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!

February SLANTBox Exchange: I Love Education

As a new teacher, I find that I can feel isolated in my own classroom. One thing that forces me to think beyond my classroom and get connected with people outside my school site is the SLANTBox Exchange hosted by Jameson from Lessons with Coffee. If you haven't signed up for one of these exchanges before, you are paired with a teacher (sometimes two) for the monthly exchange. You spend the month emailing and getting to know your partner. Near the end of the month, you send a fun-filled box that is personalized just for your partner. Each month has a cute theme, and one of the items has to be handmade.

February's theme was: I Love Education

This month I was paired with Jessica from Simply Preschool. Jessica is a hard-working, loving, preschool teacher in St. Louis, Missouri. I was inspired by her passion and ability to work with such little people on a daily basis. I know that my middle school students exhaust me to no end, and I cannot even imagine working with the tiniest of learners! Throughout the month of getting to know her, I could feel the love for teaching oozing out of her words, and I know that this passion is felt in everything she does. We bonded over our love for all things organization, our connection with Monica Geller (from Friends), and the excitement over colored pens. We also both have a strong desire to travel the world. I'm slightly envious that she will be traveling to Spain soon. I hope you have lots of fun, Jessica!

One of the best things about the end of each month is that I get to come home to a box. I love being able to see how each educator's creativity comes out with the decoration of the box. When my box from Jessica arrived, I was exhausted, but the bright colors instantly lifted my spirits. 

When I opened my box, I saw some of my favorite things (dark chocolate & colorful pens) and I quickly realized why my two puppies were circling around me. Jessica included a few treats for my girls! There are a few things that I'm not sure how I'll use, but I'm sure I'll find a use for them! I am most curious to try the lemon & pepper dark chocolate. It sounds like a strange combination, but I'm sure that it is delicious! 

For all of you that are interested in signing up for the next SLANTBox exchange, Jameson has just opened up March sign-ups (they end on Friday the 6th). I would highly recommend it!