July 21, 2017

Teaching Tricky Trapezoids: Inclusive vs. Exclusive Definitions


Why Your Students Might Not Be
Classifying Trapezoids Correctly 


Do you teach quadrilateral classification? If so, did you know there are THREE ways to define a trapezoid?

Americans use either the inclusive or the exclusive definition depending on their curriculum. To complicate matters even more, teachers who live outside the United States define trapezoids in a completely different way! Believe it or not, the British English definition is the exact opposite of the two American definitions!

Which definition are you supposed to be teaching? If you're not sure, it's entirely possible that you're teaching the wrong definition! But don't feel bad if you discover this to be true because you are not alone. In fact, until recently, I didn't even know which definition was used by the Common Core State Standards!

Before we dig into this topic, you need to know which definition you're currently teaching. To find out, answer the trapezoid question below before you read the rest of this post. Then read the information under the 3 polygons that explains what your answer means.

What Your Answer Reveals

Because there are three ways to define a trapezoid, there are three correct answers to the question. Your response will reveal the definition you use to classify trapezoids.
  • If you only chose polygon 3, you use the exclusive definition which states that a trapezoid has EXACTLY one pair of parallel sides. This is the definition that I learned, and it's the one I thought the Common Core used (but I was wrong).  
  • If you chose polygons 1 AND 3, you use the inclusive definition which states a trapezoid has AT LEAST one pair of parallel sides. Many educators favor this definition because the other quadrilateral definitions are inclusive. For example, a parallelogram is a 4-sided figure with both pairs of opposite sides parallel, which means that squares and rectangles are also parallelograms. 
  • If you only chose polygon 2, you're using the British English classification system which states that a trapezoid is a quadrilateral with NO parallel sides. You teach your students that a quadrilateral with one pair of parallel sides is a trapezium, not a trapezoid


Which definition SHOULD you be teaching?

Now you know which definition you use to classify trapezoids, but is that the definition you're supposed to be teaching? If you aren't 100% sure, make a note to check on it. Until recently, I thought the Common Core used the exclusive definition, but I discovered that the CCSS actually uses the inclusive definition! I posted a question on my Facebook page to find out which trapezoid definition most teachers were using, and over 180 people responded. I was surprised to learn that most teachers who follow the CCSS teach the inclusive definition.

How to Teach Kids to Classify Tricky Trapezoids

If this is the first you've heard that there are three ways to define a trapezoid, you might be wondering how much to share with  your students. I mean, quadrilateral classification is challenging enough to teach without having to explain that there are three different correct ways to define a trapezoid!

I recommend that you find out which trapezoid definition you are expected to teach, and only teach that ONE definition. You could tell your students that they might learn a slightly different definition at some point in the future, but if you go into too much detail, your students will end up more confused than ever.

After you know which definition you're supposed to be teaching, how do you introduce it to your students and help them learn to classify trapezoids correctly?

I've found that the best way to help your kids tackle the tricky trapezoids is with a simple, hands-on sorting activity. The directions below are for a teacher-guided partner lesson, and you'll need a copy of the two printables shown on the right for each pair. Before you get started, be sure to download that freebie, Identifying Tricky Trapezoids.

Trapezoid Sorting Partner Directions:
  1. Begin the activity by introducing the characteristics of a trapezoid according to the definition you are expected to teach (inclusive or exclusive). 
  2. Next, pair each student with a partner and give each pair one copy of the printable with 8 quadrilaterals. Ask them to work together to cut out the polygons and stack them in a pile. 
  3. Explain that they will take turns sorting the quadrilaterals into one of two categories using the T-chart titled "Which Quadrilaterals are Trapezoids? Give each pair one copy of the T-chart or have one person in each pair draw the T-chart on a dry erase board. 
  4. Before guiding them through the sorting activity, assign the roles of Partner A and Partner B in each pair. Then ask Partner A to select the first quadrilateral and place on the T-chart in one of the two columns, "IS a Trapezoid" or "Is NOT a Trapezoid." Partner A then justifies the quadrilateral's placement to Partner B who gives a thumbs up if he or she agrees. If Partner B does not agree, the two students should discuss the proper placement of the quadrilateral and move it to the other column if needed. 
  5. Partner B then chooses one of the remaining quadrilaterals, places it on the chart, and explains its placement to Partner A. Partner A must approve the placement, or the two students discuss the definition and placement before continuing. 
  6. Students continue to switch roles throughout the activity. If they aren't able to agree on the placement of one of the quadrilaterals, they should set it aside for the time being. 
  7. As students are working, walk around and observe them to see if they are classifying the trapezoids correctly. Stop to help students who are confused or who can't agree on the placement of one or more quadrilaterals. 

Hands-on Activities for Classifying Quadrilaterals

This simple sorting activity is actually one of the most effective ways to teach kids to classify any type of quadrilateral. In fact, it's so effective that I developed a complete lesson for classifying quadrilaterals based on this strategy. Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals includes several introductory activities as well as a challenging game and two assessments.


One reason I wanted to bring the tricky trapezoid situation to your attention is that I've recently updated Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals to include all three definitions. There are now THREE versions of the lesson materials within the product file.

No matter which definition you're supposed to be teaching, Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals has you covered. You'll find lessons, printables, task cards, answer keys, and assessments that are aligned with the quadrilateral classification system used by your curriculum. Not only are these activities engaging and fun for kids, the lessons will help them nail those quadrilateral classifications every time! If you don't believe me, head over to see this product on TpT where you can read feedback from 400 teachers who have used Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals with their students.


By the way if you already own Classify It, you can download the updated version for free by clicking over to the Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals page on TpT. If you're logged in, you'll see a link at the top that says "Download Now! You own it!"

If you teach quadrilaterals and haven't purchased it yet, take a few minutes to preview it on TpT. If you use it with your students, I think you'll agree that Classify It is the most effective and FUN way to foster a deep understanding of quadrilateral classification!


July 8, 2017

How to Teach Addition of Fractions Using LEGO Bricks


Guest blog post by Dr. Shirley Disseler

We know that current math standards require students to learn through modeling using manipulatives. I have been using LEGO bricks for many years to teach students math concepts throughout the elementary and middle school curriculum. It’s a perfect math manipulative, and students love using the bricks, since many students are very familiar with them. I’ve developed specific strategies for teaching math using LEGO bricks for modeling and have been thrilled over the years to watch students’ test scores improve after they learn math using these strategies.

