Friday, November 20, 2015

Gratitude in the Classroom

As we near the hustle and bustle of the impending holiday season, it is important to take a moment to appreciate the little things. I know for me that November is a time to reflect and show my gratitude for those people that are important in both my professional and personal life. All too often, I feel we do not take the time to reflect on the details that are all too important, and it has been my goal this November to allow all students (and me) the opportunity to reflect on things we are grateful for and the ability to express these feelings. Throughout the month, I embedded lessons and activities that allowed us to not only get to know the people in the classroom as individuals but allowed for time to reflect on those little things that ultimately mean a lot.

In my classroom, I have two different whiteboards--one features a daily quote, and the other has a daily fun fact (inspired by Sarah at Tales with Teaching with Tech). Starting in November, the focus for our quotes shifted to gratitude (one of my favorites being the one above by Johannes Gaertner). 

The placement of these boards in my room is something that I thought a lot about because I wanted them to be a functional point of interest. Our "Did you know...?" board is placed directly on top of our iPad cart because it provides students an opportunity to see the question and discuss the fun fact while they check out their iPad from our technology leader. I had originally put this board in another location; however, I have noticed since placing this board in another location it has made it a focal point in our classroom and my students are frequently discussing the topic--rather than it going unnoticed. While these facts are more points of discussion, during the month of November, our month of gratefulness, I use the facts surrounding Thanksgiving to round out our thematic approach to the month. During our writing time, students spent 10 minutes responding to the daily fact in their journals. Students were able to express their excitement, questions it spurred, or just their thoughts. I found that this often led to continued discussion, research about our own culture, or a launching point for curious discovery between students more so than previous months. While I compiled a list of Thanksgiving-themed "Did you know...?" facts from a variety of places, my favorite place is from the Lunchbox Love Notes Holiday Edition cards (you can pick them up from Amazon here).

I couldn't resist talking about pie on our "Did you Know..?" board because it is a running joke in math that I always use pie in my application problem examples. Sometimes it is important to keep those running jokes alive to continue to foster a positive classroom community.
 Our quote board is placed directly next to our door. It is one of the last things my students see as they leave our classroom. Every time we leave or enter our classroom, I make a point to greet my students. We start our day with handshakes, leave for lunch with high-fives (we jokingly call them "free high-fives because my students can purchase additional high-fives with our classroom monetary system), or we might shake things up with fist bumps. While students are waiting to leave, I have caught my students reading our quote board. While I initially started using this board for reminders, I switched the purpose of the board this month. My main reason for switching this is that I wanted it to be more meaningful for my students--this is their classroom after all! After the success I've witnessed this month, I am going to continue to use this board for quotes. Does anyone have any ideas for a theme for December?

This is my favorite quote that I used this month. I got it from the LunchBox Love Notes--Holiday Edition has quotes on the back of EVERY card. The best part is they all focus on gratitude or thankfulness. Seriously, go purchase them now! The best part was that several of my students have been reading books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and one of my students was so excited to see this quote that they asked if they could read it out loud to the class (this is a really big deal because it is one of my reluctant readers--yay!)

During the first week of November, I started putting up quotes without really discussing them or saying anything and then something happened--I forgot to write the quote one morning. While doing our daily attendance question, (If you want to learn more about this routine let me know. I've been toying with the idea of writing a post!) one of my students quickly reminded me that I hadn't written the quote. To be honest, I was floored! Without noticing, I had created another routine. I then had several other students quickly chime in that they missed our daily quote. So, as you could imagine, I spent the next few minutes writing our daily quote. (In case you were curious, it was this one: "Let us be grateful to people who make us happy--they are charming gardeners who make our souls blossom"~Marcel Proust). As I was writing, one of my students was confused about the phrase "souls blossom", so our whole class spent a few minutes jotting down our thoughts (in a Me vs. You chart) and then having a conversation about our quote. This process was completely organic in its formation, and my students and I found it so valuable, that we ended up doing this for nearly every quote. 

