In the Trenches

Thoughts and Ideas from a Classroom Teacher

BC 2.7: The Struggle

Every day is  a struggle… and that isn’t a bad thing. I’ve spent 15 years in the classroom, and I would be a complete liar if I told you that I have everything figured out. Every child over every year over every curriculum mandate is different, and the differences create the struggle.

Right now, I’m teaching a group of 21 students in my math class that require intensive interventions. We work most of our 90 minute period in small groups. I do have the help of a few additional adults during this time, but I struggle with making it meaningful. I have to make 5th grade curriculum accessible and meaningful for students who are working well below grade level. In fluency groups, we are working on addition and subtraction facts. For nightly homework, students have 3 word problems that are completely on grade level (we are currently working on multiplying fractions) and 4 review/fluency problems. Each week, we take a mini assessment on the skills we’ve been working on, as well as some review skills.

I need guidance from those of you who are masters at growing students from where they are and meeting on grade level targets. What tips can you offer?

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BC 2.6 Snowball Fights

The recent weather across North Carolina, and most of the east coast inspired me to bring out one of my favorite “get out of your seat” strategies … SNOWBALL FIGHTS!


This one is quick and easy. Type (or write) your vocabulary words so there are two words per standard size sheet of paper. Cut the paper in half. On another color paper, I get a kick out of using yellow (heehee), write definitions or sentences that go with each of the words. Cut these in half also. Mix up the words and definitions, and hand out the papers to your students. Enjoy their faces when you tell them to ball up the paper. Explain to the students that you are going to have a snowball fight. When you call time, each student should pick up the nearest snowball, open it, and find its mate of a different color. You can repeat this several times in one session, and the kids love it. FYI, if it’s a nice day, go outside. Snowballs don’t roll under things that way.


This activity works beautifully with vocabulary words, but it’s also great for multiplication facts, math problems, standard form and word form, equivalent fractions, symbols and their meanings, and more. Your students can also make their own snowballs. If you give them two half-sized sheets of paper, they can make up their problem on one side and put the solution on the other.

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BC 2.5: Inspiration

I love a sports analogy and a classic inspirational speech. This video puts some of the greatest all into one montage! Woot!

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BC 2.4: Blogs to Check Out

I’m going to be totally honest, here. I set up the #bc20 Blogging Challenge as a totally selfish endeavor. I identified  that one of my struggles with blogging has been keeping up with ideas and feeling the push  to  write, even after a long day at  work with my students. I set up the schedule of prompts  so that I wouldn’t have to come up with a topic. When I shared it out to a few friends, I had no idea that  others would find it so inspiring. When it turned into its own hashtag on Twitter, I was amazed!

A positively wonderful by-product of this challenge, at least for me, has been discovering others who are blogging and sharing. Those who share on Twitter using the #bc20 hashtag go right into a column in my Hootsuite account. There have been so many great blog posts shared there, and today, I’m going to share a few!

Check out…


Katrina Hall hosts a blog titled Queen of Mathematical HeartsShe  shares amazing ideas for teaching math, so head over and check out some of her  amazing ideas!

Barbara Day keeps up with Day’s Class Notes where she shares tips and tricks from her 4th grade class. Her last post about Harry Potter was a super one!

CJ Seiling is also keeping up with an inspired math blog at The Math Hatter. Despite the fact that the content is so very different from what I teach in my fifth grade classroom, I’m inspired by his passion and enthusiasm.


Find a complete list of others who signed up for the Blogging Challenge HERE!

photo credit: Ѕolo via photopin cc

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BC2.3: Kerpoof & Idioms




We’ve been studying figurative language and idioms in my class over the past weeks. This week, I shared these stories about Joey with my students. They loved the themes of sports and the  themes to  the idioms. I split students into groups, and each group received one of the stories. They had to identify as many idioms from the story as they could, and then they chose 5 to define. Later in the week, the students chose one idiom and illustrated its literal meaning using Kerpoof. The students had a blast creating their presentations, and they’ve enjoyed the idiom gallery that we’ve set up in our hallway.

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DEN Summer Institute

Discovery Education has announced that the Discovery Educator Network is now  accepting applications to attend the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute 2014 (DENSI – pronounced DEN Ess Eye). This years institute will be held July 13 – 18, 2014 at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

I have had the honor and privilege to attend this special event twice in the last four years, once in Boston in 2009 and last year in Burlington, Vermont. There will be a thousand ways to explain how this is a spectacular event and opportunity, but will do it justice. The people I have connected with virtually through the DEN and face-to-face with at summer institutes are not colleagues or co-workers. They are friends. They are family. If you are not truly and deeply. passionate about teaching, learning, and sharing, this is not for you. It’s overwhelming. It’s exciting. It’s exhausting. It’s also a whole lot of fun. If you don’t  like fun, this is definitely not for you.

The competition is serious. The application is rigorous. If you get in and attend, you will think all of it to be the tiniest price to pay.

If you are a DEN Star, you are eligible to apply to attend this special weeklong event. See the links below for more detailed information.

Become a DEN Star (Make sure you take 3 minutes to view the Getting To Know The DEN video. My DEN friends share their passion.)

Apply to DENSI2014

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BC2.2: Communication and Remind 101

This is the first year  that I have consistently used Remind 101 with my classes, and I have to say that I love it. I send out project reminders, important dates, and more. Most recently, it’s been a great way to send out information of early closings and delays to my students’ families. When an elementary school closes early due to inclement weather, the phones immediately start jamming with teachers trying to reach parents and parents trying to reach teachers. With Remind 101, I love that I can just log into the website and send the text directly from the web. My parents have expressed their gratitude in knowing what is happening in such a quick manner! If you aren’t using Remind 101, check it out today!

In just a few seconds, set up a class distribution/messaging list that you can send as a text message from your computer. You can also easily set up different lists for different classes. Quickly remind students of homework assignments and due dates, share information and reminders with parents, and even send out notes of emergency delays or early releases without having to fight with the busy school phone lines. The messages will be coming straight from your online Remind 101 account, not your personal phone, so you eliminate sharing that personal information. By the way, it’s free!

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BC2.1: About Me

I often forget to update my About Me page, and it’s a landing place for people to find out more about me. So…. the first challenge of the next phase of the 20 Day Blogging Challenge is  to update our About Me pages. Head on over and see what I’ve done with the place!


BC20: ReadWorks

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I was recently working on developing a Post Test for an English Language Arts unit I’m writing. I  wanted texts that are on grade level with question sets that I  could easily dissect to determine students’ mastery of sequencing, explicit detail, and vocabulary in context. ReadWorks came to my rescue. I  love how easy it is to find high quality texts that meet a variety of needs, whether for an integrated content piece, differentiated texts, or specific skills. Best of all, it’s free!

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Blogging Challenge – Phase Two

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Here it is, phase two of the Blogging Challenge for 2014. If you would like the Word form, you can get it from Google Docs. Feel free to modify, but I do ask that you give me credit for the original idea and share your modifications. Part of the goal of this project is to increase sharing and collaboration among educators. If you are a librarian or technology facilitator or math coach, your posts will help others so much!


Thank you again for sharing and inspiring me, and others!