In recent years, I’ve taught many graduate students at High Point University how to teach with these methods, and they also report great success for their students when they use the techniques as new math teachers. I’ve recently published a series of books that show how to utilize LEGO bricks to teach all the major math topics in elementary school: Counting and Cardinality, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, and Fractions.

Free LEGO Fractions Book
I’d like to share an example of how to teach using LEGO bricks. This is a strategy for teaching how to add fractions that have like denominators. It's one of the lessons in my book, Teaching Fractions Using LEGO® Bricks, which is a part of my Brick Math Series. If you'd like to see more fraction lessons, you can download the entire PDF of this book as a sample of the series! Click here to request your free copy.

Adding Fractions with Like Denominators
Teaching students to add fractions can be a challenge. Students must first understand that a fraction shows part of a whole. This method of modeling fractions with bricks helps students see clearly what the parts of the fractions mean, and how only the numerators are added, since the two fractions are part of the same whole.

Let’s add the fractions 1/6 and 2/6 together to show how the process works.
  1. First, build models of the two fractions on a baseplate using LEGO bricks. The baseplate is an important component of Brick Math, because it keeps all the bricks in place. 
  2. Start to model the two fractions, denominators first. Use a 2x3 brick (6 studs) to model the denominator of 6. Use two 2x3 bricks that are the same color, to help students understand that the denominators are the same. Leave a little space between the two 2x3 bricks.
  3. Model the numerator of the fraction 1/6 by placing a 1x1 brick above the first 2x3 brick. Model the numerator of the fraction 2/6 by placing a 1x2 brick above the second 2x3 brick. Using different color bricks for the numerators helps to show they are not the same.


  4. Now it’s time to model the action of adding the two fractions. Take another 2x3 brick and place it at the bottom of a baseplate. Place the 1x1 brick above this 2x3 brick. Then place the 1x2 brick above the 1x1 brick. Your model now shows 3 studs over 6 studs. Take three 1x1 bricks and stack them on each stud of the combined numerator bricks. Have students touch each stud to count 3 as the numerator of the solution fraction of 3/6 .
  5. If your students are ready for it, you can demonstrate how 3/6  = 1/2 . Place a 1x3 brick on top of the three 1x1 bricks in the model and show students that the 1x3 brick (modeling the numerator) is 1/2 the 2x3 brick (modeling the denominator).


  6. The final step in the process is to have students draw their brick models on baseplate paper. Drawing the models they have built helps students reinforce the visual depiction of the mathematical concepts. Baseplate paper is included in my book, Teaching Fractions Using LEGO® Bricks, which is a free sample of my Brick Math Series books.
When you take students through the modeling process, you give them a powerful way to visualize the action of the math. For both visual and tactile learners, this method helps student understand how to add fractions that are part of the same whole.


See Two Fraction Lessons in Action on YouTube
Watch the YouTube video below to see two fraction lessons demonstrated step by step.


Learn More 
If you want to learn more about how to teach using LEGO bricks, check the Brick Math program website. The books in the series are available as both printed books and as PDFs, and can be purchased on the website, on Amazon and Kindle, and on TpT. Brick sets that have been designed for the program are available from that site as well. You can also purchase individual LEGO bricks from LEGO Pick a Brick, or from online resellers of LEGO bricks such as www.bricklink.com or www.brickowl.com.

Dr. Shirley Disseler is an associate professor at High Point University and chair of the Department of Elementary and Middle Grades Education, and the STEM coordinator for the BA to MEd program. She is a LEGO® Education Academy Trainer and has been instrumental in developing and testing several LEGO® Education products. Disseler serves on the LEGO® Education Ambassadors Panel and is the trainer for the High Point University Teacher Academy for LEGO® Education. She has over 25 years of educational experience from elementary school teaching through higher education, including gifted education and exceptional children. She has recently started a new business called BrickEd on the Move that offers camps, field trips, and events based on learning with LEGO bricks.

June 28, 2017

How to Create Empowering Habits that Will Lead to Permanent Change

How much of your day do you think is governed by your habits and routines? Would you guess 50%? Less? More?

I don't know about you, but when I think about how I spend my day, I realize that most it consists of routines and procedures I've developed over the years. I follow a certain morning routine, I shop at the same stores, I take the same route when driving around town, and so on. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one whose day-to-day habits follow predictable patterns!

Most of the time there's nothing wrong with us following established routines. They definitely save us time and allow us to be more efficient. In fact, we'd never accomplish anything if we had to rethink the best way to do every activity all day long!

But the problem comes in when we develop unhealthy habits without even realizing it. This can easily happen when we are overworked or dealing with stressful situations, challenges that face most teachers every single day.

Instead of going to the gym or taking a walk after school, we stay late to grade papers, gather materials, and plan the next day's lesson. When we finally leave, it's almost time for dinner which makes a fast-food stop very tempting. Forget about sitting down to read a book or catch up with friends on Facebook at the end of the day because there are more papers to grade and children at home who need help with homework. We'd love to have time for ourselves, but we've learned to put everyone else's needs ahead of our own. Over time, we fall into routines that do us far more harm than good.

Then we hit the wall and realize we just can't go on this way any longer. We resolve to make changes and kick those bad habits. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done, especially if our bad habits are behaviors we've developed over time. Anyone who has made a New Year's resolution only to abandon it a few days later knows that bad habits are extremely difficult to break.

Never enough time...
One reason teachers have trouble learning to take care of ourselves is that we're convinced that we MUST work those long hours in order to be effective. Face it. If you're working 60 or 70 hours a week, there's not much time left over to develop empowering habits of rest and self-care.

I'm going to admit it. I used to feel this way, too. I was convinced that I had to work 12 hours a day during the week and at least a few hours each day on the weekend to get it all done. (Picture me grading papers on the way to the mountains for a weekend camping trip!)

But after I enrolled in Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, I realized that working 60 or 70 hours a week isn't a prerequisite for being a good teacher! By reading her weekly productivity lessons or listening to the audio versions, I discovered that it's possible to be a great teacher and still have time left over for yourself.

