September 15, 2017

How to Turn a Word Problem into a Rich Math Task (Part Two)

How to Turn a Word Problem Into a Rich Math Task
Part Two: Crafting the Process

When students struggle in math, it's often due to their beliefs about what it takes to be successful in mathematics. They believe that some people were born with a gift for math, and anyone who wasn't born with that gift will never excel in math.

Fortunately, brain research tells us that this belief is nothing more than a myth, and it's not supported by fact. All students can experience success in math if they are taught in ways that foster the development of a mathematical mindset. This means setting high expectations for all students, engaging them in challenging and interesting math tasks, and providing the right kind of support and encouragement.

One way to foster mathematical mindsets is to replace simple word problems with "rich math tasks." Rich math tasks provide opportunities for students to work together as they explore a concept or solve a problem. In my webinar, Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter, I give examples of rich math tasks and share several strategies for using them with students.

If you're wondering how to get started with rich math tasks, it's easier than you might think. The first step is choosing a suitable math problem, and the second step is guiding your students through the problem-solving process. Both steps are equally important, so I've decided to tackle them in two separate blog posts.

In my first post, Part One: Crafting the Problem, I explained the difference between word problems and rich math tasks, and I shared 6 tips for creating a rich math task from a simple word problem. In this post, Part Two: Crafting the Process, I'll share strategies you can use to actively engage ALL of your students in the problem-solving experience.

September 7, 2017

How to Turn a Word Problem into a Rich Math Task (Part One)

How to Turn a Word Problem into a Rich Math Task
Part One - Crafting the Problem

Growth mindset is much more than a buzzword, and nowhere is this more apparent than in mathematics. Research findings in this field are transforming our perceptions about best practices in math instruction. As it turns out, developing a mathematical mindset is more highly correlated with future success in math than scores on standardized tests!

One way to begin fostering a math mindset in your students is to turn traditional word problems into "rich math tasks."

I tackled the topic of rich math tasks in my recent webinar, Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter, but I want to dig into rich math tasks a bit more here on Corkboard Connections.

Rich math tasks have two critical components, the WHAT (the problem) and the HOW (the process).

In this post, we'll take a look at how to transform a boring word problem into a rich math task. In my next post, I'll share active engagement strategies you can use to help your kids rock the problem solving process! Click here for Part Two.

How a Word Problem Differs from a Rich Math Task


Basic Word Problems
Word problems at the elementary level tend to be simple problems with a single correct answer. Children are often taught to solve them by learning to identify key words and numbers in the problem and then applying the necessary mathematical operation. For example, a basic word problem might read like this: "There are 10 apples, and it takes 2 minutes to peel each apple. How many minutes in all are needed to peel the apples?"
A typical method of solving this problem involves underlining the key words "each" and "in all" and circling the numbers 10 and 2. The key words tell students that they need to multiply the numbers to find the answer, so they multiply 10 and 2 and record the number 20 as the answer. If you ask these students to draw or model the solutions visually, they are at a loss. If you ask them to label the answer with the unit, they are as likely to write "20 apples" as they are to write "20 minutes." 

Word problems don't inspire deep thinking, analysis, or discussion because the solutions are fairly straight forward. Sure, you can encourage your students to talk with a partner about how they solved the problem, but their explanations will sound like this: "First I underlined the key words, and then I circled all the numbers. Next, I multiplied the numbers to get my answer." An explanation like that hardly qualifies as "math talk"!

Rich Math Tasks
Rich math tasks, on the other hand, are usually more open-ended and can be solved in many ways. Some math tasks are inquiry-based questions that have more than one correct answer or problems that require students to use hands-on materials to discover the solutions. Other math tasks look like regular word problems at first glance, but when you attempt to solve them, you realize there are many ways to arrive at the answer. Rich math tasks don't have key words that you can underline, and circling the numbers won't help because you might not even need all the numbers to solve the problem! These types of math tasks stimulate discussion, questioning, and critical thinking as students struggle to choose the best strategy to solve the problem.


6 Tips for Crafting an Awesome Math Task

Finding or creating the right math problem is the first step in developing a rich math task. Here are some tips that will make the process of crafting your problem much easier.

1. Start with a Visual Problem
Select a word problem that's easy to visualize, and try to solve it in several different ways. Make sure the answer can be represented visually by drawing it or by using physical models. If you realize that there's only one way to solve it or that it would be difficult to represent the solutions visually, rewrite the problem or find a new one. I'll use the Apple Peeling Word Problem above to demonstrate how to turn a simple word problem into something much more challenging and interesting.

2. Remove Key Words 
After you've selected a problem, look for key words such as, "in all," "each," "per," and "total." If possible, rewrite the problem without using the key words, making sure that the meaning doesn't change. Removing key words forces students to THINK about which operation is needed instead of just underlining words and mindlessly choosing an operation based on those words.

3. Add Extra Details and Information
Next, add details that aren't really needed to find the solution. If students have been trained to underline key words and circle numbers, these extra details will confuse them. They will have to think about the task and decide which words and numbers are actually important.

Let's use the first 3 tips to rework the Apple Peeling Word Problem and turn it into Apple Peeling Challenge #1. While the problem is still quite easy, the lack of key words and the extra numbers make it a bit more challenging. Students have to think about what is being asked and decide the best way to solve it. This is a good starter problem for introducing students to rich math tasks because it can be solved in more than one way using visual models. Students could draw circles for the apples, use round objects like pennies or bingo chips, or they could even use real apples!


Ready to take Apple Peeling Challenge #1 to another level? Applying the next 3 tips to that problem will make it even more challenging and interesting!   

4.  Personalize It and Make It Real
To make the problem more interesting, personalize it by adding a real person's name, maybe even the name of one of your students! Add enough details to make it come to life or turn it into a story. In Apple Peeling Challenge #2, including the detail that Sam is peeling the apples for a pie makes the problem more meaningful. A teacher in the Math Mindset Connections Facebook group took this problem and turned it into a story about making a pie for Thanksgiving dinner!

5. Turn It into a Multi-step Problem
Rewrite single-step word problems to ensure that multiple steps are needed to solve it. The information in the basic word problem stated that it takes 2 minutes to peel each apple. The easiest way to add another step is to replace that detail with enough information for students to calculate how long it takes to peel each apple. Each problem will be a bit different, but there's always a way to modify the problem and turn it into a multi-step math task.

6. Change the Numbers
You can often make a word problem more challenging by changing the number values. For example, instead of Sam peeling 10 apples, he might need to peel 100 apples because he's baking 10 pies for a banquet. You can also use numbers that result in fractional answers. For example, in Apple Peeling Challenge #2 above, Sam can peel 4 apples in 6 minutes so kids should be able to figure out how long it takes to peel one apple. But 6 is not divisible by 4, so the number of minutes it takes to peel one apple is not a whole number. Do you see how tweaking the numbers a little can instantly make the problem much more challenging? Now you have a problem that's perfect for a math task!

Why not try creating your own Apple Peeling Challenge? In the Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter Webinar, I shared 2 more apple peeling problems that are quite different from the problems in this post. I'll bet you can come up with your own apple peeling problems, too!


Where to Find Editable Word Problems for Rich Math Tasks


If you don't want to craft your own multi-step word problems, or you don't have time to hunt for them, check out my newest product, Math Mindset Challenges. It's a growing collection of editable word problems in several different formats. The problems themselves are in an editable PowerPoint document so you can change the wording and customize them if needed. All of the problems have been field-tested by upper elementary teachers, and they work well as is, but if you use a different measurement system or want to tweak the problems using the tips above, you can easily do that. If you'd like to take a closer look, head over to my TpT store and click on the preview link on the product page.


The Math Mindset Challenges product shown above is included in my Math Mindset Challenges Webinar Bundle and my Math Problem Solving Bundle. Both bundles include the Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter professional development webinar, too.


Next Up - Part Two: Crafting the Process

Remember that rich math tasks have two essential components, the WHAT and the HOW.  In this post, I've tackled the WHAT, the math problem itself.  However, it's not enough to create a great word problem; it's what you do with that problem that counts! Click here to read Part Two, Crafting the Process, where I dove into HOW to facilitate the problem solving experience. I shared loads of active engagement strategies that will take problem solving to a whole new level in your math classroom!



August 25, 2017

Mathematical Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter


Do you love math? Or are you convinced that the math train left the station without you long ago? No matter how you feel about it, if you're an elementary educator, you'll probably have to teach math at some point. Fortunately, growth mindset research and new findings about how the brain works are leading to some amazing insights about the best way to teach math. Furthermore, these insights are making it possible to foster a love of math in ALL students!

Last year I discovered Dr. Jo Boaler's book, Mathematical Mindsets, and I was fascinated by the research findings she shared. I also loved Dr. Boaler's strategies for using those research findings to improve math instruction. I know that problem solving is essential in mathematics, and most of the strategies I was using are supported by the new research. However, I did discover that a few of my teaching methods are not actually best practices, so I've been reworking those strategies to incorporate what I've learned.

A few years ago I presented a webinar called Math Problem Solving: Once a Day, the Easy Way, but after reading Mathematical Mindsets, I knew it was time to update that presentation with these new research-based practices. I asked Dr. Boaler for permission to include information and strategies from her book in my webinar, and she graciously agreed.

My new webinar is titled Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter to reflect the emphasis on growth mindset research and its implications for math instruction. To learn more, download the webinar note-taking handouts and take a look. The live webinar has ended, but you can sign up for the replay below. The replay of the August 31st webinar is free through September 10th.

Math Problem Solving - Mindsets Matter 

Best Practices in Math Instruction: Agree or Disagree? 
At the beginning of the webinar, I'll ask you to evaluate 6 commonly-held beliefs about math instruction, and then I'll share what the research tells us about them. What do you think about each statement below? Do you agree or disagree with these beliefs about math instruction?
  1. Problem solving strategies should be taught before giving students problems to solve. 
  2. Drawing solutions and counting on fingers should only be encouraged for young children and struggling students. 
  3. Students should only use calculators in math after they can perform the computations by hand.
  4. Mistakes are only beneficial when we learn from them.  
  5. Some people were born with a gift for math, and others weren’t. 
  6. The best way to meet the needs of all students is through ability grouping and differentiation. 
If you want to know what the research says about these beliefs, watch the webinar replay! I dug into the best practices related to each of those statements about math instruction.

From Word Problems to Rich Math Tasks
One research finding about how to foster a mathematical mindset is pretty clear. Instead of overloading kids with traditional "word problems," we need to engage them in more in rich math tasks. In the webinar, I went into detail about what that means, but basically a rich math task encourages students to think about math in new ways, finding multiple ways to solve problems, and to discuss their findings with others. Fortunately, it's quite easy to find rich math tasks if you know where to look, and you can also turn traditional word problems into rich math task. Check out the webinar replay for tips about how find or create rich math tasks that are appropriate for your students.


Join Me for a Math Mindsets Webinar Journey!
I'm still learning about how to foster a mathematical mindset, so I consider this webinar to be more of a journey we'll take together. You can board the Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter webinar train here; tickets are FREE through September 10th, so hop on and take a seat now!

I'll be your conductor if you decide to take this journey with me, and I'll share what I've learned about growth mindset and math instruction. We'll wrap up our adventure by exploring painless problem solving strategies you can implement right away that will motivate your students to love math, even if you don’t! Who knows? By the end of our journey, you might be a math lover, too!



August 13, 2017

Discover MrOwl, a Free New Tech Tool Teachers Will Love!

Have you discovered MrOwl? It's a free, new tech tool you can use to create a personalized Internet experience based on the topics that are important to you. You can easily build, organize, and customize topic “branches” that you share with friends and family. It's completely free of advertising, too. These features make MrOwl the perfect tool for educators who can use it in the classroom with students and on their own for organizing lesson resources.  You can even use MrOwl to create a free class website!

Using the MrOwl Chrome extension, you can easily save your favorite website links so you know where to find them later. Furthermore, you can upload your own documents and photos to your branches, making it easy to create comprehensive collections of searchable information.

The best part is that MrOwl gets wiser as more people use it. The branches that you build help to shape the MrOwl community “tree,” an ever-growing, searchable collection of web links and resources. These branches are curated by real people in the MrOwl community, not a computer, so they're free of inappropriate content and organized in a way that makes sense. MrOwl is free of advertising, too, so you aren't distracted by annoying pop-ups or sidebar ads.

But MrOwl is more than a safe search engine or a handy bookmarking tool; it's also a unique social media platform that makes it easy to interact with others who share your interests. MrOwl community members can follow other users, message their own followers, and even invite people to collaborate with them on their branches. It truly couldn't be any simpler! Members can also grab, "heart," and share branches created by others.

Explore MrOwl on Your Own
To start exploring MrOwl on your own so you can see how it works, click over to my profile page, @laura_candler, and check out some of the branches I've created. If the page you see doesn't look exactly like the one below, it's probably because you're not logged in. It's easy to create a free MrOwl account, but be sure to choose a user name that you don't mind being public and visible to others. I recommend using your real name if it's available, which is why I signed up with @laura_candler. After you log in, return to my profile page and follow me! Then grab any branches that you like to save them for later and explore MrOwl to find new interests and get inspired!


The MrOwl Backstory
MrOwl is the brainchild of Becky and Arvind Raichur, and their vision dates back almost 20 years to 1999, a time before Google and Pinterest when it was nearly impossible to search the web. Becky and Arvind envisioned making the Internet a better experience for everyone, where it's easy to organize and curate collections of searchable links, documents and more in one convenient place. Their ultimate goal was to create a connected community curated by real people like you, not a computer. The word "crowdsourcing" wasn't coined until 2005, but the concept describes their early vision perfectly!

It wasn't until 2013 that they were able to put together a team to bring MrOwl to life, and it's taken the team several years to build and test the site. During that time, they've added new features that make MrOwl more interactive and easier to personalize. MrOwl began as a web-based platform, but a convenient mobile app was just released so that you can access MrOwl right from your phone or tablet.

Reaching Out to Educators
Now that MrOwl is available to the public, Becky and Arvind are eager to spread the word so that others can benefit from this free tool. They're especially excited about MrOwl's potential for classroom use, which is why they reached out to me. They initially just asked me to review the site and offer feedback about how to make it even more useful for teachers. After I spent time on MrOwl, I realized that it's far more powerful than it appears at first glance, and I knew that I had to share it with others! I was also impressed with Becky and Arvind's sincere desire to make MrOwl even more useful for teachers and more approriate for students. They've already started working on some new features, such as templates teachers can use to create free class websites, and they're open to your feedback and suggestions as well.

Free Webinar: Educators' Guide to MrOwl
To help teachers get started with MrOwl, I recently presented a webinar called Educators' Guide to MrOwl: Intro for Early Adopters. The live webinar is over, but you can register here to watch the free replay. MrOwl is brand new, so if you like exploring new tech tools, you'll love this webinar! MrOwl is a really powerful tool with a lot of cool features for teachers and even more on the way. During the webinar, I'll explain exactly how to get started setting up a profile, creating topic branches, organizing your content, and collaborating with others. I'll even explain how to use it to set up a free class website!  You'll get a sneak peek at new features that will be added soon, and you'll also meet Becky and Arvind Raichur, the founders of MrOwl! Click HERE to register.


Join the MrOwl Educators Facebook Group
I've also created a Facebook group called MrOwl Educators where teachers can learn about new features and get early access to them. Group members can also ask questions and share their ideas for using MrOwl in the classroom. A third function of the Facebook group will be to seek feedback about how to make MrOwl even better for educators, and this information will be shared with Becky and Arvind. If you'd like to join the MrOwl Educators Facebook group, fill out this Google Doc form and follow the directions on that page to request access.

Can't Wait to Get Started?
If you can't wait to get started with MrOwl, jump in right now and register for your free account. It's easy! Remember that your user name will be public and visible on your profile, so you may want to choose your real name to make it easier for others to find you. Set up your profile by uploading a photo, writing a short bio, and adding links to your social media platforms. Then have fun exploring the site and starting to create your own branches.

Be sure to sign up for my upcoming webinar, Educators' Guide to MrOwl: Intro for Early Adopters. Becky, Arvind, and I look forward to connecting with you and sharing ways to use MrOwl in the classroom!




August 6, 2017

Totality Awesome Solar Eclipse: Are you ready?

Are you ready for the upcoming solar eclipse? If not, take a few minutes now to learn about this "totality" awesome event so you can prepare for it properly and enjoy it safely.

On Monday, August 21st, the moon's shadow will pass over the US in a sweeping arc, from Oregon to SC, and if you're lucky enough to be directly in that path, you'll see a total solar eclipse. As the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blocking the sun's light, the sky will darken and temperatures will drop, right in the middle of the day. Eventually, the moon will completely block the sun for 2 or 3 minutes, and all you'll see is the sun's corona, which appears as a faint glow around the edges of the moon.

Sounds amazing, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the path of totality will only be about 70 miles wide, so very few viewers will experience the solar eclipse as dramatically as the picture on the right. Everyone else in the US will see a partial eclipse, even those who are just a few miles away from the path of totality. The farther away you are from that path, the less the moon will block the sun, and the less dramatic the event will be.  From what I've learned, if you're even a few miles outside of that path, the eclipse won't be nearly as spectacular as if you were directly in the path.

But what if you learned that you're less than an hour's drive from the path of totality? Would you make plans to go experience the real deal, or would you be content to see a partial eclipse? How far would you travel to see a total eclipse?

Locate the Closest Place to View a Total Eclipse
Before you answer,  take a minute to find out how far you live from totality. It's really easy when you download the free Totality app from Big Kids Science.

After you open the app and enter your location, you can see the closest place to view a total eclipse, and you'll even be able to get directions to it! You can also learn what the partial eclipse will look like at its peak in your location, how to get to the closest place to see the total eclipse, when the eclipse will begin and end, and much more. The app also includes links to lesson ideas and activities for teaching about the solar eclipse.

Order Your Protective Eye Wear Now 
No matter where you live in the US, if the sky is clear on August 21st,  you'll be able to see a partial eclipse, if not a complete, total eclipse. It's never safe to look at the sun, except for the 2 or 3 minutes of totality when the sun's rays are completely blocked, and only for those who are in the path of the total eclipse. So if you plan to watch the eclipse at all, you'll need protective sunglasses. They are readily available and not very expensive right now, but I guarantee they are going to be much harder to find and more expensive if you wait until the last minute to get them.

I ordered mine from Big Kids Science, the creator of the free Totality app, because I like to support organizations that offer free educational resources like the app. I purchased mine from within the app, but you can also purchase them directly from the Big Kids Science website.

Solar Eclipse 2017 or Bust!
The last total solar eclipse that was visible in the United States happened back in 1970, and it passed right over North Carolina where I live now. Unfortunately, I didn't move to NC until 1973 so I missed it! :-( I lived in New Hampshire at the time and I remember seeing a partial eclipse, but the experience wasn't all that memorable.

That's why I was excited to discover that the path of the 2017 solar eclipse will go through South Carolina which is just a few hours south of where I live now. I learned from the Totality app that even if I stay right where I am, I'll see a very distinct partial eclipse with 96% coverage of the sun. I guess I could be satisfied with 96% totality, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this will be my last chance to see a total eclipse, so driving a few hours to see it will be "totally" worth it! I've heard the traffic that day will be insane anywhere within the path of totality, so I booked a hotel room in Orangeburg, SC, which is in the direct path of the moon's shadow. Now my only concern is the weather, and I'm praying for clear skies on August 21st.

How close are you to the line of totality for the 2017 solar eclipse? Are you planning to travel to see it? If so, take plenty of food and water with you, and be sure to start your trip with a full tank of gas. Scope out your viewing location in advance and arrive well before the partial eclipse begins. Finally, remember to bring your totality awesome protective sunglasses!


July 21, 2017

Teaching Tricky Trapezoids: Inclusive vs. Exclusive Definitions


Why Your Students Might Not Be
Classifying Trapezoids Correctly 


Do you teach quadrilateral classification? If so, did you know there are THREE ways to define a trapezoid?

Americans use either the inclusive or the exclusive definition depending on their curriculum. To complicate matters even more, teachers who live outside the United States define trapezoids in a completely different way! Believe it or not, the British English definition is the exact opposite of the two American definitions!

Which definition are you supposed to be teaching? If you're not sure, it's entirely possible that you're teaching the wrong definition! But don't feel bad if you discover this to be true because you are not alone. In fact, until recently, I didn't even know which definition was used by the Common Core State Standards!

Before we dig into this topic, you need to know which definition you're currently teaching. To find out, answer the trapezoid question below before you read the rest of this post. Then read the information under the 3 polygons that explains what your answer means.

What Your Answer Reveals

Because there are three ways to define a trapezoid, there are three correct answers to the question. Your response will reveal the definition you use to classify trapezoids.
  • If you only chose polygon 3, you use the exclusive definition which states that a trapezoid has EXACTLY one pair of parallel sides. This is the definition that I learned, and it's the one I thought the Common Core used (but I was wrong).  
  • If you chose polygons 1 AND 3, you use the inclusive definition which states a trapezoid has AT LEAST one pair of parallel sides. Many educators favor this definition because the other quadrilateral definitions are inclusive. For example, a parallelogram is a 4-sided figure with both pairs of opposite sides parallel, which means that squares and rectangles are also parallelograms. 
  • If you only chose polygon 2, you're using the British English classification system which states that a trapezoid is a quadrilateral with NO parallel sides. You teach your students that a quadrilateral with one pair of parallel sides is a trapezium, not a trapezoid


Which definition SHOULD you be teaching?

Now you know which definition you use to classify trapezoids, but is that the definition you're supposed to be teaching? If you aren't 100% sure, make a note to check on it. Until recently, I thought the Common Core used the exclusive definition, but I discovered that the CCSS actually uses the inclusive definition! I posted a question on my Facebook page to find out which trapezoid definition most teachers were using, and over 180 people responded. I was surprised to learn that most teachers who follow the CCSS teach the inclusive definition.

How to Teach Kids to Classify Tricky Trapezoids

If this is the first you've heard that there are three ways to define a trapezoid, you might be wondering how much to share with  your students. I mean, quadrilateral classification is challenging enough to teach without having to explain that there are three different correct ways to define a trapezoid!

I recommend that you find out which trapezoid definition you are expected to teach, and only teach that ONE definition. You could tell your students that they might learn a slightly different definition at some point in the future, but if you go into too much detail, your students will end up more confused than ever.

After you know which definition you're supposed to be teaching, how do you introduce it to your students and help them learn to classify trapezoids correctly?

I've found that the best way to help your kids tackle the tricky trapezoids is with a simple, hands-on sorting activity. The directions below are for a teacher-guided partner lesson, and you'll need a copy of the two printables shown on the right for each pair. Before you get started, be sure to download that freebie, Identifying Tricky Trapezoids.

Trapezoid Sorting Partner Directions:
  1. Begin the activity by introducing the characteristics of a trapezoid according to the definition you are expected to teach (inclusive or exclusive). 
  2. Next, pair each student with a partner and give each pair one copy of the printable with 8 quadrilaterals. Ask them to work together to cut out the polygons and stack them in a pile. 
  3. Explain that they will take turns sorting the quadrilaterals into one of two categories using the T-chart titled "Which Quadrilaterals are Trapezoids? Give each pair one copy of the T-chart or have one person in each pair draw the T-chart on a dry erase board. 
  4. Before guiding them through the sorting activity, assign the roles of Partner A and Partner B in each pair. Then ask Partner A to select the first quadrilateral and place on the T-chart in one of the two columns, "IS a Trapezoid" or "Is NOT a Trapezoid." Partner A then justifies the quadrilateral's placement to Partner B who gives a thumbs up if he or she agrees. If Partner B does not agree, the two students should discuss the proper placement of the quadrilateral and move it to the other column if needed. 
  5. Partner B then chooses one of the remaining quadrilaterals, places it on the chart, and explains its placement to Partner A. Partner A must approve the placement, or the two students discuss the definition and placement before continuing. 
  6. Students continue to switch roles throughout the activity. If they aren't able to agree on the placement of one of the quadrilaterals, they should set it aside for the time being. 
  7. As students are working, walk around and observe them to see if they are classifying the trapezoids correctly. Stop to help students who are confused or who can't agree on the placement of one or more quadrilaterals. 

Hands-on Activities for Classifying Quadrilaterals

This simple sorting activity is actually one of the most effective ways to teach kids to classify any type of quadrilateral. In fact, it's so effective that I developed a complete lesson for classifying quadrilaterals based on this strategy. Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals includes several introductory activities as well as a challenging game and two assessments.


One reason I wanted to bring the tricky trapezoid situation to your attention is that I've recently updated Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals to include all three definitions. There are now THREE versions of the lesson materials within the product file.

No matter which definition you're supposed to be teaching, Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals has you covered. You'll find lessons, printables, task cards, answer keys, and assessments that are aligned with the quadrilateral classification system used by your curriculum. Not only are these activities engaging and fun for kids, the lessons will help them nail those quadrilateral classifications every time! If you don't believe me, head over to see this product on TpT where you can read feedback from 400 teachers who have used Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals with their students.


By the way if you already own Classify It, you can download the updated version for free by clicking over to the Classify It! Exploring Quadrilaterals page on TpT. If you're logged in, you'll see a link at the top that says "Download Now! You own it!"

If you teach quadrilaterals and haven't purchased it yet, take a few minutes to preview it on TpT. If you use it with your students, I think you'll agree that Classify It is the most effective and FUN way to foster a deep understanding of quadrilateral classification!


July 8, 2017

How to Teach Addition of Fractions Using LEGO Bricks


Guest blog post by Dr. Shirley Disseler

We know that current math standards require students to learn through modeling using manipulatives. I have been using LEGO bricks for many years to teach students math concepts throughout the elementary and middle school curriculum. It’s a perfect math manipulative, and students love using the bricks, since many students are very familiar with them. I’ve developed specific strategies for teaching math using LEGO bricks for modeling and have been thrilled over the years to watch students’ test scores improve after they learn math using these strategies.

In recent years, I’ve taught many graduate students at High Point University how to teach with these methods, and they also report great success for their students when they use the techniques as new math teachers. I’ve recently published a series of books that show how to utilize LEGO bricks to teach all the major math topics in elementary school: Counting and Cardinality, Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, and Fractions.

Free LEGO Fractions Book
I’d like to share an example of how to teach using LEGO bricks. This is a strategy for teaching how to add fractions that have like denominators. It's one of the lessons in my book, Teaching Fractions Using LEGO® Bricks, which is a part of my Brick Math Series. If you'd like to see more fraction lessons, you can download the entire PDF of this book as a sample of the series! Click here to request your free copy.

Adding Fractions with Like Denominators
Teaching students to add fractions can be a challenge. Students must first understand that a fraction shows part of a whole. This method of modeling fractions with bricks helps students see clearly what the parts of the fractions mean, and how only the numerators are added, since the two fractions are part of the same whole.

Let’s add the fractions 1/6 and 2/6 together to show how the process works.
  1. First, build models of the two fractions on a baseplate using LEGO bricks. The baseplate is an important component of Brick Math, because it keeps all the bricks in place. 
  2. Start to model the two fractions, denominators first. Use a 2x3 brick (6 studs) to model the denominator of 6. Use two 2x3 bricks that are the same color, to help students understand that the denominators are the same. Leave a little space between the two 2x3 bricks.
  3. Model the numerator of the fraction 1/6 by placing a 1x1 brick above the first 2x3 brick. Model the numerator of the fraction 2/6 by placing a 1x2 brick above the second 2x3 brick. Using different color bricks for the numerators helps to show they are not the same.


  4. Now it’s time to model the action of adding the two fractions. Take another 2x3 brick and place it at the bottom of a baseplate. Place the 1x1 brick above this 2x3 brick. Then place the 1x2 brick above the 1x1 brick. Your model now shows 3 studs over 6 studs. Take three 1x1 bricks and stack them on each stud of the combined numerator bricks. Have students touch each stud to count 3 as the numerator of the solution fraction of 3/6 .
  5. If your students are ready for it, you can demonstrate how 3/6  = 1/2 . Place a 1x3 brick on top of the three 1x1 bricks in the model and show students that the 1x3 brick (modeling the numerator) is 1/2 the 2x3 brick (modeling the denominator).


  6. The final step in the process is to have students draw their brick models on baseplate paper. Drawing the models they have built helps students reinforce the visual depiction of the mathematical concepts. Baseplate paper is included in my book, Teaching Fractions Using LEGO® Bricks, which is a free sample of my Brick Math Series books.
When you take students through the modeling process, you give them a powerful way to visualize the action of the math. For both visual and tactile learners, this method helps student understand how to add fractions that are part of the same whole.


See Two Fraction Lessons in Action on YouTube
Watch the YouTube video below to see two fraction lessons demonstrated step by step.


Learn More 
If you want to learn more about how to teach using LEGO bricks, check the Brick Math program website. The books in the series are available as both printed books and as PDFs, and can be purchased on the website, on Amazon and Kindle, and on TpT. Brick sets that have been designed for the program are available from that site as well. You can also purchase individual LEGO bricks from LEGO Pick a Brick, or from online resellers of LEGO bricks such as www.bricklink.com or www.brickowl.com.

Dr. Shirley Disseler is an associate professor at High Point University and chair of the Department of Elementary and Middle Grades Education, and the STEM coordinator for the BA to MEd program. She is a LEGO® Education Academy Trainer and has been instrumental in developing and testing several LEGO® Education products. Disseler serves on the LEGO® Education Ambassadors Panel and is the trainer for the High Point University Teacher Academy for LEGO® Education. She has over 25 years of educational experience from elementary school teaching through higher education, including gifted education and exceptional children. She has recently started a new business called BrickEd on the Move that offers camps, field trips, and events based on learning with LEGO bricks.

June 28, 2017

How to Create Empowering Habits that Will Lead to Permanent Change

How much of your day do you think is governed by your habits and routines? Would you guess 50%? Less? More?

I don't know about you, but when I think about how I spend my day, I realize that most it consists of routines and procedures I've developed over the years. I follow a certain morning routine, I shop at the same stores, I take the same route when driving around town, and so on. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one whose day-to-day habits follow predictable patterns!

Most of the time there's nothing wrong with us following established routines. They definitely save us time and allow us to be more efficient. In fact, we'd never accomplish anything if we had to rethink the best way to do every activity all day long!

But the problem comes in when we develop unhealthy habits without even realizing it. This can easily happen when we are overworked or dealing with stressful situations, challenges that face most teachers every single day.

Instead of going to the gym or taking a walk after school, we stay late to grade papers, gather materials, and plan the next day's lesson. When we finally leave, it's almost time for dinner which makes a fast-food stop very tempting. Forget about sitting down to read a book or catch up with friends on Facebook at the end of the day because there are more papers to grade and children at home who need help with homework. We'd love to have time for ourselves, but we've learned to put everyone else's needs ahead of our own. Over time, we fall into routines that do us far more harm than good.

Then we hit the wall and realize we just can't go on this way any longer. We resolve to make changes and kick those bad habits. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done, especially if our bad habits are behaviors we've developed over time. Anyone who has made a New Year's resolution only to abandon it a few days later knows that bad habits are extremely difficult to break.

Never enough time...
One reason teachers have trouble learning to take care of ourselves is that we're convinced that we MUST work those long hours in order to be effective. Face it. If you're working 60 or 70 hours a week, there's not much time left over to develop empowering habits of rest and self-care.

I'm going to admit it. I used to feel this way, too. I was convinced that I had to work 12 hours a day during the week and at least a few hours each day on the weekend to get it all done. (Picture me grading papers on the way to the mountains for a weekend camping trip!)

But after I enrolled in Angela Watson's 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club, I realized that working 60 or 70 hours a week isn't a prerequisite for being a good teacher! By reading her weekly productivity lessons or listening to the audio versions, I discovered that it's possible to be a great teacher and still have time left over for yourself.

In case you're wondering, Angela doesn't expect every teacher who enrolls in the course to reduce their workweek to just 40 hours. That might be too drastic for some teachers, especially in special situations. However, she does ask new club members to evaluate the number of hours they're currently working and choose a new "target number" of hours they'd like to work. Amazingly, within just a few weeks, new members trim 11 hours, on average, from the time they work each week!

Unfortunately, I had already retired by the time learned about Angela's course so I wasn't able to benefit personally from these lessons. That's one reason I love reading the success stories posted by club members in her 40 HTW Club Facebook groups. It's so gratifying to know that there's a program to help teacher workaholics like me learn how to trim hours from their workweeks!

Even when we have enough time....
Another reason it's difficult to kick a bad habit is that most of us simply don't know how. We resolve to improve, but within a few days or weeks we've fallen right back into the same routines that caused the problem. At first, the problem is not having enough time to develop healthy habits, but that factor won't be nearly as important after enrolling in the 40 HTW Club. Remember those 11 hours that the average member trims off his or her workweek after joining the club?

The real question is, how are you going to use the extra time that you carved out for yourself? Having extra time won't make it any easier to get out and exercise when you'd rather sit and watch your favorite shows. Extra time also won't change the fact that it's far easier to grab fast food on the way home than to shop for groceries and cook a meal. So what's the key to kicking these bad habits? If you're like most people, motivation and desire aren't the problem. All of us WANT to develop more empowering habits, but maybe we just don't know HOW to replace bad habits with healthier ones!

Motivational Webinar by from Angela Watson
So how do we learn to change our habits? Angela Watson recently tacked this topic in her motivational presentation, Teachers, YOU are a priority, too: how to create simple habits of rest and self-care that will change your life. She was my guest presenter for this webinar, and she took a deep dive into topic of how to create self-care habits based on your own personality. She packed the presentation with nuggets of wisdom and practical strategies for creating habits of rest and self-care that will result in long-lasting change.

Angela's presentation was one of the most motivating webinars I've ever seen, and I think you'll agree when you watch or listen to the replay. I created the short video clip below from one part of that presentation. Watch it now, and if you like what she has to offer, click here to sign up for the full replay of that webinar. It's only available until July 7th, so be sure to watch it now!


What new habit would you like to develop? 
The steps and strategies that Angela will present can be used to adopt ANY new habit, even habits that aren't specifically related to rest and self-care. But if you aren't getting enough rest and you're not taking care of yourself, that's probably where you should start!

Here's a question I want you to ponder before watch the replay of Angela's webinar: If you could adopt a new habit, and you KNEW that you would be able to stick with it, what habit (or habits) would you create? If you feel comfortable doing so, I invite you to share your ideas in a comment on this post. You never know when YOUR idea might inspire someone else!

Click here to sign up for this limited-time replay! Ends July 7th

Don't forget to sign up to watch the replay of Angela's motivational webinar! You'll learn how to avoid going for quick fixes that fall apart when school starts. Instead, you'll learn how to create new, empowering habits that will lead to permanent change!

June 9, 2017

6 Ways to Rekindle Your Passion for Teaching Before You Burn Out

No matter how much you love teaching, it's easy to get to the point of burnout before you realize it. One minute you love your job, and the next you're feeling so overwhelmed that you wonder if you can make it to the end of the day, let alone the end of the school year. Everyone feels this way from time to time, but if you continue to feel discouraged day after day, it's time for a change. Ignore these signs, and you could become another teacher burnout statistic.

The key to overcoming teacher burnout is to dig into your feelings and figure out what's wrong so you can do something about it. If you recognize the signs of burnout early, you can rekindle your passion for teaching before it's too late. I speak from personal experience, because during my 30 years of teaching, there were times when I wondered how much longer I could keep going. But each time this happened, I was able to figure out the source of my stress and overcome it. As a result, my passion for teaching would flare up again and burn stronger than ever!

Recognizing the signs of burnout isn't difficult if you take a moment to slow down and you look inside. If you struggle to find any joy in teaching because you are exhausted, overwhelmed, and overworked, you're on the edge of burnout. If you feel irritable and grumpy all the time, and you can't seem to focus your energy on anything positive, it's time for a change.

Studies point to a number of factors that can lead to teacher burnout, including lack of support, student behavior problems, lack of adequate training for the demands of the job, and plain old boredom. I would also add the inability to find work/life balance. When you consistently put everyone else's needs before your own, you end up feeling resentful and even angry because there's never any time left over for you.

Fortunately, there are many ways to combat teacher burnout before you become a statistic. Here are 6 strategies that kept me from burning out and enabled me to love teaching until my last day. You'll probably realize that you're already doing many of these things, but you if you even discover one new strategy that resonates with you, you may find that it makes a huge difference in your outlook.


1. Start taking care of YOU. 

The most important thing you can do is to make yourself a priority, and decide you'll do whatever it takes to start taking care of you! It's easy to feel burned out if you never have time to exercise, cook a healthy meal, read a book for pleasure, or spend time doing activities that you enjoy.

If you're wondering how to accomplish this when your day is already jam-packed, I have some good news. My friend Angela Watson of the Cornerstone for Teachers will be presenting a webinar on this topic, and she's agree to do a special presentation for my followers on June 29th. If you'd like to join us, click over to the registration page and sign up for Teachers, YOU are a priority, too: How to create simple habits of rest & self-care that will change your life.


2. Connect and collaborate with others who love teaching.

If you feel isolated and unsupported, actively seek out your "tribe," a place where you can connect with like-minded teachers who want to share ideas. Facebook makes this incredibly easy because there are dozens of teacher Facebook groups where you can collaborate, get advice, and offer support to others. Be sure to join groups that have a positive vibe, where teachers are sharing ideas and supporting each other rather than venting about their problems. If you end up in a group where the majority of the posts have a negative tone, leave the group before you get sucked into those discussions!

I loved collaborating with other educators, and I was inspired by many fabulous teachers during my teaching career. After Facebook rolled out groups,  I created several groups for teachers, including the Upper Elementary Teacher Connection. This group is a place where teachers in grades 2 through 6 can connect and with each other to share their passion for teaching. Group members discuss active engagement teaching strategies, share innovative instructional approaches, help each other find curriculum resources, ask advice about situations they're facing at school, and so on. If you're interested in joining, click over to the Upper Elementary Teacher Connection page on my site to read the guidelines and apply for membership. It's free, but you do have to fill out a Google Doc form before you can be added to the group.

3. Transform your classroom into a place you love to be!  

One of the most stressful aspects of being a teacher is the sheer number of hours spent in a classroom with 25 or 30 children who seem to test your limits constantly. I used to feel like I was constantly battling my students to assert myself and gain control in the classroom. I left school every day exhausted, and I had to take a nap before I could do anything else!

Honestly, I was starting to wonder how much longer I could stay in the classroom. The turning point came when my district started providing great professional development, and I spent a week in a Kagan cooperative learning workshop. I was trained in the structural approach to cooperative learning, and I also learned classroom management strategies that helped me implement the techniques effectively. What a game changer! My classroom was never the same!

I began using cooperative learning strategies in every subject area, and I taught social skill lessons to help my students learn to get along with others. Instead of working in isolation, struggling with the content on their own, they worked with partners or in teams, talking about what they were learning and engaging with the content in meaningful ways.

What a different this made, not only to my students who were happier and learning more, but also to me personally. Instead of dragging myself to school in the morning, I was excited and full of energy, ready to try new strategies with my students. My classroom became a place I loved to be, and my students loved to be there with me!

This experience taught me about the importance of creating a caring classroom environment and using active engagement strategies. When you make learning both challenging and fun, kids don't have time to think about misbehaving.

Over the years, I developed a step-by-step system for getting the school year off to a great start, and last year I shared those strategies in a webinar called How to Launch a Super School Year. I don't plan to present it again until late July, but if you can't wait for the live webinar, you can sign up to watch the replay of last year's webinar. As I shared in the webinar, when you believe that this is going to be your best year ever and you act accordingly, it will be!

4. Learn to work smarter, not harder.

We've all heard this advice, but what does it really mean? Until a few years ago, I had never heard anyone explain exactly HOW teachers are supposed to work smarter and not harder. Anyone who lives with a teacher knows that they work insane numbers of hours each week, and they never get everything done! The "normal" 40 hour work week sounds like an impossible dream to a teacher who's working 60 or 70 hours a week.

