Monday, September 28, 2015

This Week At School

Confession:  The reason this is coming to you on Monday rather than on Friday is because on Friday I only worked the morning and was convincing myself all morning that my sniffles were obviously due to allergies and not at all because I was getting sick.  Then I got home and I promptly collapsed into bed... it's been a sick kind of weekend.  I didn't want to take any time off of work though and was feeling better enough to watch the supermoon on Sunday so I decided I would go to work today (Monday) if I got anything... but alas, I did not get anything.

I was teaching the best group of grade 4 students a substitute could ask for.  No one complained about budging, no one had a disagreement, and no one cried.  It was basically rainbows and butterflies in my classroom that day!

One of my students showed me her journal before heading out to recess... I asked her who the picture was of and she told me it was of me.  I was wearing black pants, a blue shirt, and a grey cardigan... so I guess what she has me wearing is fairly accurate but what is up with my face?  Are those my eyebrows arching way above my eyes?  What kind of crazy hairdo am I rocking?  
So many questions... and all I wanted was for them to get outside so I could relax for a few minutes.

A very long time ago I was teaching another class and a couple of boys did some portraits of their favourite substitute teacher.  I wrote the entire story out because I thought it was funny.  
Click Here to read all about it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Interactive Math Journals

Last week I talked about how I switched my old math program to Guided Math Groups... but I did do whole group instruction as well.  Whole group instruction came in the form of taking "notes" in our math journals.

I bought my math journal stuff on Teachers Pay Teachers from Runde's Room and boy has it been a life saver!  I came up with a couple of ideas on my own but for the most part have stuck to her template and everything.  She lays everything out very clearly and it is super easy to follow!

sample of a left page
sample of a right page

So, in our math groups we will generally all be doing something similar.  For example when we were talking about angles my lower group may have been sorting different angles and my upper group making angles and triangles based on different measurements.  Before starting this though we would take a double math period and make a page in our math journals about angles.  I would teach the whole class about sorting and measuring them... whether I was going to have them doing that later on or not.

I have not followed Runde's Room suggestions for everything though.  We do everything on the right side of the page together... on the left side of the page students are supposed to write the learning goal in their own words... I have us come up with a kid friendly learning goal together.  Some of my students would have been great at doing it on their own... others would have left it blank and others would have copied the same thing again.  This way I can guarantee that everyone has something else written down.

I had some students that couldn't read very well.  Because they couldn't read very well it meant that copying down "notes" would take these students a long, long time.  So, I wrote out in my math journal what they would be doing, made the interactive tool and then whited out some of the words.  Then I would photocopy these things for them so that they just had to make the tool themselves and put the photocopies inside their journals.  Of course they would have to pay attention to fill in the missing words as well.

My goal in the future would be to use the suggestion to take 10 minutes out of the next days class to have one student come up and share the previous day's lesson from their math journal and re teach the rest of us.  I did this in the very beginning and then for whatever reason just stopped.  We had a document camera so it would have been perfect to continue to do and use that... something to think about for next time I guess.

We then used our math journals during our math groups when they were working with me.  We could review what we had talked about and how it related to what I was talking to them about that day.  I would never want them to take any other kind of "notes"

Monday, September 21, 2015

End of the School Day Fun

I was lucky this past week and with the one day of substitute teaching that I had I only ever had a quarter of my class at a time (I was doing running records with the ones I had in the room with me).  This meant that I only had 5 students with me... needless to say it was a pretty nice day for substitute teaching (the downside being that I had to listen to a story about Monopoly about 20 times).  With the group that I had at the end of the day I asked them what they wanted to do with the last 15 minutes or so of school... I offered to put something up on the projector for them to watch but no one seemed too keen on that so then I suggested Telephone Pictionary.  
And that is what we played.

telephone pictionary progression
I think it would have worked slightly better with just a few extra students but they had a lot of fun playing it and reading (and showing) the results at the end of each game (we played 2).  It was a great way to end of off the day!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Guided Math Groups

I've talked about my math groups briefly before here and here are some games we would play during them.  Today I'm going to share with you why I decided to switch my math program to guided math groups and what I did to start.

