Monday, October 3, 2016

1,000 Review Freebie and Teaching Multiplication Concepts

At the moment of this writing I am sitting at 997 reviews on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I want to do something special for my 1,000th reviewer on TpT.  Whoever posts the 1,000th review will receive a free (non-bundled) item from my store! 

Teaching Multiplication Concepts

Here's the Common Core Standard as its written.
Gain familiarity with factors and multiples.CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.OA.B.4Find all factor pairs for a whole number in the range 1-100. Recognize that a whole number is a multiple of each of its factors. Determine whether a given whole number in the range 1-100 is a multiple of a given one-digit number. Determine whether a given whole number in the range 1-100 is prime or composite.
4th graders are expected to identify primes and composites as well as factors and multiples of numbers up to 100. Those are pretty tough concepts, but my kids are doing great with them this year.  The first step to mastery is get your students really fluent with their basic facts.  

Fluency = fast and accurate

We use Renaissance Learning's Math Facts in a Flash program and a sticker chart to monitor progress on their facts.  While Math Facts in a Flash isn't super motivating on its own, it does do a great job tracking progress and can be differentiated in many different useful ways.  We help motivate students by monitoring their progress using a sticker chart that they keep in a clear sleeve in their Math folder.  Here's what our sticker chart looks like (without the stickers):

As students master facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, they also earn "badges" to mark their achievement.  These are what some of these look like:

These badges get added to their pocket sleeves in their Nicky's folder.  Students really earning love these!

If you walk by my classroom, there's a good chance that you'll hear the sounds of music.  I love to use music to enhance what we're learning.  This song is one of my favorites, too.  I use this song about primes to help them practice defining a prime number while also helping them memorize and/or recognize some of the early ones.  Trust me, your students will be singing along:

Prime, P-R-I-M-E, only factors are one and me.  Factors that divide evenly, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11! whoo!

My favorite game to reinforce this topic is called Factor Samurai. Here's a video of it being played.  It really helps build a sense for divisibility and prime numbers.

I have busy creating some new bundles with some great products at huge price discounts.  This bundle really had everything that I use in my two week multiplication concept unit.  This product includes all 11 of my 4th grade multiplication concept products for just $1 each. That's $32 in products for just $11! This bundle includes everything you'll need to teach and review multiplication related concepts such as arrays, repeated addition, factors, multiples, prime and composite numbers as well as methods for learning these concepts including t-charts, factor rainbows, area models, prime factorization, divisibility rules and tricks for memorizing basic facts. My task card products work great for independent math centers or whole group practice because the coded answer documents allow for easy and fun self-checking.

Have a great week everyone!

500 Follower Sale-A-Bration!

I hit a cool milestone this week - 500 followers!  

As a thank you to my blog friends and TpT store followers, I'm putting everything in my TpT store on sale from October 7-9.

I am hoping to hit another cool milestone soon - 1,000 reviews!  When I do, I plan to offer some freebies to the 1,000th reviewer.

Here are a few of my new products that you might enjoy:

QR Coded Task Cards
My students love to check their own work.  QR codes make this easy and fun, too.  Check out this example below:

Differentiated and Interactive Task Cards
This is something new I have been developing and I am really excited about them.  This set is about adding and subtracting angles, but I am developing other sets to practice problem solving skills.  They are designed to be self paced, to provide an interactive "hint" and to allow students to self-check.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hey, check out my new logo! 
I designed it myself because I'm,
well, too cheap to hire a real artist!
Hey, teachers.  Sorry for the long layoff on the blog.  At the end of summer break I had a couple interconnected bits of bad luck.  It all started when my son noticed that a beautiful tree in the backyard had suddenly split down the middle.
 Sadly, after a lot of attempts to save it, we were forced to cut it down for safety.  The guys that cut it down, had this beautiful tree down to the stump in 4 hours.

Enjoying the tree one last time in the morning sun.
One hour later
3 hours later - that's depressing to see

So what does this tree have to do with me not blogging for awhile?  Well, surrounding this tree we had about 100 large decorative bricks that had to be moved to the from backyard to the front of the house.  In the process of moving all of these bricks, I somehow messed up my back - big time.


I was laying on my side on the floor, in bed, or on the couch for about two weeks solid - not fun.  Fortunately, my back pain started to diminish right around by the time schools started.

I'll say this, nothing makes you feel old like back pain.  I was feeling and walking a lot like the guy I dressed up as for spirit day last year.

You kids get off my lawn!
I'm crossing my fingers that it never flares up again.

Anyhoo, I am coming up on some really exciting milestones (500 followers and 1,000 reviews) on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Look for me to throw a big sale and give away some fun freebies really soon.  I'll also try to finish up the posts about gamification of the classroom including some details about how the new things we've tried have been going so far.  Cool stuff!


