in our How to Be an Educational Superhero series.  Our last post talked about Project Based Learning and how to give the learning process back to the students.  In this post I will be discussing further how you can give process back to your students.

I was in fourth grade.  I was learning all kinds of new things academically and socially, and one of them was long division.  I hated long division.  There were so many steps and it didn't make sense to me.  My teacher would write problems on the board and we would go around the room walking up to the board and solving them.  The spotlight was on me and I cowered beneath it.  My face grew hot as I fought back tears of confusion.  I didn't know what to do.  I couldn't find the right answer.

When I arrived home, my father, a math major, helped me with my homework.  He gave me a different method of solving my long division problems that totally made sense to me!  It was amazing.  I had a breakthrough with long division and thought I could finally conquer it.  I practiced his method over and over again until my homework was complete.


Sadly, the next day, my father's method was but a fond memory.  I was faced again with long division, staring me right between the eyes.  I couldn't remember the method my father taught me so I asked the teacher about it.  She said she didn't know and her way was easier.  I was forlorn.  Her way was too difficult for me.  It didn't make sense.  It would have been so much easier for her to try and teach me in a way that I learn best.


Fast forward to now.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?  How many of your students are screaming this rallying cry right now?  It's likely that you don't know because you can't hear it.  It's simply ringing in their heads every time they hear about a process they don't understand.  I say "hear about" because they aren't learning.  They are hearing and repeating.  Making a simple switch in your instruction time will decrease the amount of time you talk and increase the amount of time your students learn.


Try teaching students concepts rather than processes.  Explain to them the meaning or purpose of something and give them the opportunity to figure it out.  I love this method from http://www.wholebrainteaching.com called Teach-OK.  It involves multiple modalities as you see whether or not your students understand the material.  Once you've seen that they have a grasp on the concept you're teaching, give them an opportunity to apply their own skills and logic.

The easiest implementation of this is with basic arithmetic.  We'll use addition:

Step 1 You Teach.  Many times as teachers we will gloss over what addition is and get right to showing students how to add.  Use your fingers, manipulatives, pictures, whatever.  Instead, just teach students what addition is.  Addition is one thing or group of things added to one thing or group of things.

Make it relatable: Ask students if anyone has been told they're getting an addition on their house, or new addition to their family.  What does that mean?  If we get a new student, he or she is an addition to our classroom.


Model it: Ask for a group of volunteers to demonstrate.  Put a group of students together(size based on skill level of your students, maybe 5.)  Ask how many kids are in the class.  When the students answer "5," write a 5 on the board.  Have a "new student" join them, and write a +1 on the board.  Ask how many kids are now in the class.  Students will hopefully count instinctively and answer "6."  You will then write =6 next to 5+1.  This way they can see how real life translates into a math equation.

Use the Teach-OK method with this sharing of information to ensure the students understand.  Once this is complete, class instruction time is over.

Step 2 Students Teach.  Put students in groups with an equation to figure out.  Give them the opportunity to devise a solving strategy as a group using any method they like.  Make sure you limit the number of groups as the students will be presenting their strategy to the class.  They can draw, use people, make models, use blocks, or whatever it is they desire.  You can do this as a center and present later or as a whole group time and present immediately after.  This process serves as a mini-project based learning experience in which students are finding the answer for themselves.  They will naturally differentiate on their own based on the way they rationalize and conceptualize.

Step 3 Individuals Teach Themselves.  Give students a short list of equations to solve.  Individuals can choose any method they like from the class presentations or develop a new method.  If you see something new from a student, encourage him or her to share it with the class.  His or her method might make more sense to someone else.

The most important component to this approach is that you listen, observe, and ask questions more than talk.  I can say firsthand how difficult this is for me personally.  I see a student struggling and I just want to help.  The best way to help is to allow him or her to figure it out.  Ask questions that lead to a conclusion.  Be wary, though, of leading questions.  This is another thing I'm super guilty of.  Make sure your questions are open and lead to reasoning rather than pointed questions that lean heavily toward an answer.  For example, using the class model from earlier:

Answer A
Student: I don't get it.
Teacher: Ok, well if you have a group of 5(model with your fingers), then you add 1(model with your fingers), how many is that?(gesture for the student to count your fingers).

Answer B
Student: I don't get it.
Teacher: Ok, what is the number 5?  Think about what we did during carpet time.  What did I say the number 5 is?  You might even ask the student to tell you what the number 5 represents.  Is it 5 puppies, pencils, friends?  If you know of a student who can demonstrate a method well, have him or her assist the struggling student.