In case you're wondering, Angela doesn't expect every teacher who enrolls in the course to reduce their workweek to just 40 hours. That might be too drastic for some teachers, especially in special situations. However, she does ask new club members to evaluate the number of hours they're currently working and choose a new "target number" of hours they'd like to work. Amazingly, within just a few weeks, new members trim 11 hours, on average, from the time they work each week!

Unfortunately, I had already retired by the time learned about Angela's course so I wasn't able to benefit personally from these lessons. That's one reason I love reading the success stories posted by club members in her 40 HTW Club Facebook groups. It's so gratifying to know that there's a program to help teacher workaholics like me learn how to trim hours from their workweeks!

Even when we have enough time....
Another reason it's difficult to kick a bad habit is that most of us simply don't know how. We resolve to improve, but within a few days or weeks we've fallen right back into the same routines that caused the problem. At first, the problem is not having enough time to develop healthy habits, but that factor won't be nearly as important after enrolling in the 40 HTW Club. Remember those 11 hours that the average member trims off his or her workweek after joining the club?

The real question is, how are you going to use the extra time that you carved out for yourself? Having extra time won't make it any easier to get out and exercise when you'd rather sit and watch your favorite shows. Extra time also won't change the fact that it's far easier to grab fast food on the way home than to shop for groceries and cook a meal. So what's the key to kicking these bad habits? If you're like most people, motivation and desire aren't the problem. All of us WANT to develop more empowering habits, but maybe we just don't know HOW to replace bad habits with healthier ones!

Motivational Webinar by from Angela Watson
So how do we learn to change our habits? Angela Watson recently tacked this topic in her motivational presentation, Teachers, YOU are a priority, too: how to create simple habits of rest and self-care that will change your life. She was my guest presenter for this webinar, and she took a deep dive into topic of how to create self-care habits based on your own personality. She packed the presentation with nuggets of wisdom and practical strategies for creating habits of rest and self-care that will result in long-lasting change.

Angela's presentation was one of the most motivating webinars I've ever seen, and I think you'll agree when you watch or listen to the replay. I created the short video clip below from one part of that presentation. Watch it now, and if you like what she has to offer, click here to sign up for the full replay of that webinar. It's only available until July 7th, so be sure to watch it now!


What new habit would you like to develop? 
The steps and strategies that Angela will present can be used to adopt ANY new habit, even habits that aren't specifically related to rest and self-care. But if you aren't getting enough rest and you're not taking care of yourself, that's probably where you should start!

Here's a question I want you to ponder before watch the replay of Angela's webinar: If you could adopt a new habit, and you KNEW that you would be able to stick with it, what habit (or habits) would you create? If you feel comfortable doing so, I invite you to share your ideas in a comment on this post. You never know when YOUR idea might inspire someone else!

Click here to sign up for this limited-time replay! Ends July 7th

Don't forget to sign up to watch the replay of Angela's motivational webinar! You'll learn how to avoid going for quick fixes that fall apart when school starts. Instead, you'll learn how to create new, empowering habits that will lead to permanent change!

June 21, 2017

Summer Super Sale: Free Print Book with Every Ebook Purchase!

Summer is a terrific time to relax and read without the pressure of planning lessons, prepping for school, and grading papers. Fiction is fun, but after you've been on break for a few weeks, you might be ready for something more substantial. You might even be ready to think about new strategies you want to try next fall. If so, one of the three books on the right may provide the motivation and inspiration you need to kick off a terrific year!

Power Reading Workshop, Graphic Organizers for Reading, and Mastering Math Facts: Multiplication and Division are three of my most popular books for teachers, and all three are available in both print and digital format.

Digital books are awesome because you can download them right away and start reading within minutes. Also, when you buy them on TpT, they're always in your account so there's no danger of misplacing them!

But there's nothing like reading the print version of a book if you want to highlight important passages, make notes in the margins, and fill it with sticky notes to mark pages to reread later. Print versions of teacher books are especially helpful if they include lesson plans and teaching strategies that you may want to refer to during an activity.

Which book format do you prefer? If you can't decide, you'll love this special offer from my publisher, Brigantine Media. From now through July 14th, you can receive a free print copy of any (or all) of my books published by Brigantine Media when you purchase the digital versions from my TpT store!


All three books pictured above and the bundles that include them are eligible for this offer. Click the Published Ebooks link in the custom category sidebar of my TpT store to find them quickly, or click the cover images at the bottom of this post. You can preview each of the books before purchasing to decide whether a single book purchase or a bundle would be your best option.

Normally you would have to pay shipping when purchasing a print book, but the publishers are sweetening this deal by offering FREE SHIPPING, too! Special terms and conditions do apply, so be sure to read all of the details of this offer before making a purchase. Because there's no charge for shipping, this offer is only available in the U.S. Also, neither the publisher nor I have access to your contact information, so you'll need to follow the steps outlined below to request your free print copies before the offer ends on Friday, July 14th.

How to Request Your Free Print Book(s) 
  1. Purchase the digital version of one of the eligible books or bundles below from Laura Candler's TpT store no later than July 14, 2017. 
  2. Forward your email receipt from TpT to the publisher within 48 hours. Email it to neil@raphel.com.
  3. Fill out this Summer Super Sale Google Doc form ASAP to provide us with your mailing address and contact information. 
You'll receive an email confirmation within 24 hours of filling out the form and sending your receipt. You'll be able to access the digital versions of the books from your TpT account, and the print copies will be sent to you via media mail and will arrive in 7 to 10 days.

Sounds Too Good to Be True!
From time to time in the past, Brigantine Media offered a free digital copy with each print book, so you might be wondering if you misread this offer. Nope! This time they are offering a free PRINT book with a digital purchase which is even better, and amounts to a 30% discount when you factor in the normal cost of shipping! I know it sounds too good to be true, but the reason they're offering this special deal is actually pretty simple. With today's print-on-demand technologies, they no longer need to keep hundreds of physical books on hand, stockpiled in a warehouse. So they're taking steps to get those books out of the warehouse and into the hands of teachers as quickly as possible. This is good news for you, but it also means you need to act on this offer now if you're interested. When those books are gone and the warehouse is empty, you won't see a deal like this again!






