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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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!


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!



BC17: Connect with Me!

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Blogging Challenge – Phase 2

I have been overwhelmed by the amount of people participating in the beginning of the year Blogging Challenge. If you haven’t had a chance, check out the #BC20 hashtag on Twitter or Facebook. There are so many new and renewed educators who are stepping into the blogosphere to share their experiences and expertise with teaching and learning. I will be rolling out Phase Two of the blogging challenge with a new set of prompts at the end of the month. Many of you are wrapping up the initial twenty posts, so take a short break, respond to the posts that you fellow bloggers are sharing, and go back and read your own blog. You’ve come a long way! I will post the new challenge on January 28.


Thank you for inspiring me!

photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc

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BC16: Classroom Grants

Over the years, I have been fortunate to find many great deals for my classroom and earn grants to increase teaching and learning for me and my students. Here are a few things that I check out….

Donors  ChooseDonors Choose is an amazing website that was set up to enable the public to make donations directly to classrooms across the United States. I’ve been blessed with many funded opportunities from Donors Choose and community partners.  I’ve gotten items like digital cameras, playground equipment, board games, a flatbed scanner, books and novels, math manipulatives, and more. I even recently received a MakerBot 3D printer for my classroom. With Donors Choose, I like to keep my projects between $100 and $300. In fact, every project that I’ve ever shared in that range has been funded! Start small, consider breaking larger projects into smaller components, and fill out that form!

Bright Ideas: Our local energy coop funds education grants for teachers. I’ve recently received word that I received an $1800 grant for an outdoor classroom space, including a weather station. Bright Ideas is a North Carolina “thing” but other agencies around the US surely have similar programs. For Bright Ideas, I’ve found that a thorough idea that ties curriculum and community, and provides resources that can be used year after  year, are a great way to start!

Thrift Stores: I’ve found amazing things for my classroom at local thrift stores, including books for my classroom library. When you tell proprietors that you are a teacher, suddenly new “deals” sometimes come to be. One of my favorite local shops in Wilmington used to give teachers BOGO on books that were already in the $1-$2 range. It was wonderful as I was starting my teaching career.


I also follow Grant Wrangler for ideas and updates on grants for teachers.





Check out my friend Dacia Jones, who is a DEN Star, Educator, and grant writer extraordinaire!


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BC15: My Wish

I’m blessed to be in a classroom where I have so much… I have an interactive whiteboard, lots of books, plenty of school supplies,3 computers, and even a Makerbot 3D printer. Over the years, I’ve been blessed to gain many resources with mini grants from DonorsChoose and Bright Ideas. And, of course, I’ve spent plenty of my own money over the years. My current wish, though, is a bit different than one I’ve ever had before. I *really* want to overhaul my learning space. Last summer, Erin Klein, shared her journey in getting rid of traditional desks in her elementary classroom to develop a comprehensive, inviting, and efficient learning space. She shared more of her ideas here. A re-design like this is my wish! Trips to the Hunt Library on the campus of NC State University definitely inspire me, too!

I’m looking into various other grants, donation options, thrift shops, and more in order to make this a reality.  A few of the things on my list would include…

– couches


– tables (not desks)

– comfortable chairs

– bean bags

– carpets

– sturdy, low level bookshelves

– table and floor lamps

– and everything would have to be mobile and comfy!

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BC12: Homework Debate

HomeworkHomework. Ahhhh… one of the great debates. As a fifth grade teacher, I do  give homework. Because I am self-contained (I teach all subjects to my same core group of students), I am able to keep aware of how much my students are assigned each night. I typically have math and language arts (often integrating science or social studies) assignments each evening. I try  to assign 5-10 math problems and a mixed skill ELA assignment, with the hopes of students not spending more than 45-60 minutes in total on the work.

In class this week, we are studying tall tales and legends. For their homework  this week,  my students are reading an Aztec legend and working with it throughout the week. They have questions, vocabulary, figurative language, and characteristics of the genre to consider with the same, more complex text throughout the week. I like them to have this weekly assignment because it helps them to learn more about time management and spacing things out based on schedules. Some students really space it out so that each night they are doing one particular part of the assignment. Others work their way around their individual schedules, like sports  and church. Fridays, we go over what we’ve learned together. I like this as a model, as it provides ample time for students to spend a lot of time in a tougher passage.

I try  to make sure that I’m not arbitrarily assigning work or that it is too long of an assignment. It’s not perfect though. As a parent, I get both sides of the debate. What are your thoughts? To homework or not to homework?

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