Friday, June 29, 2012


Trying to keep 25 first graders engaged and involved during math instruction is no easy feat.  My goal is to provide instruction that is meaningful, manageable, and measurable.  This is where math workshop comes in. I've tried teaching whole class math lessons with my first graders and I must admit, it wasn't some of my best teaching.  Using a math workshop approach has made all the difference in the world.  Not only do my student thrive, but I keep my sanity and my hair from turning gray in the process.

My students love our math workshop time.  I teach math at the same time every day.  Whenever I announce math workshop, cheers echo throughout the room.  Yes, cheers, even though math workshop happens daily  in our classroom.  I think the cheers have to do with the element of surprise as my first graders anticipate what they will be doing at each of the rotations.  My workshop revolves around four rotations:  Teacher, Computers, Independent Work, and Games.  I start with a whole class focus lesson, which includes a review of the rotations, and an explanation of any new game that is introduced.  I end math workshop with a whole class sharing session.

Rotation 1:  Working with the teacher.
Group 1 meets me on the rug near our SMART Board  or Interactive Whiteboard.  Since my district uses the Everyday Math program, my instruction and rotations are centered around the lesson that I'm teaching in Everyday Math.  We usually work on our math journal pages together or in partnerships, as I project the math journal page on the SMART Board.  Sometimes we use manipulatives to demonstrate our learning.  At other times, we use the tools on the SMART Board to support our learning.  Everyday math has a huge collection of eTools that students can interact with.
Working in Math Journals
Working with Base Ten Blocks and Dominoes
Rotation 2:  Computers
Group 2 starts at the computers.  We have four classroom computers.  Students work in pairs and individually.  I choose math games that reinforce the skills and concepts that we are working on that day.  One of my favorite math game sites is  They have a ton of games that are organized by grade level, concept, and themes (ex. holiday themes).  The Everyday Math site also has a ton of games that my students enjoy playing and learning with.  I allow my students choice when we use the games from Everyday Math.  They learn how to play a variety of games and at varying degrees of difficulty.  Allowing them choice with the games is highly engaging and keeps them interested in playing and learning.
Math Games on the Computer
Rotation 3:  Independent Work
During rotation three, students work independently.  One of the favorites at this rotation is Number Scrolls.  Students use hundreds charts to write and record numbers.  They tape additional charts together to create a scroll.  As an incentive I have a Thousands Club lunch twice a month with students who reach a 1,000 number milestone.  One of my students had lunch with me 6 times since his scroll was over 6,000.  I also have leveled math packets that students often choose to work on, and baskets of math trade books students may read.  Using templates and pattern blocks to design pictures are examples of other math related experiences students participate in at this rotation.
Concentrating on a Number Scroll 
Rotation 4:  Math Games
Students play math games both  individually and with a partner at this rotation.  Most of the games are from the Everyday Math program.  Some of our favorites are Number Top-It, Rolling to 100, and Beat The Calculator.  We also use some of the games from the Daily 5 website.  One of our favorite games from that site is, Sum It Up.  When we are not playing math games, we sometimes complete investigations as a group or with a partner at this rotation.
Using a Balance Scale
Math workshop is manageable for me.  My math block is 90 minutes long.  I spend 10 to 15 minutes on the focus lesson, and each rotation is 15 minutes long.  My students rotate four times in order to participate in each rotation, and it takes an hour to go through all four.  I leave 15 minutes at the end of math workshop for sharing and putting away supplies.  Once students learn the rotation routines, the rest is easy.  This chart helps us stay on track. If someone forgets their group or rotation, we can refer to our chart which I keep posted the entire school year.  My students are very independent during our workshop time.  They know what the expectations are for a successful workshop, and any problems that come up are discussed during our share time.

Rotation Board
 Names are across the top.

One of the most important benefits to doing math workshop is that learning is measurable.  I know my students as mathematicians better than I ever did when I taught math in a "whole group" lesson format.  By working with small groups, I know when students are struggling with a concept, and I can give them extra support.  My quiet students don't get left out or overlooked.  I can also enrich the instruction for my stronger students so they are challenged and continue to grow as mathematicians and learners.  Students are grouped by mixed ability and they support, encourage, and challenge each other as a community of learners.

I'm still tweaking Math Workshop in my classroom.  I want to incorporate more learning with my SMART Board.  I'm thinking about making that a separate rotation on its own.  My students enjoy interacting with the    SMART Board and are totally engaged when using it.

What does math look like in your classroom?  What role does technology play in your math instruction?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Mind, Body, and Spirit (SOLS)

Now that summer is here I can finally stop making excuses and get to the business of catching up with my life.  I don't know about yours, but the school year for me is always very busy.  There is an endless list of things to do both inside and outside of the classroom.  My classroom responsibilities often take on a life of their own.  I often use weekends to squeeze in everything else that needs to be done in my life.

