How To Declutter Your Digital Life In 3 Easy Steps

     Clutter suffocates me. Clutter races my heart but saps my energy. Clutter makes life hard.

The Decluttering Trend

     There's been tons of interest recently in decluttering our homes.  As a nation, we are becoming uncomfortably aware of our obsession with acquiring goods and the stress it brings to our lives.  

     Many authors tout different plans, but the KonMari Method, by Marie Kondo, has been one of the most popular.  Briefly, the method instructs you to pick a category, like clothes, and gather all of those belongings in one spot.  Next, you touch each item and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy in me?” The question has become a bit of an icon, but it is a great compass point.  Those items that spark joy, you keep.  Those that don’t, you acknowledge with gratitude and give away.
     I love the KonMari Method of decluttering because it puts a positive spin on a project that can be seen as drudgery. An urge to clean and organize used to send me to my closet.  I’d look around, think of all the “what if” reasons I should keep different items, pull out three things I didn’t like or couldn’t wear, see no improvement, and give up in discouragement.  Kondo’s method is the exact opposite. You start with joy, proceed with gratitude, and end up surrounded by things you love.

     My husband and I “KonMari-ed” our house in 2015 and it really did change our lives.  It left us with fewer items to manage and clean, but it also left us with a sense of lightness, of being more in control.  It feels good to be surrounded only by things you love.

Why I Decluttered My Digital Life

     In the past six months, I’ve applied Kondo’s method to decluttering my digital life and the results have been just as amazing!  I’m a retired teacher, still involved in teaching and tutoring, and I have a store on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Whether it was personal or professional, I realized that I was feeling irritated and distracted by all of the digital stuff coming at me every day, sometimes every hour.  It was creating anxiety and a feeling of always being behind. 

    I was looking at my Instagram account one evening.  At the time, my one IG account served both my business and personal needs.  I know, not a good system.  I saw that I was following over 4,000 accounts!  It dawned on me that there was no possible way I could genuinely connect with so many people.  And it was my own fault!  In an effort to connect with other educators and entrepreneurs, I had created a digital monster.  That was the night I decided to “KonMari” my digital house!  It has given me the same feeling of lightness and control and has de-stressed me significantly. 

     I didn’t delete any page, account, or subscription out of ill will. I originally connected with each entity because we had something in common. I hoped that we could share and collaborate. However, needs and interests change.  I simply saw that I was not giving or receiving value with many of the people I followed and that my digital “budget” could be better spent in other ways. I believe that reflecting on your digital life is a good exercise for any adult to consider.  Look over your digital house and see where you can remove elements that no longer serve you. Here’s how I did it.

     In a nutshell, you'll follow these three steps:

1. Inventory who you follow or connect with. Consider numbers as well as specific accounts.

2. Reflect with questions such as, "Do I immediately know who/what this account represents?  Do I genuinely connect with this person or page? Do I add value to this person or page?  Do they add value to me?"  If the answer is generally "no", unfollow or unsubscribe.  This step is the most time-consuming, but needn't be overwhelming.  Consider batching or spending 10 minutes a day on the task until you're satisfied with your list.

3. Maintain your new, smaller list by carefully considering before you follow or subscribe to a new account.  Be as certain as possible that the person or subscription will add value to your life.  If you make a mistake, don't hesitate to cancel or unfollow quickly.

How I Decluttered My Digital Life

1. Instagram:  I went to my profile page and clicked on the number of accounts I was following.  It was a LOT – over 4,000!  A list generated with a “Following” button to the right of each account.  I clicked on the button to unfollow the majority of accounts.  Be aware: It took me WEEKS!  Instagram only allows you to unfollow a certain number per day.  You can’t do it too quickly, either, or they see it as a bot or hacker.  They’ll warn you that you’re done for the day.  I kept at it and am now following a more manageable 410 accounts.  I also took the step of creating a personal account – better late than never – and followed friends, family, YouTubers, and other personal interests separately. 
2. Facebook and Messenger:  Between my personal page and my business page, I was following a great many pages covering different topics, including education, politics, food, lifestyle, friends, and family.  To declutter, I didn’t unfollow many friends or family – I’m pretty careful about who I accept as friends, to begin with.  Education pages that didn’t serve a specific need for me, even down to a particular grade level, went first.  Almost all lifestyle and food pages went.  I kept my top 4-5 pages on news, politics, and politicians.

     Next, I made a point to unfollow “experimental” pages when posts popped up in my feed.  I call them experimental because we all know that FB’s algorithm can detect when we reach out to a new subject or location.  It takes a few moments, and I find new ones almost every time I’m on FB, but it’s worth it to me. 

