September 2013 | Teaching in the Tongass

Friday, September 27, 2013


 1.  Before you get all "They get paid to live there" on me, keep in mind the cost of living here is RIDICULOUS. You don't want to get into this argument with me, trust me. Normally, people use this money for things like heating bills, college savings or just plain ol' put it in the bank for when your next appliance breaks (why does this happen so often?!).  My parents used it for catching up on their bills. I am pretty good at paying off debts, so I'm all squared away. The question I have for you is, what would you spend $900 on?
 2. Beginning today!
3. I'm sick. I started feeling nauseous and throat-tickly on Wednesday, and woke up with the flu on Thursday. Fortunately, I keep a stash of Gatorade (blue is my fave!), popsicles and a Tivo full of crap TV I wouldn't otherwise be watching.  Right now, I'm missing our first district-wide inservice, which to be completely honest, I was looking forward to.  I will have to annoy someone on Monday to find out what I missed out on.  Lucky them.
4. Our interim principal arrived this week. I can't remember if I blogged about this before, but basically, we've had quite a few transitions in the last few years. 2 years ago, our principal retired. We hired someone from Minnesota. She stuck around for 2 years, but unexpectedly left the position this summer to go back home.  Because there wasn't a lot of time (and I'm guessing most principal applicants apply in the spring), we were told we would be getting an interim for the year instead of hiring someone. The district hired an interim who used to live here, but was currently in Arizona. So, we had to have a substitute interim for the first few weeks. The substitute they hired was our old district human resources person that had retired last year. Yowza. Lots of changes. The sad thing is, I don't think this is the end of it!
5.  Cheeks is in a kissing phase (the open-mouthed-baby kind). He really is such a sweet baby. If we're reading a book, he has to kiss the cute animals (he won't kiss the "creepy crawly" page of his animal book though!). He's especially fond of "foofs" (aka kitty cats and puppies). His latest victim: this cow.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

math workshop part 3: routines time

This is the third post in my Math Workshop series.
math workshop

You can read the first post here and the second post here.

Another important element in any elementary (yes, 3-5 too!) math curriculum is Routines Time (aka Calendar Math).  My district implemented Everyday Counts when we adopted Math in Focus last year, but I like to incorporate lots of other activities.  I think it's important to remember that your wall space for math is just as critical as your ELA space...even if you don't like to teach it as much as you like to teach reading/writing (I know that's not you though)! I divided my large bulletin board straight down the middle (one side is a word wall, the other side is my Math Focus Wall) and although most of it stays put all year, there are a few things that change as students learn the concepts and we move on to other things (i.e. CHANGE IT UP! If they have the months of the year down, don't need to sing the song every. single. day.).
I made sure my kids had 200s charts on the back of their DEBs (dry erase boards). I've done both laminating/taping and just using page protectors, but I have to say the laminated versions last a lot longer and don't fall off...currently, I'm having a parent volunteer help cut out new ones so I can laminate and tape them on to the whiteboards.
You can download my 0-200 Chart FREEBIE by clicking below. Please remember to "tip your server" (leave feedback) while you're there.
Right after we have Roll & Write and Drops in the Bucket, students put their binders away and bring their DEB and marker to the floor (I have assigned spots for Routines Time...those who need lots of support sit right up in front so I can keep them engaged).  I used to cut erasers into thirds, but I found these dry erase markers with erasers on the caps on Amazon two years ago and they. are. awesome. I convinced our school admin to purchase a bundle of them so that every classroom could have them. Seriously, if your students use dry erase markers and you haven't invested in a set like this, I highly recommend you do.
We talk about using DEB as a tool, not a toy (doodling is for special occasions when I have an emergency and I need them to give me 5 minutes). This year, on a whim, I stuck these googly eyes I bought over the summer and a wig I had in my room to give her some personality! The kids LOVED it. I blamed all the rules on DEB...she's just so darn particular!
I write anywhere from 1-5 questions on the board (depending on how much time we have left/difficulty of the problems). The problems are usually finishing a pattern, adding coins, input/output (function) boxes, identifying shapes, fractions, and telling time.  As students make their way to the floor they start working on the problems. I do this for a couple of reasons, but the main one is that I need something productive for my kids that get seated quickly.  My kids that take a long time to put their binders away might get to the floor and only have time for 1 problem. My intention isn't for everyone to do each problem, so that doesn't matter. After only a few minutes everyone should be seated and working quietly.  I begin Routines Time by showing how to find the answers to the problems on the whiteboard.  Students don't get to change their answers or add anything, whiteboards remain on the floor in front of them. This is SO HARD for so many of them.  But, eventually, they get over it.  Also, I've decided against students showing me their answers on their DEB simply because I can see them from where I stand. Of course, I use what I see on their DEB to guide my instruction.  This whole DEB process takes about 5 minutes total.

