Back to School Setting Up

Whew! Does anyone else have the B2S Stress?! I'm really feeling it here! My first teacher day & our Meet the Teacher Night is Thursday and school starts with kiddos on Monday! On top of son is getting married on Saturday (SO excited!!), & my daughter also is getting her very first classroom ready, so I've been helping her with that (bulletin boards went up tonight). That's her over there on the left.

Her color scheme is going to be different from mine, so I've been updating a couple of my 'gotta have it in my room' packs for her. Hopefully, I'll get them all uploaded by Tuesday afternoon, but I wanted to share some of the progress with you. Here are the 'gotta have its'.....

Calendar Math Pack. This one product has made a HUGE impact on my kiddos' learning over the past couple years. I developed this pack after reading Laney Sammons' first Guided Math Book. As she suggested,  I took a look at the Common Core Standards & thought about the skills my kiddos typically struggle with or need more practice in. Wow! Was she ever right! It's definitely a gotta have it for any classroom in my opinion! You can read more about it in my original post.

I wanted people to be able to match the focus wall with the room decor, so I the pack has lots of color options in it as you can see in the picture below.

But it doesn't have the colors she's using, so I've been working on a new pack. What do you think?

I'm also working on a brand new Classroom Number Posters Set for her room. Right now, I have Gingham & Pastel and Turquoise, Lime & Pink in my store. The new set is Purple & Black. It's going to be super cute! 

Of course, it's not all about classroom decor! We're also printing out some super easy to prep activities for her (& me!) to use those first few days. My kiddos always LOVE doing these I Spys....I love that they're learning, working on fluency, AND on graphing skills! I also love that you just have to print, grab some magnifying lenses, and you're ready to go! Over the summer, I bundled them all up so that they're more economical to buyers, too. And they're an especially good deal right now, because I am going to be adding to each of these bundles...and when I do, the price WILL go up! If you buy now, it's like getting all the additional packs FREE - you'll just have to download when the new ones are added!

Play = a Brain-Friendly Classroom

I love, love, LOVE this book! Silly Sports & Goofy Games by Dr. Spencer Kagan. Like most of you, I realize that play is important to kiddos. Sure it's important for kiddos' physical's also important for the brain and learning!

Here's the nitty-gritty: "As students play, even if it is only for a two or three minute game of quick tag, their heart rates and volumes increase, pumping more oxygen and glucose to the brain. Their respiratory rates and volumes increase as well, oxygenating the blood. With more oxygen and glucose pumped to the brain, students are more alert. Thus, Silly Sports & Goofy Games actually nourish the brain, aligning our classroom practices with how the brain learns best."

How awesome is that?! I had already planned on using lots of the games in the book in my classroom. My teamie & I have noticed that kiddos really just don't know how to play. When we go out at recess...out kiddos mostly swing or play chase. We actually are having a CAMP IN with our class tomorrow (yep-- roasting hotdogs, making s'mores, lots of fun stuff, and actually sleeping in the gym!), and are planning to teach them how to play some games so that they have a repertoire to pull from when they go to recess. BUT - now that I realize the benefits I'm actively trying to think of how I can build games into our day!

If you've read my blog, you know that I teach a 1, 2, & 3 Multi-age classroom...and I also team teach, so what we've really got going on is 54 kids -- 2 teachers. We really focus a great deal on being a TEAM - what it means, what it looks like, what it feels like. We try to do lots of team-building activities, which is what drew me to this book in the first place.

I really, really like that the games in the book are all divided into sections according to what skills they help kiddos develop. How cool is that?
You can actually take into consideration the skill your kiddos need to work on, & find a game that supports that!

So -- here are 5 ways to use play to create a brain-friendly classroom.

  1. Teach games to students so they have a 'toolbox' to pull from when out at recess.
  2. Use games that foster balance, coordination, & challenge when students aren't working well together.
  3. Provide some 'comic relief' by playing a couple rounds of tag, or some Goofy Games when the class has been working on a challenging activity.
  4. Some kiddos have too much emphasis on winning? Try some Silly Sports to emphasize the joy of play & deemphasize the outcome.
  5. Pull kiddos up out of their seat with a helper game to build empathy, caring, & mutual support.

