TpT Newsletter

So, I was this month's featured teacher in the TpT newsletter. Yippee Skippee!

In addition to a little blurb about me, there are also links to ten free teacher resources from other teachers, as well as a list of the top selling teacher materials. If you want to have a peek, here is a link!

Daily Brain Teaser #90

Jack and Ben were walking along a road when they saw a sign that said Joytown 126 miles, Sad City 84 miles. The towns were in opposite directions. The boys decided to walk toward Joytown. They stopped to have lunch exactly halfway between Joytown and Sad City. How far away from Sad City were they when they had lunch?

____ miles

Teaching Tools: 7 Ways to use Individual Student Whiteboards

This is the first post in the Teaching Tools You Gotta Have series. I plan to discuss a different teaching tool each week! Generally, these will be inexpensive, yet highly useful. So, be sure and check them all out!

With individual student whiteboards you can save paper, make learning fun, and keep your whole class engaged all at the same time. There are many uses for these handy boards! If you don't already have a class set, you don't have to spend a ton of money to get one. The material is inexpensive and available at your local hardware store, and most stores will cut it for free. 12x12 seems to work well for most classrooms, but you can have it cut to whatever size you want.

Once you have your boards, you will need to decide whether you want students to keep them in their desks or if you'd rather keep them in a central location and distribute as needed. I prefer the latter as I think it keeps the boards in better shape. A good way to get dry-erase pens is to have students bring them at the start of the school year with their school supplies. A clean, white sock makes a good eraser.

Now that you have your boards, here are some ideas on how to use them:

To Display Answers 
Students can easily write short answers on their boards and then hold them up for you to quickly scan and check. Consider using for mental math problems, spelling, or review of pretty much any subject.

In Partners
Students can practice spelling words in partners with one partner giving the word and the other writing it on their white board. They could also use the board to keep score when playing a game.

For Handwriting Practice
Using a whiteboard is a good place to start just to get the motion of the letter down. Of course, it is different than writing on paper and you will need to do some of that too, but it can be a fun, first step.

Instead of Scratch Paper
Save paper by having students use whiteboards as scratch paper whenever they will not need to save their work.

Instead of Clipboards
Great for when students are moving around the classroom to collect data that they will not need to keep permanently. Also good for times when students are sitting on the carpet for instruction rather than at their desks.

As a Quick Mood Gauge
Ever feel like your class is just off, but you can't quite put your finger on it? Try having your students each draw a quick face on their boards - either a smiley face, a sad face or a neutral (straight line for the mouth). It gives you a quick read and may possibly lead to a class discussion about what is going on.

For Indoor Recess and other Free Times
Great for games like hangman or just for drawing. Kids love to use these during their free time.

Do you use individual student white boards in your classroom? Please share your ideas!

Next Week: Name Sticks!

Daily Brain Teaser #89

Ms. Kendall's class had an ice cream party.

24 chldren had hot fudge on their sundaes

17 children had a cherry.

There were 26 children in the class.

How many children had both hot fudge and a cherry?


Ways to Make Group Work Work

I believe that most teachers don't really know what is going on socially in their classroom. Not because they aren't paying attention or because they don't care, but because much of the social interaction - especially negative interactions, happen at lunch or recess, or before or after school, or intentionally behind the teacher's back. As adults, we can't really, truly know what is going on. Sure, we know who is super popular and who is neglected or rejected, but that still leaves a lot of unknown territory.

And that makes group work tricky because all of those unknown status hierarchies get carried into the group. Add to that the varying academic abilities of your students. Add to that the fact that there are more and more kids with various special needs - Aspergers, sensory integration issues, ADHD, not to mention any number of quirky tendencies that can make group work challenging.

Yet, group work is important. Kids need to learn to work in groups. So what can we do to help? Here are some ideas:

Make the Groups - Don't Allow Students to Choose 
There are several reasons for this. First, when students are allowed to choose their group members, some kids get left out. This is beyond hurtful. And when they are finally assigned to a group, they know they are not wanted. Also, students do not always make the best choices for group mates. And finally if you do the grouping, you can balance them socially and academically. Even if you don't want to group them yourself, using Popsicle sticks or some other random method is still better than allowing kids to group themselves.

Set Ground Rules about Behavior
At the top of the list should be treating everyone in the group fairly and with respect. Dividing work fairly, listening to every one's ideas should be in there as well. You might also have a plan for mediating disputes within the group.

