Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ten Reasons Why I Love Morning Message

Last year, I began consistently writing a morning message every day for my 4th graders. I know that many primary teachers already do this, but I had not, until I attended a week-long Responsive Classroom training. I decided to commit to writing a daily morning message, (which my SMARTBoard make so much easier, since my handwriting is not the best, and I can easily edit any mistakes.)

After a year of doing morning message, I have become sold on the benefits of this daily routine. Here are some of the things that I love about it.
1. It helps with building routines and getting to know each other in the early days of school. The images above are from the first two days of school last year.
2. It teaches students a predictable structure. Every morning, students enter the room, make a lunch choice, pass in homework, and then read the morning message.
 3. It reinforces and reviews a variety of curriculum concepts. The message does not start out all marked up. That happens at morning meeting when we read the message together, such as in the example above when I asked students to find the nouns and adjectives.  Sometimes I do have students mark the text, such as when they edit my mistakes.

4. It gives those students who need to know what will be happening that day more information than a typical schedule listing just subjects.

5. It prepares students for what I might want them to talk about at morning meeting, so those students who need time to think can have that processing time and are not put on the spot.
 6. It is very current with what is happening on that specific day, in that specific year. This is why I can't imagine using a prepared set of morning messages; you need them to be personal for that group of students on that particular day. However, now that I have a year's worth of messages done and saved, does that mean I won't reuse certain messages with a little tweaking? Absolutely not!
 7. It allows you to address issues in your classroom in a thoughtful way. After Christmas break, my students were having a hard time settling back into the expectations for working quietly. Morning message was a non-threatening way to address the problem and invite them to collaboratively come up with a solution.
8. Morning Message is very flexible. You can use it to reinforce curriculum in any subject area, as you can see in the above literacy, social studies, and science examples.

9. It allows shy students an opportunity to participate nonverbally at times, such as the example above about electrical devices.

10. It helps kids feel connected to their classroom community. They look forward to reading the message each day. On the rare occasion that I was out and there was a substitute, I always made sure there was still a morning message.

The templates you see around my morning messages are available in my TPT store either individually, or bundled. Click on the pictures to check them out.

Set 1

Set 2
Set 3
Set 4

Set 5

Holiday Set
Template Bundle
Are these templates necessary to do morning message? Of course not! They just make it so easy to have a page that is colorful and attractive. I save each template in the My Content" section of the gallery. Then, whenever I have Smart Notebook open, I can go to the gallery, double-click on the thumbnail of the template I want, and it opens on the page, ready for me to type on it. I just keep adding another page each day to the same file until I have a month's worth of morning messages. Then, I start a new file for the next month.

I also have a couple of FREE mini-samplers that you can check out!

Do you do morning messages with your students?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Finding Factors Freebie

Ooh...alliteration and math, all in one! How very cross-curricular!

My 4th graders used to struggle with the difference between factors and multiples. (Heck, there are plenty of adults who still do, based on watching my students trying to teach their parents when they do their student-led conferences in January...but I digress.)

The Common Core for 4th Grade states that students should be able to “find all factor pairs for a whole number in the range of 1-100” … and “determine whether a given number in the range of 1-100 is prime or composite.”
I don't know about your math program, but mine doesn't spend much time reinforcing the vocabulary of factor, multiple, prime, or composite. They assume that kids remember the difference after a couple of days of review. Doesn't work that way with my kiddos!

This Finding Factors Freebie is what I use to help my 4th graders learn how to find all the factors of “Today’s Number” which is a routine we do as part of my SMARTBoard Math Calendar. Today’s Number is always whatever day of school it is, and we make an organized factor list, starting with 1 and the number.
This is similar to divisibility rules, but because we are making an organized factor list, students use the idea of "doubles and halves as they go in order trying to see which number could be factors. 
As an example, say that it is the 76th day of school. We would start with 1 and 76.
 (1                           76)
Since 76 is even, we know that  2 will be a factor. Half of 70 is 35 and half of 6 is 3. 35 + 3= 38.
(1,  2,                 38,  76)
3 is not a factor because the digits add up to 13, which is not a multiple of 3.  
I teach my kids to use "doubles and halves" to figure out if 4, 6, or 8 are factors.To see if 4 is a factor, we go back to 2 x 38. We can double the 2 to get a 4, and if the other factor is even, we can take half of it and the answer is the same. 38 is even, and half of it is 19, so 4 will be a factor. 
(1, 2,  4,               19,  38,  76)
5 can't be a factor because 76 doesn't end in a 5 or 0.
6 can't be a factor because 3 wasn't.
There are no tricks for 7, but we would know that 10 x 7 is 70, and there is 6 left over, so it can't be a factor.
8 can't be a factor because the factor pair of 4 is odd.
9 can't be a factor, because the digits don't add up to 9 or a multiple of 9.
10 can't be a factor, because 76 doesn't end in a 0.
11 can't be a factor because the digits are not the same.
12 can't be a factor because 3 wasn't a factor.
So, our final factor list is (1, 2,  4,               19,  38,  76), and students tell me that the number is composite because it has more than 2 factors.
My students become experts on prime and composite numbers, as well as the difference between factors and multiples, thanks to this daily repetition.  I reinforce the idea that "factors are few, but multiples are many".)
Click on the picture to get your freebie. There is a large one that can be projected via interactive white board, and a small version for students to cut out and put in their math notebooks.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Geometry Products, Giveaway, and a FREEBIE!

