Monthly Archives: March 2015

Author Day!

We were so excited to have author Justin Matott at our school today. IMG_2313 FullSizeRender

We’ve had him in before and he is just hilarious and really gets the kids excited about storytelling, writing, imagining, and being creative. FullSizeRender-3

He did an assembly for us. He tells silly stories and has the kids and the teachers laughing so hard. He talked about his hairy big brother and his narcoleptic cat. He does crazy accents, sound effects, and voices. Then he got serious and told some great stories from his childhood and how he was bullied when he was younger. The kids were completely engaged and clinging to his every word. He told them how he overcame the bullies by using humor. He talked about good character and how things would have been so different of kids of character had stood up to the bullies.


He also does writing workshops for us in smaller groups. My class wrote a ridiculous story with him about a green blob with six legs names Um, a tiny pink banana names Bananaman, and a nerdy girl dj who didn’t blink named Whatever. They were all out chasing Big Foot in the Arctic. He went through his whole writing process with us.

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It has been a super great day. If you are looking for a great writing experience, I highly recommend getting Justin to come to your school. You can view his website here. 

From all of us at PRA,  Thanks, Justin! 🙂


Teaching kids to do my job for me


Guys, I am SUPER excited about this math project I have my kids working on right now. The longest math unit we teach in third grade is multiplication and division. It’s broken into two units: unit 3 is focusing on multiplication and division of 0-5s, and unit 4 is 6-10s. After the first year of teaching multiplication for like 3 straight months, we decided to rearrange the math units to do unit 3 towards the beginning of the year and unit 4 before spring break to split it up a bit. I teach the accelerated math class and my kids are bored of multiplication before we hit the end of unit 3. So I decided to do something about that this year. I taught unit 3 like usual, but when we got to unit 4…

I’m having the students teach everything! We aren’t technically learning anything new in unit 4, it’s just more multiplication practice. I’ve really been trying to promote leadership among my students, especially my accelerated math kids, and this seemed like a great way to do that. I’m going to foster that leadership potential like crazy 😉

So I wasn’t about to throw them in deep water without a life jacket, so I did lots of scaffolding. I started by copying my teacher guide for every lesson in this unit. I also create two basic Math Lesson Plan Templates they could use if they wanted, but they had the ability to tweak them and pretty much do anything they wanted (within reason.) Not all my students are brave or loud enough to stand up in front of the whole class and teach a lesson, but we discussed several different structures they could use for their lesson that might cater to them better. Some students are planning to do whole group instruction, but many of my students are planning to do centers. I do centers in my math class often (I wrote a post about it you can read here) and for my more shy kids, teaching a group of 5 kids is much more appealing than 25 all at once.

Next, I had the kids get into partners of their choosing. Then I asked if anyone wanted to go first (better to have a volunteer for that.) Then every other lesson was randomly drawn out of a hat.

This was a very fly by the seat of my pants kind of project, so as new things popped into my head I kept stopping the kids to give them new ideas and parameters. I had to do a little intervening: there was a group who planed to do a whole day of math games that did not include their topic at all, so I talked to the whole class about how they needed a learning target to guide their instruction. I had a group who just wanted to do a giant packet of worksheets, which would not have gone over well. I had another group try to plan like 12 different activities and four hours of math class. These are all things I expect from my third graders, which is why this project, in it’s entirety, is a great teachable moment.

I really encouraged them to be creative. I didn’t want them to do the same old stuff we do in math all the time.  I told them to look for games and videos and things like that, and to try to stay away from worksheets. I also encouraged them to include some sort of challenge question or writing question where they have to explain their answers.

After all these instructions I gave them a little bit of time in class every day to work with their partner on lesson planning. I also planned a time every week to have a lesson planning meeting with all the students that would be teaching the following week to check in and see what they were planning and if they needed any resources from me.

At our school we have two different awards we give out to teachers at staff meeting every month: the Bright Idea award and the It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time award. I really hope this project falls into the first category. So far I have only introduced the project and had my first planning meeting, but my first group of student-teachers is going on Monday, so we will see how this goes!

Anyone ever try something like this before? Any ideas or suggestions for me? 

“It’s Not Fair!”

When kids come to me and say “it’s not fair” my response, in the nicest possible way, is “life’s not fair.”

I just added a new chair to my classroom, it’s a teacher rolling chair. And I already hear kids saying “It’s not fair because Billy has gotten to sit there twice and I haven’t gotten to sit there at all.” They are right. It isn’t fair. Because my classroom is not fair. The only way my classroom would be fair would be to get back all the desks and chairs. Then every students gets a chair and a desk and it’s fair. But that isn’t what kids want.

I’ve determined that when students say “It’s not fair” what they mean is “it’s not what I want” or “I didn’t get my way.”

The best way I can think of to work with this “its not fair” phenomena is to continue to talk to my kids about how our classroom is a community and we want to work together and help each other. So if I get to sit in the new rolling chair today, I should be considerate of my classmates and not sit there tomorrow. This is definitely developmentally advanced for my third graders, but it is a necessary life skill that I hope to at least plant a seed of.


My students learn early on that my classroom is not fair. And that unfairness is in their best interest. In my classroom, fair isn’t everyone getting the same thing. Fair is everyone getting what they need in order to be successful. This unfair concept also applies to my students with special needs or on plans. I don’t want them to be embarrassed that they need a test read aloud to them, or to get bombarded with questions from other kids about why they get to use an iPad and nobody else does, or if they have to leave the room to see a specialist.

We do not do this perfectly by any means, but my kids are 8, and that’s okay. We’re working on it.

This is a great illustration to use with the kids to explain this topic.

87208cc1ddea9088f9c2fbfcdb64872eHere are some more articles about this:

Fair isn’t Equal: 7 Classroom Tips  

The Problem with It’s Not Fair 

How to Prepare Your Children for an Unfair Future