Now I bring you to our two events today: Our Thankfulness Feast and the Circle of Gratitude. As I sat down to reflect about these past months (AKA: Report Card Time), I really began to think about how much these students have captured my heart and how little time I have spent thanking them for being at school. This is when I decided that I wanted to end November--that being a small gesture of kindness from me to them. As I brainstormed ideas, I decided that cooking a meal would be something that would be appreciated and a simple act of gratitude. This morning I started a tradition that I will likely continue throughout my teaching career--the Thankfulness Feast. As my students participated in a few Thanksgiving-themed activities, I served them pumpkin pancakes. This gave me the opportunity to express my gratitude for them individually. We all just took a moment, looked at each other, and were able to connect in such a meaningful way. I get chills about how powerful this was today.

We ended the day with something that, to be honest, was spur of the moment, and I'm glad that I tried it--the Circle of Gratitude. The concept is simple, sit in a circle and express your gratitude. Prior to coming together, I had students reflect for 5 minutes on things that they were grateful for and why. The level of thought and explanation surpassed my expectations. When we came together, students were engaged, supportive, and genuinely kind to each other. They shared gratefulness for eachother, their family, pets, the fact that I graded their math tests on time (ha!), and a variety of other things.The most surprising response that I heard today was from a student that has had difficulty making friends with other students this year. They said, "I am thankful for all the students in this class because they have helped me feel comfortable being myself." This comment made me tear up and resulted in many hugs being shared in the classroom. I would wholeheartedly recommend trying this in your classroom. My student's answers were so touching and just helped solidify the connections we've made in our classroom this year.

While many of these activities were formed organically in the classroom, my efforts to focus on gratitude in November were intentional. I have learned how powerful words, or simply taking the time to acknowledge gratitude can be on the atmosphere of the classroom. I hope everyone takes a moment to share their own feelings of gratitude and love those around them and know that no matter how small, everyone wants to be loved and know that they matter. I would love to hear how you express your gratitude in the classroom (or otherwise). Let me know!

Happy Thanksgiving & Happy Learning!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Pacific Coast Teacher Meet Up: Teachers Take Sacramento



It's HAPPENING!  The Pacific Coast Region Meet Up is ACTUALLY HAPPENING!!!!  I feel like it was SO long ago that we started kicking around the idea of a HUGE meet up...and here I am sharing it with all of you!

The weekend we have planned is filled with fun and collaboration opportunities!!  We have AMAZING giveaways and an awesome SWAG bag for all of those in attendance!  Space is limited!

When:  February 19th-20th!
Where:  Sacramento, Ca
Cost:  $45  (Includes full dinner, t-shirt, and Swag bag!)

How do I sign up?

1.  Complete the form!  COMPLETE THE FORM HERE!

2.  Pay your $45 using PayPal.  Send money as FRIENDS/FAMILY to

3.  Book your hotel!  :)  We recommend somewhere in Downtown or Old Town Sacramento!  All of our activities will be held in or near the capital and Old Town Sacramento. If you need suggestions, I used to live in Sacramento!

Once you are all signed up, you will receive an e-mail closer to the event with even more information and a few surprises!!!  :)  We can't wait to meet you!!!

Comment below if you are planning on coming! If you are interested in donating items for one of the give aways, please email me at: 

Happy learning!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Classroom Reveal (2015-2016)

Well, here we are over eight weeks into school, and I have yet to do my classroom reveal post. As I reflect about the craziness that has occurred during these past two months, I realize that it is okay. My classroom is finally starting to come together, and there are less empty spaces on the walls. This was a major feat that has been quite the challenge this school year. While I received the keys to my classroom relatively early in the summer, most of my furniture and essential pieces to my classroom did not arrive until right before (or after) school started. It made organizing and decorating that much more of a challenge.

If you have been following my teaching journey, you would know that I switched schools/districts and grade levels this school year. After a long debate, I decided to take a teaching position closer to home. This decision is something that was not taken lightly, but I am elated that I did decide to make the switch. While this process could be a bit nerve-wracking, I returned to the school that I student taught at, and it has felt more like coming back home than a new school. One of my mentor teachers is on campus (the other retired) and so many familiar faces are in the classrooms surrounding mine. It really has been a wonderful homecoming. Best yet? The students I am working with are those that I worked with as a student teacher and/or long-term substitute. This move was really about coming full circle. It is extraordinary.