I have been busy creating resources for my class and TPT. One topic that has been hard for my students in the past is geometry. There is SOOOOO much vocabulary that students have to understand about the attribute of lines and angles before they can then use those attributes to classify polygons. Heck, who am I kidding...I still had 4th graders who could not identify the basic regular polygons, much less classify quadrilaterals by the presence or absence of parallel or perpendicular lines. And now with Common Core's expectation for 4th graders to be able to use protractors, something we had not done before, I knew I needed more resources.

My math program doesn't give students much direct instruction with the attributes of lines, angles, or polygons. Much of the geometry unit uses "Power Polygons", little plastic pieces that students use to make other polygons. While the kids have fun with them, they weren't transferring the concepts to the more abstract questions that might appear on an assessment.

This year, I kind of did my own thing, with  SMARTBoard files I created after studying exactly what the Common Core expects for geometry. I created a file for lines and angles, which I taught first, and then followed up with a file for Polygons, since students need to understand the attributes of lines and angles before they can classify polygons. After using these files with my class, (and not using my math book..shhh),  my students scored the best on the spring assessment that any class of mine had ever done! Many scored in the advanced range for the geometry strand.

This summer I tweaked the contents of the files and now have them up on TPT in a variety of formats. I have them bundled with pdf printables or by themselves


Since using a protractor was a new skill for my kiddos, (and maybe a rusty skill for some of you)... like it was for me...I created this "How to Use a Protractor" Freebie. Click the picture to get yours!
And finally for the giveaway! Leave me a comment and become a follower, if you aren't already and I'll pick a random name to receive the Geometry product of your choice for free!
 I'll pick the winner next Sunday, July 28.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Leibster Nomination x 2!

I'm so excited to have been nominated for a Liebster Award, not once, but twice this week! I feel so special! Thanks to Susan at Happiness is Watermelon Shaped in 3rd Grade and Kara at To Engage Them All. They both have awesome should definitely check these ladies out!

I have seen the Liebster award on other blogs, but I didn't really know what it was for. From visiting Susan and Kara's blogs, I learned that it is given to blogs with fewer than 200 followers...yup, that's me! In order to accept the award, you have to do the following:
1. Link back to the blog that nominated you. 
2. Answer the questions the nominator asked you.
3. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
4. Create 11 questions for your own nominees.
5. Nominate 5-11 blogs with less than 200 followers.
6. Contact the nominees to let them know that you nominated them.
Here are my answers to Susan's questions.

1.  What is the best "teacher" book you have ever read?
I have such a hard time picking favorites of ANYTHING, but the book that made a huge impression on me when I was returning to teaching 8 years ago after being away for many years, was Debbie Miller's Reading With Meaning. It was such a different approach from what I was used to and it lead me to look at teaching reading a whole new way.
2.  What's your favorite place to shop?
I'm a Homegoods girl! I also like Target and being a Prime member and getting free 2-day shipping!
3.  What do you do in your free time?
I spend way too much time on my computer between creating resources for my own class and TPT, especially SMARTBoard materials, (it's like scrapbooking to me!), reading blogs, and browsing and pinning on Pinterest. I sit down to do one little thing, and suddenly it's 3 hours later! I also love to read, cook, and spend time with family and friends.
4.  If you could be given one thing to improve your teaching, what would it be?
A more defined curriculum! I know we have the Common Core, but at my school, we have no textbooks, no curriculum maps, and no scope and sequence for anything except for math. While all the freedom is nice, it's a huge amount of work to try to make sure you're covering everything.
5.  What's your favorite meal to prepare or eat?
Again, I can't pick just one favorite, but in Maine, we get awesome fresh seafood, so I love lobster, clams, fish, shrimp, crabmeat, etc.
6.  If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would love to take a Mediterranean cruise to Italy and Greece. The combination of the scenery and the amazing food would be perfect!
7.  What are your favorite TV shows?
I'm a huge Downton Abbey fan...I still haven't recovered from the season 3 ending! I also love anything on HGTV and Food Network.
8.  What is your favorite blog(s)?
I follow lots of blogs, especially other 4th grade ones! I am in awe of how much fabulous information and sharing of ideas is happening in the education world!
Here's a small sample of some of the blogs I love:
Fourth Grade Studio
Ideas by Jivey
Oh' Boy 4th Grade
Fun in Room 4B
Collaboration Cuties
9.  Do you have a TPT store?  If so, please give the address, too.
Yes, my store is called Downeast Teach. I started it almost exactly a year ago. Colleagues had been telling me I should try to market my SMARTBoard math calendar, and I'm so glad they gave me the nudge to take the plunge! It has been amazing to get such positive feedback from so many people, and it has motivated me to become a better teacher.
10.  What is the last book you read?
I love historical fiction or books that are set in other cultures. I like to learn something while I'm being entertained. I just finished The Taliban Cricket Club, by Timeri N. Murari, on my Kindle. It's set in Afghanistan during the time that the Taliban took over and is told from the point of view of a young woman who was a college graduate and successful journalist and how her life changes under their regime, when women aren't allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by males and then they must be fully covered by burkas. How cricket fits into all of this, you will see if you read it. I highly recommend it!
11.  Are you a morning or night person?
I used to be a night owl. That was when I had "me time" when my kids were young. As I've gotten older, I find I'm fresher in the morning and I get upset with myself if I sleep past 6:30

