How to Connect with Your Students {The First Year Teacher Book Tour}

It's easy to get overwhelmed when a new school year starts. Don't let that overwhelm cause you to miss making a solid connection with your students! Here's some invaluable tips on how to connect with your students.

Every year as we start back to school I begin to take time to reflect on some of the lessons that I have learned over the years. This year will mark my twelvth year in education and no matter what I still continue to learn new things about my own teaching style as well as the students, and teachers, that I work with.

These days, new teachers are leaving the field at a rate of 50% – decreasing the teacher population while the student population increases. Brian and Eric of Wise Guys have used their combined experience of 40 years in the classroom to help tackle the problem, by writing an e-book to motivate new teachers along wiht creating a large resource guide to equip new teachers with the tools they need for success. They also create a FREE e-book for more established teachers to start this new school year off strong.

I remember what it was like to be a new teacher back in 2004, I thought I was so ready for day one in my very own classroom with 22 fifth graders. I had all the training in college, done my student teaching and even had been substitute teaching or 4 years… what else did I need to know? I had the first day planned out to thee minute to cover every single rule, policy and procedure that I wanted to put in place. I moved around my classroom with ease as I was going over things. My students sat there with blank looks on their faces and I just knew they were soaking it all in. UMM, WRONG! I was giving them WAY TOO MUCH info at one time. They needed time to acclimate back to being in school and learn all about their new teacher and new classmates.

When lunch time came around I was ready for a nap! I had talked pretty much non-stop for about 3 hours and didn’t know if I could do this everyday. I sat down with my team at lunch and listened to the veterans on my team of 9 fifth grade teachers and learned that many of them had barely even covered the “rules” as they wanted to observe their students interactions. Why didn’t I think of this? I love to people watch and this is a great way to do just that. After we arrived back into the classroom from lunch and recess I allowed my students time to mingle with each other first within their own groups and then doing an icebreaker as a whole class. Now this was the right way to build a family in our classroom.

We as teachers have to remember that we are all new each year and even if they have been in classes with some of the students before the dynamic is always changing. From that year on I took time on the first day to build that family aspect in my classroom. Each year I did different icebreakers to vary things up but we were all getting to know each other on our own levels.

The First Year Teacher Book Tour

If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed in anticipation of this upcoming school year, you definitely need to check out Brian and Eric’s new resources. The First Year Teacher is a great book to gift to new teachers, to equip them to excel in their new profession. They also have a companion resource guide, with resources for just about every situation that will arise in the school year. They also have a free ebook called 10 Things to Accomplish Before Back to School – filled with great reminders for even veteran teachers!

But here’s the best part – as part of this book tour, you can enter to win their First Year Teacher resources AND spending money at Teachers Pay Teachers using the giveaway widget below! Be sure to click over to their blog to check out the other stops on the book tour.

Join us for The First Year Teacher Book Tour to get all kinds of encouragement and great advice from veteran teachers, plus enter to win lots of prizes!

Photo credit here.

Fun Games for Reinforcing Math Concepts

Fun Games for Reinforcing Math Concepts – a round up of games and fun activities that reinforce math concepts and more!

Math can get a bit tedious, for both students and teachers. So what can we do to break up the average mundane class period? Have some fun! How can we have fun and still reinforce concepts – with games!

Here’s several games that reinforce different math concepts for almost all ages. You can find even more on my pinterest board!

Ratio Rumble is an online game that has students build their own potions using equivalent ratios!

Ratio Rumble is an online game that has students build their own potions using equivalent ratios!

The Game of Pig requires students to use mental addition strategy skills! It’s available to play both online and as a physical game.

The Game of Pig requires students to use mental addition strategy skills! It’s available to play both online and as a physical game.

Contig is played with three dice and a game board – students use operations to take the results of their rolls and make new numbers to mark off on their game boards.

Contig is played with three dice and a game board – students use operations to take the results of their rolls and make new numbers to mark off on their game boards.

This card game exercises mental addition and subtraction skills at a fast pace.
Inspired by a game on Survivor, Grudgeball is a great review game that kids beg to play!
Inspired by a game on Survivor, Grudgeball is a great review game that kids beg to play!
Bagel, Pico, Fermi requires students to make deductions through the process of elimination while reinforcing the concept of place value.
Bagel, Pico, Fermi requires students to make deductions through the process of elimination while reinforcing the concept of place value.
Integer War helps reinforce what integers are and how to solve integer problems quickly.
Integer War helps reinforce what integers are and how to solve integer problems quickly.

