Math Rotations, STEAM, Student Choice

Math-Or-Treat (Embracing Halloween on a Wednesday)

This year, Halloween falls on Wednesday. I decided to embrace it. I always teach math in the morning so I thought I would try out this Math-or-Treat idea that I had been seeing on Pinterest a lot lately based on I Heart Teaching Elementary‘s blog.

I downloaded her bag templates and purchased cheap treat bags at Walmart.  I also loaded up on things like Halloween pencils, erasers, plastic skeletons, to use as prizes because they will be getting enough candy tonight, right?!

Since I have seven tables in my room, I decided to have seven stations. I introduced the idea to my class about a week ago and asked them to apply to “run” one of the stations using a Google Form. I got about 15 applications so I had to choose students based on their responses to the math problems in the application and their response to the question about why they wanted the job. These students would get the answer keys and check their classmates’ work. They would also give out the prizes.

I created or downloaded seven Halloween math games and activities from TpT for each station. I chose skills we have already covered this year (place value, rounding, multiplication, and division). Here are a few that would work well:

Division Bingo
Multiplication Riddles
Rounding Scavenger Hunt
Multiplication & Division Sort
Coordinate Grid Holiday Graphing
Halloween Division
Halloween Rounding 
Halloween Word Problems
Spellbinding Division 

I created a quick smartboard with some Halloween pictures on it and let the kids pick where they wanted to go.  I only had a few rules:
1. They could choose any table they wanted (with a limit of 5 kids)
2. They could move tables at any time
3. It was up to them how many tables they visited (ie how many prizes they earned)
4. It was over after an hour and a half (we had to be somewhere at 9:30)

I continued with the holiday theme for the rest of the day. We made Halloween masks with our kindergarten buddies. We completed the Candy Corn Challenge (Freebie!) during social studies time, and worked on the Mystery Science lesson “What is the biggest spider in the world?” Finally, my class mom came to host some games, crafts, and snacks for our Halloween Party and we settled in to watch Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. You can teach in spite of it being Halloween, or you can embrace it. This year, we nailed it!

Digital Citizenship, Digital Teaching Resources, Flexible Content, Flipped Classroom, Math Rotations, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Flipped Classroom

I have been intrigued with the Flipped Classroom for a while. (The general idea is the reverse of the traditional learning environment: delivering instructional content like videos, primary source documents, reading assignments– outside of the classroom. It moves activities, including those that may have traditionally been considered homework, like discussion questions, projects, and activities based on the readings for school.) This video is a great overview.


At the beginning of the year, I promised my kids and parents that I wouldn’t assign homework. I was nervous to try flipping my classroom because I was afraid there would be backlash when I started sending work home. I think I will fully embrace the flipped classroom next year, but for now I’m experimenting with the “in-class flip.”

It was easiest for me to start thinking about flipping my reading and math lessons. I created this choice board with different activities for the students to work on (their choice) while I pulled small groups for differentiated instruction. My students all went straight for the games, and not much else.

Version Two: This math choice board works so much better! There are three choices in dark blue. The students must complete two days in the dark boxes, before moving to the lighter boxes. They spend two days in the medium blue boxes (or they can go back to dark blue). Finally, they can choose the game on Friday or any of the previous activities. I made a similar version for reading but is a little more flexible.

This took a bit of time…I had to link up the videos, Padlet boards, skill sheets, etc., but once they are created, I’ll have them for years. Another issue is that YouTube is blocked at my school. I had to link up BrainPop! videos (students have passwords for this site), and explained that the other videos can be watched at home.  While it’s not a full “Flip” it is definitely a start. Here are the links to my Padlets. It’s so easy to make your own.

  • Padlet Examples:

          Social Studies

Here are some additional resources that have helped me or that I have created to help others in my building.