Give Everyone a Job
One of the main problems with group work is that often one or two kids do the majority of the work while the rest of the group members slack off. By dividing the work involved in the project into parts so that each person has their part, you can make sure everyone does his or her share.

Grade the Project Both as a Group and Individually
When students know that they will be graded on their individual contributions, they are less likely to let others do all the work.

Check in Frequently
Check in with groups frequently to make sure they are on schedule and that they are all getting along. Monitoring group work time is one informal way. You could also talk with groups about how things are going, or have a formal timetable for them to follow.

Plan Diverse Projects
For long term projects especially, try to have many components so that everyone can find a place to fit in. This is especially important for struggling students who may feel that their contribution will be sub-par. If there are many different aspects to the projects, odds are, everyone can find a way to contribute that is valuable to the group.

Plan Carefully for Quirky Kids
Some kids have a really hard time working in groups. My son was one of these. Now in high school, he does fine in groups, but in elementary school and even Jr. High, group work was extremely stressful - not just for him, but also for the other kids in his group. You probably have one or two kids like this in your class. Assign them carefully and monitor closely. With the proper guidance, the project could become a tremendous learning opportunity for these kids. But left to their own devices, they are very likely to crash and burn.

Daily Brain Teaser #88

Cassie has 3 pairs of dice. What are the total number of sides, corners, and dots on her dice?

Sides _____
Corners _____
Dots ______

Totally Cool Social Studies Assignment

My daughter's 8th grade social studies assignment is to make a comic strip with at least seven panels that features Jr. High students living without the Bill of Rights. Three amendments must be broken in the strip. So much better than reading from a textbook!

Blog Carnivals

The Carnival of Educators is at I Want to Teach Forever this Week. I saw some terrific posts! Also, this carnival will be hosted right here at Minds in Bloom next week so be sure and get your submission in! Here is a link to that ever-so-handy submission form.

You can also check out  The Carnival of Homeschooling at the Daily Planet.

Daily Brain Teaser #87

What word connects the three words in each group?

Example: aid ~ head ~ rock = band  (bandaid, headband, rock band)

  1. mate ~ class ~ bath ______________
  2. chocolate ~ maid ~ carton ______________
  3. sea ~ egg ~ turtle ______________
  4. swing ~ spare ~ track ______________
  5. bell ~ mat ~ knob ______________
  6. sweat ~ tail ~ polo ______________
  7. house ~ fire ~ flash ______________
  8. bed ~ computer ~ bite ______________
These are called Tribonds and you can find more here

Daily Brain Teaser #86

There were fifteen cookies in the cookie jar. After each of five children took cookies, there were none left. Use the clues to discover how many cookies each child took.

Diane took two cookies less than Carla

Sam took four cookies

Norm and Carla took the same number of cookies

Cliff took one more cookie than Norm

Carla took one less cookie than Sam

Cliff ____
Norm ____
Diane ____

Trivia Bonus: Who are Cliff, Carla, Norm, Diane, and Sam?

Word Searches are Stupid

Word searches are stupid because they have very little educational content other than that the words in the search are usually vocabulary words from an area of study. Not only that, they take very little thinking to solve. Basically, just scaning for letters. They are the ulitmate form of busy work.

Here are some ways to make them less stupid:

Use clues instead of a list of words  If you are studying state capitals, instead of listing the capital cities of the midwest, list the states with a write on line and have the students fill in the correct capitals before finding them in the word search. Or give clues to the words. For example, if are studying cells instead of simply listing the word "membrane" you could write: This is the layer that surrounds the cell.

Scramble or code it Scramble each word in the word list and have a write on line for unscrambling before students find them in the word search. Or write the words in code and have the students decode the words before finding them in the word search.

Make it tricky  This one is especially good for spelling words. Make your word search manually rather than using an online word search generator and make it tricky by including many near-misses For each word, have several places in the wordsearch where the word is almost spelled correctly, but is just one letter off. This means that kids must look at the word carefully to make sure it is correct.

Have students create their own  Use graph paper. Then have them swap with a neighbor. Even better, have them define the words they choose to use or justify why they should be included in a themed puzzle.

Daily Brain Teaser #85

Six girls, Amber, Anna, Beth, Gigi, Janine, and Mary wanted to do something fun on Saturday. They could not agree on one activity, so they went in pairs to 3 different activities, rollerskating, the movies, and bowling. Use the clues to discover which girls did each activity:

Gigi and Janine do not like bowling.

