Get Organized To End The Year

Get Organized To End The Year

     Even with testing dates still looming ahead, many teachers are eyeing the end-of-year tasks that have to be done before leaving the classroom for the summer. I always did and really dreaded it. It was a lot of work for little profit. When I realized that I could use this time to not only take care of these tasks, but to give me a head start on the next year, it energized me and changed what and how I did things. Take a look at this list and see if it might help you this year.
1. Plan, put up, and cover your bulletin boards for the new school year. I spent so many hours and days putting up bulletin boards each fall when I should have been working on lesson plans and activities. Walking into a classroom, tearing off old newspapers, and rolling up my sleeves for other tasks was such a feeling of power! I highly recommend that you think about your boards, start cutting out the components, and get those boards up!
2. Let the kids help you! Obviously, this depends on the age of student that you teach, but especially in upper elementary grades, students looooove to help do tasks and chores that I would loooooove for them to help me with! Let them collect and organize text books, write names and numbers into books, sort out the mess that your construction paper has gotten into, clean out cabinets, collect and organize art materials, sharpen pencils (please!), and otherwise tidy your classroom.
 3. Send home papers and portfolios that you kept as soon as you can. Many schools require teachers to keep student work portfolios as evidence for promotion/retention. Send home other graded work whenever you can.
4. All those extra worksheets from the year? Have students sort and divide them, then send home packets with students to keep skills fresh. Parents often appreciate this little extra.
5. Ask kids for suggestions for next year. From the arrangement of the classroom, to routines and procedures, to organizational systems, your students are the ones who use your stuff - see what they think about how the year went.

Want some more suggestions for a successful year-end? Check out these blog posts from my friends Mary at Carrberry Creations and Lisa at All Things Special Ed!
Carrberry Creations
All Things Special Ed
     Best wishes as you wind down your year!
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Pat McFadyen
How To Create Math Fun With Palindromes In 2017!

How To Create Math Fun With Palindromes In 2017!

     Most of know that a palindrome is a word or phrase that is spelled or read the same both forwards and backwards. Kids love to share simple palindromes such as mom, dad, wow, Otto, Anna. Older students have often discovered longer words such as racecar, kayak, level. Keep talking and you'll find phrases such as, "Madam, I'm Adam." And, if you've run out of other examples, pull out the mind-blowing, "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama" on your kids!
     Teachers often make a math connection with palindromes. Numbers that are read the same forward and backward count as palindromes. Go as simply as you wish - even a number such as 55 is technically a palindrome.
     Palindrome fans and lovers of symmetry are always delighted when a day, a week, or even a month contains a forward-backward date. For this year, 2017, July contains several palindromic dates. Unfortunately, most schools are out of session in July, so now is a great time to introduce or review the concept and set kids up with some fun activities to mark the occasion.
     Keeping in mind that these dates are in the American style, using "17" as the year, here are the palindromic dates for 2017:
Create Math Fun Palindromes

     You can also throw in 7-10-2017, using the whole 2017, as another example.
     So, how do you celebrate Palindrome Week? Here are some ideas:
Math Fun Palindromes

Let me know how you prepare and celebrate Palindrome Week, 2017!
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Pat McFadyen
Classroom Games With Surprising Game Pieces

Classroom Games With Surprising Game Pieces

     Teachers are creating and downloading more and more new games that often need pieces to move around a board. It's up to you to provide game pieces for students.
     Here are some ideas I've used over the years that allowed students to play some great board games. If you have parents who like to donate, put out the word and see what they send in. If you ask for specific items like those below, they might appreciate the suggestions.
     Whatever you use, make sure your students are old enough not to put the small pieces into their mouths, ears, noses, etc.
     Teachers are masters of innovation and creativity. What have you used in your classroom?
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Pat McFadyen



     Do you need to harness some of that “Spring Fever” energy in your classroom? Who doesn't?  
     As a veteran teacher, I learned to gather as many quick, fun, low- or no-prep activities as I could to pull out at different times. When we had a few minutes left in class, but not enough time to start something new, when we needed a break from the current lesson, and when we needed a special day focus were all times that I needed an arsenal of activities. The most important thing, however, was that the activities be content-driven, critical-thinking, and/or hands-on. That's a tall order! 
     I've put together some of my best activities in a Spring Freebie for you! Check out this list, then hop over to my TPT store to download the free product.  