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Playful Learning: Part 3 (Fostering Collaboration Through Social Gaming and Team Building)

When you strive to gamify your classroom, the first thing I would recommend is to think about the games that you or your kids love.  These might be casual mobile games like Words with Friends, Angry Birds, or Candy Crush.  They might be board games like Monopoly, Pictionary, or Candyland.  They might be video games like Minecraft, Supermario, or Halo. What makes these games fun for you or your students?

Consider what makes games so fun for you and your students.

There are a few ways which I think can make student learning more "game-like" and thus more fun.

Here are some elements that I have believe to be the most important to foster playful learning in your classroom.  In this post I am going to discuss social gaming and collaboration:
  • Friendly Competition
  • Social gaming and collaboration
  • Having choice
  • Achievements and Badges
Social gaming
As I mentioned in Part 1, many gamers are motivated by the social aspects of games.  When kids can play with their friends, they are often more engaged and work toward goals for a longer period of time.   

My students love to play "I have...Who has..." games in teams to try to work together to beat the fastest time.  This game requires good communication and teamwork to be completed successfully.

Many children love to play video games like Minecraft where they can create entire worlds together.  Some educators have even found very effective ways to use this  popular game to teach standards. My students love to collaborate with their peers using apps like iMovie, Garageband, or Toontastic to create a movie, or podcast, puppetshow.  In my afterschool Technology Club I challenged my students to work in teams using the Minecraft app to build a pixel art world using patterns that I had printed out. They produced amazing results.

Even games that are competitive can have a social element.  Few would argue that playing the game Words with Friends isn't improved by the social aspect of the game.  It is certainly MUCH more fun to play against a friend or even a random stranger than sitting at home playing making Scrabble words by yourself.  My point?  Even games where students compete can help build social connections.

Building Community with Team Building
Another way to build camaraderie in the classroom is to do team building activities.  In the past, I'd do a few teambuilding activities at the start of the year to help set a positive tone.  Last year, my teaming partner and I decided to do this weekly, and it was tremendous success. Here are a few examples of team building challenges we tried:

  1. The Marshmallow challenge.  If you're interested in doing this I'd watch this video from Ted Talks about the interesting research into this activity.   This site has a nice description of how to do the activity.

  2. Breakout games.  You probably have heard of these escape or breakout games as they are all the rage for adult outings. If you've never done one, I'd highly recommend it as it is a ton of fun!
    One we played in Nashville
    The goal is usually to solve a series of puzzles to get out of a room in a set period of time.  Did you know you can do these in your own classroom, too?  Checkout for ideas on how to do this.  These are SO FUN!

  3. Body through an index card activity.  This activity is great for teaching "grit" or perseverance as there is certain to be a lot of failure with this activity.  Make sure you have lots of index cards!  Here's how to do it.
  4. Cups challenge.  This is great for groups of 4.  Read a description of how to do this fun activity here
  5.  Lego challenge.  This simple activity my teaching partner thought up involved 2 sets of identical Lego pieces.  Students would be partnered with a barrier between them so they can't see what the other built.  One partner would build something and then the other partner would have to build it based on their description.  This was great for practicing communication skills.

  6. Do the impossible. For this activity students sit on each other's lap in a circle.  See this video for how it is done:
  7. STEM related challenges like "Save Fred."
  8. Untie the knot activity.  Take groups of students form a circle and have them randomly grab the hand of someone else inside the circle.  Then have the untie the knot by stepping over or under arms as they untie and forma circle again.
  9. Group puzzles.  I just discovered this fun puzzle on TedTalks.  I had fun trying to figure it out.
  10. Magic Carpet - Students in groups stand on a blanket and are challenged to stand on the others side without stepping off.  Read a more detailed description of the activity here.
Most teachers know that building community in your classroom is more difficult some years than others based on the students you have. What I learned this year was that aside from doing team building activities the first weeks of school (which I always did), students benefited from doing this all throughout the year. It reminded us to communicate positively and to work together for a common goal. It helped strengthen friendships and improved the relationships of students who weren't best friends, too. 

I hope you found a few ideas here that you can use in your classroom.  Have some team building activities or other ways to build community in your classroom? Leave your ideas in the comments.

If you'd like to read more check out my blogposts on
Playful Learning :

    Friday, July 15, 2016

    Playful Learning: Part 2 - (Fostering Friendly Competiton)

    For those looking to "gamify" your classroom, the first thing I would recommend is to think about the games that you or your kids love.  These might be casual mobile games like Words with Friends, Angry Birds, or Candy Crush.  They might be board games like Monopoly, Pictionary, or Candyland.  They might be video games like Minecraft, Supermario, or Halo. First ask yourself, what makes these games fun for you or your students?
    Consider what makes your favorite games so fun.