Back to my classroom process. I received my classroom keys on June 29th. This is extremely early, which made me extremely excited to get planning; however, just as I received my keys, I quickly realized that much of the furniture and major components were not in my classroom. While I could start coming up with lists about basic plans, much of the actual creating could not be finalized until furniture, technology, and classroom numbers were set.

Despite my disaster of a bun and lack of makeup, I had to take an obligatory selfie upon receiving my keys. I was excited to enter my room (which was the former library) and see the blank canvas I was working with. Ironically, I was working in room 17 yet again which seems to be my lucky number--my first classroom, my wedding anniversary, and now this classroom.

My nearly empty, blank slate. Despite the bare walls, I knew the classroom had a lot of potential. When I walked into my new room, I was overwhelmed. For the second straight year, I was starting with essentially nothing. No goodies to dig through or sort. Just bare walls, no furniture, and lots of possibilities. It is safe to say that I started with nothing and have made my classroom my own.
Lots of space. As you can see, there was one bookshelf, one technology table, the student desks, two trash cans, and the cabinets in my room. While there were promises about technology, a smart board, and other pieces of furniture, there was nothing placed in my room for the entire month of July. The furniture I brought into the room was mine, and many of the details and things on the walls could not be placed until whiteboards and smart board were mounted on the walls. The organizer in me was panicking, but now that my room is nearly together, it was all worth it.

As I started to work on my classroom, I was fortunate to have such a supportive family. Not only did my dad help me set up my first classroom (including supplying me with this desk), he helped me relocate it to my new classroom. Aren't dedicated family members a blessing? I know that I wouldn't have gotten my room set up in time if not for family support!

After getting my desk in my room, it finally started to feel like my classroom.

Now, if you look closely on the walls, you can see a whole bunch of holes. Do you see them? These holes were something that drove me crazy. If you are anything like me, I like to have my room look put together, clean, and welcoming. These holes were NOT part of this image. My classroom was the former library. Only days before I received my keys, there were bookshelves mounted everywhere--hence the holes. I knew that my furniture placement needed to be creative, or maybe I would have to find creative artwork.

On the counter, there are several boxes. This, my friends, is something that made me squeal out loud (see the next picture).

Those boxes were my new Promethean board! This beauty was fresh-out-of-the-box and all mine. Best yet, it got mounted on the wall fairly quickly. 
Following all the excitement of my new Promethean Board, I was inspired to get work done in my classroom. I was thankful that I had bulletin board surface on a lot of walls. 
Can you sense the pure exhaustion on my face? If you have never put fabric on bulletin boards by yourself, it is a lot of work. I applaud all you teachers that change the backgrounds of your bulletin boards. I really do not know how you do it. Really, I want to know your secrets. These boards will stay up here all year. I cannot begin to even think about changing them. My arms and back just ache thinking about that process again. 
All that work and my room still looked empty. Do you notice all the empty wall space and the lack of furniture? These will not arrive until right before and during the first month of school. Has anyone else had that happen? I was in full teacher panic. This was AUGUST and my room still looked like a blank slate. 

My amazing husband hard at work again!

This is my husband. I would like to have a quick moment of praise for those wonderful teacher husbands (and wives) out there. Really, they are the best!!! I do not know how they put up with all the teacher craziness, but I can personally say that my husband is amazing. Not only does he not mind coming into my room in the summer, late at night, on the weekends, or right before the bell rings because I forgot something, but he jumps in and helps. He has a great attitude, helps me plan, and is just a rockstar. What would we do without those people that help support us?

Not only did this wonderful man help me nearly every day I was in my room, but the night before Back to School Night he was in my room (until later than I'd like to admit). He was helping me put the finishing touches up on my fall (at least as best as we could at that point). If you have someone that influential to your teaching success, please let them know. I know I don't say it enough, but thank you, Christopher. You are my support, and I am so very thankful.
(Not to forget my parents--they are AMAZING and a huge reason why I be successful and happy in this field! Thanks Mom and Dad!!!!)