Mary and Beth did the same activity. Both girls had to change their footwear before doing their activity.

The two girls with names that begin with the same letter did not do the same activity. Neither of them went bowling.

Janine and Amber went to the same activity.

Gigi did not go to the movies.

Bowling   ___________ and ______________
Skating  ____________ and ______________
Movies  ____________ and ______________

Hint: Start by pairing the girls, then find their activities.

Daily Brain Teaser #84

Kendra has made a list of all her favorite things, but it is missing the consonants. Can you fill them in?

  1. Color:  ___ ___ E E ____
  2. Fruit: ___ A ___ A ___ A
  3. Vegetable: ___ A ___ ___ O ___
  4. Dessert:  ___ ___ O ___ ___ I E
  5. Animal: ___ U ___ ___ ___ E
  6. Flower:  ___ O ___ E
  7. Sport:  ___ E ___ ___ I ___
  8. Board Game: ___ O ___ O ___ O ___ ___
  9. School Subject: ___ ___ I E ___ ___ E
  10. Place: ___ I ___ ___E ___ ___A ___ ___

Ideas for Encouraging Self-Evaluation

School is all about evaluation. Everything from written work to behavior to how neatly one keeps one's desk is up for judgement. And then of course there are those endless batteries of standardized tests. While this is the easiest and perhaps most effective way to get the desired result, ultimately, it can have harmful results. Among other things, it trains children to look for external validation, discourages them from taking academic risks,  and restrict creativity to the narrow band of what is required.

Rather than constantly bombarding children with external evaluations, we can, at least on some occasions, encourage them to evaluate themselves. Here are some ways to facilitate self-evaluation.

Ask Question
Rather than pointing out what is wrong or even right, ask questions that encourage students to look more closely at their work. Some ideas:
  • What did you mean when...
  • Why did you...
  • I'm wondering about...
  • How did you feel about...
  • What are three things you like about...
  • What are three things you might have done differently?
  • How could you improve...
Use Rubrics 
Teachers often use rubrics for grading. Consider having students use the rubric to grade themselves. You could use this in addition to your own use of the rubric or you could conference with the child after he or she has done the rubric and come up with a final grading together. Ideally, the project doesn't have to end there. More learning can take place if students are given the opportunity to correct what went wrong and resubmit the project.

Encourage Student to Self-Check
It is much more empowering to find and correct one's own mistakes rather than having them pointed out by a third party. Some ways students can self-correct:
  • Have students read essays, reports and other written work out loud. Often you hear mistakes that you don't see.
  • Have an easily accessible list of words that are frequently misspelled, possibly on a poster.
  • Have a check list of things students should always look for in written work such as beginning with a capital letter, including end marks, neatness etc. before they turn it in.
  • Allow students to use answer keys to check their own work
  • If correcting papers as a group, allow students to correct their own papers rather than trading with a neighbor. Trading papers can be embarrassing for a struggling student.
Set Goals
Setting goals is a great skill for kids to learn. By identifying a challenging yet attainable goal, writing it down, and making a plan for action, students learn that they can make real and worthwhile changes. Here is a free Student Goal Setting Worksheet.

Skip the Grade
Does everything always have to be evaluated? Try doing an assignment and telling the students that while you will read it, it will NOT be graded. See what happens.

Daily Brain Teaser #83

Put + and - signs between each number to make the equation work.

8   4   2   3   3   1 = 7

Challenge: Can you do it in two different ways?

Daily Brain Teaser #82

If you wrote all of the whole numbers from 1 to 100, how many times would you write the number 2?


3 More Games to Play While Waiting

Whether you are standing in line at the bank or standing in line to ride Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland, waiting can be a trying time for kids. Here are 3 verbal games to make things more fun. These are aimed at older children. If you have little kids, take a peek at 3 Ways to Entertain Small Children While Waiting.