To begin with last year I taught in a grade 5/6 split classroom.  I knew I had to teach both the grade 5 math curriculum and the grade 6 curriculum.  I was advised by another teacher (and by a guide book that went along with my textbooks) to teach the whole class the grade 5 stuff and then get the grade 5's started on their work before moving onto my grade 6's.  I did this until spring break and it was hard.  

The hardest part about teaching this way was that I was never available to sit with students when they were struggling (and if you don't think any of your students will struggle with a math concept... you're dreaming!).  We had an "Ask 3 before me" poster where they would go to others for help but sometimes the others didn't want to help or what if the names under math also didn't understand what was happening?  

I was also boring some of my grade 6 students that didn't need the grade 5 review every day.  They wouldn't all pay attention.

I was also having to teach over the commotion of the grade 5's getting started on their work and asking others how to do things which was a distraction for the grade 6 students.  

One day I had had enough... and so I googled "how to teach math in a split classroom" and low and behold guided math groups was one of the first things to come up.

At this point it was about 2 weeks prior to spring break and it was advised to me to teach whole class activities up until then and then start the math groups when they came back... so that's what I did.  I spent 2 weeks gathering and printing games and putting them into files that I could easily pull out.  It was around this time that our laminator at the school also went so I put all the games that were on paper into page protectors so that the students could use whiteboard markers on them and erase them (I actually found that page protectors erase whiteboard markers way easier than things that are laminated so I never ended up laminating the games once it was fixed.

I spent parts of my spring break cutting out cards and gluing things together for more games and by the time the break was over I was ready to start them... so here is what I did.

I set up their groups so that the students who struggled the most would be in the smallest group.  I had 24 students in my class and in my lowest group I only put 4 students.  I also made sure to mix the grades as much as possible... I didn't want them to think that this was a low group because it only had grade 5's in it.  For some of the groups I had to make sure certain people were separated as well.  I was lucky because one of my groups had an educational assistant in it... so if I suspected anyone would be trouble I put them in that group because that group was guaranteed to have an adult with them at every center.

I made this schedule along with a class list that would tell each student what number group they were in.  We ALWAYS kept the order the same.  Group 1 would start with me and end at a game and group 4 would start with their independent work and end with seeing me.

My group set up
I found a 15 minute timer on Youtube and put it on the projector.  I turned the volume down because it was loud at the end... it was more of a visual reminder to show students (and me) how much time they had left.  I usually asked one student that was working with me to head over to my computer when it went off to restart it.  I even loaded it on a program that cut out all the adds for Youtube videos (and showing other suggestions) because sometimes (often) those ads and suggestions are not appropriate.... that program stopped working a couple months alter but for the time that I was using it it worked great!

Also, in regards to the groups:  My 2 lower groups I taught things from the grade 5 curriculum regardless of the grade they were in and my 2 upper groups I taught outcomes from the grade 6 curriculum.  Group 1 was usually 1 or 2 lessons behind group 2 because we would take extra time going over things or I might find based on the results of one assignment that I needed to re teach it to them.  Group 3 was usually about 1 lesson behind group 4 (these 2 groups were very close in abilities). By the end I think I was actually teaching group 3 and 4 the same things but kept the groups separate to keep them smaller and more manageable.  SO, I was still only teaching 2 new lessons a day for math which is what I was doing before spring break anyways.

Here is a run down of the different centers:

Working with me:  We would go over the lesson for the day.  I would teach them, we would go over problems together, they would ask questions, and often times we would start the assignment together as well.  At this point some students would chose to go to their desks and work individually and some would stay at the front table and work near me.

