Thursday, December 11, 2014

Polar Express Literature Unit

As December winds down, many schools celebrate with a Polar Express day.  In the past, my class has celebrated by coming to school in our pajamas (these are my FAVORITE days), reading the book, sipping on some hot chocolate, and watching the movie.  The younger students parade around the school and ring bells as my third graders rush to the hall to watch them.

Now, by the time these kiddos get to me, they have probably experienced three Polar Express days in the past.  I always struggled with adding a little something new and exciting, while still getting in that extra little bit of instruction right before we let out for winter break.

Last year, I created a Polar Express Unit - mostly because I knew that if I created something, I would be positive that the students didn't complete it in previous years.  My goal was to also make reading the book and the day more meaningful educationally.

This unit contains 15 pages of literature activities that can be used with the book and the movie.  It also works well if you decide you only want to read the book.

The following included activities work best for 2nd-4th grade:
- Story Elements
- Asking Questions
- Summarizing
- Physical Characteristics and Character Traits
- Sequence of Events
- Making Connections
- Vocabulary
- Word search
- Book and Movie Venn Diagram
- Similes and Metaphors
- Fact or Opinion
- Letter to Santa (writing)- My Polar Express Experience (writing)
- The First Gift (writing)

Here are a few sample pages from the unit...

I definitely cannot complete all these activities in one day.  The four pages that I took pictures of are the activities I usually begin with and have others on stand-by in the event I have more time.

One piece of advice I have is that if students are working independently, having multiple copies of the book is useful.  Between my copies and those that I borrowed from various libraries, I was able to put students in groups of 3 or 4 so that they are able to look back in the text to help them answer questions and find evidence.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Operation Underdog Fundraiser

As teachers, we naturally have very giving hearts.  We always want to help, expecting nothing in return.  Well, today, I'm going to invite you to something really special that I am happy to be a part of.  My teaching heart jumped at the chance to contribute to a really wonderful cause, and I hope that your teaching heart jumps at the chance to support it, as well!

During the month of November, TpT is helping to support a fundraiser for Operation Underdog.  Operation Underdog was brought to my attention by Joey Udovich of Creating, Teaching, and Sharing.  Her childhood friend is the co-founder of this amazing animal rescue that is in need of some monetary support.  In an attempt to help, Joey invited 30 top TpT sellers to contribute to some pretty amazing resource bundles that are now being sold at OVER 1/2 off!  The proceeds from this shop go directly to Operation Underdog's medical funds for adequate vetting, transportation services for animals in need, and basic supplies, such as food.

Here is what we are HAPPILY offering you!
To visit these bundles, please click on the pictures below.

♥ Deanna Jump - Need for Speed Addition and Subtraction Fluency Practice
♥ Deedee Wills - Fall Roll, Say, Keep-Editable Sight Word and ABC Game
♥ Cara Carrol -  Do You Hear What I Hear? {The Ultimate CVCE Practice Packet!}
♥ Babbling Abby - Spelling for All Seasons {Part One}
Spelling for All Seasons {Part Two}
 Simply Skilled in Second - Writing Templates for Writing Centers and Interactive Notebooks
♥ Erica Bohrer - Classroom Pets
♥ Karen Jones - Word Family Sliders {with 39 short and long vowel word families}
 Susan Jones-TGIF - Phonics Poetry for Grades K-2
♥ Reagan Tunstell - Sight Word Stick Centers


♥ Teaching With A Mountain View - Money Task Cards { Coins & Dollars }
 Shelley Gray - Get Up and Move! {A Basic Operations Gallery Walk COMBO PACK}
♥ Amy Lemons - Workin' On Word Problems
♥ Lory Evans - Math Assessment - Money - How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?
♥ Deb Hanson - Main Idea & Details craftivity for lower grades (matching main idea & details)
♥ Ashleigh - Common Core Informational Writing - A Complete Writing Unit
 Flapjack Educational Resources - QR Code Math Fun Bundle (2nd-3rd Grade)
♥ Third Grade Thoughts - Revised Bloom's Taxonomy Bundle {Posters + Fiction Brochures}
 Tessa Maguire - Open Ended Passages and Questions for 2nd Grade
♥ Common Core and So Much More - 3rd Grade - 30 Reading Fluency and Comprehension Passages - Fiction & Nonfiction