Alphabetically Speaking
Choose a random letter of the alphabet. Take turns having each person say a sentence as part of a conversation you are all having. The tricky part is that each person must begin his or her sentence with whichever letter is next in the alphabet, and he or she can't take too long to think about it. When you get to Z, continue with A until you get to the letter you started with. So a conversation might start like this:

Have you seen Avatar yet?
I have, it was great!
Jake was my favorite character.
Kate was mine.
Let's go see it again next week.
Maybe on Friday?
No, I have guitar lessons that day.
Oh, how about Saturday
Perhaps, I'll have check my calendar.
Quite a busy life you have
Really, you think so?
Seems like you are always busy doing something

Speak as One
In this game you form sentences by each person saying every other word. If there are two or three people, it works well to tell a story. If there are 4 people, pair them off. Each pair acts as one person - saying every other word. It can be really fun to have the two pairs have a conversation.

Verbal Tennis
This is a challenging game for sure. In this game, you take turns adding a sentence to the conversation. The trick is that you may only ask questions, no statements allowed. Also, you may not start your questions with, "Don't you think that..." or some other similar phrase that is just a statement disguised as a question. So a conversation might start like this:

Where did you get that shirt?
Why, do you like it?
How could I not?
What do you think of the color?
Do you think it is more of a red or an orange?
Can you stand in the light so I can see?

Sale at Teacherspayteachers is having a sale - everything 10% off on Saturday and Sunday just use this promotion code at checkout: PR5TD

If you want to see what I sell on TpT, just click on one of the blue links on the left sidebar, or go here to see my TpT store

How Many Educators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Please take this post in the spirit of fun and lightness in which it is offered.

One to write a detailed lesson plan on how to change the lightbulb to be turned into the administrators for review at least a week before the lightbulb is to be changed.

One to be sure the lesson plan includes plans for how to differentiate the changing of the lightbulb so that all learners can benefit - differentiations will include:
  • Composing and performing a song about changing the lightbulb
  • determining how long the new lightbulb will last based on past lightbulb statistics
  • writing a paper on the history of lightbulbs and presenting it to the group
  • allowing participants to work in groups to change the lightbulb
  • drawing out a diagram of how the lightbulb will be changed
  • exploring what it really means to change a lightbulb and what effect the changing of the lightbulb will have on those who change it as well as those who benefit from the light
  • relating the changing of the lightbulb to other experiences in one's own life
  • discussing how changing the lightbulb will impact the enviornment
One to make sure that changing the lightbulb is challenging for both highly capable learners and those needing remedial help.
  • Highly capable learners will be challenged to come up with ways to change the lightbulb without the use of a ladder
  • Those needing more help will recieve special instruction on the "Lefty- Loosey, Righty-Tighty" lightbulb changing technique.
One to make sure that the lightbulb changing lesson plan is consistent with district objectives and Common Core Standards.

A task force of six to design  a comprehensive yet standardized test on lightbulb changing.

One to administer the lightbulb changing test.

A committee of 15 to interpret the results of the lightbulb changing test.

A committee of 20 to design a new lightbulb changing curriculum since the test proved the old one was a failure.

A committee of several dozen to passionately debate the merits and shortcomings of both the new lightbulb changing curriculum and the testing methods.

A team of four to convince that original teacher who wrote the first lesson plan not to quit her job and move to a small hut on the beach in the Bahamas with no electricity and therefore, no lightbulbs.

Daily Brain Teaser #81

Emily has a fish tank.
Yesterday she bought 4 angelfish and 5 guppies for her tank.
She spent a total of $60.
An angel fish costs $6 more than a guppy.

What is the price of a guppy and an angelfish?

Guppy ____
Angelfish ____

Daily Brain Teaser #80

Please vote in the poll on the left sidebar - it only takes a second and would be much appreciated!

Jenny has 11 coins that make a total of 61 cents.

How many of each coin does she have?

____ quarters
____ dimes
____ nickels
____ pennies

clip art from

Your Classroom Culture: 12 Question to Ask Yourself

Every classroom has a culture. Some aspects of your classroom culture might have evolved organically while others have been carefully planned and implemented. You may be pleased with some aspects of your classroom culture and not so pleased with others. As the teacher, you are the primary architect of your classroom culture. For that reason, it may be good to reflect a bit and see if what you have created is working in the ways that you had planned.

With that in mind, I offer these questions for reflection:
  1. What are five adjectives that describe my classroom culture?

  2. How do my students feel about school?

  3. How do my students feel about each other. How well do they work together?

  4. Do we "gel?" Do we feel like a cohesive group?

  5. Is my class a safe place to take academic risks?

  6. Are questions, creativity, originality, and new ideas welcome?

  7. What values are important in my classroom - respect? tolerance? trustworthiness? self-control? kindness?

  8. What behaviors are important in my classroom -trying your best? following directions? staying on task? helping others?