Tenzi is a very versatile game for covering many learning skills – even speech! There’s actually no one way to play – there’s even an add-on pack with instructions for 77 different ways to play Tenzi!

Tenzi is a very versatile game for covering many learning skills – even speech! There’s actually no one way to play – there’s even an add-on pack with instructions for 77 different ways to play Tenzi!

Set Game practices pattern finding skills – players must discover the different “sets” of same or different tiles depending on their shape, pattern, and color.

Set Game practices pattern finding skills – players must discover the different “sets” of same or different tiles depending on their shape, pattern, and color.

I hope these games give you a good starting point for your classroom! You can even come up with your own games, especially with a large amount of dice!

Do you already use games in the math classroom to reinforce concepts? What games have worked for you?

Pin for later:

Fun Games for Reinforcing Math Concepts – a round up of games and fun activities that reinforce math concepts and more!

Manipulatives for Middle School Math

Using Manipulatives in Middle SchoolRecently I received a question on Facebook that asked: Hello, I am in need of other resources to use for my 7th & 8th math class. Do you have any suggestions of manipulative, programs, resources that you use? After teaching middle school for several years I decided to pull into my past and give a rundown of the manipulatives that I kept handy just for middle school math.

One of the first manipulatives that was purchased Hands on Equationsat my middle school while I was teaching 8th grade was Hands On Equations. I will say it took me a bit to learn how to use it myself as it wasn’t the way that I was taught but once I hooked on to the concrete way of balancing equations I was hooked! We even created balances in our interactive notebooks so that my students could continue to use this method at home when doing homework or studying.

Two Color Counters

Another tried and true manipulative that I used was two-color counters. Not only are these great to use as game pieces when playing with two people, they are great if you are playing a review bingo or even to work with positive and negative numbers.Geometric Solids

I absolutely loved using Geometric Solids in my classroom. There was no lesson on volume or surface area that we didn’t pull these out. Heck, we even pulled them out when we were discussing transformations across the coordinate plane and we anted to have different shapes that were performing these transformations.

Didax Algebra Dominoes Algebra Domino Links were something that I pulled out during intervention. I used these to help students break down the basics of algebra. We would use white boards to show our work and they would have to communicate to me what they did to determine their answer. This really allowed me to see the needs of some of my students who were low in multiplication and division fluency.

Centimeter Cubes can be used for so many different Centimeter Cubes manipulative type things. In the picture above my students are using them to create similar figures. We have also used them for fractions, probability, and even measuring when a student is struggling wtih the concept of a ruler. It helps to start with something they can manipulate before using the stick they could harm someone with out of frustration (it’s happened…)

Algebra TilesAnd near the end of the year I am always bringing in Algebra Tiles. I say the end of the year because when I taught 8th grade I was doing Pre-Algebra and then I moved to 7th Grade Math. In Pre-Algebra there were times that we did use them early on in the year (equations) but it was predominately at the end of the year when we were starting the introduction to Algebra after all of our state testing. I really like these because they are two colors on each piece and it allows for positive/negatives to be easily visualized.

What manipulatives do you use in your Middle School Math classroom? How do you use them? Please leave a comment below so we can have a grand list for those in need.


15 Spook-tastic Halloween Activities!

15 Spooktastic Halloween Activities

I couldn’t help myself, after the 5 Fab Fall Freebies for Math round-up, I had to do one for Halloween too! Turns out, there’s a crazy amount of Halloween activities out there – freebies, book lists, art projects, and more! So grab a pumpkin spice latte, we’re going to be here awhile! Don’t have the time? Just pin this post for later!