After DEBs, we move on to the actual Routines Time. You might call this Calendar Math, but because it's so much more than teaching days of the week and months of the year, some teachers have learned to use the term, "Routines Time" instead.  I move through a variety of things and keep a "perky pace" to the best of my ability. I only have 15 minutes, and I use every precious second of it. No time to tell me about the time your grandma took you to the zoo and blah blah blah. Sorry, maybe later when we're getting in line for recess. The main idea that I keep in mind for Routines, is that if the class understands a concept, make it more challenging. Don't just keep doing the same thing over and over.  Remember to differentiate and keep them learning, not just reviewing. Of course, it's important to go back and make sure they remember the months of the year. But if all 23 have it, I don't need to do it every day. Maybe I change the question about months to be: What month comes after February? Or what is the 5th month? I'm constantly differentiating and changing the questions to fit the needs of my students.
My Lakeshore pocket chart came with a write on/wipe off hundreds chart, but again, 1-100 isn't enough (plus...we need to teach "0" educational companies...are you listening?!), so I got a write on/wipe off 1-200 display size chart (again, no zero).  You can find one here for $15.  I took a pair of scissors and (gasp!) cut the 10s from the right side and moved them to the left side to line up with the zero I had to add myself. A little highlighter tape to make the tens a little more identifiable and we're in business.
Click below to download this FREEBIE! I use the questions in this pack as a guide for my instruction during Routines Time, but I don't stick to it like a script, so if you use this, please make sure you are changing the numbers/questions for what your kids need.

What do you do during Calendar Math? If you have any questions or thoughts, please comment below! 

To see the next post in this series, click below:

Friday, September 20, 2013


It's Friday. TFGIF.

Yesterday, I made a mini of my Mom. Mommy mini is my fave :) She's rockin her sorority sweatshirt (not a college sorority, but a nonprofit philanthropic sorority that raises money for charities like St.Judes) and her mom jeans.  Teacher friends, meet Margi (pronounced with a soft g unless you want to get the EVIL MOM/TEACHER EYE...which has been, by far, the best genetic trait she could have shared with me). Thanks Ma!

We had MAP testing this week. This is the first time we had a laptop cart come to our classrooms, and I have to say, it went GREAT! Thanks to my old teamie (who I miss terribly and is teaching straight 1 this year...booo!), the laptops work great and we get to keep using the computer lab during interventions (instead of pausing interventions for weeks while MAP testing and makeups go on). Yay for efficiency!

Do you follow me on Instagram? @tongassteacher
I posted this last week I think. It's my new clipboard/binder I got from Amazon. You can find one by clicking here. I was planning on bringing my Teacher Binder Essentials Pack to our local Office Plus, but decided to do this instead for now. It flips open so I can put the binder on top of the clipboard if I want, which is great if I am walking outside to my car (if you haven't figured it out yet, I live in a rainforest and it rains all the time) or if I have something confidential clipped on top.  So far, I love it!
We finished reading Flat be honest, I started reading it 2 weeks ago and then completely forgot about it, saw it sitting behind my chair and was mortified (not that the kids even noticed!). After I finished reading, I had each student draw themselves as a Flat {their name} and write about what they would do if they were flat like Stanley. The majority of them drew themselves as kites (Stanley becomes a kite in the book) because that's the example I drew. I collected them and put them in our Flat Stanley binder (where we keep all of our Stanley's once they come back to us). Do you read Flat Stanley? Do you do anything special for it? I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

math workshop part 2: rekenreks, ten frames, number lines oh my!

This is the second post in my Math Workshop series. 
math workshop

You can catch-up by reading the previous post here.  Last time I wrote about individual fluency practice using Roll and Write.  It's also very important to do whole group fluency practice.  This can be done in a variety of ways. The first way I want to talk about involves using a manipulative tool called a Rekenrek.  If you've learned about subitizing, chances are you've seen a Rekenrek.  This is a fantastic tool to use in addition to ten frames.  If you don't already know what or how to use this tool for math instruction, I highly recommend that you  READ THIS.  If you don't have the funds to buy a fancy shmancy display Rekenrek or student versions, you can easily make your own. 

