Greatest Hits of 2017

The top ten blog posts from Teaching in the Fast lane in 2017!
Another year is coming to an end, and that means it is time for another round-up of all the best blog posts from the year. This post is full of the top ten posts on this blog in 2017 and includes a little bit of everything.

Click on any title to check out the full post!

How to Unlock Your Full Math Class Potential

In this post, I discuss how I structured my math block along with strategies and resources for engaging students at each step. 

Cooperative Learning: The Jigsaw Strategy

All about my absolute favorite cooperative learning strategy for putting students in the driver's seat. This strategy allows students to become the experts on a given subject and incorporate literacy skills along with listening and speaking practice. What more could you want?

10 Ways to Use Test Smash

Are you looking for a strategic way to prep your students for standardized testing? Look no further than test smash! 

This post will link you to the resources as well as show ten ways to use the resource and keep engagement high! 

Can Teachers Be Millionaires?

I never knew that investing could be so easy, but this book walks you through the steps and got me started down the right path for a more confident plan for retirement. 

You can't afford to not read this one! 

The top ten blog posts from Teaching in the Fast lane in 2017! The Magic of Math Stations or Centers

I used to think that math stations or centers were only for primary grades, but I would be very wrong. Read this post for why I changed my mind about math centers and how I managed them in my classroom. 

Small Group Strategies That Work

I struggled to find a routine that would work for my students and me during small group time. 

I always felt like we were wasting time and not getting enough done. That's until I used these strategies.

Cooperative Learning Strategy: Inside Outside Circle

This cooperative learning strategy is great for sharing or brainstorming as well as having students work with many other partners. 

Plus it is no prep!

Happy Teacher Series: Dealing with Stress

As a teacher stress is inevitable, but it is all about how you deal with it. 

Check out this post for a list of actionable tips to deal with stress in a healthy way that will ultimately make you a happier teacher. 

15 Pieces of Advice for New Teachers

Whether you are a new teacher or a veteran, these pieces of advice are a great reminder for all! 

How to Be Unhelpful When Speaking to a Student

It is tempting to fall into these traps when speaking with students, but it is imperative that we don't! 

Check out these useful alternatives for what to do instead. 

Integrating Writing Into Content Areas

Check out these five strategies for integrating writing into any content area. The 2nd one has been the most powerful in my classroom. #integratedwriting #elementarywriting #writing

In the elementary classroom, there is only one way to fit it all in, by integrating subject areas. As a fourth-grade teacher writing was integrated into every subject nearly every day, out of pure necessity, but it also lead to a deeper understanding of the content. Even the most reluctant writers can find success when writing in a content area, and their confidence will flow over into general writing too. 

Why Should We Integrate Writing In Content Areas?

First of all, writing is a life skill. It will continue to benefit our students long after they leave our classrooms. Writing is a tool for communicating thought and will never go out of style, although it may change how it is done. 

Writing also aids in understanding. When you write about a subject you increase your depth of knowledge in the same way you would if you have a conversation. Writing helps us to cement vocabulary we have learned and use it in context. 

Writing also ups student engagement and requires them to think critically about their topic. 

The Benefits of Integrating Writing with Content Areas

There are just not enough hours in the day to teach each subject in solitude, but also why would you want to? When we integrate subjects we accomplish more and go deeper. 

Writing can be used to save time and encourage collaboration. Additionally, it can be used to assess students' learning all while putting them in the position of being an expert. 

Strategies for Integrating Writing with Content Areas

There are many ways to integrate writing, but these are a few of my favorites! Be sure to stick around until the end for a freebie that you and your students are sure to love!

Silent Conversations-

  • Students form partners
  • Each student has their own piece of paper and writing utensil
  • A topic is given
  • Think time is given
  • Students start by writing a question or comment on the topic
  • Students trade papers with their partners
  • Partners respond to one another
  • Continue this process until time is out

Quick Writes-

  • A topic is given
  • Think time is given
  • A timer is set
  • Students write everything they know about the topic
  • Students share their writing
I love to support my students during quick writes by providing them with either a photo as stimuli or content vocabulary for them to use, sometimes both. You can check out resources for photo and vocabulary quick writes here. 

Sticky Note Summaries

Check out these five strategies for integrating writing into any content area. The 2nd one has been the most powerful in my classroom. #integratedwriting #elementarywriting #writing For this strategy, you will need three different sized sticky notes.
  1. Index card sized sticky notes
  2. Regular sized sticky notes
  3. Small page marker sized sticky notes
This strategy is especially great for reviewing content ahead of an assessment, but can also be used to check prior knowledge. 
  • Each student is given one sticky note of each size
  • Topic is given
  • Think time is given
  • Starting with the largest sticky note students write down everything they know about the topic
  • Students share what they wrote
  • Moving to the regular sized sticky note students write as much as they can fit, in normal sized handwriting,  about the topic again
  • Students share what they wrote
  • Finally, students write their best summary of the topic on the smallest sticky note being sure to include all important information
  • Students share their summaries

Draw and Label

Drawing and labeling should absolutely be considered writing and serves a definite purpose in content areas. 
  • Topic is given
  • Think time is given
  • Each student draws a representation of the topic
  • Students label their drawing using content language and vocabulary
  • Students share

Point of View Writing

  • Topic is given
  • Students write a narrative from the point of view of the topic e.g. a piece of sediment, a person on the Oregon Trail...
I love to have my students complete dice simulations that inspire their writing. You can check out dice simulation resources here. 