Owl-Some Order of Operations

Corny Proportions Activity

Corny Proportions Activity

Fall Themed Printable Packet- Alphabet, Numbers & Patterns

Fall Themed Printable Packet- Alphabet, Numbers & Patterns

Pumpkin Book Report Freebie

Pumpkin Book Report Freebie

Fact Family Haunted House

Fact Family Haunted House

Popular Pumpkin Picture Books

Popular Pumpkin Picture Books

Halloween Ice Play

Halloween Ice Play

Favorite Pumpkin Books For Kids

Favorite Pumpkin Books For Kids

Halloween/Fall/Pumpkin Oil Pastel Resistant Art Project

Halloween/Fall/Pumpkin Oil Pastel Resistant Art Project

DIY Pumpkin Place Value Game

DIY Pumpkin Place Value Game

Halloween Printables: Candy Corn Counting

Halloween Printables: Candy Corn Counting


8 Educational Halloween Printables for Kids!

Free Printable – Halloween Word Search

Free Printable – Halloween Word Search

Halloween Books for Kids of All Ages

Halloween Books for Kids of All Ages

Five Little Pumpkins: Playdough Play Retelling Activity

Five Little Pumpkins: Playdough Play Retelling Activity

Book Study: Good Questions for Math Teaching- Algebraic Thinking, Data Analysis and Measurement

jamie and jenn

I’m excited to be back this week to share with you more about Good Questions for Math Teaching: Why Ask Them and What to Ask in Grades 5-8 by Lainie Schuster and Nancy Canavan Anderson (link below on picture of book).

If you missed my last post covering What Are Good Questions and How Do We Create Them, check it out first! Also, if you haven’t ready Jamie’s post from last week on Fractions, Decimals and Percents mixed with Geometry check it out as well!

Chapter 9 is all about Algebraic Thinking and starts with a pretty profound statement, “When we ask students to think algebraically, we are asking them to formalize patterns, analyze change, understand functions and move fluently between multiple representations of data sets.”  Doesn’t that relate to all areas of math? We are always formalizing patterns and representations of data whether we formally realize we are doing it or not.

Having students make predictions in all areas of math is a form of algebraic thinking that doesn’t force them into a formal algebra lesson or activity. When we as teachers ask the “good questions” we spark their want to dive further. Computational practice is important but it is even more important to have our students understand the meaning behind what they are doing.

Mathematical processing standards guide our students to justify their thinking and connect their thinking to prior knowledge. THis can be done at any and all grade levels if done systematically.

Chapter 10 related Data Analysis and Probability with appropriate questioning. Why are good questions important when students are discovering the concepts of Data and Probability? Students must reflect on the actions that are occurring to be able to understand the probability (or chance) in their daily lives.

Data Analysis and Probability is EXTREMELY visual! Not only should students be drawing their thoughts via charts, graphs or number lines but also writing out their thinking. This is where open-ended questions that truly make students think are important.

Incorporating manipulatives is important to help build the visuals in students minds as well… dice, dominoes, marbles, number tiles, spinners, decks of cards and so much more can be used.

And finally we come to Chapter 11 which covers one of the most important areas (in my opinion) that we as teachers need to cover with students. Measurement is a struggle for many and it continues to be a weakness for students throughout the years no matter what grade I have taught.

Questions for measurement need to not only require students to measure but also make connections to what they are measuring and prior knowledge. Measurement can easily be connected to geometry, number systems and analyzing data and therefore we can continue to enforce other skills.

So as to not give too much away, I would suggest that you all grab this book if you are looking for some solid foundations on building on concepts in your 5th-8th grade classroom. The last 5 chapters cover the different strands of mathematics and give strategies on how to stimulate these concepts to be understood with students in your classroom.

Book Study Questions

Don’t miss out on this book. It has definitely changed some of my thinking on how to guide my students to achieve their own success through asking the right questions.

book study large

Filling Students Gaps in Math while At School

Filling Gaps at School

Last week was all about Changing the Thinking of Students in Math as well as Finding the Gaps to Fill In to strengthen their learning in Math. As we continue to proceed through the series I want to take some time to talk about filling those gaps at school (today) as well as at home (next blog post).

As a teacher you are the one that completely controls the time in your classroom. No matter whether you have set curriculum, set class periods, etc. you still control what happens from the point your students walk in the classroom to when they walk out of your classroom. Fill this time to the brim and let it spill over if needed!

I’ve talked before about how I filled my time in my class periods that were 42-48 minutes in length and I know that many of you deal with the same issues of time. You have to first set a structure in your classroom and let it be known. You can’t expect students to be able to follow your schedule if they don’t know it and you don’t remind them of it regularly.

So, how do we, as teachers, fill those gaps at school?

Every year in my state the students take our state STAAR test. After the tests are scored we eventually receive an item analysis that is aligned with the reporting categories and we can see where the weaknesses for students were. The districts that I worked in also used DMAC where we could get much more detailed information for each student which proved invaluable. Where am I going with this?