I haven't used my Rekenreks for a while now, but plan on it this year. My 2nd graders this year will be needing the extra support and visual aid.  Thankfully, I bought a great little curriculum set a few years ago that goes really well with the use of Rekenreks. It even comes with big books (these are my favorite part) that introduce the mathematical concept you are working on! This helps students visualize and put numbers to a context (like a story problem), which I have found is really important for these younger kiddos.

Before I bought this one, my husband made one (I gave it to a dear teacher friend though, so no photo for you!).  I bought spray paint, wooden dowels, wooden balls and he used some scrap wood and his drill to make one. If you aren't inclined to do that sort of thing but are fortunate enough to have a crafty man in your life (or woman for that matter), show them what it looks like and see if they'd be willing to try! Don't forget the thank you beer muffin basket!
The second way I teach whole group fluency is with ten frames and a deck of jumbo display cards or ten frame cards.  I keep one ten frame set for display above my Math Focus Wall, and another set is used as flash cards.  You can find these in my Editable Chalkboard Decor Pack.
If you have a deck of cards or even index cards with numbers on them, you can practice whole group fluency. I found these at a local store.
While my kids are sitting on the floor, or are standing in line while we are waiting to go out the door, I flash a ten frame card.  Depending on the skill we are working on, I could be asking them to tell me "the other part of ten, double or double plus one" (etc.).  For instance, I hold up a 6, the class says "4" if we are practicing tens partners.  Or I hold up a 7, the class says "14" if we are practicing doubles.  

Nancy bestowed many different number lines upon me, but these are my favorite ones. I keep one on my dry erase board for whole group minilessons, and a class set in a ziploc bag for games time. I've added velcro to the student number lines so they will stick to the carpet when kids are playing math games, and magnet strips to my display number line so it will stick to my magnetic whiteboard.

I hope you've found something valuable in this post! Please let me know if you have any questions by commenting below!

Go on to the next post in this series:


Friday, September 13, 2013

winners and a read-in

Happy Friday!!!! I've had a pretty good week and am just starting to really get back in the swing of things.
We just finished our 4th week of school (wow...that went by fast) and we earned a Read-In by filling up our marble jar.  So, while you're reading this, I'm in my footie pjs (btw, footie pjs are not flattering AT. ALL. so you have to get over yourself and just wear them if you want to be like the cool kids) showing my kids how it's done!
I saw an idea like this somewhere recently and can't remember where (if you know,  tell me so I can post a link!), but I think it's going to make a huge difference! I made each item that my students have in their desks. They are laminated with velcro on the back so I can rearrange if necessary. I think the Desk Fairy will be visiting a lot more this year!
Bear. In the classroom.  This wasn't at my school and I'm not sure who's classroom it was in (I grabbed the photo from another teacher's Facebook), but check out how cute this lil cub is! Apparently, he snuck in during the night and they had to shoo him out in the morning! Poor baby!
I finally get to announce the winners of my 250 Followers Giveaway!  If you see your name, please check your email later today for more info about receiving your prize! Congratulations! 


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

math workshop part 1: binders, fluency and daily review

This post will be the first in a series about how I run my Math Workshop.  There are just too many elements of balanced math to put in one post!
math workshop
Teaching in the Tongass is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This post contains affiliate links. 

So let's just dive right in!
A couple of years ago, our district had a great professional development opportunity for teachers.  They contracted someone I consider to be pretty knowledgeable in the education field, Nancy Norman.  Among the many elements that make up a balanced math program, she focused on giving us several strategies for creating great "mathers."  Although our district has now adopted Math in Focus as a program (last year was our first year), I continue to use several of the strategies I learned from Nancy (if you have ever worked with her, you know how awesome she is and can consider yourself one of the lucky ones).  I was lucky enough to be one of her lab teachers and learned so much from that experience (other teachers taking the course come and watch her/I teach a strategy in my classroom).  Thankfully, I learned to think for myself. I've come to understand that no matter what the publisher (or the contracted person representing the publisher) says their PRODUCT can do, trust that teacher instinct you know you have and include lots of different strategies in your instruction.  In my opinion, no curriculum program has it all and is perfect.  Teaching only using the 1 program you are given is like going to an all inclusive resort and not ever leaving during your stay. Yes, you go home and can now say you've been to that vacation destination, but did you really experience the place you visited?  Because most boxed curriculum lacks in the area of daily and differentiated fluency, as well as daily social knowledge review, I knew I needed to keep that in mind.
Math Binders
First, let's talk logistics. My students keep their books and binders directly in their desks for quick access, but that's just my preference. You can find the editable binder cover here. Just type student names and print.
Math Binders
Each Math Binder includes a zipper pouch (for cards, dice, dry erase marker, etc.), math games, reference sheets and their math spiral review. Basically, everything they use for math goes into that binder. They keep them in their desks and I don't send them home.