Make a list of ways that you used math before school today.
Using only the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4, once each, how many other numbers can you find? Use any operations in any combination. Start by trying to get values of 0, 1, 2, 3, 4. Can you find others? For example, (4+1)-(2+3)=0 and (2x3)-(4+1)=1
Write the words “Spectacular Spring” and see how many words you can generate from the letters. Use them in any order. Examples are: tape, ring, crate
Sit very still (indoors or out-of-doors) and just listen. Make a list of all the sounds that you hear. It’s a fun idea to do this activity twice, once indoors and once out-of-doors and compare your lists.
Alphabet Antics: Write the alphabet down the side of a sheet of paper. Think of one or more words, or a phrase, that relate to a particular theme. Spring words might be A-animals born, B-bees, C-chicks, D-days are longer.
Squiggle Pictures: Every student draws a squiggle on a sheet of paper. Trade papers. The recipient turns his/her squiggle into a Spring picture. Add color and display.
Do you need some writing or math opportunities? Check out these fun, but content-driven activities.

Want to see some more great Spring ideas? 
Check out this freebie from my friend, Mary Carr, at Carrberry Creations! 
 Check out this freebie from my friend, Lisa Caughlin, at All Things Special Ed!
Happy Spring!
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Pat McFadyen
Want Fun and Loving Alternatives To April Fools Day?

Want Fun and Loving Alternatives To April Fools Day?

     I remember my childhood April Fools Days with all sorts of glee. The tricks, pranks, and  "gotchas" were so fun to plan and execute. It was sometimes fun to have a few tricks played on me, as long as it didn't hurt! I didn't even mind when my teacher would innocently begin filling up the board with long homework assignments because my classmates and I would start to audibly gasp and groan and she would quickly begin to laugh with us.
     Fast forward to my first year of teaching. April Fools Day was the worst. I literally hated it. Hate. Ed. It. It was nothing but a day of conflict, hurt feelings, and sometimes even physical fights when tricks went too far. I began to warn my students several days in advance that I didn't allow tricks or pranks and there had better be none in my classroom! Of course, that didn't work well when other teachers in the school did allow them and I looked like the fun sponge.
    I've begun looking for a kinder, gentler version of April Fools Day. While I doubt I'll change the way we observe it on a national scale, I have gathered some ideas that might help if you're looking for a fun, more loving way to get through April 1st each year.

Random Acts of Kindness

     If April Fools Day revolves around playing tricks on others, think about reversing that to performing acts of kindness on people. Without turning the day into Valentine's Day 2.0 (although what's wrong with that?) I suggest you challenge students to think of ways that they could simply be kind to people during the day, either in school or outside school. It can be especially rewarding when acts of kindness are not planned and just "happen". It's been popular the last few years to make displays of random acts of kindness. I used a fellow TPTers heart design one year for Valentine's Day and had a beautiful hallway display. Each heart had one act of kindness written on it and the child's name. It offered lots of opportunities to share and encourage kindness.
     If you're interested, download this Shamrock/Egg Freebie and make a display in preparation for April Fools Day. You could use the day either as a culmination of several weeks of kindness or use it as a kickoff day and conclude it at the end of the month.

