Spring Breakdown

First day of Student Led Conferences are over and I am happy to report that the parents and children were generally very happy with the results. Alas, I have to admit that Spring is upon us and I am have to adjust my teaching practice to accommodate to my current situation. The students are all lovely children, however I need from time to time pause for off task behavior. I still will value their personalities. I just need to keep my sanity and offer a more brain friendly environment that does not interfere with my teaching philosophy.

The following is a body of thought on how I hope to make the necessary classroom management improvements. I hope they prove helpful:

  • Discussion- It is time for me to have a talk with the students about “March Madness” and how this time of the year brings out the hyperactivity in children. I will talk with them about it each morning for two weeks.
  • Smile (even more) I find that this helps.
  • “Let go of the reins.” The kids are more developed and independent than they were in August. I will give them their deserved space and choice.
  • Meditate at home. I tried to schedule this at school but I am simply too busy. Teachers will understand what I am talking about.
  •  Brain Rules: I will check my copy of Brain Rules by John Medina for tips on coping with stress.
  • Library visits:I will encourage more library visits and errands. ( This tip is from Dr. Michael Thompson) Watch this documentary video!
  • Ukulele/Chess Lessons– I may offer lunchtime uke and chess lessons in return for more engagement and class time focus.
  • Banana dance: Whenever the students are sitting too long, we do the “Banana Dance” Basically, we get up and dance as silly and stupidly as humanly possible. If the kids only knew I stole this idea from Chris Elliot.
  • Brain Breaks: These look encouraging.
  • Be happy. Keep your problems at home.
  • Inspirational Quotes: Last year, we had a kid bring in an  inspirational quote to share then post on the door. Amazing how this renews a sense of community.
  • Future Focused: I plan to constantly talk about their future.
  • Make note of our remaining days together. This will help them stay on task to get the most of their time left together.
  • Plan shorter intervals of teaching, longer intervals of student thinking.
  • Dojo: I usually abhor behavior reward systems but Dojo looks like it might work.
  • Watch Ken Robinson’s video at home: This animation is good as it gets in reminding me of the overwhelming amount of distractions in this generation of kids. I gain new insight each time.
  • Review the class agreements from the beginning of the year and let the kids make new ones.


Teachers; What do you do to combat boredom in the classroom?

Please share your thoughts. I am always looking for new ideas.

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How to Teach Mathematics to Fourth Grade Students

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In two days time, my students will have their first unit math test in geometry. I figured that this is a good time to reflect upon how I teach math in a fourth grade classroom.  I hope it helps.

Pre-assess each unit.  Before starting any learning experience, intentionally pre-assess each skill. Assess each student’s level of understanding and differentiate your instruction from your findings. I try to rearrange my math groups each day according to pre-assessment results.

Differentiate your instruction for each group of students that you teach. I cannot stress this enough. Your students must have a “just right” level of learning for each student, each day. This becomes a habit, in time.

Move it: I begin each year teaching my students the value of seamless transitions. Move your students often in the math class by rotating them to learning centers.

Teach each child each day. Never allow for a student to miss the opportunity to work with you. Structure your lessons so that you have meaningful contact with each student.

Allow the students to use calculators: “Calculators should be in or on students’ desks at all times from kindergarten through high school.”(Van de Walle, 2004)

Converse: Hone your conversation skills so that your students explain their learning in correct common mathematical terms.

Notice student improvement each day and compliment often. I do this regularly by allowing for the students to write and post their big learning for the day.

Assessments are for learning: Each test given to a student is an assessment for understanding. I routinely aid fourth graders in understanding the directions, checking work, and defining terms while they are taking a test.

Distribute all paper assessments to parents. Collect signed assessments and file in a student portfolio. This is a terrific public relations strategy. Evernote helps me immensely in conducting this task.

Post the essential learnings and enduring understanding for each math unit. I generally begin each math lesson reviewing the essential questions from the unit.

Recognize and meaningfully celebrate student thinking.

Name the steps in each algorithm that you teach. Allow for the students to finish your sentences for you. Let the students keep the conversations going.

Post lesson goals and aims, essential questions, and mathematical words to know.

Compete in World Maths Day Competition. This competition is extremely motivating.

Problem of the Week: Here is where I allow for my gifted and talented students to truly engage in higher-level mathematics. My former students reply how much they enjoyed watching me dance when they successfully completed a Problem of the Week.