Digital Citizenship, Personalized Learning

Accountability & Collaboration in Upper Elemantary

I often plan stations or rotations where I am at one station, and the students have group, pair, or independent work at the others. Students were (almost) always on task for me, but were often chatty, off-task, or goofing off during the others. I have worked for the past few years on getting the students to be both accountable for quality work during these times, but also truly collaborative. Here’s what I’ve been doing recently.

Exit tickets– These are an oldie but goodie. I downloaded this free template from TpT and edit it to fit my needs. I can quickly see which students get a concept, and which do not.


Organized rotations – I recently came up with this simple Doc to help with rotations. (Here’s a second version). Each color square also has a poster in the room, where students know exactly where to go. The Doc tells them the instructions, and how to turn in their work (often in a bin in the room, or on Seesaw). No one bothers me during small-group-instruction because I left them detailed directions.

Accountability forms – In math, the students fill out a tracking sheet each day, where they tell me which standard they’re working on, and where I can find evidence of this work. Even if I don’t check it daily, (or even weekly), they think that I can. In reading, I split my class in half, and we read two novels. While I’m reading with one group, I had been giving the other group comprehension questions but some students were waiting until the last minute, and having to re-read the entire book. I was given a similar version of this Independent Reading form, which I love. There are specific tasks for each day of the week and may-do lists after the daily must-do is completed. Many of the activities go along with the William and Mary Teaching models for IB and GT.

Collaboration – My class this year is a stubborn bunch. I’ve stressed time and time again about making good seating choices, yet they still gravitate towards friends. Finally, I implemented a two girls/two boys per table rule, and they have to be sitting diagonally, therefore when we do elbow-partner work, they have to work with someone of the opposite gender. Collaboration is hard, as one 4th grader usually takes the lead, and the other the backseat. Or two strong-headed personalities can’t figure out how to divide up the work. I’ve been loving the “commenting” feature on the Google Suite for Education, and encourage the teams to “talk” on there instead of out loud. After a few weeks (eek) of them typing “Hello” and other off-topic, random junk, they are starting to see that that wastes time.




Flexible Seating, Personalized Learning, Student Choice

Back-to-School & Student Choice

I am five days away from heading back to school. Five days. I’m not sure where summer went, but this one flew by. Maybe it was the constant playdates and pool time with my toddlers, or my brother’s wedding, or the IB training in Austin, Texas, but either way, I’ve been doing some reflection and trying to figure out how to give my students more choice this year. Here are three ways I will include choice in my class this year:

Flexible Seating:
My class has had flexible seating for two years now. I did a small blurb on my seating choices in a previous blog post “Top 5 Reasons I Use Technology in my Classroom” (see #2). Previously, it looked like this: My students may sit/stand wherever they like as long as they are on task. I have seats with stationary bikes, standing tables with spooner boardsHokki stools, and bean bag chairs. I noticed that once a student picked a seat for the day, they sat there and wouldn’t move. I wanted there to be more movement between subjects and throughout the day. This year, I am removing two large desks (each desk seats two students) and I am making crate seats. Four will be placed in a semi-circle in the front of the room, and four along the back wall for a “couch/bench” like seating area. Below you can see how large the tables are and I’m looking forward to the extra space this will open up. I found lap desks at Hobby Lobby and students can bring them to the crate seats or to the floor. I would like to offer some incentive for picking more than one seat in a day.


Morning Work:
I stumbled upon this blog about “Rethinking Morning Work.”  I love the idea of morning work choice! My daughter’s preschool teacher offers this for four-year-olds, why wouldn’t it work for fourth graders? Every day when she walks in, her teacher has set up a few tables with arts/crafts, small toys, Play-Doh, etc. She can choose which to engage with after she hangs up her book bag. I’m interested in this Suspend Game and Legos for a collaboration station. Since we are 1:1 ipads, we could have a technology station, a game station (hello task cards and sudoko!), and an artistic expression station focusing on an artist or genre each week or month. I am hoping to have this fleshed out soon but would not start it on the first two days of school. (Our district starts school on Thursday, we have class Friday, then three days off for the weekend and the solar eclipse.)

