Thursday, February 25, 2016

Easy-to-Manage Math Stations

This is a post I've been meaning to share for quite some time.  But having two little ones and a lot going on, it's been hard to find the time to write.  Last year I started playing around with math stations and eventually found some things that work really well for me.  Now that I'm in "year 2" of running my math stations, I finally feel like it's a well-oiled machine.  If you're interested in an easy way to run and manage math stations in your classroom, then keep reading!  :)

The basic format of running my math stations is this:

- Our math block is approximately 50 minutes long.
- There are 4 rotations: Meeting with me for a small-group lesson, iPads, Fact Practice, and Book & Math Bags
- I meet with each group for 10 minutes to do a quick lesson from My Math (our McGraw Hill program).
- I have approximately 1 minute transitions for them to switch stations.
- Everything is run by music.
- There are a maximum of 7 students in a group (it used to be 6, but then a month ago I gained that means one group had to have 7).  I ability group them so that I'm able to differentiate a little easier.

Here are some basics for management purposes:

I made a simple flipchart for my Promethean Board.  It has the 4 stations within each rotation.  It is projected on the board for easy student viewing.  I simply click the mouse to change it every 10 minutes.

Our whole 50ish minutes are set to music.  I put together a playlist on iTunes.  I have approximately 10 minutes of classical music followed by 1 minute of more upbeat songs that let the students know we are transitioning.  I use 2 Heidi Songs that total about 1 minute (I bought the ones I need off of iTunes).  This repeats itself 3 more times so that I have a total of 4 classical segments, which is "work time".  During the transitional music, the students know it's time to switch and have time to clean up real quick and start their next station.

All of their materials for the "Math Bags" and "Fact Practice" are stored in my rainbow drawer cart.  Each drawer is labeled so they can easily find the things they need.

The first station is working with the teacher.

I work with my low group first so that they have the basis to do their following stations independently.  I have my manual, manipulatives, and all other supplies right at my table so that I'm ready to teach.  I found this handy plastic tub and tiny little ones at The Container Store a little over a year ago.  Everything fits perfectly and I keep it right under my desk.

I go through the intro to the lesson and then we work through several examples and problems in their books together.  I also use this time to differentiate.  I'm able to slow it down for my low group and do some extension activities and problems with my high group.

The second station is "Book & Math Bags".

After they work with me, they move right into their independent practice page.  On one of the walls in my classroom, I have a ripped off cover from one of their math books and taped it to the wall and put a piece of chalkboard vinyl underneath.  I use chalk markers to write the page number that they are to work on in their book.  I have a helper erase it at the end of each day and I just write the new one up there every morning.  They just have to look at the wall, find the book cover, and see what page they need to do that day.  It eliminates questions of what page to turn to.

If they have time once they are finished (which they usually do), they go over to the rainbow drawers and grab a math activity.  I have several bags of Common Core centers in a drawer and they can pick one to work on.  They have the directions and parts and pieces in each bag.  Everything is there and they just have to grab it and get busy!  These centers are in my store.  I have sets for each month.

The third station is Fact Fluency.

I have many options for them to practice their math facts.  Once again, everything is stored in the rainbow drawers.  They can choose from Hot Dots, Wrap Ups, Board Games, Roll and Cover, or fact practice on the iPads (more on that in a minute).

The board games (Addition and Subtraction Races) come from Jana Guerra from We Heart 1st.  My students love them and they were super easy to prep!

You can find the Addition Roll and Cover games in my shop.  Just print, laminate, and add some dice and playing pieces!  Super easy to prep as well.  The students love playing it and it really has made a difference in their ability to quickly recall facts.

The fourth station is iPads.

We use a free app called FrontRow.  It's a differentiated, self-paced program that works on all math domains.  The students are given a pretest in each domain and then it starts them where they are and progresses as they're ready.  The data end of it for teachers is awesome.  This year they added a "Fact Practice" section where the students can play a game to practice their math facts.  The students can work on this during fact practice if they want as well.  If you don't have iPads, don't worry - it's available for desktop/laptop computers as well!

The way math rotations are done in my classroom are super-easy to manage and very low prep.  It took a little leg work up front (printing, laminating, and sometimes cutting) to get some of the math bags, Roll and Cover, and board games ready to go, but now it takes no time at all to prep for math.