June 9, 2017

6 Ways to Rekindle Your Passion for Teaching Before You Burn Out

No matter how much you love teaching, it's easy to get to the point of burnout before you realize it. One minute you love your job, and the next you're feeling so overwhelmed that you wonder if you can make it to the end of the day, let alone the end of the school year. Everyone feels this way from time to time, but if you continue to feel discouraged day after day, it's time for a change. Ignore these signs, and you could become another teacher burnout statistic.

The key to overcoming teacher burnout is to dig into your feelings and figure out what's wrong so you can do something about it. If you recognize the signs of burnout early, you can rekindle your passion for teaching before it's too late. I speak from personal experience, because during my 30 years of teaching, there were times when I wondered how much longer I could keep going. But each time this happened, I was able to figure out the source of my stress and overcome it. As a result, my passion for teaching would flare up again and burn stronger than ever!

Recognizing the signs of burnout isn't difficult if you take a moment to slow down and you look inside. If you struggle to find any joy in teaching because you are exhausted, overwhelmed, and overworked, you're on the edge of burnout. If you feel irritable and grumpy all the time, and you can't seem to focus your energy on anything positive, it's time for a change.

Studies point to a number of factors that can lead to teacher burnout, including lack of support, student behavior problems, lack of adequate training for the demands of the job, and plain old boredom. I would also add the inability to find work/life balance. When you consistently put everyone else's needs before your own, you end up feeling resentful and even angry because there's never any time left over for you.

Fortunately, there are many ways to combat teacher burnout before you become a statistic. Here are 6 strategies that kept me from burning out and enabled me to love teaching until my last day. You'll probably realize that you're already doing many of these things, but you if you even discover one new strategy that resonates with you, you may find that it makes a huge difference in your outlook.


1. Start taking care of YOU. 

The most important thing you can do is to make yourself a priority, and decide you'll do whatever it takes to start taking care of you! It's easy to feel burned out if you never have time to exercise, cook a healthy meal, read a book for pleasure, or spend time doing activities that you enjoy.

If you're wondering how to accomplish this when your day is already jam-packed, I have some good news. My friend Angela Watson of the Cornerstone for Teachers will be presenting a webinar on this topic, and she's agree to do a special presentation for my followers on June 29th. If you'd like to join us, click over to the registration page and sign up for Teachers, YOU are a priority, too: How to create simple habits of rest & self-care that will change your life.


2. Connect and collaborate with others who love teaching.

If you feel isolated and unsupported, actively seek out your "tribe," a place where you can connect with like-minded teachers who want to share ideas. Facebook makes this incredibly easy because there are dozens of teacher Facebook groups where you can collaborate, get advice, and offer support to others. Be sure to join groups that have a positive vibe, where teachers are sharing ideas and supporting each other rather than venting about their problems. If you end up in a group where the majority of the posts have a negative tone, leave the group before you get sucked into those discussions!

I loved collaborating with other educators, and I was inspired by many fabulous teachers during my teaching career. After Facebook rolled out groups,  I created several groups for teachers, including the Upper Elementary Teacher Connection. This group is a place where teachers in grades 2 through 6 can connect and with each other to share their passion for teaching. Group members discuss active engagement teaching strategies, share innovative instructional approaches, help each other find curriculum resources, ask advice about situations they're facing at school, and so on. If you're interested in joining, click over to the Upper Elementary Teacher Connection page on my site to read the guidelines and apply for membership. It's free, but you do have to fill out a Google Doc form before you can be added to the group.

3. Transform your classroom into a place you love to be!  

One of the most stressful aspects of being a teacher is the sheer number of hours spent in a classroom with 25 or 30 children who seem to test your limits constantly. I used to feel like I was constantly battling my students to assert myself and gain control in the classroom. I left school every day exhausted, and I had to take a nap before I could do anything else!

Honestly, I was starting to wonder how much longer I could stay in the classroom. The turning point came when my district started providing great professional development, and I spent a week in a Kagan cooperative learning workshop. I was trained in the structural approach to cooperative learning, and I also learned classroom management strategies that helped me implement the techniques effectively. What a game changer! My classroom was never the same!

I began using cooperative learning strategies in every subject area, and I taught social skill lessons to help my students learn to get along with others. Instead of working in isolation, struggling with the content on their own, they worked with partners or in teams, talking about what they were learning and engaging with the content in meaningful ways.

What a different this made, not only to my students who were happier and learning more, but also to me personally. Instead of dragging myself to school in the morning, I was excited and full of energy, ready to try new strategies with my students. My classroom became a place I loved to be, and my students loved to be there with me!

This experience taught me about the importance of creating a caring classroom environment and using active engagement strategies. When you make learning both challenging and fun, kids don't have time to think about misbehaving.

Over the years, I developed a step-by-step system for getting the school year off to a great start, and last year I shared those strategies in a webinar called How to Launch a Super School Year. I don't plan to present it again until late July, but if you can't wait for the live webinar, you can sign up to watch the replay of last year's webinar. As I shared in the webinar, when you believe that this is going to be your best year ever and you act accordingly, it will be!

4. Learn to work smarter, not harder.

We've all heard this advice, but what does it really mean? Until a few years ago, I had never heard anyone explain exactly HOW teachers are supposed to work smarter and not harder. Anyone who lives with a teacher knows that they work insane numbers of hours each week, and they never get everything done! The "normal" 40 hour work week sounds like an impossible dream to a teacher who's working 60 or 70 hours a week.

I loved teaching, but I will be the first to admit that I worked far too many hours. It's a wonder that I didn't burn out because I never could figure out how to "work smarter" and not harder. But a few years ago, I found out that it's possible to work less and still be a great teacher. I learned that Angela Watson, who will be presenting the webinar I mentioned earlier, taught 3rd grade for many years, and she was able to work a 40 hour teacher workweek. You can tell from Angela's blog that she was a great teacher, so I was a bit skeptical about her claim that she only worked 40 hours a week.