When you set up any testing in your classroom, doing an item analysis is so helpful! I have taken a day and done them with my students before as a review for those who then were going to take a retest. Simply go through the different problems provided and align them with your standards. My rule of thumb was 65% or higher achievement (giving a 5% margin of error for those who had computational issues or read the problem wrong) on a standard meant I could move on with the class.

These item analysis helped build my groups of students. If 5 of my students were struggling on exponent rules, then there is a group right there! If another 5 students were struggling with scientific notation, then there we go! Using that data helped me build my groups of students.

Small Groups in Middle School

I set my students up into six groups each week and some times they would vary based on the topic while some times they would be randomly grouped. With the six groups going on I could easily have six different activities where students were engaged in deepening their understanding. During this time I spend a lot of time moving around from group to group. I typically start with a group that I know will be able to do well with just the right guidance to start them off. This frees up more time to spend with my lower groups.

Building Students Up

Once you have determined the areas of weakness for your students you need to focus on those weaknesses within small groups and even individualized practice. I can’t stress the importance of working with students individually as well. During this time you aren’t only their teacher and mentor but you are also their coach and celebrating the small successes as they build upon their foundation.

Story time…

Dylan was a 7th grade who had not been in a real classroom since second grade. Dylan had behavioral problems and IEP paperwork that was several inches thick. No one believed in Dylan. During the beginning of 7th grade it was decided by the IEP team that we would gradually bring Dylan into the regular classroom. Dylan would start by joining my Resource Math class of 10 students. If Dylan did well in class then he could go onto Texas History with Coach, if not then he was back in the behavior unit for the day. Needless to say there was a LOT on my shoulders the first day that Dylan arrived.

Dylan came in and it was Work Station Day where my students knew that we would be in groups and working on different concepts based on their weaknesses. Where was I to put Dylan when he was on a 2nd grade level and the rest were on a 4th/5th grade level? I chose to have Dylan join in with the rest of the student and work on converting rational numbers (fractions, decimals and percents) because that is what I was expecting of the others. They were using a calculator and I had taught them how to convert using their tool so they were moving and grooving. This gave me time to teach Dylan what they had already learned.

Dylan and I worked through the process a few times and he exclaimed, “I’ve got this. You can go.” For fear of him acting out I listened but kept a close eye on what was going on while I was at the next table. When it was time to rotate to the next station Dylan refused to rotate. All of my other students were okay with not finishing something as long as they had been working but Dylan had started to learn something that was beyond his expectations and he wanted to finish. I relented and let him finish despite needing that for another student.

About ten minutes into our next station Dylan called me over. He saw that I had been taking pictures of other students working in centers and he wanted to know what I was doing. I explained that it was my way of showing to parents what students were up to in my class and allowed me to share successes with others. Dylan asked if I would take a picture of him. I noticed that he was very close to finishing his puzzle and we made a deal that when he did and could show me how to do any conversion I picked that I would take a picture.

Dylan's Finished Puzzle

Dylan called me back over in about 2 minutes telling me he was done. I was amazed to not only see all the pieces in the correct spot but when I chose one for him to show me the conversion of he easily completed it without any reminder of the steps to work through. Dylan had not only filled gaps that I didn’t even know he had but also had quickly picked up on something once I took time to teach him the process and let him show me.

To wrap it all up (because I could ramble forever):

1. Use an item analysis to determine the weaknesses of your students. These can be grade level weaknesses or even prior grade levels.

2. Set up regular group work based on those skills that students are weak in. Allow students to not only work on areas they are weak in but also those that they are successful in so that they will stay motivated.

3. Work with students individually to celebrate the small successes. You will not only build the relationship with the student but you will become their coach to motivate their learning.

4. Find resources that work for your students from trusted resources. Using resources from resources you trust will make your life easier and free up your time for planning.

5. Celebrate all successes no matter how small! Call home, share with other teachers, and brag all that you can to build student’s confidence in their learning.

Question to you…

What is an invaluable resource that you have found that has helped you fill in the gaps in your classroom? Share a link if you have it as well as the concept and grade covered as I would love to compile the list and add them to my Pinterest Boards.

Finding Gaps to Fill in Math

Finding Gaps in Students Thinking in Math

When I wrote the original post about Changing Students Thinking About Math, I never realized the feedback that I would get. Not only did I receive comments but also had emails and people asking me questions on my Facebook Fan Page. Wow, I hit a topic that people wanted more info about!