     A final way to reduce your Facebook interactions is to turn off notifications for specific posts.  Click on the bell icon on the upper right to see the notifications of posts you’re engaged with.  When you no longer want to see all of the responses to a particular post, click on the three dots to the right.  A shortlist of options will drop down.  Click on the “Turn off notifications about this post” line. 

A bonus:  As you unfollow pages, your Messenger account will not receive messages from them.

3. Twitter:  Although I have both a personal and a business account, Twitter is not a platform that I use extensively.  I generally keep up with a few educators, politicians, and friends.  A quick glance once a day is all I need to stay in control.  I only follow new accounts if they are extremely interesting or necessary for my work.

4. YouTube:  Man, I love YouTube!  I call it YouTube University (YouTube U.) because you can learn almost anything on this platform.  Again, I was following, and receiving notifications, from about 150 YouTubers.  I carefully curated my list down to 73.  Now, any notification actually “sparks joy” because I know it’s a video I really want to watch!

5. Pinterest:  I didn’t need to do a lot of work on Pinterest and actually didn’t unfollow any pinners.  The platform is a search engine, so I don’t feel I’m actually missing out on anything if I don’t follow up on all notifications. I can just search for what I want.  Also, users can opt-out of notifications, so you don’t have little red numbers telling you to check out a new pin.

6. Email Subscriptions, Blogs, and Newsletters: Holy moly, this was as huge as IG!  I have never been good about deleting used or unwanted emails regularly, so I had over 140,000 emails in my inbox.  Two tasks presented themselves: 1) I searched my inbox by name or topic and deleted thousands of unwanted emails; and 2) I unsubscribed from as many as possible as I went.  It has taken several weeks this summer and it’s an ongoing challenge, but I’m down to fewer than 40,000 emails in my inbox.  That’s success!

7. Phone Apps:  OK, this can take a minute!  Between social media, news, games, work, banking, music, tools, personal interests, and retail, our phones load our days with information!  I took this time to delete any apps that were giving me notifications that I was ignoring, which increased my stress level.  I thought carefully about which apps I was actually using regularly.  I also took the time to consolidate many apps into folders, which is more organized and visually more attractive.

     Those are the major digital platforms and categories that I have decluttered in the past six months. Of course, there are thousands more that we can use!  It has been a learning experience, both personally and technologically.  I’ve learned about which platforms I truly enjoy, the types of information I value, and the amount of information I am comfortable dealing with in a day.  Mostly, though, it has been a joy to reduce the amount of digital clutter in my life!

Moving Forward

     I didn’t go through all of this decluttering just to have it pile back up again! I am being very firm with new digital opportunities. New friends, blogs, subscriptions, platforms, and apps must pass the acid test before I sign on: Do they offer me, or allow me to offer significant value? If not, I pass. It doesn’t mean I don’t acquire new digital relationships, but they are few, far between, and full of value when I do.

     Have you decluttered your physical or digital life lately?  I’d love to hear about how it went for you!
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Why You Need To Teach The Brain Dump As A Test Strategy

     Do you need a great testing strategy to teach your students? Think brain dump. I recently visited an amazing 4th-grade math class and was reminded of the power of this tool.

What is a brain dump?

     A brain dump is a transfer of knowledge and ideas to another storage medium, like paper or a computer document.  Its purpose is to store the material temporarily so we can access it while we use our brainpower to process information.

     To really understand a brain dump, be aware of what it is not.  It is not a:

Stream of consciousness that attempts to record all thoughts and feelings passing through the mind.

Brainstorm, which is an activity, often in a group, that produces new ideas and solutions to problems.

     Brain dumps can be used for academic, professional, or personal purposes, or a mixture.  A real-life situation can be seen as a 4th grader who is handed a geometry quiz.  The student takes a few minutes to “dump” onto a separate sheet of paper things like:

  • the definition of a kite 
  • a sketch of a trapezoid 
  • examples of acute, obtuse, right, and straight angles 
  • concepts that he is concerned he’ll forget or confuse during the quiz  

     He has learned that if he jots down the tricky information to refer to later, his brain is freer to think about the questions in the quiz.  Note: This is not a situation where students make notes outside of class to bring to a quiz, although that is a strategy some teachers offer.  This is only the information that the student can transfer during the assessment period.