 April Foods Day

     That's right. FOODS. I found this idea during a search. It was generated by a radio person named Wes, from Lubbock, Texas. That's all I know about him, but I can really get behind an entire day devoted to food. So how could this play out in the classroom?  
     First of all, be really up front about why you're doing it - to refocus attention from tricks to treats. Then, gather all of the resources you have at your disposal - especially parents who cook - and try to have a special treat on the actual day or even several days leading up to the day. If your curriculum allows, try to tie in specific foods. I'm thinking gardening, life cycles, and ecosystems could help you  lean towards fruits and vegetables. If you're studying dental health, bring in those cookies and cupcakes, then talk about the importance of brushing well.

Focused Bucket Filling

     Filling someone's "bucket" is a popular activity that focuses on giving a specific compliment to a specific person. It's a way of showing appreciation, gratitude, and encouragement. It's a great companion to anti-bullying campaigns, keeping students thinking positively instead of negatively.
     Again, use the Shamrock/Egg Freebie here. Make shamrocks and eggs available to students who want to give a compliment to someone. The shamrock/egg can be delivered in person or anonymously to the recipient. It could also be delivered to a classroom cubbie or mailbox.

     I'd love to hear your thoughts on these alternatives to April Fools Day. Do you do something similar in your classroom?
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Pat McFadyen
How To Improve Your School's Staff Morale

How To Improve Your School's Staff Morale

     How to improve staff morale
     Morale is defined as "the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group". There are few places where morale is more important to the end result than in education. The confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of teachers is directly related to the success of our students. If we want to improve education, we must improve morale.
     Administrators seem to have the most responsibility and the most opportunities toward this end. After all, they are ultimately accountable for performance and they have the final "yea/nay" for any initiatives. I'm not writing this post for administrators, however. For every caring, supportive principal or vice-principal in the biz, it seems you can find one that is not connected to his/her staff or doesn't get that teachers are the suns around which education orbits. Yes, we're here for the kids, to connect, to teach, to care, but without teachers, you don't have a school. Without supported teachers, you're losing valuable, often irretrievable opportunities to give to our students.
     So, I'm writing this for teachers in hopes that you'll glean one or more ways to connect with, heal, and encourage your colleagues and that you will be touched and inspired in return.
     I've divided the suggestions up into 2 sections: 1) Ideas For One Person Or A Small Group and 2) Ideas For A Committee or Large Group. See what resonates with you and seems like it would work for your staff. Maybe you can address specific concerns on your staff. Finally, if you have any ideas that have worked for you, please share in the comments below!

Ideas For One Person Or A Small Group

Consider a seasonal or all-year Secret Pal initiative. 

 Everyone loves a small treat or surprise. It would take a little organization to find those who want to participate and match up pairs, but a Secret Pal can be just the thing to turn around a difficult day or week.

Create a "Staff Shout-Outs" bulletin board. 

This has become very popular of late. It can be called "filling buckets", also. It's extremely inexpensive, easy to create, and everyone can contribute. If a bulletin board is not your thing, consider including shout-outs in a staff email, newsletter, texts, or tweets.

With permission, create a school Suggestion Box.

Everyone likes to be - and needs to be - heard. Even if the suggestions can't be followed, at least the powers-that-be know what the staff is concerned about.

Bring a co-worker a coffee/snack/lunch.

This is always a winner! If you can't get administrators and staff on-board, focus on reaching out to your colleagues by yourself, one at a time.

Ideas For A Committee Or Large Group

Organize a "Warm Fuzzy" project.

This has been popular for decades, but is always heart-warming. I used it in my classroom with my students for years, but it can be used for a staff. Provide one sheet of paper for each staff member. As time allows, other staff members rotate around to each sheet and write one positive, meaningful comment about the person listed at the top. The end result is a full sheet of loving comments for each person! I've know kids that kept theirs for years. So many recipients are amazed at the things that others appreciate about them!

Propose a fun competition.

Some staffs have friendly "Biggest Loser" weight loss competitions. A small amount of money is thrown in the pot and the "biggest loser" takes home the cash! Weigh-ins have to be organized and standardized (no fair some weighing in before lunch and some after), but I've seen it pull groups together. Another fun type of competition is a daily "Where's Waldo?" idea. A small item, such as a stuffed animal, is hidden around campus each day. The first person to find it wins! A huge, goofy medal or award hanging outside a classroom can result in laughs about how hard it was to retrieve the item - and laughter IS the best medicine!

Organize a potluck.

This does take a little doing, but the camaraderie created over appreciating someone's delicious treat can't be duplicated. Keep in mind this can range from a pick-up-and-go brunch to a full-on lunch. Bonus points if you get volunteers to cover classrooms! It can also extend outside school hours and off-campus. Many school staffs have an annual cookout, Christmas party, or end-of-school event. Having a few hours to relax and chat can re-establish relationships and give everyone a needed second wind.

Plan a tour of other classrooms.

I never realized until I participated in a "school tour" how much I enjoyed seeing how my colleagues ran their own classrooms. It changed the feeling tone in our school from a very competitive one to a much more collaborative one. Teachers felt like their learned new ideas from others, like they offered solutions to others, and we came away feeling like we could access each others' expertise if we needed to.

Have your PTA or other group arrange special treats.

Some of the most-appreciated morale-boosters come in the form of things that need large-scale organization and maybe some cash. Having your classroom covered by a volunteer for even half an hour is a winner for any teacher. Spending part of that time getting a professional shoulder massage is even better! PTA members are brilliant at getting local business to donate their services or offer greatly reduced rates.

I hope these ideas get you and your staff started on the path to improved morale. It is so worth it because, in the end, our children benefit.

Want to get some more great ideas on reducing test stress? Check out this post from my friend Mary at Carrberry Creations How To Battle Standardized Testing Stress 

Want some suggestions for keeping yourself more positive? Check out this post from my friend Lisa at All Things Special Ed. Staying Positive In Trying Times 

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Pat McFadyen
Powerful Number Sense: Where's The Math In The Date?

Powerful Number Sense: Where's The Math In The Date?

Number sense math in the date

     As a math teacher, I'm always looking for activities that build number sense. My criteria are simple. The best activities are fun, engaging for a whole class, no-prep, and quick. Sound impossible? Try "Find The Math In The Date". I'll bet you love it as much as I do!
     Every day that I'm in class, I write the day's date at the top of my white board. I generally use the M/D/YY format. However, when we want to "Find The Math In The Date", I quickly change it to MM/DD/YYYY. You'll see why below.
     We use the digits in the date to make any and all mathematical statements that we can. These are usually equations, but can be a number fact that is commonly known or can be proven. The only rules are 1) you can use the digits in any order you wish, and 2) you can only use the digits that are actually in the date.
     We generally spend 2-3 minutes playing, but you can adjust as needed. You can write student contributions on the board as you go, have students come up to write, or just let listen and affirm.
     As soon as I ask, "Where's the math in today's date?" hands start flying up. You might want to require about 30 seconds of thinking time to give everyone a shot.
Number sense math in the date

     Let's see what you might hear on February 25, 2017 or 02/25/2017.
Number sense math in the date game
2 + 5 = 7
7 + 1 = (2 + 2) x 2
2 + 2 + 5 = 2 + 7
5 x 2 = 2 + 1 + 7
25 - 20 = 7 - 2
(We have a 20 to use, but you could also use the first 0 and 2, if needed.)
2 x 5 = 10
 There are 725 students in our school. 
Valentine's Day was 11 days ago. That's 7 + 2 + 2.

     You'll be amazed at the math connections that your students can make! You could adapt this game for classroom use to address your own needs.
  • Have students work on it independently for a few minutes, maybe as a warm-up, giving students even more time to think. 
  • Use it as a center if you're doing center work one day. 
  • Have students use their own birthday as the date. Once they write a good number of equations/facts, they could swap with a partner and share.
     Give this fun, no-prep game a try. I'd love to hear how it works in your classroom. Also, let me know what number sense activities are a hit for you!

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Pat McFadyen
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