I decided to not respond right away because I wanted to plan things out and really make this a series of blog posts (currently a total of 5 are planned) and make it full of information for you to use to make a difference in your classroom.

So…. How do you go about finding gaps in your students thinking so that you can build a solid foundation of skills?

1. Assess! Yep, it’s the root of all evil to assess students over and over again but it must be done to determine if what you are teaching, or what has been taught, has stuck with them. Now when I talk about assessment I don’t always mean paper and pencil assessment. Heck, I don’t even always mean computer based assessment. You as the teacher are allowed to determine what assessment best fits the skill that you are teaching in your classroom. Yep, I give you permission. (Now, I know we all have to give school/district assessments as well but that’s another day and another story.)

Informal assessment can be anything from having a student do some practice problems, to orally explaining a process to you, writing in response to an open-ended response question (gotta love Post-It, Prove Its), CGI word problems that they can journal about and more. It doesn’t end there!

How do you know when to assess? Well, I found this amazing flow chart that I think is just the bees knees (yep, I said that!) over on C.Jayne Teach. Jump on over to her TpT store for a FREE printable copy of this and KEEP IT handy!


2. Talk! Yes, sometimes it is a simple as building that relationship with your students on a one-on-one basis and just talking to them. When they have developed the level of trust with you because of building that relationship they will share with you their struggles.

Myles was one of my most stubborn students. He hated coming to my class because I was hard on him. I made him come to class with his notebook, his pencil and without his backpack (school rule). I made him get his papers as he walked in the door that he would need for the day. I made him not talk to his friends as he was preparing for class and getting his Interactive Notebook ready for the day. I made him keep his head up off his desk during the class period when he got frustrated. I made him answer questions randomly.

I didn’t make him come to tutoring, his reluctance to do homework made him come to tutoring because he wanted to play football. Myles hated tutoring because it meant he had to work or I kicked him out and I would follow through by letting his coach know. Myles knew that telling coach meant running laps and possibly not playing in that week’s game.

After serious conversations with Myles about the important of learning so that he could not only play in the game each week, Myles started coming to tutoring outside on Friday mornings (I had car duty) and sitting with a group of about 5-10 students who were getting last minute homework help because it was due that day. You know what, Myles started to talk to me. He started to tell me where his weaknesses were just by the questions he asked and because of this I was able to ask him to start coming to my after school tutorials where we played games. Myles didn’t know that those games were going to help him be a better math student. Myles came with reluctance but after the first session, he was hooked. Myles now keeps in contact with me regularly and enjoys math.

Changing Students Thinking while Filling Gaps

This is Myles in my classroom last year playing a game that not only taught him about ratios but helped fill his gaps on equivalent fractions, factors, multiples and basic multiplication facts.

3. Track and Analyze! This is probably the most boring of the three things I will share with you today but also probably one of the most important. Tracking data for each student (not just the class or your entire group of students) will help you as a teacher determine weaknesses and strengths not only in your teaching but also in your students learning.

In my classroom checklists, like these created by MissMathDork for Common Core, and my handy-dandy clipboard were my best friend. I could go through and mark the skills that students were mastering and keep dates of when it was tracked all in one location for each student.

There were also times where I would print out a class roster and use it for documentation purposes for a certain skill. Many times as I was looking at their Post It, Prove Its or Exit Tickets at the end of a day I would easily be able to mark whether a student has mastered a concept, needed a bit more practice, needed more instruction and practice, or needed a complete reteach of the skill. It was that simple to help differentiate my next days lessons in my classroom.

(More on tracking and analyzing is coming soon, I promise! This blog post has spurred some great ideas.)

I won’t say that this came to me in my first years of teaching but rather took until about my 7th year of teaching to even start doing this. Now after two years of starting to put it in here and there I saw the value of these methods in my classroom. I started to fill in those gaps that my students had from prior grades. Did it matter what caused those gaps? Nope. Was I going to dwell on it and make excuses? Nope. I knew I was at a crucial point in a students math education where if they didn’t master some of the critical skills they were going to be SUNK in high school.

If you have made it this far, thank you because as you can see I had a lot to say on this topic and I only gave you three tips. Now comes my call to action

What can you do in your classroom tomorrow to help change how you fill in the gaps for one student, a small group of students, or even all of your students?