Choice Boards & Novel Selection:
I have used choice boards for many topics, but especially math. I give students a “Must Do/May Do” list where they have certain things that are mandatory to complete and others are optional. I would like to be more creative with academic choice this year, for example, offering my students more than one summative assessment for each IB unit. I do many station-rotation models in my classroom, but I would like to offer maybe six stations, where only four or five need be visited.  I usually select two or three novels for each IB unit based on the topics covered. I always group the students by ability, but would like to offer the students a choice in which novel to read (as long as I have sort-of evenly numbered groups). I’m thinking I will read the jacket covers of the books out loud and have students record on a note card their first choice. I want the decision to be independent of their friend’s choices. It is always hard at the beginning of the year, since these students don’t know my routines and procedures. They also don’t have experience being given so much choice in a classroom. Hopefully, I’ll have them whipped into shape in no time!

A very special thanks to the blogs who I’ve borrowed/stolen from today. And my dad, who I begged to help me make these crate seats!


Inside the Trenches
The Apple Tree Room
The Science Penguin

Digital Teaching Resources, Math Rotations, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Personalized Learning: Math Rotations

I have been trying to get my math lessons to be completely personalized for years.
(See previous posts one , two and three).

I’ve finally got a system in place that works for me.

  1. Give Pre-tests. I usually give the students 3-4 pre-tests at a time. (For example, Fractions standards 4.NSF.1, 4.NSF.2, and 4.NSF.3 all at once since they are related.) I will create them on Google Forms and attach the links in Google Classroom. I use Forms because they are graded for me. I also always include an a “?” answer and encourage my students to choose it if they don’t know the answer. Since it is a pre-test and not for a grade, they students understand that it is more helpful to choose the “?” than to randomly guess.test2
  2. I establish the stations. Some teachers do specific rotations, but I just give my students a list of things that need to be completed and the due date. It looks something like this:

During your math rotations from now (3/2) until  Wednesday (3/6) you must complete the following:

  • Time Goal on ALEKS
  • Math by yourself: Independent Practice – (Performance task sheets).
  • Math with a Partner – Error Analysis (upload video here)
  • Math with Me: either small group time,  Padlet time, or a math game (be sure to turn in evidence) 

My error analysis sheet looks like this:
((Learn more about how I use Error Analysis sheets and Doceri app for uploading math problems in a future blog post.))


3. I use the pre-test data. I write each standard on the board, and where the student
falls (level 3 = mastered standard, level 2= needs some assistance, level 1= needs
more assistance/doesn’t understand. Students fill in their tracking sheet with the level
they started the unit. I then pull students from level 1 and 2 for small groups or
independent help.


My level 3 students are either working to become level 4 (going above state
standard) or are working on another standard ahead of the class on the tracking
sheet. This is if they have completed the tasks listed above.

4. I let students post-test when they’re ready. Just like my error analysis Google
Doc, I have one for Pre-tests and Post-tests as well. When a student feels like they
have mastered the material, they can take a Post-Test. If they want to pre-test for
the next standard, they know where to find the sheet (on Google Classroom in the
About page). I added a paper calendar, too, where students initial when they take a              post-test, so I can make sure everyone is completing each standards.

5. I collect evidence. Once a week, they turn in their tracking sheet (via a Google
Doc) and any evidence (task cards, answer sheets, etc) to show they’ve done the
work they recorded on their tracking sheet.



Digital Teaching Resources, Genius Hour, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Top 5 Reasons I use Technology in my Classroom

It was my first year teaching at a new school and I was handed 28 iPads around October. Now what? The kids were excited and had used them at home for games and videos. It has taken me four years to get my students to see them as tools for learning, but here are the top five reason why I would never go back to teaching without them.

1. I’m saving trees. I used to spend hours at the copy machine loading ream after ream of paper into the sorter. I still print some things…interactive notebook pages, extra credit holiday packets, and some math sheets, but almost everything else is attached to Google Classroom in the form of a Google Doc or PDF. (We use an app called PDF Expert and even type, draw, highlight on PDF docs).