Allow the confused student to decide what method he or she prefers, and make the room open.  Students may use any object they like as long as the object returns after math time.  Or, if that kind of chaos totally freaks you out, put out a bucket of objects for the students to use.  You can include toys that are alike, counting bears, blocks, or whatever.  The idea is that you don't tell the students how to add.  You tell them what adding is.  Coming up with their own methods will help them relate better, and ultimately remember better.  Not to mention, the more readily they can conceptualize, the more easily they will understand those pesky word problems.

Now you might be thinking, "great, but what about the other subjects?"  Agreed, math is probably the easiest subject with which to demonstrate this approach.  That being said, apply this thinking to your teaching.  Before you begin a lesson, think to yourself Am I giving the process or the concept?  With history, you might give students a small bit of information and encourage them to research the rest.  With reading, you might just put the book in front of the student and ask him or her what he or she thinks it says.  We have many natural processes in our brains, and I'm sure your students will amaze you with what they already know.

Please, please, please share stories of how this is working in your classroom or if you have devised a system that works well.  Pam and I would love to hear your feedback.  For more ideas to improve your classroom and be an educational superhero, SUBSCRIBE to our newsletter.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Leap Year Sale



Today's deal is 50% off products: We are offering our Plants Bundle which is over 100 pages! It includes our fun song, book, games, ELA and math sheets, scoot games and more!
Just click the picture below to see more or purchase for 50% off!


I made a big book with the plant book that is included.


 There are some cut and paste sheets.
 There are read around the room cards.
 There are 20 word family sorts!
 Your kiddos will love to play scoot with these missing addend cards.
 There are also manipulatives if you want to use the math cards in a center.
 Here are a couple of the math sheets included.
 Here are a couple of ELA sheets included.
 This is the coloring book your kiddos can color and then use to complete the  fill in the blank sheet.

Still $4 for one more day! It is one of our featured items. Here is the post link for the goods and services project we did that y'all may have seen on FB.   


Today is the last day and we are doing $1 Deals! We are excited to bring y'all our newly revised March Word of the Day Calendar! And if y'all missed the first deals, they are back on the table just today! Goods and Services Bundle for just $4! and our Plant unit which is posted above is still just $6! 
This calendar introduces a new March word every day as well as a math pattern that builds. There is also a cut and paste student calendar,definition sheet, journal page and 2 teacher guides with ideas on how to use the group calendar and student calendar. 
"Thanks so much for this great resource. It has really been a great tool for learning new vocabulary and then being able to incorporate it into the writing. The kids really enjoyed it."
and 
"My ESOL students will have a great resource in this!" were a couple of comments made about this calendar:)
This is a couple of writing samples that show how the words of the day from the February calendar helped to keep my kiddos on topic. They like having these words when they write. It gives them confidence in their writing! 



We hope y'all will check out our other Word of the Day resources that go with this calendar while our store is 20% off!  

Don't forget today is the last day to enter to win a $50 TPT gift card! 

We hope that you are reading and enjoying our "Teaching Like Super Heroes Series"

Wish us luck, good thoughts and say some prayers for us! We will be presenting at the VA. State Reading Conference at the end of this week-  Mar.3-5
We appreciate it!!






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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Teaching Money!


"Lots of practice activities that make learning about money meaningful!" and "Thank you for a wonderful resource for my students. They loved the activities!" are just a couple of the comments that were made about this money unit.
This is a Daily Deal at Educents for a limited time! 50% off!!

Here are a few things that I do to help my kiddos learn how to count money.

I use coins every day, starting with the first day of school. Students put up a coin every day. They started with a penny and add a penny every day and then on day 5, I show the kiddos that we can change 5 pennies into a nickel, then we change 2 nickels into a dime on day 10, etc. My kiddos loved it when we put up a $1 for 100 days!

I have found that teaching math in small groups is very successful. I give my students a board, marker, coin chart that is included in our pack or you can use a hundreds chart, and a bag of coins.

Let me tell you a good time saver is to have the items I mentioned all in a gallon size freezer bag. That way you can give each student a bag with everything they need.


I will ask the students to place coins on their boards and write a line under each coin. I walk them through how to count and write the amount as they go. I also show them how they can use their number charts to help them count their money.  



I also show them how they can use their coin charts to help them count their money.  



Brittany and I have created a 70 page money unit that has fun games and activities with a daily lesson plan that lasts 4 weeks if the plan is followed. Just click on the picture below to see more or purchase.
We use our coin books that are included in the unit in a math center with coins for the kiddos to match the pages. This is a great center for the students and easy to set up. 



 We have our fun games included with our class mascot, Quality Quentin. The kids love seeing him on some of our products! I always tell them that we are doing quality math with Quality Quentin.