Then I became a member of her 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and started learning all of her secrets! Each week Angela sends an email to club members that's packed with productivity strategies, and she also has a Facebook group where members can get support with implementing the strategies. Angela doesn't promise that everyone will be able to reduce their workweek to 40 hours, but data she's collected shows that club members are able to shave an average of 1 hours off every week. That's over 40 hours a month saved just by learning to be more productive!

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is only open twice a year to new members, and the last enrollment period ended on July 7th. If you'd like to be notified when the club opens to new members again, click here and provide me with your contact information. I'll email you a reminder a few weeks before membership opens.

5. Never stop learning, growing, and trying new strategies.
One reason I loved teaching was that I was always learning and growing. I loved figuring out new ways to teach a concept more effectively and creating new resources to help my kids become self-motivated learners. Every school year was different, bringing new challenges and new opportunities for growth. I couldn't imagine pulling out the same set of lesson plans and teaching from them every year... how boring! Students come to us with different needs each year, technology is always changing, and brain research continues to provide us with more evidence about how we learn best. How could I possibly teach from last year's lesson plans?

If you realize you're bored because you've been teaching the same thing, year after year, it's time for a change. Why not request a move to a different grade level or teach a different subject? Try a new program with your students, like reading workshop, literature circles, or math stations. Explore a new online tool like Plickers or Kahoot, and make a plan for implementing it in your classroom. Join teacher Facebook groups where you can ask for ideas and advice about new strategies and technologies. How about signing up to watch some of my webinars for teachers? You'll soon feel rejuvenated and ready for a new year!

6. Remember why you became a teacher, and stay true to your purpose. 

If you're like most elementary teachers, you became a teacher because you wanted to work with children and make a difference. But in today's current educational climate, it's easy to lose sight of your purpose when it feels like teaching is more about following district mandates than meeting student needs.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to shut your door and do what you do best... teach! Figure out exactly what you are required to do, and do what's absolutely necessary, but don't be afraid to change things up a bit as long if you truly believe you're doing what's best for your kids. Carve out time for passion projects, reading aloud, class meetings, and learning games. Don't do anything that will get you fired, of course, but you'll find that there are many ways to stay true to your purpose and do what's right for your students.

If you encounter resistance from your administration, even when your students are happy and achieving at high levels, it might be time to seek out a new school family. I remember two times when I felt unappreciated and unsupported by the administration, and it seemed like every idea was met with resistance. I was miserable, and it had nothing to do with my students and their behaviors. In both situations, I decided at the end of the year that it was time to move on. I was so much happier in my new schools that I never regretted those decisions.

Being a teacher isn't the easiest profession, but it's definitely one of the most rewarding. If you recognize the signs of burnout in yourself and take action NOW, you can rekindle your passion for teaching and find joy again in the profession you chose!




Disclaimer: I'm an affiliate of Angela's 40 HTW Club which means I earn a commission each time someone purchases the course after clicking on my affiliate link. However, I would never put this much effort into recommending a course unless I was convinced it was absolutely amazing! I can assure you that if you're willing to do the work, your results will be amazing, even life-changing!

June 3, 2017

Motivating Math Games

Motivating kids at the end of the year can be a challenge, especially if you're still expected to teach skills and review academic content. Whole group instruction is particularly challenging this time of year because it's so difficult to get kids to sit quietly and focus on the lesson when everyone (including you!) is hanging on until summer break!

As a former 4th and 5th grade teacher, I've been there, and I found that the best way to keep kids engaged during the last few weeks was by using math games. I love using games because they are so versatile; you can use them in math centers, cooperative learning teams, or small guided math groups. Math games give kids a chance to talk and move, but it's productive talk and movement, so playing math games is the perfect way to wrap up the school year.

Where to Find Math Games
Whether your school is still in session or you are already on summer break, this is a great time to build up your collection of math games. You can make your own, of course, but they are quite time-consuming to create. I know, because I created loads of math games for my students while I was teaching. I continued to make new math games after I left the classroom, and I've spent considerable time updating my older ones.

I love making math games, but if that's not the way you care to spend YOUR weekends, consider purchasing them from TpT.

Math Games Mega Bundle
If you're an upper elementary teacher, check out my Math Games Mega Bundle because it might be just what you need. This growing bundle includes 16 math games, and if I create new math games (and I probably will), those games will be added to this bundle, too.

Each game is unique, and to really appreciate them, you need to preview them individually. If you'd like to take a closer look at the games in this bundle, click the cover images at the end of this post to find them in my TpT store. If you like all of them, you'll save over $25 by purchasing the bundle!

Earlier this week I hosted a giveaway of this bundle and two $10 TpT gift cards, but the giveaway ended on June 6th. Congratulations to Aimee Wallace, the grand prize winner of the bundle, and to Jaime Homan and Becky Raycroft, the winners of the TpT gift cards.

As a part of the giveaway, I asked teachers to preview the books in the bundle and tell me which ones were their favorites. To enter the contest, they had to comment on my Teaching Resources Facebook page to tell me which games they liked best and why they liked them. I especially loved reading the comments from teachers who already had some of the games because they shared how the games actually worked with their students. If you'd like to read those comments, click over to the giveaway post on Facebook. Even though the contest is over, feel free to comment about which games you like!
Tips for Teaching with Math Games
If you'd like some tips for teaching with math games, check out my post, How to Use Math Games Effectively in the Classroom. In that post, I shared some strategies and techniques for using math games as a part of your instruction rather than just for fun. I also described an easy mini-lesson on how to teach kids to be a good sport. Many of those tips and that mini-lesson are also included in my freebie, Tips for Teaching with Math Games, which you can download from my TpT store. Enjoy!





May 31, 2017

Child-Centered Reading Conference Strategies

by Carolyn Wilhelm, Guest Blogger

Oh, the joy of a really great novel with just enough suspense that the reader can barely put it down! Teachers work so hard at getting to know which books will really grab individual children. We learn about their lives, their interests, and their reading habits. We are so happy to match a reader with the just-right and just-perfect book, and observe the silent reading with a smile. Job well done!

Screech, put on the brakes . . . as soon as our students are happily engaged in reading, we slide a teacher stool up next to the absorbed reader to begin a reading conference. Then we brightly ask, "What reading strategy are you using today? Will you explain how this strategy is helping you be a better reader?" Smiling and hoping to jot some notes on our charts or report card forms, we hope for an insightful and elaborate answer.