Back to School Night

This is what my room looked like right before my first official event at my new school. Do you notice what is missing? Yep--I had no white boards. They were on order, and I was still not certain their dimensions. This resulted in an empty wall. This was really my nightmare. I wanted my room to be finished, yet an entire wall was virtually untouched. I kept looking at all those amazing classroom reveals, and honestly there were tears of panic. Here I was minutes before parents flooding my room for the first time and I really could not finish this wall. There was this blank wall at the front of my room. 
10 minutes until the start of Back to School Night. I push-pinned a few posters, my rules, and crossed my fingers that no one would notice my empty wall. I comically placed a piece of paper with a "whiteboards downloading" sign. I got quite a few chuckles with that one.
The great news is that my parents commented about the effort I put into making my room a welcoming space. There was not much time to focus on my blank wall. I was also happy to make use of my pen holder that I made with my students last year.

The non-empty walls.
I used Google Forms to collect more parent information during my presentation. I am thinking that I might use Kahoot for an interactive component next year! 

I adore this poem that I picked up here. It matches my space theme that I like to play up A LOT due to my last name (DeMARS).

My teacher desk. It seems huge, but I rarely sit here alone during the day. Students use this space for conferencing, it is an area for materials storage (I do not have much storage), and our student-run classroom store is housed here every day. 
One of my favorite features of my room are the lovely banners made by dear friend, Sarah, from Tales of Teaching with Tech. She made this special banner for me that matches the lovely ones you can see throughout my room here. They come in many colors, are bright, and easy to read. Seriously, go pick them up!

This year I tried to add a few personal touches that make me smile. Our classrooms are like our second home, right? I added the photos from the 2015 Vegas Meet UP with my favorite ladies. These pictures always bring a smile to my face. I love that we were able to spend so much time together. The best part is that we are working to really tackle this teaching adventure together, and this picture works as an anchor to remind me of that. Teachers need to stick together. 

More details. They really do make all the difference!

Seriously, what teacher cannot use a little more help. Nearly a month into school I still had not stamped and organized my classroom library. Two of my wonderful students stayed after school for many hours. They organized, labeled, and entered all our books into our digital library. Priceless, right?!

After hours of work, several dum-dums paid out, and lots of laughs, the library was finally ready for my students.

The Final Major Puzzle Piece 
(though my husband would disagree that this was the last...)
I literally started jumping up and down when I realized that my whiteboards finally arrived. September 24th, a day I will continue to celebrate. The amazing maintenance staff came in and quickly started mounting the boards. This made my teacher heart sing. As they quickly worked to get the boards mounted while students poured in (the day was just starting), my students started cheering. I think they were almost as excited as I was.
While my students got started on their bell work, I instantly started working on setting up our boards. Things were stapled around the board, washi tape placed, our schedule written down. Honestly, it was up in less than 10 minutes. I cannot believe how quickly it went up. Is there a project you complete that just flew by because you were so excited? My students were impressed, and I was elated to have this large piece of my room finally completed.
This is closer to what my room looks now. We use the front bulletin boards to celebrate our art, student progress, and other feature events/activities at school.
Another look at our classroom door & more fabulous banners by Sarah!
We even decorate and focus on seasonal changes.
Our classroom information station.
Our classroom Twitter wall. We tweeted about our experience with hands-on coding with Dot & Dash (read about that here)
I use brochures and pamphlets to help students synthesize learning throughout the year. They love to display their learning in our brochure holders.

Our more organized classroom library. We have been collecting more books through our Scholastic points. Do you have suggestions on how to gain more points every month? I'm all ears!

This would be our "final large project" according to my husband. We have a classroom pet. His name is Prism, and he is a veiled chameleon. 
My favorite wall in the classroom, our iPad cart, and our "Did you Know?" board. 

Our focus and goal boards.

Our interactive math bulletin board. If you have not checked out Jameson's (Lessons with Coffee) interactive math boards, go check them out now. I have purchased ALL of them. I adore them. My kids love them. It is worth it. They gravitate this boggle wall during 'free time' and they are quick to remind me if they need more forms. I started changing our board and they begged for another week with math boggle, and of course they obliged.