We've had a lot of fun practicing the games here at home (so I know how to play by tomorrow night!)

Guided Math Conferences - Chapter 1!

Woot! So happy to get this party rolling! I was super excited when this book crossed my path. I implemented Guided Math a few years ago and absolutely LOVE it! It has transformed the effectiveness of my math instruction. I honestly believe it has improved my kiddos' performance and more importantly, their understanding! BUT - the math conferences piece has always been something I've struggled to do I practically did a little jig when I found this book!

First of all, as you've probably already guessed, math conferences are very much like guided reading conferences. You get such a rich and valid picture of kiddos' thinking and understanding in conferences. Let's be's hard to get a really clear picture of kiddos' true thinking or understanding from class discussions OR even assessments! I SO relate with Marilyn Burns' statement, "I never really knew what students were thinking or whether their correct answers masked incorrect ideas. I only knew that they had given the answer I sought." Anyone else relate to that?

Think about these components that we believe good reading instruction should have:

  • match the individual reader
  • teach toward independence
  • explicitly teach strategies
  • value time to experience reading
  • follow predictable structures & routines
Doesn't it make sense the good math instruction should have similar components? Guided math conferences is a way to meet those expectations.

What are Guided Math Conferences?
Simply put, they are one-on-one conversations with students about their math one mathematician to another. Of course, there's a tiny bit of a difference between a conversation & conference. A conference:

  • has a purpose
  • has a predictable structure
  • lines of thinking are pursued with the student
  • teacher & student has conversational role
  • students are shown that teachers care about them
Wondering what the Guided Math Conference Structure looks like?, too! Here's what it looks like - I bet you already do it...just maybe not a consistent or planned basis.

Reasearch Student Understanding & Skills
Observe the student's work, listen to his responses to your questions about his work to try to get an understanding of what he's trying to do as a mathematician. Probe to glean more about his intentions and comprehension of the concept as well as his mathematical capability. But - remember...the student does most of the talking during this part!

Decide What's Needed
Weigh the validity of his current strategies and processes and determine what his next step in learning should be. Decide on ONE specific learning point and how you're going to teach it. Name specifically what the student has done WELL with an authentic compliment, link it directly to the language of the standards, and remind him to continue to do this in the future.

Teach to Student's Needs
Use modeling, guided practice, or explicit telling to correct or extend the student's understanding & ability. Have him briefly practice and explain what he has learned.

Link to the Future
Again, name what he has done as a mathematician & remind him to continue doing this in the future. Ask him to share a reflection on the math that was just learned.

Okay - so that's the general structure...but they won't always run exactly like that. In fact, there are different kinds of Guided Math Conferences!
  • Compliment Conferences - used to motivate kiddos, or to lift the spirits of discouraged learners
  • Comprehension Conferences - you're assessing and extending the student's degree of comprehension (as in the sample structure above).
  • Skill Conferences - the focus is on assessing and extending the SKILL of the student (both process & computational)
  • Problem-Solving Conferences - used to explore the problem-solving strategies kiddos are using and then to add to their toolbox of strategies, if needed.
  • Self-Assessment & Goal-Setting Conferences - I'm super excited about this one...student self assessment & personal goal setting is on of my professional goals for the year! In this one, you & the student review progress toward meeting learning targets and set new goals.
  • Recheck Conferences - You can use this type of conference to check in with students to see if they're using what was learned in earlier conferences. 
I just cannot tell you how excited I am about setting the conference structure up in my classroom! I've got a couple questions for YOU....
What do you think is the most important benefit of math conferences?
What is the biggest barrier to implementing math conferences in you classroom?
How could you overcome those barriers?

I hope you'll follow along with us! If you don't have a blog, just comment below....we'd love to hear your thoughts & continue conversations. If you do have a blog, feel free to link up your thoughts on guided math conferences. Feel free to grab the button above (just right click, save as picture, then insert picture in your post).