Here is a view of my plans in PlanBook for how I do my lesson plans for my math block.  I saved the template and tweak it each week to reflect the different lessons.  You should be able to click on it to make it bigger. :)

I hope this post has given you some inspiration to start or help you organize your math stations!  We do this every day and my students and I all love it.  :)

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sight Words on Display

Each year presents new challenges, right?  Well, this year my challenge has been sight words.  In the past, the majority of my students have picked them up fairly well.  This year it seemed like they were getting off to a rough start.  So my brain started thinking and searching for something to do to help them learn them.  I tried every trick, worksheet, chant, etc. that I could think of.

My problem with Reading Street is that they introduce the sight words on Tuesday (look at them, say them, use them on a workbook page), review them on Wednesday and Thursday (with a quick workbook page), and bam.  Tested Friday.  I always thought that was insane to expect them to learn them with such little involvement and engagement with the words.  Sure, they're in the story and maybe a decodable reader, but really?  I use Jessica Tobin's sight word notebooks, my own Say It, Write It, Find It booklets, and post the words up on my word wall and focus wall.  The ones who "get" sight words got them just fine with these couple of supplements.  But for my strugglers, it just still wasn't connecting for them.

One day I got desperate and made a comment, "It's like I have to walk around with a Post-It note on my forehead with a sight word on it so they can stare at it all day!"  Stop.  What?  My brain started going crazy about how that might not be such a bad idea.  I started thinking of all the ways I could literally make them stare at the words at every possible moment during the day.  This is about as close to "in-your-face" as it gets!

I whipped up these little Sight Words Badges and wear one every. single. day.  My students love it!  They can no longer call me Mrs. Kirby.  They call me Mrs. Whatever-Badge-Is-On-My-Shirt.  I can't even tell you the excitement they have walking in the door to see what my new name is.

I printed them all out and laminated them.  I keep them in this cute little tin from Target so they are easy to find and grab.  I found the badge holders at Wal-Mart in the office supply section.  They fit perfectly into the plastic sleeves!

I have to warn *might* get some looks, stares, and giggles from fellow co-workers when you forget to take off your name badge.  Or they might just start jumping in on the game and calling you by your sight word.  This may or may not happen to me... ;)

Another way I found to help my students retain their sight words is by labeling their tables by words. I used to call them, "Table 1, Table 2, Table 3, etc."  I've even done letters, animals, colors, etc.  But labeling them by sight word is JUST as exciting to them, plus their table name changes every week (although I may start moving them around each day, just for more exposure to each word).

I simply put their sight words on a piece of paper, folded it in half so that each side has the word on it, and stuck it to their tables.  SUPER easy to put together and to display!  They're seriously so easy to change out.  I also printed them on colored paper so that they pop a little more.

You could hang these from the ceiling or simply fold them into little table tents that stand alone on tables.  Our fire marshall prohibits us from hanging anything from the ceiling (boo!  hiss!), so I had to get a little creative with how to label my tables.  I found these fun, sparkly clothespins at Hobby Lobby.  I got some short wooden dowel rods and some half-sphere styrofoam pieces.

I simply glued the clothespin to one end, stuck the other end in the styrofoam, and then stuck the whole thing down in their table caddies.  Voila!  The kids don't mess with them because they had a ginormous warning from me.  ;)

To save myself some time (and maybe you, too), I've put both the Sight Word Badges and Sight Word Table Signs into a file that's easy to print and store.  It includes sight words from 1st Grade Reading Street, 2nd Grade Reading Street, and all of the Dolch words.  With the TPT sale right now, it's even on sale!  ;)

One more way that I found that helps my students with their sight words is by writing them on the wall with a chalk marker!  I write the words on the wall by the door each week.  We read them as we leave the room and as we wait by the door.  I'm constantly reviewing the words with my students because they are right there.  

Bottom line?  Make sure your weekly sight words are EVERYWHERE and in plain sight!  I have noticed a remarkable difference in my students' sight word retention.  Plus, it's all so fun!

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Best Chalk Markers EVER!

My title isn't lying.  I wasn't paid to say that.  I truly believe that I have found the best chalk markers ever!  I've used several different kinds and they're either streaky, dry out too quickly, don't write smooth, or just aren't that great.  I've had the chance to review these chalk markers, by Chalkola, and I will tell you I'm in love.  Let me explain.

First of all, there are 2 different types that I tried.  I tried the "standard" version of what most of us probably think of when we think about chalk markers.  The 10-Pack of 6mm Bullet Tip markers is a great variety for what you would need for most of your typical projects.