So here I am, trying to catch up with my life.  I have a list of things on my summer "To Do" list.  Do you get the feeling that I like lists?  I do!  They seem to keep me on track.  What I like even more is checking things off my list once they are accomplished.  Here is a sample of the things on my summer list:

  • Workout
  • Walk/run the trail
  • Prepare healthier meals
  • Spend time with family
  • Read
  • Organize Everything
  • Write
  • Prepare for next school year
  • Travel
  • Relax
  • Think
Don't laugh at the last one.  Sometimes I just want a little extra time to think.  I'm not at a lost for things to think about either.  A lot of this thinking has to do with planning.  Planning for next school year, planning with my daughter (who will be a senior next year), planning outings with friends and family, planning, planning, planning.  One of the best places to think and plan, is on my favorite walking/running trail.  In my town, we have some of the most beautiful trails.  My favorite is The Paint Creek Trail.  It's five minutes from my home and it's breathtaking.  Sometimes I walk or run and listen to music on my iPhone.  Sometimes I walk and think, and often times, I stop and enjoy the view along the way.  Today I spotted this huge mushroom growing beside a tree.  

It's so important to Stop, in the midst of all the business, and smell the roses (or mushrooms)! It's good for the mind, body, and spirit.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Book Stack

The Book Stack

Recently, I've been thinking about ways to encourage my first graders to read, write, and blog over the summer.  Having kids blog is a great way to support summer learning.  Educators know, all too well, the reality of the "Summer Slide".  However, there's plenty of time for learning AND all the other activities kids will participate in this summer.

I was thinking about how I'd love to have discussions with my students about what they're doing and reading this summer.  We could talk about books, recommend books to each other, and share our reading lives.  I thought it would be best to identify a day each week where my students could check-in on the blog and share what they are doing and reading.  Additionally, it might be more fun if I suggested a few book titles of my own.  Richard Allington, education researcher, calls this "Blessing Books".  Students love to reread the books that the teacher is reading aloud in class and books that their teachers recommend.  With all of these ideas floating around in my head, I came up with, Keep In Touch Tuesdays.  Each Tuesday, I asked my students to check in on our classroom blog.  Once they get there, they can read my book review post, and share their thoughts and questions about the book in the comments section.  They can read the book along with me, or they can read my book review.  Either way, I'm hoping this will encourage them to read some of the books, leave some comments/questions, and share what they are doing to stay busy this summer.  Maybe they're reading a book that's not in my stack, they could share that too.  The main thing is to read and share!

I also had the deli ma of deciding on the best place to do this.  Should we us our classroom blog or their individual student blogs?  By using the class blog, we'll have a central place where everyone can meet up and comment.  I love our classroom community, and our classroom blog seems to be the best place to share our reading lives.  Students could certainly continue to post things on Kid blog (individual student blogs) all summer.

During the last week of school I sent home a letter explaining, Keep In Touch Tuesdays.  I shared the letter with my students and explained how it would work.  Everyone was very excited about the idea of blogging over the summer and sharing books and what they are doing.  I can't wait to see what's going to happen and who will participate.  One of my students currently writes a blog post almost every weekend.  I made a big deal about how much I enjoy seeing her use her Kid blog on her off days and reading her posts.  Perhaps my other kiddos got my not very subtle hint.  Nonetheless, I'm very excited about the prospect of staying in contact with my students all summer long and reading and sharing books, which is one of my favorite things to do.  You can visit my classroom blog to read my introductory post which outlines the books titles and dates.  Also, stop by on Tuesdays and share and/or comment.  We would love the company.

What's in you book stack?  How are you encouraging summer reading and writing with your students?  Are your students blogging over the summer months and during holiday breaks?  I would love to hear from you.

Friday, June 15, 2012


Today was the last day of school.  My students attended school for only half of the day, however, teachers were  required to work a full day.  After my students gathered their things and said their goodbyes, I scanned the classroom, noticing all of the things that needed to be done.  This year, I decided to take a few pictures of some of the key structures in my classroom.  In the fall, when school resumes, I can refer back to my pictures when I'm ready to recreate or modify them.  One of the most important areas is my CAFE board.  It's important to have a place or anchor in the classroom where you can post the reading strategies that you teach/model with your students.

I've seen different arrangements for setting up a CAFE board.  The CAFE goals are usually at the top of the board/space.  Below each goal, there is room for placing the students' names under the goal that they are working on.  The individual strategies are then placed below that.  Since I teach first grade, I usually leave room at the bottom of the board for names (instead of at the top) because my students would have a hard time looking up at the top of the board to find their names.  Now, I have an even better solution to the name placement.  I take pictures of my students at the beginning of the school year, cut them out, and place their picture next to the strategy they are working on.  This works perfectly and my students respond much more enthusiastically to seeing their picture next to the strategy rather than just seeing their name.

My CAFE board is a major focal point in my classroom and contributes to a successful launching and implementation of the Daily 5/CAFE in my classroom.  It's not a board, like so many others, that goes unnoticed once it's introduced.  It's a board that is a continual work in progress in my classroom.  I refer to the CAFE board daily and sometimes several times in the day.  My students refer to the CAFE board, they use it as a reference, and as a tool.  When I introduce a new strategy, it's placed on the CAFE board.  When I refer to a previously introduced strategy, I point/touch the CAFE board.  When students are working on a new goal, they move their picture to the appropriate place on the CAFE board.  The majority of our literacy discussions take place under the backdrop of our CAFE board.

Take a look at my CAFE board below.  You won't see pictures of students because they were taken off the board and given to them as a year-end memento.  However, the remainder of the board is just as we left it.    Do you use a CAFE board for your Daily 5/CAFE instruction?  Is there anything unique or different about your board?  Please share what's different or unique with us in the comments section.  Perhaps you have a setup that works better for older students.  I would love to hear from you.