♥ Runde's Room - Writing Revision Activity Bundle
♥ Nicole Shelby - Flippin' Through the CCSS: Flip Flaps for Reading Notebooks-Grades 3-5
♥ Kristine Nannini - Analyzing Characters Pack {Common Core Aligned}
♥ Blair Turner - Independent Reading Resource Pack
♥ Rachel Lynette - Informational Text Task Card Bundle: 3 Task Card Sets CCSS Aligned
♥ Joey Udovich - Fix It! Sentence Rings
♥ Jennifer Findley - Constructed Response Practice and Assessment CCSS Aligned {Paired Passages Set}
 Teaching In Room 6 - Character Traits in 5 Days: Lessons to Teach Character Traits
♥ The Science Penguin - Life Science Informational Text Cards
♥ Christi Fultz - Math Board Games with Task Cards Solve N Slide BUNDLE
♥ Ladybug’s Teacher Files - Editable for Numbering Genre Library Labels (Consistent Colors)
♥ Laura Candler - Math Stations for Grades 3 - 8

Operation Underdog is a NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION.  That means that 100% of their operating costs are paid through private donations and fundraising efforts.  The women that proudly established this rescue, have also been known to use their own money to save the animals in their care.  

"We help animals that have been dealt a cruel hand in addition to the unfavorable circumstance of already being a stray or a shelter animal. It is our goal to help those most in need. This includes animals with all manners of injuries and illnesses who might not receive help elsewhere. In order to commit to animals experiencing medical emergencies or those in need of surgical procedures, we need to first be sure that we have ample funds to cover the needs of the animals that are already with our organization."


"By purchasing one or more of these bundles, you will be aiding in our vet bills, the cost of transportation, and supplies that are needed by SO many animals.  You are TRULY making a direct impact on the lives of many animals.  Operation Underdog is a nonprofit organization, so we rely solely on fundraising, events, and the charity of people simply wanting to help."

If you're interesting in adopting one of these cuties, email Operation Underdog at

Please visit Operation Underdog on Facebook by clicking the link below.  "Like" their page to bring more awareness to animals in need.  Remember, WE can make a difference!

To learn even more about this fundraiser, or to read up on the animals above, along with a few more of their friends, visit Joey's blog!

From the absolute bottom of our hearts, we THANK YOU for helping these animals.  The next time you need a furry friend, please consider getting one from your local shelter or rescue.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Turning Any Worksheet into an Interactive Notebook Activity

Interactive notebooks are all the rage right now.  We all know that that when students interact with learning in various ways (visually, kinesthetically, orally, etc) the information seems to stick with them better.

I have a few interactive notebooks products in my TpT store with pretty easy foldables for students to use.  My interactive notebook philosophy is that if students can quickly assemble the flip book, it is worth the extra two minutes that it takes to cut and glue it into their notebook.  The more complicated the flip book, the more valuable minutes of instruction are used.  Do I really want to spend 10 minutes while the kids cut out a pocket and a bunch of tiny little cards to fit in it and glue it into their notebook only so the pieces get lost a few days later?  Nope...although I will agree that those pockets do look adorable.   I just like to keep it simple while still allowing the students to get that kinesthetic movement in, which they desperately need.  Who wants to be sitting and writing all day?  I sure don't!

Well, one of my customers and Facebook followers graciously shared with me how she uses some of my products, not originally intended to be for interactive notebooks, in her students' interactive notebooks.

What she did was take the reading comprehension pages from my Animals unit, reduced it by 80% on the copy machine, and had her students cut and glue into their science notebooks.  They highlighted the important parts of the reading passage and completed the diagram on the bottom.

Now, trimming the edges to fit this into the notebook and gluing it probably took all of 2 minutes, but it will serve as a great reference to the students throughout their animals unit.  Using this strategy, you could take almost any worksheet you have in your classroom, reduce it, and have students use it in their notebook.

There are so many different ways you use interactive notebooks with your students.  They love them, are engaged, and as a result, have a notebook filled with rich content that will help them throughout the year.  This is just another example of how you can make interactive notebooks with for you if you have limited time.

If you're interested in the unit where the above example was taken from, you can take a look at it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store HERE.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

How New is NEW Math?

New Math.  Parents hate it.  They don't get it.  It's not the way they were taught and they can't understand why learning so many strategies and taking more steps to solve 52-18 actually helps their child.
They say the Common Core standards are too difficult, not age appropriate, and focus on unrealistic math strategies.  I've heard it all through targeted spam on my blog and Facebook fan page by people who oppose Common Core.