  9. What motivates my students to do their work or behave appropriately?

  10. How are discipline issues handled in my classroom? What is the result of this strategy?

  11. What makes my classroom special and unique- what are students likely to remember 20 years from now?

  12. Other than academics, what are three things I hope my students learn from being in my class?

Were any of these questions particularly helpful? Do you have more to add? Please share with a comment.

Daily Brain Teaser #79

Four children went to the library last month.

Lilly went twice as many times as Robin.

Ted went 4 times more than Barney but three times less than Lilly.

Barney went 5 times.

How many times did Robin go to the library?


Image from Clipart

Blog Carnivals Blog Carnivals this week. At The Carnival of Homeschooling at Raising Real Men I especially appreciated Why We Need to Ask “Why?” at The Expanding Life and a post about the board game Pentago at I want to Teach Forever.

The Carnival of Educators is at the Examiner this week.

At We Teach We Learn, you can find the Edge of Education Carnival.

And finally, you can find A Homeschooling Carnival at Homeschool Trenches.

Daily Brain Teaser #78

Five Super Important World Leaders got together to talk about their favorite flavors of ice cream. Each of the Super Important World Leaders shook hands with each of the other Super Important World Leaders.

How many handshakes took place?

Daily Brain Teaser #77

Allan is at the movies.
His seat is in the 5th row from the front and the 12th row from the back of the theater.
His seat is 8 seats from the right aisle and 12 seats from the left aisle.
If each row has the same number of seats, how many seats are in the entire theater?

_______ seats

Valentine's Day Homophones Story

There are over 50 homophone mistakes in this story. Can your students find them all?

Tony decided two make a Valentine’s pitcher four his mother. He got out a clean, white peace of paper. Than he got out his crayons and started to color. He drew his hole family. Then he maid a yellow son in the blew sky. When he was done, Tony rote, “Eye love Ewe!” on the back and signed his name.

Tony was on his weigh to give his pitcher to his mother when he saw a tiny ferry sitting on the window sill. The ferry was crying. “Why are ewe crying?” Tony asked.

“Eye am crying because it is Winter and their are know flours for me to sleep in. Ewe sea, Eye am a flour ferry.”

“I due knot have any flours.” Tony replied. “But I could draw ewe a flour. Wood that help?”

The ferry stopped crying. “I think it mite.” she said.

Tony took the tiny ferry gently in his hand and carried her too his room. Then he drew a pitcher of ate flours inn a vase. When he was done, the ferry magically turned the pitcher into reel flours! Tony could knot believe his eyes!

Tony put the vase of flours on his knight stand. The ferry maid herself a home in the biggest flour. Tony went two give his pitcher to his mother. She said it was a grate pitcher and gave Tony a big hug. The ferry stayed in Tony’s room all winter long and the too became good friends.

12 Valentine's Day Critical Thinking Activities

Language Arts Extension Activities

Core Knowledge vs Creative and Critical Thinking

Honestly, what a silly title  for a post, and yet, it does seem to be that way.

Often when the idea of teaching creative and critical thinking skills is raised, people object saying that what children really need is to master the basics  - core knowledge. What I can never figure out is why it has to be an either/or situation. It seems like unless one is bent on teaching strictly by drill and kill, the two concepts enhance each other and can naturally be taught together - and are by many teachers.

I think perhaps it is when the pendulum swings a little too far that people get upset - as with the failing Discovery Math curriculum in Seattle. I love a problem solving approach for math and think manipulatives are terrific tools, but I am not a fan of this program. In math, as in most subjects, kids need to learn to problems solve AND they need to master core skills.

What I don't understand is why this is so challenging. I must be missing something, I really must. It seems relatively simple to write a curriculum to teach basic skills along with problem solving strategies and then give students the opportunity to apply what they have learned to interesting and challenging problems...and yet  for some reason this must not what the people making the curriculum decisions want. It seems like rather than finding a balanced curriculum, we are constantly swinging between Drill and Kill and Discovery.

I must be missing something because the people who make these choices are much smarter than me and certainly much more knowledgable about math curriculums. Could it be that they are weak in critical thinking skills and therefore could not properly evaluate the curriculum?

Someone please explain to silly, stupid me, what I am missing here. I just don't get it.