At the start of the school year, every student gets a few things that they'll keep in their binder all year. We keep all loose sheet resources and games in page protectors.

I give them this Number Words reference sheet, as well as a copy of Coin War and coin war cards. This is the default game for my Sub lessons and whenever there is a need to keep them busy for a moment while I deal with an issue.
Coin War Free Math Game
This is what it looks like when they play. Sometimes I have them use a number line and game marker pieces to show where each amount on their card falls (this can be really helpful for some students that have trouble deciding which amount is greater).
Coin War Free Math Game

math fact fluency
One element that I use every day (and am a huge advocate of), is fact fluency.  Now, this may be a lengthy explanation, but stick with it.  Here's how it works:

Roll and Write (Math Fact Fluency) Materials:
Some teachers use lined paper (notebooks) for students to do their fact fluency, but I have come to prefer these packets that I made.  I actually like students to write in a lined notebook (is that crazy?), but for some reason, this fits my brain better lately....The Roll and Write packet is stored in their Math Binder.

They pull out their Roll and Write, open it to a new page, write the date, and wait with pencils in the air (a management trick I started that keeps them from writing before the timer starts) for me to start the 5 minute timer. You can find the FREE math fact fluency packet here.
math fact fluency
I love these yellow foam dice. We use both dot and digit dice (to differentiate, we begin with dot dice so students can count the dots when adding). If you have hard dice, you can invest in some pieces of felt for students to roll on (so it's not too noisy), or you can use these PHENOMENAL foam dice. Best. Idea. Ever. You can find the 1-6 dot/digit dice here and the 1-6/6-12 digit dice here.
math fact fluency using dice

I've learned that not all timers are created equal. The timer I use is PERFECT for me because:
a.) it is big enough to see from the back of the room
b.) it has a light to make it stand out
c.) it gives a 1 minute warning
d.) it visually counts down by the second
e.) you can choose to have the audio (this one is a "beeper") or not.

You can find it here.
math fact fluency using dice
Roll and Write Daily Fact Fluency Directions:
At the beginning of every year, I give explicit instructions on what Roll and Write should look/sound like. Students need to hold the dice in their hands, put their wrist down on their desk and open their palms.  I've discovered there is no reason to roll or shake the dice (sometimes kids like to shake dice for 30 seconds...time wasting). After the dice are rolled, they ARE NOT ALLOWED TO TOUCH THEM. For some reason, I've noticed lots of kids that like to adjust their dice and make them side by side or perfectly aligned so the number isn't upside down.  Doing this each and every time adds up.  I demonstrate why we don't roll dice, drop them from above, or waste time making them 'look pretty' (I make a show of it, dropping dice all over, acting silly...acting is such a big part of our job, isn't it?).
math fact fluency using dice
After students have mastered how to quickly roll their dice, I start the timer and students get to work.  They roll and write, roll and write, roll and write.  While they are working, I roam the room with a RED pen (I know, I know, I'm a terrible person).  It could be a different color, as long as it isn't the same as what they are using (a pencil).  If I spot ANY mistakes (number reversals, digit reversals, incorrect answers, sloppy writing, etc.), I underline the mistake with my red pen and WALK AWAY.  That part is really important.  Students need to be able to identify their own mistakes, and I've learned that if I stay there right next to them, they tend to argue or get in a discussion of "what I meant to write was a ...." instead of just fixing the problem.  As soon as I underline, students need to fix their mistakes.  This is really important as I don't have time to look over each roll and write every day (repeat: they don't turn this in to me, I don't grade these), and I don't want them practicing something incorrectly.
After the 5 minutes is up, the timer goes off and students get to finish the equation (and yes, that is the word we use) they are working on. Then, they count up all of the equations they were able to complete and write their total at the bottom of their page. Each student is working right where they should be at (i.e. they'll all be working on different types of equations with dice that are right for them).  And because they're working at their independent level, they should be getting at least 15 problems done in the 5 minutes.  If  a student wasn't able to complete 15, I keep them in at recess and have them do it again for 5 minutes, but not as a punishment. Read: I do this so that I can watch to see if it's something like they are wasting time adjusting dice or need a minilesson on a math facts addition strategy (for instance, how to "count on").  At this point, I've discovered students will sometimes cheat and start writing on a previous day's page to make it appear they have completed 30 that day. So, to combat that, I've added a "you must get the teacher's initial at the top of the page the same day you get 30/30" rule.  That way, if they try to show me a 30/30 that isn't signed from a previous date, I know they were combining two days of work. Also, we write the date in pen for the same reason.