Well, thank you for touring my classroom. I am thrilled that it looks more complete and is closer to the image that I had in my head so many months ago. As the school year continues, I know that it will continue to evolve and change, but for now it definitely feels like home. How do you make your classroom feel like home? What is your favorite element of your classroom?

Happy Learning! Stay tuned for a post about pets in the classroom!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Parent Teacher Conferences

As the school year jumps into full swing, parent-teacher conferences are on the mind of many teachers. I know that for me, as a fairly new teacher, they can be overwhelming and lead to many sleepless nights. Sarah at Tales of Teaching with Tech, Erin from Very Perry Classroom, Brianne at Hooo-Ray for Teaching, and myself wanted to chat about how we format parent-teacher conferences. We discussed scheduling, how student-led conferences are run (in my classroom), handling the "hard stuff", resources we give parents, making language a non-barrier, how to handle no-shows, and our absolute MUSTS of parent-teacher conferences.

My absolute must for conferences is: Get your students involved. Have them show off work, encourage them to reflect, and most of all listen to them too! This is a time to allow them to see that we are all a team to serve their learning. I always like to tell my students that, "conferences are just a team meeting to see how we can best support you."

My kiddos know how much I LOVE teams! (It is a running joke that I am on EVERYONE's team because of all my educational company t-shirts)

Happy Learning Everyone!

Join Us for Our Next Blab Show: 

Teacher Meetings with the CA Fab4 (on

Mondays at 5-6 PM PST

Next Topic: Celebrations & Holidays in the Classroom

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Coding in the Classroom: Dash & Dot

What is Coding?

Simply put, coding is the language and process that allows us to create computer software, apps, and websites. It is through computer coding that we can control electronic devices and use them as resources to entertain, learn, and perform tasks. While the concept of coding can be complex, the foundation can be learned through basic if ______ then _______ statements. These concepts can by easily obtainable by students if presented in a manner that allows students to explore and progress at their own level. 

What are Dot & Dash?

Dot & Dash are two robots that are designed for students. They allow students to obtain and grasp concepts of actual computer coding in a language that makes sense to children. As their makers Wonder Workshop promote, this is "coding in kid speak." As the box label states, anyone from 5 to infinity can enjoy interacting with bots. I have witnessed both teachers (at a previously attended training) and my own students enjoy learning through the process of 'playing' with Dot & Dash.

Our First Adventure with Dash & Dot:

Please Note: this is not a promotional post. We borrowed Dash & Dot sets from our regional county office. We hope to borrow them or acquire some of our own soon.

Day #1: The first-day students spent forty minutes exploring the block-based programming language that controlled Dash. Students worked in pairs or groups of three in order to create at minimum four basic shapes: square, rectangle, triangle, hexagon. During their exploration, students realized that there was a relationship between the angle measurement and the number of sides of the polygon. Students learned that variables (such as debris on the carpet, chairs/desks, etc.) changed the output of Dash's motion. They explored changes to both speed, time traveled (seconds), which ultimately resulted in conversations about velocity and distance. As I observed, I realized that many of these concepts would have been out of reach for most students, but the tangible resource (Dash) facilitated higher-level thinking and conversations. These conversations were among students, and so much more effective than teacher-led learning. 

Day #1 (continued): Best of all, this allowed students to see the immediate results of their coding. While my classroom has focused on computer coding concepts in my classroom, participated in technology challenges, and use iPads in our classroom on a daily basis, often technology is isolated from the physical world. Students were able to see direct results from the code they developed. If they mistyped, they saw the results of this error. If the velocity was too great, they watched Dash run into the table and crash. Throughout this whole project, students rarely stayed in one place. They kept moving. Students held their iPads at precarious angles, they looked from different perspectives. They were on the floor, peering over a desk, getting at eye-level with Dash. They were permitted to move and gain perspective in any way, which allowed them to learn so much more about the code the developed than their previous experiences.