 Here are just a few sheets from this large bundle of money activities! Over 70 pages and a daily lesson plan that will last you 4 weeks! There is also a fun money rap song with a puzzle that matches the song about the coins.

We hope y'all will check it out and please follow our store so you will see all our sales and deals!

Thank you so much!

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Project-Based Learning


Hey there Super Teachers!

Welcome to the third article in our series How to be an Educational Superhero.  Our first article, Why This One Basic Teaching Principle is Holding Your Students Back,  talks a bit about the motivation behind this series.  In order to be a superhero in your classroom, it is important to facilitate and not dominate.  Our second article, 10 Ways to Stop Sending Kids to the Principal, talks about the most basic way to shift from teacher-directed to student-directed in the classroom: classroom management.  Today, I want to talk to you a little about a word that's been buzzing around: Project-Based Learning




What the heck is this PBL business?

So far as I have researched, Project Based Learning is a term derived from a concept "project learning" developed by a man named John Dewey WAY back in 1918(Larmer 2015).  Since then, it has taken many forms:


  • Case-based learning
  • Challenge-based learning
  • Community-based learning
  • Design-based learning
  • Game-based learning
  • Inquiry-based learning
  • Land-based learning
  • Passion-based learning
  • Place-based learning
  • Problem-based learning
  • Proficiency-based learning
  • Service-based learning
  • Studio-based learning
  • Team-based learning
  • Work-based learning
  • and...Zombie-based learning
All of these are centered on the same single premise: using real-life application and or research to solve a potential real-world problem or something of equal complexity.

Why Does This Matter?
  • Students are more engaged.  "Education researchers increasingly realized that when students are bored and unengaged, they are less likely to learn (Blumenfeld et al., 1991, document at the top of the page)."  PBL creates student engagement through the presentation of a problem, the constant asking of questions that require deeper thought, and ultimately a tangible collection of all data into some type of public representation.
  • Students acquire a number of life skills.  
    • First of all, students learn how to do proper research before the age of 15.  In a study from May 2014, Imagine easy solutions and easybib.com found that elementary and middle school librarians thought 60% of their students had only rudimentary web research skills(et al. 2014).  PBL integrates those skills in a format that involves the students.
    • Deeper learning and application of information.  "Students demonstrate better problem-solving skills in PBL than in more traditional classes and are able to apply what they learn to real-life situations. (Finkelstein et al., 2010)(bie.org)"
    • Collaboration. "Through PBL experiences, students improve their ability to work collaboratively and resolve conflicts. (Beckett & Miller; ChanLin, 2008)(bie.org)"  Students can learn one another's strengths and weaknesses and work as a team to create the best outcome.
  • Students learn better.  "In specific content areas, PBL has been shown to be more effective than traditional methods for teaching math, economics, language, science, and other disciplines. (Beckett & Miller, 2006; Boaler, 2002; Finkelstein et al., 2010; Greier et al., 2008; Mergendoller, Maxwell, & Bellisimo, 2006) (bie.org)"
  • Students of all learning levels and abilities can be successful. 
    • "PBL shows promise as a strategy for closing the achievement gap by engaging lower-achieving students. (Boaler, 2002; Penuel & Means, 2000)(bie.org)
    • "PBL can work in different types of schools, serving diverse learners. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012)(bie.org)"



I'm Convinced, Now What?


So this is great, you're on board and you're excited to do this in your classroom.  Still there are questions like, how often should I do this? with which subjects? how do I assess this? how much extra work do I have to do?  These are all great questions.  

Here's a list from one of my favorite websites to get you started: 20 Ideas for Engaging Projects...

The Buck Institute for Education specializes in this type of learning.  You can click on their name to reach their main site, or click HERE for their beginners resources.

Also, you can check out this story about how these concepts are working in a real classroom.

Here's a simple idea using the basic PBL criteria as defined by the Buck Institute for Education:

Create a Class Store


  • Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills- As part of a lesson on goods and services, students will learn how to be producers and consumers.  They will use basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills in setting a budget for their "store."
  • Challenging Problem or Question- Students must determine how their business will make money.
  • Sustained Inquiry- Students will do research on successful businesses and how they succeeded.  They will learn how to conduct research on interest level of their product among their peers.
  • Authenticity- Everyone in life has to learn how to make and manage money.
  • Student Voice & Choice- Students will choose a product to make based on their interests and experiences
  • Reflection- When the project is complete, students will write a conclusion that states what they learned, what they thought was beneficial, and what they would change.  Maybe they list factors in their success or failure, and opportunities for improvement.
  • Critique & Revision- Similar to reflection, students will self-assess based on their experience.
  • Public Product- You can either work out a deal with the school where students make their store school wide, or they can put together presentations to explain their learning experiences to a wider audience.  If you so desire, you can have a class blog where they write an article about what they learned and what they would change.
Here's how it works:
  • Students will come together in groups to decide on a product to create or a service to provide.  In order to determine the potential success of their product, they will need to do market research.  
    • First, have them brainstorm a list of products they feel they would like to produce and could produce.  From there, have them come up with a list of about 10 questions that would help them determine which product would be most successful.
      • For example, if they want to make jewelry, maybe they ask a question like: "what type of jewelry do you wear? a)earrings, b)bracelets, c)necklaces, d)none
    • Next, have them talk with other groups about what their thoughts are.  For the purposes of this project, all groups must be honest about what they want to make.  You may even find students collaborating to reduce competition
      • Using the previous example, maybe one group will decide to make earrings and another group will make bracelets.
    • Once they've gathered all their information, they can finalize an idea for a product.  They need a sketch and a prototype.
  • After they've completed their product idea, they need to create a budget.  The simplest form of budget would probably be production supplies, advertising, and retail space.  Give them each some "startup capital" to use.  The amount will be based on the level of your students.  For older students, maybe $500.  For younger students, $50 or even $20.
    • You can choose whether or not to add this caveat, but some groups may want to provide advertising or retail space to other groups.
    • This is where you can modify for younger audiences.  You will set prices for all the supplies they need, and you will set prices for the retail space they will rent.  You can even provide prices for advertising.  For example, you can charge 5 cents to make announcements about a group's product throughout the day.  If a group wants to provide advertising, they would have to pay you 5 cents for that advertising space during the day.
      • Pam did the store project with her kids, only she had them bring in items from home they didn't want anymore.  In this case, there wouldn't be a production budget.  Only a retail space and ad space budget.
    • Explain to your students that the goal is for them to make money.  This means they have to subtract what they spend from what they earn and their has to be an amount left over.  Based on their grade level, you can give them permission to use calculators or have them do calculations by hand and check with a calculator.
    • You can collaborate with your computer teacher to show them how to make spreadsheets on excel to track their data.
  • From here, they go live.  You can have the store go on for a day, week, couple weeks.  Each day of the store, they will assess their progress, and make adjustments if necessary.  They will write in a business journal about what is going well, and what they may want to change.  After it's all over, they will either have a profit or not.  Have them compile their findings in a report or presentation of some kind.  You can even have them use Powerpoint if they would like.
  • The final step will be to either recreate the store for an evening and have families purchase, or for students to create a summary presentation as a type of "Business Fair" to show their findings to their community.
  • How to Assess: Devise a list of questions that will test your students' knowledge of the material.  It's a test, but they don't know it.  
    • For example: "For this project, did you choose to provide a good or a service?"  "Were you a producer, consumer, or both?" "How would your budget change if the price of paper went from 5 cents to 10 cents?"
  • There is a company called Biztown, that provides some of these real-life situations for you.  Talk to your principal about a possible field trip.  Maybe it will inspire you!
Whoa Nelly, I Have Little Ones!  I Guess I'm Out

Don't be afraid if you have younger kids.  Any of this can be adjusted and you would be surprised what those little guys come up with sometimes.  I did the store with a group of kids ranging from K-3rd grade and they were amazing.  They drove themselves most of the time because they were so excited about taking the lead on their learning experiences.  We also created a play for Christmastime.  They came up with the plot, chose the songs for us to sing, created scenery, and performed.  There are a number of great ideas out there, and there's no rule that says you can't be a part of it.  Explain when they need something explained and be amazed when they show you what they're capable of.  Regardless of the outcome, they're learning something.

This Seems Complicated

You're right, it can be.  It is time-intensive and mind-intensive.  That being said, life can be that way sometimes too.  PBL is an awesome way to teach students about real-life situations, while showing them that learning is far from theoretical.  It's an awesome way to show teachers how to be superheroes without being at the center of the classroom.  Most importantly, you are building your students' confidence in themselves as they accomplish on their own, and confidence in you as the awesome teacher that believes in them.

Well, that's PBL in a nutshell.  Please please feel free to share your thoughts below.  We would love to hear your ideas and also your experiences with PBL in the classroom.  Tune in next week for some talk about Centers, and don't forget our fun #HashtagHunt every Friday for the rest of February!  For all this great content and more in one place, Subscribe to our newsletter.

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A Fun George Washington Craft and Song Book!