The student, wanting to please, stops the marvelous reading experience to try to answer. He pauses to think, "What can I say to get the teacher to leave so I can just get back to reading?  Let's see, she was happy when I said I was inferring the other day, so I can't use that again. What can I say today?"

When seen from a child’s point of view, reading conferences may sometimes appear to be an unwelcome interruption. However, we know that individual reading conferences are critical in order to determine if our students comprehend the text. So how can we confer with them in a child-centered manner that meets their needs rather than focusing on our objectives?

After giving this some thought, I created the Child-Centered Reading Conference chart shown on the right with some strategies and possible questions to ask without interrupting the reader and ruining the reading experience.

Begin the session with a general question such as "What is something you have just been thinking about while reading?" Then try to follow up that question with one that matches what the child just said with a similar reading strategy.

We should not make children fit their thinking into the strategies we are teaching when they are delightfully engrossed in reading. Be as unobtrusive, quiet, and thoughtful as you can when conferring with an engrossed reader . . . and be quick!

Yes, teachers have to gather notes and information about readers, but we also have to be careful not to spoil the reading experiences of our students. Happy reading!



Carolyn Wilhelm has a Masters in Gifted Education, another Masters in K-12 Curriculum and Instruction, and is a National Board Certified Teacher in the area of Middle Childhood Generalist. She has taught grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, gifted education K-6, and remedial math grades 1-6. Carolyn is the creator of The Wise Owl Factory website and Book-a-Day blog.

May 27, 2017

Teaching Order of Operations: No-fail Strategies that Really Work!

Order of operations can be frustrating to teach, but it doesn't have to be. There's no question that this is an extremely challenging topic for elementary students. Fortunately, there are loads of strategies for teaching order of operations that are both fun and effective.

One reason kids struggle with this concept is that there are so many rules to learn and follow. Even worse, rules that appear to be simple often prove to be deceptively complex.

For example, most kids can easily remember that multiplication and division are always performed before addition and subtraction, especially after they learn to follow the order described by "PEMDAS."

However, they tend to get stuck when an equation includes both multiplication AND division. Most kids automatically multiply before dividing, but order of operations tells us to perform the operation that comes first when reading the problem from left to right. No wonder kids find order of operations to be super confusing!

Another reason kids struggle is that even when they understand how to use order of operations correctly, they don't apply the rules systematically. Because the problems look easy, students try to rely on mental math alone to solve them. This may work with the easy problems, but mental math isn't effective with more complex problems that include multiple operations, parentheses, exponents.

After watching my students struggle with order of operations, I developed a simple lesson that worked every time. As a result, my students actually remembered the rules and could easily apply them to any problem. I'd like to share these no-fail strategies with you, along with two free order of operations printables you can use to help your students grasp these concepts.

March 29, 2017

How to Teach Poetry, Step by Step (It's Easier Than You Think!)

April is National Poetry Month!

When you saw those words, what was your first reaction? Come on now, be honest!

You might have been thinking, "Yay! I love poetry, and now I have an excuse to teach it!"

But more likely you were thinking, "Yikes! Is it that time already? Poetry is so boring and hard to teach, and my students don't like it either. How will I fit poetry lessons into my already packed schedule!"

No matter how you feel about poetry, if you're an upper elementary teacher, you probably have to teach it at some point during the year. Poetry is included in most reading curriculums, and almost every standardized reading test has at least a few poems. Even if your students aren't tested on poetry, there are many reasons to teach it. Just think about the amount figurative language used in poetry, and you'll understand how learning to read and write poetry can improve comprehension of other types of text, too.

The good news is that even if you don't enjoy poetry yourself, it's easy to teach it in a way that will have your students begging for more! 

If you don't believe me, I hope you'll watch my free webinar, How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You't Don't). Every time I present this training, teachers tell me that watching the webinar totally changed the way they feel about teaching poetry. Instead of dreading their next poetry unit, they are actually excited to get started!  

Before I tell you more about the webinar, I'd like you to reflect on your own feelings about poetry and consider why you feel the way you do. This might seem like an unusual request, but after reading this post, I think you'll see why it's important.

What I've discovered is that whether you love poetry or you'd rather walk across a bed of hot coals than teach it, the way you feel about poetry now is a direct result of your early experiences with it. I'll admit that the study of poetry can be dry and boring, but it can also be vibrant and exciting when it's taught as a form of self-expression. Read the two scenarios below and ask yourself which one is most like your own experiences learning poetry.

The Best of Poetry
If you enjoy poetry and you like teaching it, your first experiences were probably relaxed, playful and fun. Discussions about poetry focused on personal responses, and you talked about the beauty of the language, noticed the musical quality of the words, or discussed how poetry made you feel. You learned that poems don't have to rhyme and often break the rules of grammar, and if you were encouraged to write poetry, you probably wrote free verse.

Free verse poems are so easy to write that almost anyone can compose them, even kids who normally struggle to write sentences and paragraphs. To see what I mean, read Corn Husks below, a poem written by one of my former 5th grade students while on our "Private Eye Poetry" field trip. I wrote a grant for a class set of Private Eye magnifying lenses, and later arranged to take my students to the local park to observe nature up close and write poetry. The students spent the first hour collecting items and using their private eyes to observe them, and the second hour was spent writing poems about the treasures they found. Anthony was fascinated with dried corn husks, and he wrote this beautiful comparison poem about what he observed.

The Worst of Poetry
Not everyone has been lucky enough to learn about poetry this way; in fact, most students have only seen the worst of poetry. If your early memories consist of painful and humiliating attempts to memorize and recite poetry in front of the class, it's no wonder you want to avoid it at all costs! Were you forced to analyze each and every poem to uncover its "true" meaning? If so, I'll bet you were frustrated when your interpretation was different from your teacher's, and you were told that yours was wrong. If you were given poetry-writing assignments, your poems probably had to rhyme which meant never being able to write in your own voice. Writing rhyming poetry is an art, and it's not something that comes naturally to adults or children. Inexperienced writers often end up replacing powerful words with weak ones just because they rhyme, so their poems sound boring and contrived.