 And now for Kara's questions!
Why did you become a teacher?
I had a lot of teachers in my family; my mom,  several aunts and uncles. I loved playing school as a little girl, and I really enjoyed babysitting and playing with little kids as I got older. It seemed like the right fit for me!
What is your favorite classroom activity of all time?
My daily math calendar routine for the SMARTBoard. In 15 minutes a day, I know that I am targeting key skills that my students need. It has made a big difference in their math test scores, I know that even if we have a crazy day, math calendar is always a constant. I have the class helper lead it and the kids look forward to the interactive elements.
What is your favorite book?
As I already mentioned, I love historical fiction and books that are set in other cultures. One of my favorites is The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.
What is your favorite restaurant?
There's that favorite thing again! Can't pick just one, but I love restaurants that use fresh ingredients prepared in unusual ways with interesting sauces. I would rather have lots of small bites than one big entrée...I love variety!

What TV show do you watch but you hate to admit it?
Dance Moms... since my girls were on a dance team for 15 years, and I was very active making props and costumes, I get sucked in. Fortunately, our studio was nothing like the one on the show!
If you could go on vacation anywhere and didn't have to worry about price, where would you go?
The aforementioned Mediterranean cruise to Italy and Greece
What television show can you binge watch for hours on end?
Whatever is playing on HGTV, especially Property Brothers and Love It or List It. I love to see the house transformations!

What is your favorite thing to do during summer vacation?
I love having the time to read, reflect, and create things for the upcoming year...I have a lovely front porch that is shady in the mornings, so I just bring my laptop out there! (And I manage to fit in some time to relax by the pool and read for fun in the afternoons!) 
What piece of technology would you loooooove to have for your classroom?
It sounds greedy to say, because I got 6 iPads last year, but I would love to have a class set. Right now, I use them mainly for game apps, but with a whole-class set, I think there is so much more you can do!
What website could you not live without in your classroom?
I have my own classroom website/blog that I use for parent communication. I post slide shows of things we are doing, as well as links to educational games, videos, resources, and frequently visited sites. The families really like it.
Why did you start blogging?
As I got more involved with Pinterest and TPT, I didn't have any way to share ideas that had worked for me without linking to my classroom website. I did that for one post and pinned it to Pinterest, but when I saw how many views it got in a short time, it made me uncomfortable because I have student photos there. So...I decided it was time to make a separate blog just for teaching.
Okay, here goes with my random facts!

1. I have lived in Maine my whole life, as did at least 4 generations before me... ayuh, we're real Maine-iacs!
2. My town was so small, there were only 10 kids in my whole grade. In high school, it took 6 towns combined to have a high school of 350 students.
3. My parents are celebrating their 65th anniversary this year and are both healthy and active. (Here's hoping I have inherited those genes!)
4. Growing up, each summer I raked blueberries to earn money for my school clothes. 
5. I asked Bob Denver, (Gilligan) to speak at my high school graduation. (He said no.)
6. I used to make miniature foods for dollhouse collectors out of polymer clay.
7. I left teaching for 18 years when my kids were growing up and did a variety of part-time work... hand-painted children's clothes, designed polymer clay jewelry, taught Gymboree, worked in a friend's gift shop, designed costumes and props for my daughters' dance team, etc. This will be my 8th year back teaching.
8. I am obsessed with my SMARTBoard that I got 2 years ago. It has transformed my teaching and I love to create lessons for it! I now teach SMARTBoard classes in my district, and this summer taught a 2-day class in my sister's district.
9. I have been married for almost 33 years to my college sweetheart. We have 2 beautiful grown daughters.
10. I love iced coffee and could drink it all day...especially with the hot, humid weather we are having right now!
11. I hate roller coasters, lima beans, and cocky people.
And finally, here are my 11 questions for my nominees:
  1. How long have you been teaching and what grade levels have you taught?
  2. What is something on your bucket list?
  3. What is your favorite subject(s) to teach and why?
  4. What is something new you would like to try in your classroom this year?
  5. What is a talent you are known for?
  6. Do you have a store at either Teachers Pay Teachers or Teacher's Notebook? If so, give the link!
  7. If you use Pinterest, what is your user name?
  8. How long have you been blogging, and why did you start?
  9. What do you like to do to relax?
  10. Other than being a teacher, what would your dream job be?
  11. What is a book you would recommend to other teachers?
My nominees are:
Thanks again to Susan and Kara for nominating me! This has been a lot of fun and I found some new blogs to follow!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Anchor Charts for the Handwriting Challenged