I used them in several ways, including writing my kids' names on their tables.  Instead of using nameplates that get destroyed (some sooner than later), I opted to write their names instead.  If I ever need to move a student, I can simply wipe off their name and write it in their new spot.

I also used them to write on our classroom windows!  My plan is to write their sight words on the window once the pumpkins come down later this month.  These markers work GREAT on glass.  I used both types of markers to write on my windows.  It draws on smooth and has vibrant color to it.  With the sun peering through our windows each day, the glow through the chalk is gorgeous.

I also used them to write on the smooth tiles on our classroom walls (never mind the disgusting grout...ahem...).  I wrote our sight words for the week in different colors.  I LOVE this because my kids are constantly staring at them every time we line up and leave the room.  I make them read them to me as they are waiting or before they can use the restroom.  I've seriously written their sight words in so many places in our room.  There's no reason for them not to be familiar with them!  ;)  Not only that, but they LOVE standing there reading them.  Who knew?

Chalkola also has another size marker that I'm GIDDY about!  I wasn't sure if I'd use them much or even know WHAT to use them for.  Oh my...I ended up using these the most!  I love the thickness of the 15mm Chalk Markers.  The awesome thing is that you can use it with the thickest part or turn it on its side to make your strokes a little more narrow.

Once I started using these, I completely went to town.  A teacher neighbor walked by and wondered what on earth I was doing marking all over my room, but once I showed them to her and she looked at them, she stood there with me for a while coming up with more ideas I hadn't even thought of!  I use these to write on my math chalkboard vinyl sheets so that students know what page numbers to work on during math rotations.  I love the thickness of it because they can see it from all the way across the room.

I also used them to write on the floor!  Yes, the floor.  I wrote their numbers on the floor so they can stand on them when we line up.  Last year I used calendar cards and used contact paper to attach them to the floor, but they ended up ripping off and peeling.  The nice thing about using the chalk markers to write their numbers is that whenever it comes off, you just have to quickly rewrite it.  No spending money on more numbers (or whatever you use) and contact paper.  Let's be honest, contact paper takes way more time than necessary half the time.  ;)  They will get scuffed and scratched as people walk over them, but they look fine.  I've had mine on for over a week and there's just a few numbers that could use a little touch-up.

We also have heaters/AC units in our rooms, so I thought ours could use a little sprucing up.  ;)  A simple quote every now and then is always an easy way to perk up your room while promoting fun and positivity!

I also used them to write on my chalkboard pennant banner from Target.  Originally, I used a typical piece of chalk.  I just couldn't get it to stand out or look neat enough, especially since I hung it so high.  With one stroke for each letter with the 15mm marker, the letters look neat, tidy, and bold.

So are you convinced yet that these would be a GREAT addition to your classroom?  I'm sure there are a few questions you might have before you take the plunge.  Let me see if I can answer some of them before you even have to ask.

Does it come off????
Of course!  I'd be deader than a doorknob if this stuff didn't come off.  Just use a wet paper towel, baby wipe, or some Windex and wipe it right off!

What can you write on?
You can write on any non-porous surface.  Glass, tile, chalkboards, whiteboards, mirrors, etc.  As long as it's not a surface that it can soak in, you should be able to write on it.

Are these safe to have in my classroom?  Do they have strong fumes?
Yes, they are safe.  No, they do not have strong fumes.  They have a slight smell, but I promise it doesn't knock you over.  And I could only smell a hint of a smell while I was using it.  It was honestly barely noticeable.

What if I get it on my clothes?
Not a problem!  These water-based markers will wash right out.

I'm telling you, you need to own these!  They are fun and easy to use.  They are my go-to markers for a lot of projects now.  And here's a secret...when I first had them at home, my 2 and 4 year old LOVED trying them out!  I let them draw all over one of the windows in our house and they had a BLAST!

Where can I get some of these awesome chalk markers?
If you'd like to order a set, you can use the code CHALK20A to get 20% off these already discounted markers!  Put the code into the little box that says, "Add a gift card or promotion code" when you see the "Payment Method" section.  That is SERIOUSLY a great snag!

I'm telling you, you need to own these!  They are fun and easy to use.  They are my go-to markers for a lot of projects now.  And here's a secret...when I first had them at home, my 2 and 4 year old LOVED trying them out!  I let them draw all over one of the windows in our house and they had a BLAST!  I hope you enjoy them and find so many wonderful uses for these chalk markers!