Work Individually:  This one is pretty self explanatory.  The students would have to go to their seats (when coming up with a seating plan I actually looked at their math groups to make sure I would place one whole math group next to each other) and do the assignment on their own.  They were not allowed to ask me questions anymore and if they had any they had to star the question and either ask me when I was done with the teaching part of the next group or wait until the next day when we went over the assignment together.  If they finished early their options were to do a Suduko (I had them laminated in a bucket arranged from easy to hard that they could use a whiteboard marker for) or read.  The group that started here before seeing me was my highest group and I would often give them an assignment that would explain the new concept at the top with examples.  If they didn't understand it from that they could read or do a Suduko right away and wait for them to see me at the end.  Anyone that didn't finish their assignment during this time took it home for homework.  They were not allowed to work on it at different centers.

Dice Game: Here is a blog post that I talked about some of my dice games.  I usually put one here that worked on their multiplication and division skills.  The games often worked on a certain fact group (like multiplying by 4's) and I would let them choose one that would be challenging for them.

Other Game:  This one was usually a board game that used money (I found one in the game cupboard but you could also use life or monopoly.  I also had fraction matching games and I Have Who Has games that they would use here to practice a skill that they were learning with me.

The benefits of using guided math groups honestly far outweigh any negatives you might come up with (mine were that some kids in grade 6 might not be learning grade level outcomes or that some kids in grade 5 that would be doing grade 6 work this year might be bored next year AND I thought it would take forever to set up).  I found my lower students especially more willing to offer answers and participate whereas before they might not have.  I got to connect with students way more often and learn about what was challenging to them or what they were understanding... and not only getting that information based off of worksheets that they were doing.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to learn this method of teaching.  If I would have been teaching in a straight grade 5 classroom I'm not sure I would have even thought of dividing my class up this way.  But when you think of it, every class has a range of abilities... not everyone in that straight grade 5 class would likely be able to do the grade 5 outcomes that I would have been pushing for.  I will definitely be considering this method for math in any future classroom I may have!

So, how about you, have you ever taught in a multiage classroom?
Have you ever tried guided math groups?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Famous Substitute Teacher

Wouldn't we all like to think of ourselves as that really awesome substitute that gets the students to get all their work done, teach them something super hard, and still have time to have fun.... all while the classes regular teacher is at home sick?... and of course... be famous for that?  And not the fact that we were THAT substitute that sat in that other teacher's spot during lunch (which by the way... that teacher is likely still complaining about because we are apparently creatures of habit and don't you ever EVER even think about sitting in anyone's chair whether it has their name on it or not!

Anyways, want to know someone that substitute taught?

I think you've heard of him..

Albert Einstein
Yes, it's true.  Albert Einstein worked as a substitute teacher in Switzerland for two years.


Well it seems to be that while attending school in Switzerland he wasn't such a good student and didn't attend class very often.  He was enrolled in the math program but later discovered that he preferred physics (I guess this was before you could simply go down to the University office and change you major every other day - remember when I thought I could be a math major without taking pre calc in high school?)  Luckily the man we all know (and love?) passed all his exams in math because he had great friends that would lend him their notes.

This all seems well and good... BUT because Einstein did not attend class he was not getting those coveted great recommendations from his professors which makes it a little more difficult to secure a job once one graduated (not to say that all of us that are currently subbing never attended class and wouldn't get great recommendations... because I'm sure we all would.. I know I would!)... this led him to find work doing what he could while still using his training.  Thus, his 2 year career as a substitute teacher.  

Eventually Einstein got that better job doing something with patents... but that's boring.

The point is.

Albert Einstein was a substitute teacher

Share that with your students today (and tomorrow and the day following that) because we're substitute teachers!

and to learn more about Albert Einstein and his career check out

Monday, September 14, 2015

First Day Of Substitute Teaching

My first day of substitute teaching is behind me (it was on Friday) and things went swimmingly.  Grade 4 at the school I used to teach at.  It was wonderful seeing all my old students and them coming to visit me at the end of the day to show me their latest gymnastic stunt.