Daily Brain Teaser #76

Ethan is 25 years old. His nephew David is 5 years old.
How old will Ethan be when he is three times as old as his nephew?
How old will David be?


8 Ways to Sneak in a Little Extra Learning

Most likely, there are times and spaces in your day when not much learning is taking place. Here are some easy ways to sneak a little learning into those spaces.

  1. Look in Line  Put up interesting and relevant things to look at on the walls where your students usually line up. Some ideas include: Current vocabulary or spelling words, mental math problems fun science, or social studies facts, or reflection questions about a book the class is reading

  2. Think While Walking  When you are taking the students somewhere like Music or PE, ask them a question that takes a little thought before you leave. Just before you arrive, ask for answers. This works even better when you are coming back because then you can have the kids answer in your own classroom.

  3. Answer in Silence While your class is waiting in the hall for a specialist until the previous class is dismissed or while your students are waiting in the lunch line, ask them a series of questions with "Yes" or "No" answers. Students use sign language to answer. In this way everyone is silently participating. Review or math questions work well.

  4. Put it on the Board  Put an optional brain teaser, mental math, or other problem on the board each day – each week if you have older students and you are doing a very challenging one. When students solve the problem they put their name and answer on a slip of paper and drop it into the slot of a closed container. Once a week, draw one or several and give the winners a small prize.

  5. Ask for an Opinion  Put an opinion question with two to four choices on the board and spaces for each answer. For attendance, students move small magnets with their names to their chosen answer. Would You Rather Questions are great for this. 

  6. Add an Extra Challenge Add a fun little brain teaser or reflection question to a homework.assignment. If you surround it with a fun shape or put it in a speech bubble it is somehow much more motivating than just making it another question. Put one in your Parent Newsletter and encourage parents to share it with their children.

  7. Put it on a Pass  Put vocabulary, mental math or review questions on your bathroom passes. They are just sitting there…may as well learn something. If your class is the only one who uses the bathrooms, do the same thing on the backs of the stall doors.

  8. Loan DVDs Consider starting a DVD library. Students could check out worthwhile videos for the weekend. You could include movie versions of books you have read, documentaries, nature programs, educational TV shows like Bill Nye the Science Guy or Myth Busters, etc. Students could earn extra credit by answer some relevant questions or writing a short report.
What do you do to get a little extra learning in? Please comment with your ideas.

Daily Brain Teaser #75

Jake gave Grace some marbles. He gave her less than 30 marbles.

When Grace put them in groups of 2, she has 1 marble left over.

When she puts them in groups of 5, she also has one left over.

When she puts them in groups of 3, no marbles are left over.

How many marbles did Jake give Grace?

________ marbles

Valentine's Day Logic Puzzle

This is a good beginning grid-style logic puzzle to use with your students. If your students have never solved this kind of problem, you might want to do it together as a class. If you are unfamiliar with this format, here is a good tutorial.

You can also get This Valentine's Day Logic  Puzzle for free in worksheet form (along with another critical thinking Valentine's Day activity).

Six boys each have a crush on Kate. Read the clues to find out what each boy gave her for Valentine’s Day. Mark an X in squares that cannot be the answer. Mark and O in squares that you are sure are the correct answer.

• Hugo gave Kate a gift that begins with the same letter as his name.

• Jack put his gift in a box and wrapped with pink wrapping paper.

• Desmond’s gift, which was not candy, smelled really good.

• Neither Jack nor Sawyer gave Kate something she can eat.

• Ben needed an oven to make his gift.

Bonus points if you know where the names in the puzzle came from.

Daily Brain Teaser #74

Use the clues to change one letter in each word to make a new word. If you do it correctly, the first word will the same as the last word.

________  bent stick
________  not crazy
________  in deserts
________ mail
________ fix
________ brain
________ belonging to me
________ wait in one
________ not dead
________ like a lot
________ small bay
________ cavern  

Blog Carnivals

The Carnival of Educators is up at Notes from a Home Schooling Mom and the Carnival of Homeschooling is at As For My House

 Be sure to check 'em out!

Daily Brain Teaser #73

It's Groundhogs Day! Read the clues to find out how many groundhogs popped out of their holes today.

The number of groundhogs is a 3 digit number.

If you add the tens and the ones digits, the sum will be the hundreds digit.

If you add all three digits, the sum is 14.

The ones digit is one greater than the tens digit.