Day #2: Following the first day, students spent 10 minutes reflecting with their group about their previous day's challenges. They talked about the strategies that worked, about their group cooperation (and their interpersonal struggles), and their plan of attack. Their first task was to build an obstacle course. They were instructed to have a clear starting point, five different turns (of varying angles), and a landing point that was at least as big as Dash. After courses were set, they worked together to complete their course.

Day #4: Following the opportunity to create courses, they were asked to complete another team's course. On this day, their task required that they use both Dash & Dot to complete the course. Through this, they learned that there are many ways the robots can interact with each other. They had fun trying new ideas and liked to see how many times they could have them interact and still complete the course. During this process, students learned how to work in collaborative groups, express their own understanding, and persevere through challenges.

Day #4 (continued): Even groups that struggled with the beginning of the challenge ended the week with smiles and positive interactions. At the end of our four-day experience with Dot & Dash students were fully engrossed in the learning process. Not one student wanted to leave to use the restroom, get a drink, or needed to be reminded to focus--they just were. Even after four straight days of 'playing' with our new friends, they were discovering new interactions, trying ideas, and giggling about making mistakes. Sometimes making mistakes was even better than completing the task, and that was okay. Learning requires mistakes, and the use of Dot & Dash allowed students to recognize mistakes and actually learn through them. In fact, they wanted to make mistakes so they could improve their design, and in reality the mistakes became  more valuable than the successes. Those errors were the launching point for our conversations and pushed students to be creative with their thinking and really analyze their code, put their mathematical reasoning in practice, and really think outside the box. It fueled their creativity. 

Why should I include coding into my curriculum?

Coding is an integrated subject. Through my experience in the classroom, I have learned that the use of technology and various platforms for coding allow students to have deeper conversations about concepts ranging from mathematics, science and English language arts to space exploration, the elements of art, and so much more. Coding encourages the interdisciplinary approach to learning and allows for natural differentiation among students. It captures the reluctant learners, the GATE students, and most importantly fuels the natural curiosity of students. It inspires them to learn and improve.

What is the Hour of Code?

While barriers of cost and access to items like Dash & Dot might be a factor limiting coding education in the classroom, there are many ways to embed coding and logic education into the classroom. The Hour of Code is a week-long event happening in December (7th-13th) that promotes coding in the classroom. There are even lessons that do not include technology at all! This is an event that may serve as a launch or spark for computer coding in your classroom or school site, or serve as an additional tool to inspire students to go further their learning. I personally have participated with this event in my classroom for the past two years, and I plan on participating again. If you have any questions about how to get started, please do not hesitate. I want coding in the classroom to catch fire in classrooms around the globe. It is so critical for our students and offers so much.

How Do I Integrate Dot & Dash Into My Curriculum?

The possibilities are truly endless. There are obvious connections in mathematics and science; however, following this experience my students and I immediately started brainstorming more ideas. Currently, my students are writing persuasive essays to convince me to bring them into our classroom again. So far they have found ways to integrate them into ELA, social studies, P.E. and art. When driven to find connections, students are very creative. One of the best features of Dash & Dot (over other robotic devices) are that they are designed to be educational tools. The Wonder Workshop has resources that include lesson plans, ideas for use in the classroom, and also partners with Donors Choose to get these devices into the classroom.

I hope to hear how you use or are going to start using computer coding in the classroom! I love to hear about other ideas, so please share if you try using Dot & Dash (or anything else!). Don't forget to sign up for the Hour of Code.

As always, Happy Learning!!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Periscope: The New PD Frontier

When it comes to professional development opportunities, I sometimes feel that my location can be limiting with opportunities that I have. While there are many different ways to connect, learn, and grow with fellow teachers, I have found that attending conferences and meeting face-to-face is not always the most cost-effective option. As my husband and I started our journey back from Vegas this past week I knew that I wanted a way to keep the value of the face-to-face meet-up alive, but I knew that large conferences were not always the most pocket friendly option.