Motivation plays a big factor in a successful Roll and Write implementation.  I sometimes use Matthew Cando (get it? Math-you-can-do!) as a motivator.  I got him at a district training a few years ago and the kids LOVE him.  He has a cute robot voice and likes to sit on the desk of someone who had a CAN-DO attitude during Roll & Write.
We also have a discussion about "not announcing your score" and how they are competing against themselves rather than their peers.  I want them to beat their best score and not worry about anyone else's.  For the most part, this isn't a problem after the first day.  On some occasions though, I have used competition to get a couple of students who were unfocused to get the job done. Worked like a charm for them (sometimes people just need a lil competition to get motivated).

When a student completes 3 days (does NOT have to be consecutive) of 30/30, I move them on to the next set of equation types on my checklist and write the date they started the new skill.  I put names in alphabetical order to make it easier to find them when updating their set.
math fact fluency using dice
Math Spiral Review
Another element of balanced math should be spiral review that's done independently.  After students finish Roll & Write, they get out their review packets. Again, kept in their Math Binder. I use Drops in the Bucket (many teachers in my district do as well). I like that there isn't a day (i.e. Monday) written on the page, which can be confusing if you're asking them to do as much as they can and not worry about what "day" they're on. I also like that they have different levels (in my 2nd grade class, I use levels A-C with various students). I personally like Drops in the Bucket because it has such an extensive selection of types of problems and I love that the different levels are really differentiated while the format stays the same (which is super helpful when students use it in the next grade level). I should mention that the company is NOT compensating me in any way (and they have no idea who I am for that matter) for promoting them, I just like their math resources that much :)

The idea behind this time is that it is REVIEW (not new learning) and students should be working INDEPENDENTLY.  That means, if a student doesn't know how to do a problem, I do not use the packet to teach them.  That doesn't mean I don't help them with a minor issue they are stuck on, but if they are totally lost on a problem, I don't sit down right then and there to show them how to do it: they skip it.  I will teach the concept later during a math minilesson or during Calendar time (this is a great way for me to see what things I need to add to my minilessons).  Basically, this means I don't stand in front of my projector going through each problem with the whole class and using it to teach new skills/concepts.  Each student works at their own pace, and at their own level.  I use levels A, B, and C for just 2nd grade.  I set the timer for 5 minutes.

IMPORTANT: While students work, I roam around with that red pen I was just using during Roll and Write. I underline or circle mistakes and walk away so they have to figure out what they did wrong right away.  If a student reaches the bottom of the page before the 5 minute timer goes off, they TURN THE PAGE and keep working.  When they finish their whole packet, they turn it in so I can have a thorough look at it.  I correct any other mistakes I wasn't able to catch during my roaming, and write which page numbers they need to fix on the front of the packet.  They might turn that packet in 2 more times before all of their corrections are done, but it doesn't ever go home with uncorrected mistakes in it!

I store all of my Drops in the Bucket masters in binders for easier packet-copying.  Each packet has the level and range (Page numbers 1-20, 21-40 or 41-60) so when I give a student a packet, I can quickly see which one they are working on. You can grab the daily review packet covers I made here.

Hopefully, this post was clear on how I use math binders, what we do to practice daily math fact fluency and how I manage math spiral review. If you have any questions, or do something similar, I'd love to hear about it. Feel free to comment below.

Pin for later:
math addition fact fluency activities
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