____ Groundhogs

Creating a Class Mascot

This is Zig-Zag. When I was teaching third grade, he was our class mascot. In his physical form, he was a large, light green, stuffed snake that I had bought at IKEA. He usually resided in our class Book Nook. But Zig-Zag was much more than a stuffed snake. He was very much a part of our classroom culture. Here are some ways that Zig-Zag showed up in our day-to-day classroom life:
  • A poster of Zig-Zag was on our door, welcoming students to the classroom. He also appeared in the logo of my parent newsletter. 
  • Zig-Zag frequently showed up in cartoon form on worksheets and handouts, usually with a reminder (Remember to write neatly!) or a relevant fact ("Consecutive" means one right after another) in a speech bubble.
  • Each week we did "Zig-Zag Editing." This consisted of a poorly written paragraph from Zig Zag on the board that we would edit together. The paragraph was usually about things we were doing in class and having Zig-Zag write it made it a little more fun.
  • Zig-Zag became a kind of good-natured scapegoat when something minor went wrong in the class - for example, "Has anyone seen the white board eraser? I can't find it anywhere. I wonder if Zig-Zag ate it."
  • Getting to hold Zig-Zag when the class was sitting on the floor for a lesson, or during DEAR time (silent reading), was a treat. Sometimes I used it as a carrot, but usually I drew Popsicle sticks to see who would get to hold him.
A class mascot adds a little bit of fun and lightness to your classroom culture. Of course little kids love it, but even big kids have fun with a class mascot. Older kids will enjoy a mascot that is "cool" rather than "cute."

You can get more mascot ideas at Erica Bohrer's Class Mascots Linky Party

Thoughts on Rafe Esquith's Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith is a rather stunning little book, but then, he is a rather stunning teacher and has created a stunning classroom.

Yes, the self-congratulatory tone can get to be a bit much, and yes, some of his brilliant ideas are not all that unusual, but there is still a whole lot to be gained from the book. What strikes me most is that he has created a classroom that is its own little world with a different set of standards, rules, and atmosphere than the rest of the inner-city Los Angeles elementary school in which his classroom dwells. He often refers to his "classroom culture" and that seems appropriate; he really has created a separate and unique culture. In this culture, hard work, personal responsibility, problem solving, kindness, and the arts are valued highly by both teacher and students. Creating and maintaining this culture requires a huge amount of time and devotion - much more than the vast majority of us are willing to give.

Esquith's students voluntarily come to school at 6:30 am - long before the regular school day starts. They stay until 5 or 6 at night. They come on Saturdays and through most school breaks. It seems to me that Esquith has come as close as possible to creating a boarding school - without actually keeping the kids overnight (except when they are on roadtrips, which seems to happen often). The kids spend more time with him and their classmates than they do with their own families.

I have seen reviews criticizing Esquith for the immense amount of time he spends with his 5th graders. Some even saying it is somehow wrong. I have to say, it is not the choice I would make. Neither would I spend months on my back painting a chapel ceiling, or most of my waking hours skating around an ice rink in hopes of winning a gold medal, even if I had the talents these pursuits require. People who excel in a given area - excel far beyond normal into the realm of extraordinary, devote their lives to the pursuit. Teaching is no different. I would not choose this for my own life, but for the sake of the kids in his class - almost all of whom come from low-income homes and for whom English is a second language, I am glad he does. Almost all of these kids go to college and have successful careers. He changes lives.

There is much to take from this book, even if you are not planning to devote the insane amount of time and effort he does. He has some excellent ideas and his classroom culture is inspiring. I have to say though, that it did make me feel a bit guilty about my own teaching (when I was in the classroom) and my own parenting....I feel like I missed opportunities to do more, teach better, parent better.

I also wonder about the politics at his school. There are several other 5th grade classrooms. How does the school decide which children will get to be in his class? What of the other 5th graders who are only in normal 5th grade classes - even a good teacher pales by comparison.

Anybody else read this book? What did you think?

Daily Brain Teaser #72

Each of five children, Paula, Kara, Ellen, Simon, and Randy got a different color T-shirt. The colors of the shirts were: black, green, purple, red, and orange. 
Use the clues to find which color each child got.

One of the three girls got an orange T-shirt.

One of the two boys got a black T-shirt.

Two of the children got shirts with colors that begin with the same letters as their names.

Ellen never wears orange.


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