Throughout the conference, I kept hearing about the meet-ups on a new app called Periscope. In the midst of one of my sessions, I finally downloaded the app and set up an account. I was instantly hooked. It is a way to connect with other like-minded individuals, communicate, and really see into each other's classrooms. While I haven't been brave enough to actually broadcast myself (yet), I have enjoyed reaching out to other teachers, seeing glimpses into their daily lives, and sharing tips. I am hopeful for what this app offers--a sense of connection. The biggest thing I struggled with last school year was that I felt isolated. Not only was I at a tiny school, but I felt that many of my teaching peers were not actively out searching for modern teaching practice resources. I am hoping that with this application that it will allow me to share my daily teaching struggles, ideas, and communicate with my peers. 

Join me for my FIRST live Periscope (from my classroom): Sunday, July 19th @ 12:30 PM PST

Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 TPT Conference in Las Vegas!

For the past two years, I have been debating about setting up a Teachers Pay Teachers store. Like most teachers, I spend countless hours designing materials for my students. While I feel confident in using my product in my own classroom, I still find myself intimidated by most of the popular sellers on TPT. As a move forward in my teaching career, I know that connecting with teachers and sharing my ideas beyond my own school site and district would be a valuable opportunity, and this year I have dedicated myself to launching my own store. While I have yet to upload any of my resources to my site, I have several ready to launch. After talking with a few successful sellers, I finally decided that attending the TPT conference would help me gain confidence, connect with other sellers, and learn some tips and tricks that would help me make the plunge into selling. So, after discussion with my husband, we decided that we would take the drive from California to Las Vegas and incorporate the conference into our summer vacation (What a great guy, eh?!).

With that being said, I have so many TPT sellers that I have connected with through Instagram that I want to meet with, but I am losing track of who is attending the conference. I decided that a Google Form was in order (Side Note: I am obsessed with Google Forms. If you're interested in a blog post on how I use Google Forms in the classroom, let me know).

If you're attending any of the conferences in Las Vegas this summer, feel free to fill out the contact form. I'll be sending out a copy of the contact list at the beginning of May (and perhaps again in late June) for all those interested.

Teachers Pay Teachers Contact Form

I hope to meet you there! And as always, happy learning!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March Currently

I really cannot believe that it is March! I still feel like February just started, but I am really looking forward to what this month has in store. I am so glad to be linking up with Farley from Oh' Boy 4th Grade for this month's CURRENTLY.

Listening: I rarely watch reality/game TV shows, but occasionally I am home (and awake) when The Voice airs. The creativity is so inspirational. My husband and I just got home from a late night grocery shopping run, and we gave our puppies an extra special rawhide treat. They are always so happy when we give them a chew treat.

Loving: Tomorrow kicks off Read Accross America and our school-wide read-a-thon. We are starting the week with a dress like your favorite book character day. One of my favorite books of all time is Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers.

Thinking: I am such a procrastinator. Monday's are pretty rough for me, and I always feel like I'm running behind. I've been trying really hard to make sure that my clothes are laid out and my lunch is packed. It seems to be helping in the mornings. Since my carpool partner and I have to leave so early, I need every minute I can get!

Wanting: It would be so nice to have teacher work day. I feel like I am bringing more and more home, which is making it hard to keep up on my work at home. I am away from home for so many hours (including my 80-minute commute) that I feel that my puppies deserve attention when I get home. I am always torn between planning, grading and masters work, that I would just love a work day (or snow day) to just get caught up!

Needing: I have a rough draft of my current master's class essay. It is due on March 7th by midnight. I have a feeling that I'm going to be working on it until the deadline. I feel like I am always overthinking our assignments and make them more work than intended. 

Spring Break Plans: I don't have very exciting plans. I know that I have a dentist appointment planned and that I want to do some deep cleaning of our house. The hubby and I will most likely take a long walk or hike with the puppies. I know that I will most definitely need some sleep and enjoy some R & R. 