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3 Practical Ways to Supercharge Your Math Stations in Upper Elementary

Check out these three practical, but powerful ways to supercharge your math stations and make the most of math center time! #mathcenters #math
When you think of math stations or centers what is the first thing you think of? Do you think primary grades? Me too! When it was first suggested to me I use math centers in my 4th-grade classroom I scoffed and didn't think twice about it. Then, a couple weeks later, I was observing in a co-worker's room and was in absolute awe at the power of how her student's used math stations with independence and confidence. 

I had always thought math centers were more of a game and a waste of precious classroom time, but seeing her students using their math vocabulary and strategies with partners really sealed the deal for me. I knew I had to give them a try with my students. 

I left her room ready to go, but I wanted to go in with a game plan. After school, we chatted and she gave me her three secrets to supercharge math stations and make them much more than a game. 

Build a Routine

The first secret to making math stations powerful is to make them part of the classroom routine. 

There is something to be said for novelty, but if you want math centers to be a big part of your math block they have to be permanent. You have to commit to using them on a regular basis, if not daily. 

The power of math stations comes from the repetition and practice. This is the time students move from merely understanding a math topic to mastery. It is important we place value on this time because it is when students develop connections between their learning. 

When you protect the time for math stations and don't sacrifice it your students will see the value you place on it and respect the time as well.

Build in Accountability

In my mind, the difference between a math game and a math station is accountability. 

Math games are fun and are used from time to time in the classroom, but usually only broken out for special occasions or indoor recess when we are trying to sneak in a little bit of math. 

Math centers, on the other hand, are standards-based and targeted at students needs. They are differentiated to meet students where they are and can be used to practice the skill students are currently learning or keep a skill from the past fresh on their minds. 

Check out these three practical, but powerful ways to supercharge your math stations and make the most of math center time! #mathcenters #math
By keeping students accountable for the completion and accuracy of their work you ensure they are putting their best foot forward. 

Accountability can be achieved in many different ways. 

The easiest way to keep students accountable is through recording sheets. I prefer to have students complete a recording sheet for most math stations to show their work and reflect on their thinking. These recording sheets can be collected or saved for a running record of student work on a skill. 

Another way to keep students accountable during math centers is to have students complete a self-reflection afterward. These reflections work as a mini-audit of students' work in which they can write down questions, share their learning, and reflect on how hard they worked. 

If students are working with a partner or small group they can also complete a reflection on how they worked together. 

Set Clear Expectations

As stated before when talking about building math stations into your routine, if you show your students math center time is valued they will value it as well. 

The BEST way to show students you value this time is by setting clear expectations, and the BEST way to set clear expectations with students is to clearly think through the process before bringing it to your students. 

Before you even think about introducing math stations to your class make sure you have a plan for:
  • How you will prep the stations?
  • How will you store stations?
  • How will you organize stations?
  • Do I have all the materials for 
  • How will students be partnered or will they work independently?
  • Where will students work on stations?
  • What will students do if they have a question during stations?
  • How students will clean up their station?
  • What will students do when they complete a station?
  • How long will students work on each station?
  • How will you hold students accountable for their station work?
Once you have an answer for all these questions you are ready to share your expectations with your students. Just remember practice makes perfect, and beginning stations is no exception. 

Once your routine and expectations are set for the year all you do is change the content! 

Where Do I Find Quality Stations?

When looking for math centers for your students focus on quality and content.

A quality math station will have all the things you need and be easy to prep. Due to the pieces making up math centers there will always be a little bit of prep but it can be minimal. Quality math stations also include teacher and student directions as well as recording sheets and answer keys when applicable.

As far as content goes, I prefer to use stations focused on the standard we are learning about currently in class. This allows students to see a skill or standard in multiple ways throughout the unit and lends itself towards mastery.
Check out these three practical, but powerful ways to supercharge your math stations and make the most of math center time! #mathcenters #math
With these things in mind, I created these math stations. Each set of stations has ten complete stations based on one standard complete with student and teacher directions, recording sheets and answer keys when applicable, and content vocabulary. In addition, all of the stations are created entirely in black and white to make printing and prep easy. Just print on colored paper and go!

Check out these stations here:
2nd Grade
3rd Grade
4th Grade
5th Grade

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