So, did you experience the best of poetry or the worst of poetry as a student? If you don't like poetry, are you starting to realize why you don't like it? This is why I wanted to you to explore how you came to feel the way you do about poetry. Which of the two scenarios would you like your students to experience? Poems don't have to rhyme, and they don't have to be dry and boring. If that's what you've experienced up until now, let me introduce a whole new way of thinking about poetry and teaching it to your students! After you implement some of these strategies, you might even be surprised to learn that you actually like teaching poetry!

Sign up here for the poetry webinar replay. 

Free Webinar: How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don't)
I've been sharing poetry resources with teachers for a long time, but until last year, I had never explained how to each a poetry unit from beginning to end. Frankly, I worried that trying to write out the complete, the step-by-step directions for a poetry unit would result in a 3-inch thick document that no one would have time to read!

Then last April, I had a flash of insight when I realized poetry would be the perfect topic to teach during a webinar! The format would give me a way to explain the steps and strategies in great detail, and I could also answer questions at the end of the live session.

I immediately set to work developing my webinar, How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even if You Don't), and it was a joy to be able to share exactly how I teach poetry, step by step. The webinar has been hit each time I've presented it, and it's equally popular with teachers who love poetry and those who don't... or those who didn't enjoy it in the past!

The most recent live presentation of the webinar took place on March 30th, but don't worry if you missed it. You can sign up to watch a free replay from the webinar registration page. If I happen to schedule another live webinar, you'll see the date and time when you click that link. My free webinars don't include a professional development certificate, but you can obtain a PD certificate for this session by purchasing my How to Teach Poetry Webinar PD pack or my Poetry Webinar Bundle. Both products include a PD certificate, the poetry webinar slides in a printable PDF format, a downloadable video to watch offline, and an audio replay.


What You'll Learn in the Poetry Webinar
If you're wondering what cover in this webinar, download the free How to Teach Poetry webinar handouts from my TpT store now and take a look. While you're there, read the comments and testimonials from teachers who attended the webinar in the past, and I think you'll see why I'm so excited to share this information with you! Whether or not you actually take notes, the handouts provide a nice outline of what you can expect to learn in this session:
  • Why it's important to teach poetry
  • A 6-step plan for teaching an entire poetry unit
  • What free verse poetry is and how it differs from other forms of poetry
  • My favorite poetry books to read aloud and share with your students
  • Questions to guide your poetry discussions
  • How to teach kids the difference between poetry and prose
  • 8 commonly-used poetic devices and how to teach them
  • A quick and easy close reading strategy for teaching kids to dig deeper into poetry
  • How to get kids talking about poetry
  • Strategies for teaching kids to write powerful similes and metaphors
  • A simple, step-by-step method for writing color poems
  • How to transform reluctant writers into enthusiastic poets

Ready to Get Started Teaching Your BEST Poetry Unit Ever?
Have you signed up for How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don't)? I feel confident that after implementing the step-by-step plan described in the webinar, you'll actually begin to enjoy teaching poetry. Best of all, your students will discover the best of poetry instead of the worst, and before you know it, they'll be reading and writing poetry with enthusiasm!


March 7, 2017

Arr, Me Hearties! Island Conquer Gets a Pirate Makeover!

Do you recognize the Island Conquer math game freebie pictured on the right? If you've been following my blog for awhile, you might be thinking that the name sounds familiar, but the freebie itself probably doesn't LOOK familiar!

That's because Island Conquer Area & Perimeter recently got a pirate makeover! Arr, me hearties! I had the best time updating this math game, and I can't wait to share it with you landlubbers! :-)

If you're an upper elementary teacher, you know that kids often get confused between area and perimeter, so they need lots of practice with these skills. A few years ago, I noticed that my 4th graders were struggling with these concepts, so I created a math center game to give them a fun way to practice area and perimeter.

Island Conquer is a partner math game that involves plotting rectangular polygons on a coordinate grid and then finding the area or perimeter of those shapes. The coordinate grid represents the ocean and the rectangles are the islands. At the end of the game, players calculate the total area or perimeter of their islands to find out who won.

My 4th graders loved Island Conquer so much that I decided to share it with my followers, and the game became one of my most popular freebies. However, when I came across the original file last week, I noticed that it looked really outdated. I decided to revise the entire freebie and give a pirate theme, and what a difference it made!

In the updated version of Island Conquer, the players (pirates) are given a mission to map all the islands in Quadrilateral Bay and to conquer them by correctly calculating their areas or perimeters. At the end of the game, both pirates count their “treasure” by calculating the total area or perimeter of all the islands they have captured. Island Conquer is a terrific review game because both luck and skill are needed to win. Players have to rely on luck when they draw a coordinate card from the deck, but they must correctly plot the island on the map and calculate the area or perimeter in order to capture the island and win.

Island Conquer Area & Perimeter Math Game Freebie

Click here to sign up for Candler's Classroom Connections and grab this freebie!

Where to Find Island Conquer
Would you like to use this math game in your classroom? Island Conquer is free for subscribers to my email newsletter, Candler's Classroom Connections, and if you're not already a subscriber, click here to sign up and I'll send Island Conquer right to your inbox! If you are a current subscriber, look for a recent email from me with the link to the page called Laura's Best Freebies. If you can't find it, sign up using the link above and I'll send Island Conquer to you now. I hope you find this activity to be a helpful math resource and that your students enjoy Island Conquer as much as mine did!



February 22, 2017

Going Marbles for STEM Hands-on Learning

Guest blog post by Francie Kugelman

April 23rd, 2017 Update: Six teachers will each win 4 Marble Run Super Sets in this weekend's Caring Classrooms Contest! Click HERE for details.

Do you remember the thrill of dropping a marble into a maze and watching it roll, spin, and finally end at the bottom of your run? Having your students create a marble run can be a fantastic learning experience for your students, and it makes a great STEM project, too. Believe it or not, you might even be able to the materials for this project absolutely free!

I recently decided to have my 3rd graders design and test marble runs as a part of my Forces and Interactions science unit. I developed the activity to address the Next Generation Science Standard 3-PS2-1: "Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object."