What did we do?
Well other than follow the teacher's plan (and get it all done) I taught them how to play SNAKE (instead of multiplying the dice together we added them) and they LOVED it.  And we had lots of brain breaks and calming videos (after recess) with Go Noodle (I'm not making a new class every time I substitute teach.... they are all just continuing where the last one left off)

I asked them if they had a fun day and they all agreed that they did.  

And.. because everyone takes pictures of their kids on the first day of school...

Why doesn't anyone take pictures of the substitute on their first day?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Go Noodle

Here is the last instalment on my series of technology (or for now at least)

Go Noodle is an online program that you (the teacher or parent or substitute) can register for.  Like everything else that I have talked about in this series this is absolutely free!... all that you'll require is a computer (with an internet connection) and a projector.  Your students don't need to register for the program and you do not need to type in their names into the program.  It is something that the whole class does together.

How I've used Go Noodle:
Brain breaks... a couple years ago when I was teaching grade 4 I was with my grade 4's all morning.. and we would start off our mornings with a double period of math.  After a double period of math they were pretty tired so I would put on Go Noodle to wake them up for the next class (it was spelling).  Go Noodle has improved a lot over the last year (I didn't use it with my grade 5/6 class), a couple years ago my class loved the sports ones (like the hurdles and sprint).  They especially loved that they got a place at the end of it... they eventually caught on that I was controlling it but at the beginning they were wondering how the program knew if they were running their hardest.  If a student wasn't giving it their all I would put them back a place and tell them to pick it up.

Calming the class down after recess or any other particular exciting period.  My grade 4's had gym in the afternoon when I didn't see them so I used the calming ones after recess.  One of their favourites to do after recess was the "Airtime" one.  They would take turns reading the postcards and were interested in learning about the different places.  It would have been more awesome if it were in Canada but ah well.  Now I see that there is an "Airtime Space" one which tells you facts about space on the postcard... where I teach in the grade 6 science curriculum one of the units is space... so I could see this coming in handy there.

Other things:
I liked that  the games were under 5 minutes.  They didn't take a lot of time to complete.  Sometimes we would even do them if we wrapped up a lesson early or were waiting for someone to get to our room.

I had a jar of popsicle sticks and I would pull a name out of sometimes so that they could choose one for us to do.  The rule was that they had to pick what they wanted to do quickly though... because I could see them taking forever on this.  Now that they have them in categories I might sometimes choose the category I want the student to pick from but they could choose the game (this way they wouldn't be choosing a dance one right after recess when I want them to calm down).

The students LOVED the characters.  They loved reading what the character was saying when I turned it on and watching it grow.  You can print off the characters as you complete them... we didn't do this but it is something to consider.

I also see that there is an indoor recess program. I started watching one of them and it seemed like something grade 1 students would be into... I think it would have been a stretch to convince my grade 4's to do it (although some of them may have)

I found this to work better in the elementary grades.  I had tried it the same year I was teaching grade 4 with my grade 5 French class and it did not go over well.  They were more into making fun of what was happening than calming down (I only tried the calming ones with them because I always saw that class after recess and 90% the time they were pretty wild from recess).  I think grade 4 would be my cut off year for this program.

For the record, on Friday I was subbing in a grade 4 class and I used the calming section after the 2 recess' they had and some sport ones in between some classes and it went over amazingly!  There were a couple that stayed in their seats but for the most part I had everyone participating (and loving it!)

So, have you tried Go Noodle in your classroom?
How did you use it your classroom?
What grades did you use it with?

You can find some other posts I've done on the topic of technology:
Mystery Skype
Spelling City

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Back to School

Teachers all went back to school today (students will start school at various times this week depending on the school division).  This means that I can start looking forward to my phone waking me up early in the morning with a substitute job.  This morning I received my first phone call of the school year (I was expecting it though... because the job is at the school I used to teach at and so the teacher had told me she had requested me).  So, I'm expecting my first day of work will likely be on Friday!  So happy to have been blessed with a full day in the first week of classes!