     Another real-life situation might be for an overwhelmed high school senior to make an exhaustive list of all of the pre-graduation requirements she must accomplish during the often crazy last semester of school.  It gives her a list for reference as she checks off each task and relieves her worry that she’ll forget something. 

The advantages of a Brain Dump:

     A brain dump can be a powerful tool for students.   Some of the advantages are that a brain dump…
  • Builds confidence: Students can feel that “look how much I know” pride.
  • Reduces stress: If a student can capture info that she fears she’ll forget, that reduces her stress.
  • Organizes learning: Creating schemas, the cognitive structures that we use to organize knowledge and choose behaviors is central to learning.   When we can add to our schemas, learning grows.
  • Can help our EC students: When a child struggles to focus on a task, it can help to have a “parking” place for facts that often get lost while processing the task itself.
  • Is individual and personal: Each brain dump is personal to the child who created it.  The student “dumps” the information that is valuable to her/him, not what a teacher believes is useful. 
  • Is more meaningful:  We tend to buy into products that address our specific needs.
  • Is kid-centric: A child’s brain dump comes from his/her perspective.  Teacher-created materials, while well-meaning, come from an adult’s point of view.
  • Can be used with any medium:  Students can use any type of technology, from computers to paper and pencil.  It can also be used with a scribe.
  • Is created casually: There are no punctuation or grammar rules to follow, no must-have talking points, and neatness doesn’t count.  These are not to be graded!  Kids can relax about not being judged.
  • Can be used as a testing review tool: One of the best uses of a brain dump is during an assessment, whether a shorter quiz, a unit test, or even yearly standardized testing.  For all of the reasons listed above, it can be a powerful tool.

How to Create A Brain Dump

     Teaching students how to create a brain dump can be fun and casual, while still emphasizing its usefulness.  Here’s how:

1. Explain the purpose and advantages of the activity.  Consider using the list above.
2. Explain that the activity isn’t timed, but should only last a few minutes.  The purpose is not to spend all of your quiz time creating a brain dump, but to store information so your brain is freer to process questions.
3. Pick a familiar topic or one you’ve studied recently.
4. Decide how you’ll display as you’re teaching.  Consider using a document camera, a whiteboard, or a giant sticky chart/bulletin board paper.
5. Model as you go. Show all of the different ways you can express on paper what you’ve learned for the topic.  Use as many formats as possible, including sketches, diagrams, lists, computations, definitions, basic facts, and charts.  Talk about why you’re using each format.
6. Let students call out additions to your model.
7. Emphasize that the activity should only take a few minutes.  It shouldn’t take a large part of the assessment period.
8. If students have been writing along with you, let them share their work with a class gallery walk.  
9. If students have been watching you model and teach, they should be getting familiar with the concept. Now, it’s their turn!  Pick another practice topic and turn them loose.

     In the class I visited, the instructions were to "dump as many things as you can remember about math from this year".  That's a tall order, but the kids were up to the challenge!  Here's the brain dump I did with them.

When to Use The Brain Dump

     In a classroom setting, teach students to use a brain dump just before an independent activity, a quiz or test, or as a pre-assessment review.

     As they become more familiar with the process, encourage students to try using this powerful tool in their personal lives.  Challenge them to share with the class.  As it becomes a part of your class language and culture, you can all access it for growth.  I'd love to hear how it works in your class!

     Would you like another powerful tool for your students?  Grab these free Growth Mindset Math Posters!  They make a great, positive display to encourage your math students!

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3 Powerful Fraction Concepts Students Need To Know

     There are so many fraction concepts that elementary students need to master! They need to read, write, model, and reason about fractions. They move on to computations with like denominators, then unlike denominators, followed by multiplication and division. The goal is to be able to apply these skills in real-life situations.

Where Is The Power?

     I've started focusing on three powerful fraction concepts that students need. Students need to clearly understand each concept and be able to explain each one in words and modeling. The power comes when students can integrate the concepts, model all three, and explain the differences between all three at the same time.
Vertical Version


Finding The Power

     When we begin our fraction work, identifying a unit fraction like 1/4, or one out of four pieces, seemed to come relatively easily. We use manipulatives, colored area models, and number lines.

     Next, we look at 4/4, or four out of four pieces. That's the whole one. This was a little tougher because one is usually written as "1" and we tend to neglect pointing out that it can be 3/3, 5/5, 10/10, or any other whole fraction.

     When we're well into fraction studies, we talk about fractions greater than one whole, often called improper fractions. That's what 4/1 looks like - and is - to my improper fraction. What we were forgetting to emphasize was that 4/1 is four whole, individual things: 4 pizzas, 4 books, or 4 days. We all got that 4 means four wholes. It's the format 4/1 that kicked us a little.

     My mistake was in always teaching these three concepts in isolation from each other. Students could show an understanding of each one individually, but comparing even two caused some confusion.

     One day, almost in desperation, I wrote these exact fractions on the board: 1/4,  4/4, and  4/1. I directed students to explain the differences between the three, using pictures, words, area models, or whatever worked for them.

     "Can I use a number line?", one student immediately asked. I answered, "Absolutely", and off we went.

     As I expected, modeling and explaining 1/4 was pretty easy. Most students quickly used one of the area models you see in the first column above.

     Modeling 4/4 made a few pause to think, but most moved on quickly. Yep, it's the whole thing.

     The format of the third fraction, 4/1, slowed down almost everyone. I could almost hear students thinking, "I know that's four separate things...I think..." As I peered over shoulders to see how we were doing, I got a number of those hopeful looks that ask, "Is this right?"

     When we pulled everyone back together to share, I actually saw the relief on students' faces - the same relief  I was feeling! Yes, they knew what each fraction was in isolation and could define and model them. More importantly, I was sure that they knew the differences between the less familiar fractions and how they relate to each other. Whew! What power!
The horizontal version will resonate better with some students.

Why We Should Use This Activity

     I love this no-prep activity because of its low floor and high ceiling. We can repeat it with different fractions from time to time to keep skills sharp. I especially value it because it reaches down and builds foundational math concepts that are essential to student mastery.

     Consider trying this activity with your students. Begin with unit fractions that have smaller denominators, such as 1/3, 3/3, 3/1 or perhaps the example of fourths used in the image above. If you'd like to challenge students, move away from unit fractions and see what happens!

     I'd love to know how working with these three powerful fraction concepts works in your classroom!

See other products that support fractions at Growing Grade By Grade!

We're all in this together!
Pat at Growing Grade By Grade


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Build Powerful Math Logic With A Simple Game: Zip, Zap, Zorp!

     Are you looking for a simple, but powerful, math game that builds math logic skills?  Welcome to Zip, Zap, Zorp!  It originated with the fabulous AIMS Center for Math and Science Education, part of the AIMS Education Foundation.  I recently resurrected it for my 4th grade Math Club.  It's simple, has one quick and easy prep, has a low floor and a high ceiling, and really gets students excited about math!  Most importantly, Zip, Zap, Zorp builds math logic skills.  

Here's The Prep

-You can play this game in pairs.  We played as a large group in order to teach everyone how to play at the same time.
-Begin with two-digit numbers with no repeating digits.  
-Your only prep is to make a display like this one.  Make it once, use it all year!

Poster with explanations of Zip, Zap, Zorp game clues

How To Play Zip, Zap, Zorp:

To begin, choose a secret 2-digit number. Honestly, I have to write mine down to keep track of my responses. Let's use 89 as our example here. Here's how our first round went:

Me: Guess a 2-digit number.

Andy: 45
Me: Zip. No digit is correct. (I repeated the meaning of each clue during the first round as we all learned together.)
Me: Class, let's organize our thinking and keep track of our clues. We definitely know that neither 4 nor 5 are part of my secret number because I "zipped" them.
At this point, I wrote the digits from 0-9 on the board and crossed off the 4 and 5. Some students did the same on paper.
Barbara: 60
Me: Zip. No digit is correct. We can cross off 6 and 0.
Charlie: 28
Me: Zorp. One digit is correct but is in the wrong place.
Davis: 82
Me: Zap. One digit is correct and is in the right place. We know one digit is correct, but we still don't know which one.
Ella: 81
Me: Zap. One digit is correct and in the right place. Class, did you see how Ella "tested" the digit 8? She knows both 8 and 2 might be correct. Her new number got zapped, so she knows 8 is the digit that is correct and in the right place. We can cross off 2.
Franklin: 80
Me: Zap. We still know the 8 is correct. The number is eighty-something.

Students continued to guess numbers in the 80s until they discovered 89 was my secret number.

This is one of the most engaging games we've ever played. It is designed to be played in pairs and I suggest you transition to that as soon as students feel confident with the rules.  Challenge your students by allowing 3- and 4-digit numbers and repeated digits.  I suggest that students get in the habit of writing down their secret number to keep track and to show their partner.  Schedule some time for students to share and discuss strategies that work for them. You'll be amazed at their comments!

Would you like to access some more amazing math and science ideas? Check out what they have to offer, including free samples, at The AIMS Center for Math and Science Education.

I'd love to hear how your class builds math logic skills using Zip, Zap, Zorp! 

If you'd like some more math games, head over to my Growing Grade By Grade store on TpT and check out my "Games" page. Have fun and learn math!

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8 Best Ways To Celebrate Pi Day

Pi Day is one of the most exciting days of the year! It's on March 14 to connect with the most common estimation, 3.14. Even if your grade does not include a math standard for pi, students can still have loads of fun and learning by studying pi.

I taught 5th grade for eighteen years and we studied pi for most of them.  I gathered a nice collection of content and activities that I'd like to share with you. Here are some of my favorite Pi Day activities!

1. Introduce the concept of pi with videos and books.

There are a good number of videos and books that address the concept of pi. Math Antics has a good video.  Cindy Neuschwander's Sir Cumference and The Dragon of Pi has entertained and educated children for years.  As always, preview all videos before showing them to children.

2.  Learn through music.

Singing is one of the best ways to learn any academic content. I compiled a mini songbook of pi-related songs set to familiar tunes. We always began several weeks before the big day, singing and learning. Below are a few favorites.
One of the most amazing pieces was created by musician David Macdonald. He assigned each digit of pi to a note on the piano. The resulting song is both haunting and amazing! Listen to it here

3. Celebrate Albert Einstein's birthday!

Mathematically, it's a coincidence, it really? Einstein's birthday is on March 14, Pi Day! Let your Pi Day celebrations revolve around one of the great mathematicians/scientists of all time!

4. Keep it simple. 

Pi is actually a simple concept. Even third- and fourth-graders can understand the concept if you focus on pi being just an estimation. Here's how:
  1. Define circumference (the distance around and difficult to measure because of the curves) and diameter (the distance across and easy to measure because it's straight) as two measurements of a circle. 
  2. Explain that if we multiply the diameter times 3, we can get a good estimate of the circumference. Period. End of explanation. 
  3. Let students practice, practice, practice measuring the diameters of jar lids, paper circles, mixing bowls, cups, and plates. Multiply by three and they've found the circumference - some very grown-up math! 
  4. Once students have this concept firmly in place, point out that pi is an estimate and we'll never get it exactly, but we can get a little closer by changing that 3 multiplier to 3.14. It's just a little more precise.

5. Hold an optional Digits of Pi Reciting Contest.

We did this year after year and it was a real hit! My all-time winner recited over 100 digits of pi in front of his classmates and made it into the district newsletter! 

Are you interested in holding one in your classroom? Distribute this list to students for study, then use it to keep track as students recite. As a newsletter subscriber, you can download these documents from my FREE RESOURCE LIBRARY.

6. Integrate with English Language Arts.

Teach your students to write Pi Poems. They don't have to be about pi, but poems where each word has the same number of letters as the corresponding digit of pi. The first word would have three letters, the second word would have one letter, the third word four letters, and so on.

You could also write poems where each line has the same number of words as the corresponding digit of pi. The first line would have three words, the second line would have one word, the third line four words, and so on.

7. Delve into Pi Day art!

Model how to make a Pi Day necklace or bracelet. You'll need stringing beads in ten different colors. Assign each color one of the digits from 0 to 9. Students will string the beads in the order of the digits of pi. They will be beautiful!

Take this idea really large and make a paper chain following the same concept. Using ten different colors of construction paper, assign each color one of the digits from 0 to 9. The paper chain will be long and impressive. Hang it in loops down the hall.

Another activity is to design Pi Day T-shirts or buttons. Give students a T-shirt template or round paper and turn them loose! 

8. Have a Pi Day Party!

Food is a fun way to celebrate any math concept! Provide as many round items as possible, such as cupcakes, pies, and cookies. Have students measure for pi before eating. Don't forget to measure plates and cups, too!

Remember, by joining my subscribers, you can have access to my FREE Resource Library with the materials above. 

There are any number of fun, educational Pi Day activities. I'd love to hear about what YOU do! Happy Pi Day!

Let me know how YOUR Pi Day goes!

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9 Easy and Engaging St. Patrick's Day Resources

It helps to be prepared for the next special event at school as we race through the year! I'll admit I've purchased, downloaded, and prepared products just a few minutes before I needed them, but it's not the best way! It's a good feeling to go into school prepared and feeling ready.
For St. Patrick's Day, consider preparing some math materials that engage students and review content. Here's a FREEBIE:

Try these helpful activities and ideas to spice up your classroom for St. Patrick's Day:
Best wishes as in the coming week.

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