    There are a few elements which I think can make student learning more "game-like" and thus more fun.

    Here are some elements that I believe to be the most important when playing games in your classroom.  I'll be doing a blog post about each of these:
    • Friendly Competition
    • Social gaming or collaboration
    • Having choice
    • Achievements
    Friendly Competition

    I am a competitive person which is probably one of the reasons I love to play games of all kinds. Competition can energize your classroom, and importantly, it can help keep things fresh for you, too.  We know that competition can bring out the best in humans - that's why so many world records are broken in the Olympics, after all.  But, as teachers we also know it can sometimes bring out the worst in our students, too.  How do you avoid creating a toxic classroom environment where everyone is trying to one up their peers?  Here are some ideas:
    1. Before you play anything, talk to your class about competition.  I always begin the year by reminding my students that ultimately our goal when we play a game is to make our learning as fun as possible.  If we take the competition too seriously, it stops being fun for everyone and if that happens we might as well just review in a more traditional way, like doing a worksheet.  The students generally all agree that this is significantly less fun.
    2. Add an element of randomness or luck.  Dice rolling, wheel spinning, shooting baskets all add an element of luck which can help avoid the same team or player always winning.  For example, a spinning wheel or a dice roll might take a team back to zero points or conversely give a team a giant point boost. 

      Here is a magnetic spinner I use on my dry erase board for when I want to add some randomness to a game.  In this case, the spinner was for "prizes" when a player answered correctly.

      Click to see this spinner on Amazon

      I also use magnetic darts in a similar game. Points are earned or lost by tosses of the dart.

      Click image to see darts for sale on Amazon

      Finally, I just ordered another cool mini game item that I'm excited to try called Crocodile Dentist. Students push down one tooth at a time. If the crocodile bites down, then they are out or lose a turn.

    3. Game time differentiation.  Teachers do this naturally in the classroom while they are teaching all the time.  For example, you ask questions at levels of difficulty that you know that students can be successful.  Similarly, you design classroom activities for students to practice that are appropriately challenging for both your highest and lowest students.  And as the "game master" you can do this, too.  Just be careful that you don't give the impression that you are being unfair lest your uber-competitive students may rebel.
    4.  Level the playing field. Do you have a team or player that is always dominating the dojo and causing the other teams to lose their motivation to play?
      Kramer dominating the dojo
      There are a couple ways you can even out a game.  One way is to strategically divide the teams based on skill level.  Another  way is to give teams special items that can be used during a game that allow them to freeze another team for a round or to slow their progress in some way. 

      As an example of this technique, think of the "skip" and "draw 4's" in the game of Uno.  They are designed to slow down the game and make it more difficult for a player who is about to win.


      Another excellent example of a game that is designed for a level playing field is Mario Cart.  It is designed so that players of all skill levels can play and have fun.  When I would play this game with my preteen son, he was so much better at it than me that I would usually fall far behind - winning seemed impossible, and I probably wouldn't have played long before I became frustrated and lost interest. (Incidentally, the psychology works both ways, too.  My son would have soon become bored from beating me badly over and over.) However, Mariocart is adaptive in that it is designed to give the players furthest behind the best "power-ups."  In my case, it was usually the rocket, which boosts you quickly back up with the leaders.

      Use your creativity to design your classroom game with its own built in power-ups so that even teams in last place can have an opportunity to compete.
    5. Variety is the Spice of Life.  My students and I love Kahoot, but if I played it every day, the kids would get bored of it.  Vary your games so kids stay energized and excited to play. Sometimes you can even take a great game like Kahoot and play it in a new way, and it adds a whole new flavor.  For example, Kahoot can be played in teams, in ghost mode, or even head to head.  (See p. 117 of Michael Matera's book Explore Like a Pirate for a clever way to do this.) 

      , Quizalize, and Quizlet all have fun online games that can allow you to play with your class to provide some variation.  Each has some pros and cons - read this blog for an excellent comparison. Some my other favorite online games/apps are Sumdog, Prodigy, and Math Champ.

    6. A game doesn't have to be "high tech."  In fact, sometimes low tech games are the most exciting for students.  Using game items like spinners, dice, cards, darts, bells, buzzers, basketball hoops, golf balls and putting cups and anything else you can dream up can be used to make your games more kinesthetic.  It's the ultimate in 3D gaming!

      For example, my students love to play a super simple review game called "eraser slide."  All it needs is an eraser and a chalk tray.  After questions are answered, students slide the eraser in the chalk tray for points written on the board.  They love it!

    What are your favorite ways to foster friendly competition in the classroom?  Tell me in the comments.
    For more on this topic, read Playful Learning - Part 3 Fostering Collaboration Through Social Gaming and Team Building