The Amazing Abacus: Understanding Place Value

When I started teaching 6th-grade math at the beginning of the school year, I never would have imagined that my students would still be struggling to understand basic place value concepts. During the course of one of our math chapters (we use piloting the Engage NY curriculum here in our county to see if it is something we should adopt), students were asked to apply their understanding of place value when dividing. I quickly found out that many of my students were not able to properly identify place value positions, and did not fully understand place value terms and their relationship to the number 10. The concept of powers of ten was embedded throughout the chapter, and I knew that I needed to review concepts like regrouping and place value in order to be successful. I spent the better half of a weekend scouring the internet, various math blogs, and teachers pay teachers, trying to find a way to re-teach these ideas to middle school students. For those of you that don't have the privilege to teach pre-teens, having the students buy into the learning experience is essential. I didn't want this experience to be too juvenile, but in reality this concept is supposed to be acquired at an earlier level.

It was during a chat with my fellow 6th-grade teaching partner (who happens to teach ELA & history), that I decided I was going to use the abacus to re-teach these concepts. I hoped by using something that was new to nearly all my students that they would finally be able to have a grasp on place value and the role of tens in our number system. The best part is that it fits perfectly into ancient history curriculum and is another opportunity to engage my kinesthetic learners (which happens to be over 75% of my students).

We started the lesson with learning a little about the history of the abacus. I kicked off this lesson by using a web-based program called Zaption ( For those of you that don't know about this amazing resource, it is an online website where you can turn any online video into an interactive learning experience for students. I had students watch and respond to my Amazing Abacus Zaption Video. One of the best parts about this program is that vocabulary word cloud. I quickly was able to see which students had a strong understanding of place value through their use of mathematics vocabulary. My students already had exposure to a brief history of mathematics during a series of lessons at the beginning of the school year. I included one of my Zaption tours (History of Mathematics Zaption Video) if you are interested.  I am planning to write a blog post on how I use Zaption in the classroom. If you are interested in seeing anything specific, please let me know.

We spent the next few days reviewing place value terms, talking about their meaning, and then learning how to represent numbers using an abacus. Since I did not have a class set of abacuses, I decided to have my kids make them! When you search out "how to make an abacus" online, there are many different options; however, I wasn't satisfied with any particular design. I finally started playing with a variety of supplies that I had in my classroom, and thus the Amazing Abacus was designed. Thankfully I have pretty amazing parents that will help me prepare materials on a Thursday night.

My lovely parents not only put up with my crazy ideas, but help me quickly organize and prepare materials for the next day. Aren't they the best?!
My mom got to count out 50 black beads (earthly beads) per student. 
Despite an injured hand, my rockstar dad hole punched note cards for me.
Each card needed twenty holes each. I needed thirty-six cards.
That is WAY TOO MANY holes--but he did it. :)
After a long night of organization, we finally had the start of what would later turn into an individual abacus. If you are wondering here are the supplies each student needed:

  • One blank index card (I used 4'' x 6'' ones like these)
  • Ten pipe cleaners
  • Ten white beads (heavenly beads)
  • Fifty black beads (earthly beads)
  • One ruler--can be shared between students
  • One ziploc bag to hold all the items
Before students were able to assemble their abacus, they had to draw a separation line between the heavenly and earthly bead sections. They took rulers and drew one straight, horizontal line. They later darkened these lines with pens. When playing with my prototype, I found that it was better to have the line slightly closer to the heavenly bead side (the white side)--just slightly away from the center. They also were asked to label each of the place value locations.
Students loved being able to create their own abacus

A student created abacus (please ignore that he spelled abacus incorrectly. He later fixed it).

Directly after making our abacus, I taught the students how to use them to add, subtract, and multiply using these tools. Most caught on quickly, and during free practice I was delighted to hear students correctly explain to each other the meaning of each place value location. Students were using academic vocabulary properly, and I witnessed even the most reluctant math students being able to justify their answers by using terms like regrouping. 

There are probably hundreds of ways to reteach place value, but I think that this activity and lesson was something that will stick with my students. Since this lesson, I have students that prefer to use their abacus over traditional pencil and paper. While I frequently do not allow calculators on my tests, I have been allowing the use of the abacus. I have found that there are fewer mistakes due to place value when they use this wonderful tool. These student-made tools are not the most durable tools, but they do seem to be holding up. They are stored in their math drawers, and all are still intact. The success I found in the classroom inspired me to purchase a class set of more durable abacuses. They finally just arrived, and I cannot wait to share them with my class!

Happy learning!