When I began looking for materials, I discovered the Marble Run Extreme kit from Marble Genius which looked like the perfect resource for this STEM activity. I was going to order a kit from Amazon.com, but after noticing that many reviewers were able to purchase the kit at a reduced price, I emailed the company to ask about getting a discount. I ended up with something even better than a discount... they offered to send me a kit for free! I also ordered a set of six stopwatches from Amazon that my students could wear around their necks so they could time their runs and make adjustments.

For our first class experience with marble runs, we had large teams and I separated the kit so every team had the essential parts for their marble runs. After the activity, I contacted Marble Genius to thank them, and I raved about their Marble Run Extreme kit. I couldn't believe it when Jeff Forgrave, the founder of the company, emailed me back and offered to send me 10 more kits for free! One kit isn't really enough for an entire class, and he wanted my students to experience a true hands-on STEM lesson where every child could participate in designing, building, and testing marble runs.

After the kits arrived, I had classroom parents label every piece so I could easily put them back together again. Each kit includes 125 translucent plastic pieces and 20 marbles, so it was easy to make sure every group had essential pieces to create their marble run. I rolled up our classroom rugs and put them in the hallway so the marble runs would have stability on our floor.

The Challenge: Building the Slowest Marble Run
When it was time to start the activity, I divided my students into small cooperative learning groups and challenged them to design the SLOWEST run! I gave each team a set of marble run materials including a stopwatch, and I could feel the excitement and urgency in the room as each team worked on trying to build the slowest marble run in the classroom.

I loved hearing the excitement in my room as I watched how focused and engaged my students were, from high achievers to struggling students. One team discovered that the circular shape with the hole in the middle is perfect for slowing down the marble. I had the rest of the class watch that team’s marble run in action, and I challenged the other teams to match their time and increase it!


Every team wanted to time their run and change their design so they could increase the time it took for their marble to complete its run. Both boys and girls worked together on their marble runs, and had no difficulties making adjustments to the configuration of their marble runs.

Besides creating a run with the slowest time, we tried some other runs. One activity required the students to use all the pieces they were given to create the fastest run, and another criteria was to choose 5 pieces that could be removed from the kit that would help the run to be even faster.

Creating marble runs was fun for my students, and they really loved the activity. But what I liked best was the fact that they were experimenting and making critical thinking choices while exploring Next Generation Science Standard concepts related to forces and interactions!

Marble Run Extreme Kits 
The Marble Run Extreme kits worked great for this activity! The pieces are easy to assemble, sturdy, and made of colorful transparent plastic! My third graders are 9 years old, and the kits were so easy to use that none of them asked for my help putting their Marble Runs together. We loved watching the marbles as they traveled their way through the run because this kit features transparent plastic, making it extremely easy to watch and film the journey. Because I labeled the parts of each kit, putting the pieces away in the correctly labeled box was easy to do.

If you do this activity with your students, I recommend purchasing several kits so you'll have plenty of materials for your students to use when designing their marble runs. The more marble run kits you order, the more pieces each team has to work with. A total of 4-5 kits would be perfect for a classroom of 25 students so there would be lots of pieces for each team to work with.

If you order enough kits, you could even create a Makerspace in your classroom where your students can design their own Ultimate Marble Runs any way they want to!

Marble Genius Ambassador Program (Free Kits for Teachers!)
If funding for marble run materials isn't available from your school, don't lose hope! The folks at Marble Genius have just launched their Marble Genius Ambassador program, and they're planning to give away over 1,000 Marble Run kits to teachers like me who are willing to use the materials and to help spread the word about them! Interested teachers can request up to 10 free kits in exchange for agreeing to share about their experiences on social media as well as in a school or class newsletter. If you're interested in signing up for the program, click over to the Marble Genius Ambassador page to learn more and get started.


DonorsChoose Funding for Marble Run Materials
You can also explore grants and funding opportunities to obtain the materials. If you teach in a public school in the United States, you could easily write a DonorsChoose proposal for the marble run kits and stopwatches, and there's a good chance it would be fully funded. DonorsChoose.org is a nonprofit organization that helps teachers get funding for classroom materials, and if you aren't tapping into this source of funding, now would be a great time to begin!

I've had 200 DonorsChoose projects funded with a total value of over $100,000, and I've learned a few tricks for getting your project funded successfully. First, try to keep your total materials cost under $350 because small projects are much more likely to get funded. Also, look for match offers and keep them in mind when writing your proposal. For example, your project can qualify for a 50% match if you use your marble runs in an after-school club as described on the Science Everywhere Innovations Challenge page. Another 50% match is available for those who teach at a highest poverty school if they follow the directions for the STEAM Innovation Grant.

To learn more about how to obtain funding through DonorsChoose.org, follow the Caring Classrooms Community on Facebook. Members of this group help and support each other as they work to get their DonorsChoose projects funded. Laura Candler and I are the administrators of the group, and we love supporting teachers who are trying to obtain DC funding. You might also want to watch the replay of the DonorsChoose webinar that Laura and I presented together a few months ago because we shared a lot of helpful information!

Marble Genius Partners with Caring Classrooms
While I was communicating with Jeff Forgrave a few months ago to share my excitement about the Marble Run Extreme kits, I also told him about DonorsChoose and the teachers who make up the Caring Classrooms Community.

When he found out about our mission, he offered to sponsor the Caring Classrooms Community with a $500 donation AND 20 Marble Run Super Set kits to give to teachers in our community! Laura and I are so appreciative of this level of support from Marble Genius, and we're planning to give those kits away in the Caring Classrooms Contest which will take place on April 22nd and 23rd. Click over to the contest page now to see how it works! Six teachers will each win 4 Marble Run Super Sets, and you can enter even if you aren't eligible to use DonorsChoose.

If you want to be reminded when the contest begins, sign up for the Caring Classrooms email newsletter. Who knows? You might be one of the lucky winners!



Francie Kugelman teaches 3rd grade at Dahlia Heights Elementary School in Los Angeles. She loves actively engaging her students in the learning process, and she's obtained over $100,000 in classroom funding from DonorsChoose.org to help bring those lessons to life. Francie is a passionate advocate for DonorsChoose.org, and she enjoys helping other teachers obtain funding for their projects through this nonprofit organization. Francie also holds the honor of being the very first Marble Genius Ambassador!