I am going to try to be better about posting to my blog. I'm starting today by participating in Technology Tailgate's "Techie Tuesday Link Up".
I love seeing all the amazing anchor charts posted on Pinterest! Seriously, some people must spend HOURS creating elaborate charts with perfectly straight and even handwriting and illustrations that look like an artist created them! I pin them, thinking... that chart is perfect for my kiddos! I'll make that this weekend...and then reality hits.

1. I could never make my chart look like that. My handwriting is...well...let's just say neatness is a challenge. Plus I'm left-handed, so I always smudge whatever I draw or write.

2. That chart would take me hours to make! I have so much other school prep to do!

3. I have very limited wall space in my classroom, so where would I hang it when it's done?

If you can relate to any of the above, or if you're wondering, "How is this technology?" on!
Just look at this Angry Birds anchor chart on literary devices. Amazing, right? It was all over Pinterest last summer. I found it at Working 4 the Classroom. I knew I could never make it, but that it would really help my students remember literary devices.

My solution to this dilemma is to save the anchor charts that I want as images and then insert them into a SMART Notebook file so I can project them during my lessons. (This would also work with PowerPoint and a projector if you don't have an interactive white board.) This is how I do it.

1. Click on the photo of the chart you like.
2. Right-click and choose "save picture as".
3. Choose where to save your picture. I have a folder on my desktop called "anchor charts".

Once the chart is saved, I usually crop it and edit it to lighten it up and sharpen the contrast. I don't have fancy photo editing software. Here's how I do it with Microsoft Office 2010.

1. Browse to your saved picture. Right click on the photo and click "Open with" and choose Microsoft Office 2010.

2. On the top toolbar, choose "Edit Pictures".

3. On the right, options will appear. I crop first, if necessary, and then click "OK".

4. Click "Edit Pictures" again and choose "Brightness and Contrast."

5. Play around with how much to adjust the various settings here. In general, I adjust the contrast up, as well as either the brightness or mid-tones. When you like how it looks, click "OK".

6. Click "save".

If it's a chart I want my students to refer to over and over, I make mini-copies of the chart and print them out for my students to glue into their Literacy Notebooks. Here's how I do this with PowerPoint:

1. Open a new, blank PowerPoint file. (Layout > blank). The orientation of the page depends on how many charts you want to fit. If you are putting 2, 6, or 8 to a page, keep it in landscape, which is the default. If you are putting 4 on a page, switch it to portrait. (Click "design > slide orientation > portrait".)

2. On the top toolbar, click "Insert > Picture" and browse to wherever you saved your picture. Click on the picture and then click "Insert". (You can also just double-click the picture.)

3.  (For people without an interactive white board only. Otherwise, skip to Step 4.)
If you do not have an interactive white board, this would be the big image you would project and use in your lesson. In that case, you would duplicate the slide to have another page for step 4. (If you need the page orientation to be different for the two different slides, it would be better to make each slide as a separate file, as I don't think PowerPoint lets you change the orientation within the same file.)

4. Resize the picture for how many you want to fit on the page and copy/paste the additional pictures.

5. You can either print directly from PowerPoint, or save as a pdf, which will print a little larger.

Since the Angry Birds chart is so detailed, I would only put 2 on a page.
With less detailed charts, you can fit 4-8 charts on the page.
This chart is from the talented Stephanie at 3rd GradeThoughts. She uses it to launch Read to Self in Daily 5. I was able to get 4 charts on a page, and, while the colored images look awesome, as you can see, they are also fine when printed in black and white, 'cause let's be realistic... all that colored ink really adds up!
I hope other busy and/or handwriting-challenged teachers find this tip helpful and that I am not violating anything by using other people's anchor charts this way. That is certainly not my intent. I figure if someone posted them on their blog or Pinterest, they wanted to share, and since these are not items that anyone is selling, I'm thinking it is okay.