When the sub clerk called I asked her if she had any other jobs available and she told me there were a couple of days for welding... I suggested that she might want to fill those elsewhere.

Hope all my teaching (and substitute teaching) friends all having a great first week back at it!

Saturday, September 05, 2015


I've been doing a bit of a series on using technology in the classroom.

If you want to catch up you can read about Mystery Skype here and I also did a post on Spelling City.

So Sumdog!

What I like about it:

You can pick a level that your students are currently struggling with, what you are currently doing in class, or just have them doing everything!

You can even put each student on something different.

The nice thing about Sumdog is that even though all the student levels may be different in your class they still play the exact same games and they play against each other.  No one needs to know that Sammy may be doing addition and Violet is on division.

There are so many games to choose from... my students LOVED playing this!

The "store" opens after school hours (although, I guess it would depend on when your school is done).  I LOVE this... it means that when students are playing it during school hours they have to be playing the games and not wasting their time in the store buying things for their houses or new clothes for their character.  You can open the store early... I think I did this once for like the last 10 minutes of a class.  I didn't tell them about it and I'm not sure if any of my students realized it was open.

You can see how your students are doing at the levels you put them based on how many questions they are getting right/wrong.  The games are pretty much like flash cards... you want to get a quicker response than your opponents to win pretty much.

As a teacher you can even play the games!  My students LOVED it when I showed up in the games to play them.

You can even create contests for your students to play in... I didn't do this.  As a beginning teacher I just didn't have time to do everything!  But it might motivate students to play it more often.

With the free version you get a certain number of reports and you can choose when to do them... I never did the reports as I wasn't really using this as any kind of assessment.  You can pay for a subscription which is $2/student

We only used Sumdog for math but you can use it for reading and writing as well (you have to pay to do the reading stuff though - also $2/student).  The writing is basically to help you with your typing skills.  Like I said... we never used it but I could see how my students would likely be more into that than something like All The Right Type.

My students were all about asking each other for their usernames so that you could add them as friends (a couple of them added me too... I'm feeling so loved!).  I'm not sure what adding someone as your friend did.  I imagine you could just see what their character looked like and their house.  Maybe it also made it easier to find them when playing games?

My students really liked playing this game... I know for a fact that many went home and played it because they would talk about it the next day.

There are enough games in the free version to keep your students occupied.  Mine never asked about the premium one.  I am curious about the reading though... it could be worth it to pay the $2/student for that.

What I don't like about it:

It shows your first name and last initial.  You have to register your students for it and they have to log in to use the website.  Originally I just used all their first names with their last initial but because of privacy concerns I then sent home a letter giving parents the option to change their child's name on the site.  I only had a couple parents that wanted to change it... one of my student's name was Batman on there... this is kind of a fun alternative because you wouldn't necessarily know which classmate you were playing in a game (unless they told you their secret identity of course).

It also says the country you are from.  You aren't just playing people in your class... you are playing people all across the world.  My students would all go to a game and go "one, two, three" and then click to start it... it pretty much guaranteed they would be playing each other.

Unlike in Spelling City for this one you have to remember a log in name and password.  I made all my students passwords match the passwords they use at school so those were easy for them to remember.  I think there is a way to change their log in name to whatever you want it to be but I just left it as whatever the program gave them.  I wrote all their log in information on an index card for them and if they forgot any of their log in info they would just ask for their cards.  Many of my students wrote it in their agendas as well for when they were at home.

How I used it:
I had one student that wasn't allowed to have a log in for the site... everyone else was.  So I used it as one of the options during our scheduled computer class when we didn't have other things to be doing in there (the student that wasn't allowed I just put on another math website).

If I had more computers in my classroom I could have used it during their math centers... I would have LOVED this.  (if you have ipads or tablets in your classroom I am almost positive that you can play the math games on these).

So, how would you use Sumdog in your classroom?
Do you think you'll be trying it this school year?

Also, stay tuned because I have at least one more idea of how to use technology in your classroom!
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