 We are so excited about our new addition to our word of the day products! We are adding these books each month that will include our calendar words. Your kiddos can highlight the word of the day as well as sing the words in their books, which they love to do! Each book comes in color and black and white. There is also a teacher guide. We have these books as well as everything on SALE in our new Educents store! We hope that y'all will check them out while they are on sale and please click on the little red heart to follow our store so you will be notified of all the new resources and sales that are happening there. We would also greatly appreciate your kind comments if you do purchase any of our products there!  Thank you so much!!!




My kiddos love having their own copies to read to each other! It is so cute to hear them sing the song as well. They make great book basket books! 




This is a fun craft that my kiddos loved doing last year! I will definitely do this one again this year:)
Just click on the picture to see the directions as well as some more ideas for teaching about George Washington.



Thank y'all for checking out our Educents store! 
Be looking for our next blog post on Project-Base Learning!










Wednesday, February 10, 2016

3 Simple Steps to Breaking A Stale Routine


Last night, I hit my breaking point.  Same thing over and over and still feel as though I'm running across an endless plateau.  Will I ever see the end?  Or worse, will I suddenly drop off and never ascend again?  I decided to take today off, to take a break and clear my mind.  Then I got to thinking...how many of you probably are feeling or have felt the same way?  So, I thought I should reach out and show you we're in this together.

So what do I do when I'm stuck in a stale routine?

1) Do something different
Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  I'm sure you're all thinking "no, duh what else you got?"  It's important to remember this simple fact though.  Our routines become comfortable, familiar, predictable.  Many of us are creatures of habit and we like to know what to expect.  That being said, what if our expectations are too low?

Start simple.  I know most of you are teachers and depending on your principal, you may only have so much wiggle room.  That being said, see how you can switch things up just for a day.  Add a math game, ELA game, or song to the day(That's the only shameless plug you can expect, I promise.)  You can also just pause and have a brainstorming session or Q&A forum.  Think about a subject your kiddos aren't getting.  Tell them you're going to talk about it and see what questions they have.  I advise sitting in a circle for this as it will make for a more familiar, open, and comfortable platform.  If you have a class mascot, like we have with Quentin the Quality Penguin, you can pass it around and they can take turns asking questions or explaining why they don't understand.  You may even find that one of your stronger academic children has an answer you haven't thought of.  Or, see how they might like to spice up the day.  You can start the morning by telling them they are in charge of how they learn today and they will be like the teacher.  See what is feasible given your schedule and try to incorporate as many ideas as possible.

2) Be Purposeful in Your Routine
Have you ever stopped in the middle of your routine after some time and just thought, "why is it that I do this?"  I was reading the book Break Through Your BS, by my college friend Derek Doepker yesterday, and it mentioned the danger of disconnecting from your routine.  He had certain practices throughout his day that had become stale because he was no longer intentional about them.  His heart and mind weren't involved anymore.  It is so easy to do this with routines because our brain becomes familiar and checks out.  It's almost like muscle memory takes over or like we're operating through our subconscious.  There have been some days where I have gotten through the day and couldn't tell you much of anything that happened.  Sound familiar to anyone?  So STOP.  Think about what you do and why.  Keep the practices that bring value to your day and your students' day.  Throw out the fluff, and replace it with something more meaningful or effective.

3) Ask Someone Else
Your pride will have to take a back seat on this one.  You know that teacher that has it all together?  His or her kids are perfect, his or her room is perfect, and he or she never seems to break a sweat.  You can't stand this teacher because how can they just get it?  How can they never seem to have issues?  Now I'm going to ask you to do something and you're going to hate me.  Then, hopefully you will love me.  Ask this teacher for advice.  Something he or she is doing works in the classroom.  You hate it, but it's true.  Here's the value to asking this loathsome person for advice: it will go a long way toward quelling that bitterness you have inside, and it will make that teacher feel really good.  Maybe you'll even develop a quality relationship.  Maybe that person is struggling with something you can help with.  You never know until you try.  Reaching out and being more vulnerable helps you become more approachable, thus welcoming new relationships and making people more likely to reach out to you.  We all have the same goal anyway, right?  We want the kids to learn.

Well, I hope this was enlightening, helpful, at least thought-provoking.  We are doing our best to break our routine as well.  You will be seeing more posts like this about how to rethink things in your classroom.  We already have 2 posts included in our Be an Educational Superhero series that are worth a read(Why This One Basic Teaching Principle is Holding Your Students Back, 10 Ways to Stop Sending Kids to the Principal).  Subscribe to our newsletter for juicy extras and of course, those freebies y'all love so much.  We want to bring more of these to you and accomplish our universal goal of making education better one day at a time.

Have a great week and break through those routines!