Pi Day: My students have been known to memorize Pi up to 47 digits. We celebrate each March 14 at 1:59:26 PM. I let the students organize the festivities.

Start a Math Olympiad team: Math Olympiad is a fine program. I have been a PICO for years at my old school. There is time to still sign up. Math Olympiad is highly recommended.

Appreciate the Beauty: Study the math masters and share your love of mathematics with your students. This means so much more than posting a picture or quote from Einstein! Each math idea is an invention. Teach the students that mathematics is forever evolving.

Instructional Videos: If you are going to show them, keep them short and “laser-focused” on the goal at hand. Ratey the Math Cat is perhaps my all time favorite.

Allow for the kids to create presentations for teaching. Share the results on Vimeo, Edmodo,a class twitter account, or a class website.

Store the answers to word problems in an accessible folder and let the kids check their answers themselves. This frees you to more effectively engage.

Read: The Housemaid and the Professor, Fermat’s Last Theorem, and The Man of Numbers. These are amazing books.

Master the interactive whiteboard. It took me four years but I no longer call it the “The StupidBoard”

Teach all the units. Do not allow for any unit to go longer than necessary.

Collaborate with colleagues and ask them for help,regularly. Schedule the lessons so that you both are teaching the same lessons daily. This helps tremendously.

I have a few more ideas and practices, but perhaps for another time.

Have a great year of Mathematics instruction.


Van de Walle, J. A. (2004). Elementary and middle school mathematics: Teaching developmentally. Allyn & Bacon.

Reflections on Instructional Strategies

Essential Questions

As I teach, I try to begin each lesson discussing the essential questions of the particular unit of study. I review what we worked on the previous lesson and talk about the enduring understandings from the unit. This is a habit that is relatively new for me. This practice has evolved as I have gained more experience with the backwards by design approach to education.


I am constantly looking to improve my one-to-one listening skills. I am a strong advocate in actively listening and responding to student inquiries and not unthinkingly following a teachers‘ guide. I am regularly in search of a “just-right” approach to each teaching moment. This takes mental discipline and a class that views itself and our work together as meaningful. I often experiment with new materials and ideas and I on occasion, make mistakes. However, the students seem to appreciate my risk taking and accept my rare lesson ideas that flop.


I assess students daily. I teach with regard and respect to how the human brain acquires information. I differentiate individual math lessons from unit pre assessments. I have learned to gather a plethora of information from thoroughly inspecting student-reading logs. I customarily investigate, then compliment, and then teach, during student-to-teacher conversation.

I habitually start each writing conference by asking, “So, what are you working on today?” I then begin the process of listening, reading and searching for meaningful strategies to improve student writing. With experience, I am becoming adept in improving my time-sensitive conversational skills. I have learned quite a bit from Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray and the late Donald Graves. I am quite grateful for their work. They each have had a profound influence on my life.

I base each teacher-to-student meeting on pre-assessment results. I am quite proud of my work and applications in this approach. Differentiation is a fixation as I progress through this year.

Classroom Management

My classroom management style is one where fun is instrumental to each lesson. At the start of each year, I model and teach good habits to my students and consistently look to help them create a learning community that respects and helps each other learn. I view my daily routine as not merely a “guide on the side” but rather a connector of students to habits of mind. I listen, respond, synthesize, and inquire. I rarely lecture.

Progress Report Narratives

My narrative report card writing focuses on positive habits and traits that my students use. I work exceedingly hard at individualizing my comments in a way that respects my students’ hard work. I craft each sentence in a style that leaves a positive impression. These narratives take relatively one hour per student to complete resulting in a 60-70 hour workweek.

The Experts

I have had many opportunities to learn from Bambi Betts, Robert Marzano, and Grant Wiggins in creating effective assessment tools. I am constantly looking to offer a variety of assessment tools and strategies that work. Bambi Betts has particularly taught me to develop assessment tools that students view as meaningful. I am quite proud of my work in this regard. I strongly believe that all assessment results be shared with the students and parents. I have found that this habit is greatly appreciated and helps me develop trust in my work.

I work hard to intentionally, consistently, and meaningfully reflect on my work and that of my students. I regularly have my students show their goals. I applaud their writings and use them to build meaning in future conversations.


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