A couple of weeks ago, I received this typical message on my Facebook fan page. "NO COMMON CORE!!!!!!!!!!" My usual response to these antagonistic and meritless comments is to ignore, delete, and forget.  However, this time I decided to write a thoughtful response with the goal of investigating this individual’s opposition to the Common Core.  

She responded with concern about federal control of education and “new math,” which created a perfect opportunity for me to educate this individual. We exchanged several respectful comments back and forth about her concerns and my perspective as an elementary teacher using Common Core every day.

Her concerns about “new math” prompted me to reflect on what is really that new about Common Core practices. I had just moved into a new house with my husband and happened to have access to childhood boxes that had been in storage at my mother’s house for years. She happened to have stored my old 3rd grade math journals, particularly exciting to me since I have taught 3rd grade for the past 5 years.

Surely, if I compared my 1993 math journals to what I taught last year, there should be vast differences in the curriculum because of the Common Core Standards, right? However, as I flipped through the pages I found that many assignments remained similar - if not identical. 

This is the same probability lesson I teach every year. In my classroom, I have students color in the blocks on their page to help them visualize what the questions are asking.  We also underline key words such as "sure," "more likely," and "3 times as often." Oftentimes, word problems tend to confuse students with too much information.  By underlining the key words, students can focus in on what is significant. 

Another example is “Scoring 10 Basketball Points.” I will be the first to admit, this is really difficult for students. Parentheses confuse students at first, but they tend to pick it up quickly.  This assignment requires students to dig deeper into parentheses and find multiple ways a basketball team could score to get 10 points.  

Here’s another identical assignment (except for the animal illustrations) that helps students learn to estimate weights of animals.  For example, one question on their student page could be, "Which animal(s) weighs about 3 times as much as an Atlantic Green Turtle."  Students use mental math to find an animal that has a weight similar to their calculation. The Common Core standards encourage students to use mental math.  For example, the third grade Operations and Algebraic Thinking standard 3.OA.D.8 states that children should be able to “Solve two-step word problems using the four operations. Represent these problems using equations with a letter standing for the unknown quantity. Assess the reasonableness of answers using mental computation and estimation strategies including rounding.”   I think most people can agree with the fact that most adults do math mentally, whether it is estimating the cost of a shirt with tax, or figuring out about how much it’ll take to fill up your car with gas.  Young children, many times, rely too much on computing math problems with pencil and paper, or with the help of manipulatives.  Encouraging students to use mental math strategies, in a way that makes sense to them, helps them understand the relationships in the numbers that they are working with. 

My most significant finding was in regards to the supposedly “new” expectation for students to use multiple strategies to solve math problems. On Curriculum Nights, parents are always concerned about students being “forced” to learn “crazy math” strategies. I always tell them I learned the same optional strategies when I was in elementary school and here’s the proof. I was apparently so confident that I decided solving these problems in pen was a good choice.  Yes folks....1993.  It hasn't changed a bit.  So is "New Math" really all that new?  

Nope!  If you look at the bottom of my old math journal, there is a note about the history of lattice multiplication. "New Math" really isn't new math.  It's actually REALLY REALLY OLD MATH. Moreover, this illustrates nicely that the Common Core standards didn't create these methods, since they were obviously being taught in the United States decades ago.  If you're not fond with a particular math strategy, that's perfectly fine, but don't blame the Common Core.

Finally, for those still worried that Common Core requires students to use only use specific methods to solve math problems, I want to reiterate that this is not true. Students are still learning the traditional algorithms and formulas as some of the strategies students can choose to solve problems, demonstrated by the assignment below from the Common Core-aligned math journal. It lists various multiplication problems, but the directions state that the students can choose any algorithm they would like to solve them. Having multiple strategies at their disposal helps students choose which works best in various situations, or what makes them most successful in solving problem.  

I used these pictures in my conversation with the individual who sent me the oppositional message to help her see that this "new math" isn't really all that new.

Her final post to me included, “Ya know you really sound like someone who wants what is best for the children and that is all I want...I hope in the long term it can somehow lead to something better for any and all involved.  I am glad there are educators in our system like yourself. Just these messages we have shared makes me to know you care…I really appreciate you for actually taking the time...My impression of you is "awesome"...if you ever need to bend an ear about anything...I am here for you.”


I actually couldn’t believe it.  Maybe taking a few minutes to interact with this person helped change one individual's perspective.  If we all take a minute to educate just one person on what Common Core actually is, would those against Common Core really still despise it?

To read my post, along with others written by teachers in support of Common Core, you can visit