2. My students know how to collaborate. I use the term “elbow-partner” multiple times a day. My classroom has flexible seating. (My students may sit wherever they like when they come in each morning, as long as it follows certain criteria. I have seats with stationary bikes, standing tables with spooner boards, Hokki stools, and bean bag chairs. Students can’t sit at the same table twice in a week and must have an even number of girls and boys at each table.) My students work with their elbow partner daily, for quizzing each other on math facts, or completing assignments. I know they don’t always want to work with their elbow partner, but they know I won’t let them work independently on certain assignments, so they just get down to work, usually through a collaborative Google Document.

3. I’ve saved time grading assignments. I use Google Forms for quick quizzes or checkpoints that are graded automatically. I get immediate feedback, and so do the students. They can go home and tell their parents their grade and don’t have to wait a full week for the assessments to go home in their weekly folders. I also choose to send response receipts so they students can see the questions, their responses, and the correct answers to learn from their mistakes. I also use Google Sheets for digital rubrics. (CCSD employees can open and copy this rubric here.) I borrowed this idea from another presenter at the Google Summit.


4. The kids sometimes forget they’re learning. We’ve been using the “A Google A Day” feature recently. Google posts a random question that takes multiple searches to find the answer to. My fourth graders love this game and we get to bring in our research standards as well as digital citizenship and internet safety discussions. Genius Hour has also helped with this (see previous post). No longer do we need to go to the library, search the card catalog, or find an encyclopedia. The internet is at our fingertips (or in our pockets… some of my students have newer cell phones than I do!) With this wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, its our duty to teach them how to use it.


5. The future is digital. When I got my first teaching job, my father gave me this picture of his mother’s kindergarten class. If you look at classroom, not much has changed. There is a teacher, a chalkboard, and rows of kids. The global workforce is more and more dependent on technology (walk anywhere and see how people are on iPhones, laptops, etc.) Technology isn’t going away, and if we want students to be successful in higher education and the workplace, they must get used to using technology as a tool or textbook and not just as source of mindless entertainment.



Math Rotations, Personalized Learning, Uncategorized

Year Three: Personalized Learning

My school is the academic magnet elementary school for the county. There are entrance tests, standardized test requirements, and grades to maintain. The majority of my class is identified by the state as “Gifted & Talented.” I always have a bright group of students, but this year I have one student who is exceptionally bright, especially in math. He was getting into some trouble for classroom behavior issues, and ended up in the principal’s office for detention. He wrote me an apology letter but at the bottom, he added, “…but can you imagine what it is like for me sitting through your math lesson?”  And it hit me like a ton of bricks because I do know. I was that bright kid bored out of my mind while my teachers in school “taught to the middle.” I knew I needed to do something different in my class, and I was going to start with math.

I participated last year in a pilot program to use this web-based math tool called ALEKS. Students worked at their own pace and I received really good data to see each student’s weaknesses, strengths, and pacing. This year, it was not offered to my school but I begged my principal, the school foundation, and even the Technology Department at the district level. Eventually, my principal purchased a school-wide subscription. Two days later, I heard from the district they had some extra licenses and they would go to my school! We cancelled our school order and got started:


Each student takes an initial knowledge check. They get a pie chart with each 4th grade standard. The more full the pie slice, the more they know. Unfilled portions of the slice are things they still needed to learn. Each kid can work at their own pace (they call it a Path). I can see the problems they are working on, the time spent on each standard or problem, and how to group students for small groups and interventions. When students are prompted for another knowledge check (after about three hours of time spent in the program), I get an email report for anyone mastering 85% of the material. I can move them on to more challenging material. I currently have 28 students in my 4th grade class and 17 students working on 5th grade math, and two working on 6th grade math.

The student who was bored during my math instruction recently wrote me a separate note for the Great Kindness Challenge and it was little different: