Whatever Wednesday – Shifts In Mathematics

June 26, 2015

Hello all! Today, I wanted to write about something near and dear to my heart….math. I know that actually sounds crazy. But I am a math person. And an elementary school teacher. Sometimes those things don’t go together, but for me they do. You can read a little more about my math journey {here}.

This past year, I worked hard to turn my classroom into a Common Core classroom. Especially in math – because it’s my favorite thing!

Once I started working towards becoming a Core Advocate, I learned about the 3 Common Core Shifts for Mathematics. These shifts completely opened my eyes!!


The shift that really spoke to me was the first one – FOCUS.

This shift stood out to me because it’s basic premise makes. so. much. SENSE. And it’s exactly what teachers like me have been saying for a long time.

“We try to teach WAY too much.”

“There’s not enough time to teach EVERYTHING in the standards.”

“Kids don’t remember the important things from year to year and I feel like I’m starting over!”

“The curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep.”

I know I’ve said ALL of those things. And said them over and over for a very long time. So when I first heard about the shift towards FOCUS, I thought that my head might fall off from all the nodding. I was completely flabbergasted that this idea was finally being addressed!

This shift takes us away from a “mile wide/inch deep” and pushes us as educators to narrow and deepen how we spend our time in the classroom. The call for focus wants teachers to give a majority of their time to the major work of their grade. I know I had to repeat this to myself many times. You mean, the CCSS WANT us to slow down and spend real, actual time teaching things that will move kids forward? And you are telling me that we should NOT spend time on things that aren’t important for that grade level?

Doesn’t that make so much sense?? We already knew that we didn’t have time for EVERYTHING that the previous standards wanted us to do. We knew this. So the CCSS allows us to spend our time on the things that REALLY matter to student learning.

In fact, the standards ask us to spend 65-80% of our time during the year on the major work of our grade level. 

Let me give you an example. I teach 5th grade, and I have taught 4th and 3rd grade in the past. When I started really looking at the focus that the standards ask for, I read my 5th grade standards over and over, trying to make sure that my instruction was aligned. I found something shocking, people. Mean, median, range, and mode…NOT in my 5th grade standards. I kept looking, because I was sure I was just missing something. I mean, I have a whole unit in my resource devoted to measures of central tendency. But it’s just. not. there.

So what does that mean? It means I can let something go. Thank you 6th grade teachers!! My students will be learning about measures of central tendency, but not until 6th grade. I can use that time to focus on the major work of MY grade: multiplication and division of whole numbers and fractions! All that instructional time, back to the focus of 5th grade. WOOHOO!

So, let’s do it!! Let’s get rid of the “fluff” that won’t give kids a solid foundation moving forward and only devote our time to what’s actually in the standards! Let’s give them the focus that they deserve. Let’s spend our time digging deeper into mathematics and mathematical thinking, and less time speeding through a million skills and standards.

From the Common Core website: “This focus will help students gain strong foundations, including a solid understanding of concepts, a high degree of procedural skill and fluency, and the ability to apply the math they know to solve problems inside and outside the classroom.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself…


If you would like to learn more about the Shifts here are some resources for you:

Achieve the Core: Shifts in Mathematics – At this link, you can find information about the major work of each grade level, and general information about the Shifts.
Core Standards website: Key Shifts in Mathematics – You can read more about all 3 Shifts here.

Achieve the Core: Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool – This is a tool you, or your district, can use to determine in your resources or textbooks are Common Core aligned.

What steps are you taking in your Common Core journey? Or what questions do you have? Leave comments or questions below. Let’s start a dialogue to help us all improve our practice!

Summer Guilty Pleasure – Link Up!

June 17, 2015

Hello friends! It’s summer, summer, summer!! {If it’s not summer for you yet, I am so so sorry. I am hoping time moves quickly for you!}

I don’t know about you, but I have a list a mile long of things that get neglected during the school year that I save up for summer.

Catch up on the laundry.

Reorganize the closets.

Deep clean the kitchen.

Let’s be real…pretty much any chore that can be put off until summer, gets put off until summer.

BUT. {And there’s a big BUT here…}

I don’t want to do ANY of those things. Even when I make lists, set reminders, tell my husband to text me, or send myself emails (yes, that happens) I cannot find the motivation to get going!! In fact, I do just about anything but the list.

Some of the things are, let’s just say, embarrassing. Lazy, even? Even when my to-do list gets longer and longer, you can find me hiding from it in a myriad of ways.

So what better way to continue running away from the stuff that needs to get done than by hosting a fun linky party with Sara from Miss V’s Busy Bees??

I’ll start small and work up.

Coffee. In a mug. NOT a travel mug and not chugged furiously while driving. Or teaching. Just sipped leisurely on the porch, or while blog stalking/FB stalking/TPT stalking/IG stalking. Obviously, I do a lot of stalking. (That is possibly another guilty pleasure.)

Pets. And also naps. In this picture, I’m pretty sure my cat is wondering WHY I am laying on HIS bed in the middle of the day when only he is allowed to lay on it in the middle of the day. I love being able to just have a quick siesta when I feel like it. And cuddling with one or more pets makes it even better.

This is last one. The most guilty of them all…if you keep reading, you definitely can’t judge me. (See what I did there?)

Judge Judy. Look, I realize the whole thing is ridiculous. But I cannot. stop. watching. It is just so unbelievably silly. On the plus side, I feel like I’m learning some very important legal things while I watch. For example, I am VERY aware now that a verbal contract isn’t worth diddly. Get it in writing, people! So maybe it’s not a guilty pleasure after all. More of a learning experience. I can now base decisions on whether or not Ms. Judge Judy would accept it in her court of law. Seems legit.

See, I shouldn’t have even included it as a guilty pleasure.

OK, so what are your guilty pleasures in the summer?? Grab the button below and link up your post to share!

The Other Side of Change

June 5, 2015

Isn’t it funny how time flies?

About this time last year, I had had enough of my teaching position. While I LOVED my class, my colleagues, and my school, my relationship with my administrator had gone significantly downhill. I knew it was time for a change. I felt stuck, unhappy, stressed out and generally like there was no way to make things better.

I came home from a particularly frustrating day of professional development after school had ended for the year, and updated my resume (mostly out of frustration and anger). I was in such a bad place. I pulled up a neighboring district’s webpage and started browsing jobs. And I thought to myself, “You can either submit that resume and have a little bit of hope to get out of this situation OR you can do nothing and keep feeling awful about being a teacher.” I knew that even if not one school called me, I would have a job, and I figured I could live with that.

I want to pause here and say this again: I LOVED my school. I taught there for 11 years. I felt like a part of the community. For many years I had been in the awesome position of having siblings of former students. Parents knew me and I felt like I worked with members of my family. I had great kids pretty much every year.

I was SO sad to say goodbye. I cried when I was offered a job at a new school. I cried just thinking about leaving my home away from home. I stood in my empty classroom and cried. I cried when I hugged my friends to say good-bye. I cried in my car driving my things to my new school. I cried while putting away my books in a new place. I am not even a crier!

Changing schools was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. 

I had many moments of doubt. Tons of fear. And it was really hard to talk to my friends and hear about my former students, other colleagues and things that were going on at my old school.

At the beginning of the year, I questioned myself A LOT. I was so used to kids seeing me and waving to me in the halls and hollering my name before school for a quick wave and a hug. That wasn’t happening. It was hard!

Then one day, I was leaving school. Our before and after school program was letting the kids have their snack and play outside. And I heard it! A student hollered my name and when I turned around she was waving at me wildly. My heart swelled up and I knew, at that very moment, that I absolutely had made the right decision.

I’m SO happy I took that leap. My new school is just what I needed. I had the BEST class this year and made some great connections with students and their families. The other teachers helped me out in every way imaginable. Not to mention, I am happy, not as stressed out, and feel supported and valued by my administrator. My husband has even noticed how much happier I am.

I have been thinking about this blog post for awhile. I was finally inspired to get it down on paper because I know so many teachers start thinking about making those types of changes this time of year. And I want people to know that, even though those changes are so, so hard, everything will be ok in the end.

One day, you’ll hear your name too, and you’ll know that you landed in the right place.

This post was recently featured on the TpT Blog.


Human Body Review – Concept Mapping

May 11, 2015

The Human Body science unit. You either love it or hate it, right? And sometimes it is very day by day.

Digestive system? LOVE it. Circulatory system? EH. Reproductive system? Well….

But no matter what, a Human Body unit seems to be a staple of most 5th grade classrooms these days. Our classroom is no exception. We have been studying the human body for several weeks now, taking time to learn as much as we could about each one.

We researched. And made models. And participated in simulations. For each system.

Here is a snapshot of what that looked like:

And then it was time for the dreaded assessment. Even though I knew they were prepared, I figured it might ease their minds to have a review.  I thought all weekend about how I would like them to review for their test. Since the learning targets for this unit were all about how the body systems interact I thought that a concept map would be the perfect tool to review.

This wasn’t something I had used with them before (I’m in a try-something-new-every-day phase) so I looked for a few resources to help me introduce the idea to my class. After googling around a bit, I found this video on the BrainPop website.


We watched the video to familiarize ourselves with the idea of concept mapping. It has a great example and they do have an online tool that students can use, if you have the technology in your room! Unfortunately, we didn’t have any access to tech that day, so we used pencil and paper and it worked out just fine.

Before they started mapping their human body concepts, we made one together and practiced linking the ideas. That seemed to be the hardest part – figuring out which ideas went together. But, as the video said, linking the ideas turns the “information into knowledge!” Once they had the hang of it, they started making their Human Body Concept Maps.

Boy, was I impressed!

I had them start off by writing down whatever they could from memory. Turns out – they remembered a lot!

Then, they could use their notes from our several weeks of learning. (This was a bummer for a few people who didn’t think that when I said, “Make sure to take notes as you research,” that it applied to them.) But for those who had their notes, it was amazing! They were able to fill in the blanks on some things they had forgotten and it helped quite a few of them makes those tricky links that they weren’t sure about.

They worked for quite awhile and did an amazing job connecting all their information and turning it into knowledge. It was a great way to review for the assessment!

How do you like to review concepts before a big test? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

Addition Strategies

April 12, 2015

Is it Sunday evening already? Maybe I am in some sort of denial. But I really feel like this weekend should be at least one more day. Regardless…

Lately, my math instruction seems to be lacking some excitement. We have been mired in the bog of fractions and it seemed like we needed a little pick me up. I thought it might be helpful to review some skills and concepts in math centers last week, so we broke out this activity to practice addition strategies!

First, we used a simple problem to review how to write a number story. Or word problem. Or story problem. Whatever you want to call it. We discussed getting a visual picture of the problem, and then practiced writing one together. As a class, we even reviewed what would constitute a proper number story.

Then, I showed them how to use the graphic organizer that would be a part of the center. They got to choose a card, and then use that problem to complete the organizer. For each problem, they needed to write the addends with expanded notation, write the number story, word problem, story problem (you get the idea), use partial sums to solve it and then another strategy that works for them.

I put the directions in the center so they had a visual reminder of what to do when they got there.

(Sorry for the terrible iPhone picture quality…)

And then the class had a new center! It was a great way to see what kids remembered about addition, and a great way to assess their understanding of addition in general from their responses to the questions.

I was glad to be able to have a review with my class to see what they have retained about addition. This also helped me to see which students I might need to pull into a group for a little more help.

Does this activity seem like it might be useful in your classroom? If so, you might want to check it out in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. I have made a few changes so I think many different grade levels could use it, or if you have students at different levels in your class they can all be successful.

There are 8 sets of cards with addition problems ranging from single digit addition all the way to adding decimals to the hundredths place. There are also 3 different graphic organizers to meet different classroom needs.


There *may* be a flash freebie coming soon, so be sure you follow me on Facebook and Instagram to get the latest updates!

I’d love to hear from you! How are you spicing up your routine this time of year?

Have a great week everyone!

Building Classroom Community: Class Pledge

January 10, 2015
Building a strong classroom community is the key to getting your school year off to a good start. Students are more likely to learn and grow in an environment that supports them and values their contributions! This is a great activity to start building classroom community right off the bat.
One of the best things about teaching 5th grade, in my opinion, is how much ownership and responsibility they take for their classroom and school. They are very invested in the being the “top dogs” and being role models for younger students. So, I put their enthusiasm to work with this back-to-school/after-break activity!
anchor chart of ideas: what does it mean to be a 5th grader?

First, they brainstormed ideas about what it means to be a 5th grader. They started off by writing their own thoughts and then worked with a partner to share and grow their list. We shared as a class and created the chart above. They did a great job capturing the spirit of what being a 5th grader really means. (I especially liked “We are mature.” That one got a smile from me for sure!)

Once we had our extensive list of ideas, they worked with partners to narrow the list down to what they thought was most important. They used the discussion questions above to help them decide.

After their discussion with partners, students advocated for what they thought should be included in the classroom “Pledge.” (They came up with the idea of having a classroom pledge after we discussed an essay contest where they wrote about what the Pledge of Allegiance meant to them.)

My favorite quote from this part of the discussion? “I really like the idea of calling it a Pledge, because that means that people are making the choice about how they behave.” YES! I love fifth graders!

We recorded the top 5 ideas and slept on it…just in case they wanted to add or change anything.

Once everyone agreed – each kid took their choice of Sharpie and signed their name. We hung this class pledge on the door so we would pass it every time we left or came back to the room.

After we finished the classroom pledge, we used the freebie below to make a copy of the classroom pledge for each student AND to create their own Personal Pledge. I can’t wait!! To grab your own copy, click the picture below…


I hope that this will save you some time and give your class a great way to take ownership of their classroom!

If you are interested in more ideas like this one, sign up here to get them straight to your inbox!

Every Now and Then…

February 9, 2014

I have a very long commute. Sometimes it is terrible. But most times it just gives me time to decompress and listen to the radio. I think about the day that just happened and things that are coming up. Every once in a while, I really get to thinking. Like down to the nitty-gritty of my day…especially when it was a really hard day or a really great day.

Friday was one of those days. It was hard. My kids were hard. I was tired from a long week of working and battling a cold at the same time. By the time 3:15 rolled around, I was ready to see my darling students out the door and get on to the weekend.

But as I thought, those nitty-gritty kind of thoughts, I remembered an unexpected hug. A smile. A giggle. A student complimenting another one, without being prompted, but just because he was being nice. One student’s walk around the room to say goodbye, get hugs and have secret handshakes on his last day at our school.

I thought about the moment when I realized that they are becoming more mature every day, even when that particular day wasn’t too great. I thought about the math work I read over and the realization that they are having some major breakthroughs in their math thinking. The student who read so fluently, after struggling for so long.

Pretty soon, I was awash with gratitude. Then, THAT was all I could think about.





Even when it’s tough, those little moments make it all worth it.

I hope that everyone has a great Sunday and a beautiful week.

If you feel so inclined, I would love to hear something that you felt great about this week. 🙂

Thanksgiving Activities for Upper Elementary

December 1, 2013

When I taught third grade a few years ago, it was a pretty dire situation by the time we got to late November. Students were tired. Teacher was crabby. What were we going to do?

Well, being the math geek I am, I figured some math would solve the problem. Yes?

Well, maybe not, but we did it anyway!

Each person was “given” $10.00 to spend on their own personal Thanksgiving meal. They figured out what they wanted to “eat” and used adding and subtracting to figure out how much they had left.

There was a lot of interesting conversation going on at this point. Who knew so many kids don’t like turkey? Green beans I wasn’t surprised by, but turkey? Oh well…they found other yummy things to put on their plates.

Then they could create their plate thanks to Google and some awesome images!

As soon as they knew what they wanted to “eat,” and what it would cost, they could make their plate.

The one on the bottom right? Has a fork, knife, spoon and butter. Hilarious!

We had a lot of fun choosing our Thanksgiving menu items, adding up our total spent and making sure we didn’t go over our $10.00 budgets.

Making our Thanksgiving meal certainly helped up the mood around the classroom!

Now that I teach 5th grade, things haven’t changed much! The end of the month is always challenging.

With the older students, we solve Thanksgiving themed word problems and plan our perfect Thanksgiving dinner. Students use all the operations to solve problems!

It’s fun way to keep kids thinking and working, even though they are wound up and ready for a break! Click the picture or right {here} to take you to this resource in my TpT store.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

An Apple A Day

October 14, 2013

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year! I love how the days are sunny, but the air is crisp and cool. I love everything pumpkin and apple. Even though I know winter is just around the corner (my least favorite season), fall makes me happy!

One of my favorite things about fall are the fun activities we get to do at school! Every year, my mom comes to school and makes homemade crockpot applesauce with my class. 🙂 You can check out how it went last year {HERE}.

This year, the lady who usually supplies us with apples picked from her trees lost most of them in a hard freeze. Sad. 🙁

But, my little kiddos stepped up and they brought their own apples from home! It actually turned out kind of cool since all their apples were different. Yay! 🙂

Now. If you haven’t read my previous post, you might be wondering how this is related to those dreaded Common Core standards.

I’m going to admit something here. Sometimes, I just don’t care. They are kids and kids should have fun at school and making applesauce with their own two hands IS fun. I am a big proponent of doing crafty things and cutting with scissors and gluing things when necessary. I know. I’m a rebel. But it feels so good!

Here are some pictures of kids having fun making applesauce.

We used my fancy crank peeler to peel the apples…
and it turns them into apple curls! Fun!

Apple bits go into the crock pot…

with sugar and cinnamon…
lemon juice and water!

But I understand the world we live in. I know that, at any moment, an unannounced observation could happen and my peer evaluator could walk in and judge my every move. So, I try to have a plan. If nothing else, a back-up plan.

So, the plan is, while we make the applesauce we also write awesome poems about apples using our 5 senses. We use a graphic organizer to record those senses and then make our poems. Just to show off a little, we write the poems on die cut apples and display them in the room. 🙂

Isn’t he working hard??

5 Senses Graphic Organizer
They put their poems on a die-cut apple, colored them and hung them up!

We had a blast AND they wrote some great poems to boot.

My favorite quote from the day: “I love applesauce, but this is the BEST. APPLESAUCE. EVER.”

If you think you might want to have some apple-icious fun with your class, you can download the graphic organizer and the recipe for applesauce from my TPT store….it’s free! Just click the picture below.

What’s your favorite fall activity to do with your class?