I loved teaching, but I will be the first to admit that I worked far too many hours. It's a wonder that I didn't burn out because I never could figure out how to "work smarter" and not harder. But a few years ago, I found out that it's possible to work less and still be a great teacher. I learned that Angela Watson, who will be presenting the webinar I mentioned earlier, taught 3rd grade for many years, and she was able to work a 40 hour teacher workweek. You can tell from Angela's blog that she was a great teacher, so I was a bit skeptical about her claim that she only worked 40 hours a week.

Then I became a member of her 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club and started learning all of her secrets! Each week Angela sends an email to club members that's packed with productivity strategies, and she also has a Facebook group where members can get support with implementing the strategies. Angela doesn't promise that everyone will be able to reduce their workweek to 40 hours, but data she's collected shows that club members are able to shave an average of 1 hours off every week. That's over 40 hours a month saved just by learning to be more productive!

The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club is only open twice a year to new members, and the last enrollment period ended on July 7th. If you'd like to be notified when the club opens to new members again, click here and provide me with your contact information. I'll email you a reminder a few weeks before membership opens.

5. Never stop learning, growing, and trying new strategies.
One reason I loved teaching was that I was always learning and growing. I loved figuring out new ways to teach a concept more effectively and creating new resources to help my kids become self-motivated learners. Every school year was different, bringing new challenges and new opportunities for growth. I couldn't imagine pulling out the same set of lesson plans and teaching from them every year... how boring! Students come to us with different needs each year, technology is always changing, and brain research continues to provide us with more evidence about how we learn best. How could I possibly teach from last year's lesson plans?

If you realize you're bored because you've been teaching the same thing, year after year, it's time for a change. Why not request a move to a different grade level or teach a different subject? Try a new program with your students, like reading workshop, literature circles, or math stations. Explore a new online tool like Plickers or Kahoot, and make a plan for implementing it in your classroom. Join teacher Facebook groups where you can ask for ideas and advice about new strategies and technologies. How about signing up to watch some of my webinars for teachers? You'll soon feel rejuvenated and ready for a new year!

6. Remember why you became a teacher, and stay true to your purpose. 

If you're like most elementary teachers, you became a teacher because you wanted to work with children and make a difference. But in today's current educational climate, it's easy to lose sight of your purpose when it feels like teaching is more about following district mandates than meeting student needs.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to shut your door and do what you do best... teach! Figure out exactly what you are required to do, and do what's absolutely necessary, but don't be afraid to change things up a bit as long if you truly believe you're doing what's best for your kids. Carve out time for passion projects, reading aloud, class meetings, and learning games. Don't do anything that will get you fired, of course, but you'll find that there are many ways to stay true to your purpose and do what's right for your students.

If you encounter resistance from your administration, even when your students are happy and achieving at high levels, it might be time to seek out a new school family. I remember two times when I felt unappreciated and unsupported by the administration, and it seemed like every idea was met with resistance. I was miserable, and it had nothing to do with my students and their behaviors. In both situations, I decided at the end of the year that it was time to move on. I was so much happier in my new schools that I never regretted those decisions.

Being a teacher isn't the easiest profession, but it's definitely one of the most rewarding. If you recognize the signs of burnout in yourself and take action NOW, you can rekindle your passion for teaching and find joy again in the profession you chose!




Disclaimer: I'm an affiliate of Angela's 40 HTW Club which means I earn a commission each time someone purchases the course after clicking on my affiliate link. However, I would never put this much effort into recommending a course unless I was convinced it was absolutely amazing! I can assure you that if you're willing to do the work, your results will be amazing, even life-changing!

June 3, 2017

Motivating Math Games

Motivating kids at the end of the year can be a challenge, especially if you're still expected to teach skills and review academic content. Whole group instruction is particularly challenging this time of year because it's so difficult to get kids to sit quietly and focus on the lesson when everyone (including you!) is hanging on until summer break!

As a former 4th and 5th grade teacher, I've been there, and I found that the best way to keep kids engaged during the last few weeks was by using math games. I love using games because they are so versatile; you can use them in math centers, cooperative learning teams, or small guided math groups. Math games give kids a chance to talk and move, but it's productive talk and movement, so playing math games is the perfect way to wrap up the school year.

Where to Find Math Games
Whether your school is still in session or you are already on summer break, this is a great time to build up your collection of math games. You can make your own, of course, but they are quite time-consuming to create. I know, because I created loads of math games for my students while I was teaching. I continued to make new math games after I left the classroom, and I've spent considerable time updating my older ones.

I love making math games, but if that's not the way you care to spend YOUR weekends, consider purchasing them from TpT.

Math Games Mega Bundle
If you're an upper elementary teacher, check out my Math Games Mega Bundle because it might be just what you need. This growing bundle includes 16 math games, and if I create new math games (and I probably will), those games will be added to this bundle, too.

Each game is unique, and to really appreciate them, you need to preview them individually. If you'd like to take a closer look at the games in this bundle, click the cover images at the end of this post to find them in my TpT store. If you like all of them, you'll save over $25 by purchasing the bundle!

Earlier this week I hosted a giveaway of this bundle and two $10 TpT gift cards, but the giveaway ended on June 6th. Congratulations to Aimee Wallace, the grand prize winner of the bundle, and to Jaime Homan and Becky Raycroft, the winners of the TpT gift cards.

As a part of the giveaway, I asked teachers to preview the books in the bundle and tell me which ones were their favorites. To enter the contest, they had to comment on my Teaching Resources Facebook page to tell me which games they liked best and why they liked them. I especially loved reading the comments from teachers who already had some of the games because they shared how the games actually worked with their students. If you'd like to read those comments, click over to the giveaway post on Facebook. Even though the contest is over, feel free to comment about which games you like!
Tips for Teaching with Math Games
If you'd like some tips for teaching with math games, check out my post, How to Use Math Games Effectively in the Classroom. In that post, I shared some strategies and techniques for using math games as a part of your instruction rather than just for fun. I also described an easy mini-lesson on how to teach kids to be a good sport. Many of those tips and that mini-lesson are also included in my freebie, Tips for Teaching with Math Games, which you can download from my TpT store. Enjoy!