As this new school year begins, my two main instructional goals are 1) to increase the use of visuals to aid student understanding of important concepts and 2) to incorporate movement into the classroom as frequently as possible as a catalyst for learning.

This week I am happy to share with you a helpful visual that connects to both of these goals. Exercise powerfully impacts focus, memory, and overall cognitive functioning. In addition, research has shown that exercise actually grows new brain cells. One well-known author has even referred to exercise as "miracle grow for the brain." As teachers, we want children to know and understand the benefits that exercise offers.

In future posts I will share specific ways that we can build more movement into the school day to take advantage of these incredible benefits. I invite you to contact me if you would like to share any effective active learning strategies that you use in your classroom.

Click here if you'd like a copy of this visual.
I'd like to share with you a new teaching visual I created that you can discuss with your students.

I refer to this image as the "Tug-of-War" visual because it is common for children to have two goals in mind while they are working, and these goals sometimes conflict. First, they want to do a great job. Second, they want to get done.

Throughout the year, I emphasize to my students that quality is always the most important priority, and we need to be willing to take our time, focus on the task at hand, and put forth our very best effort if we wish to be successful in school and in life.

I have discussed this "tug-of-war" concept with my class for a couple years, and the idea of two little people wrestling in their minds resonates with children. I'm excited to have this visual to aid student understanding of the points I'm trying to convey, and I hope you find it useful.

If you'd like a copy of the visual, please e-mail me via this website. Just let me know whether you prefer a PDF or a jpeg. Thanks.
I'm starting to become a bit more active on Pinterest, and I just created a board that contains a series of visuals I use in my classroom to help my students gain a stronger understanding of measurement concepts found in the Common Core Math Standards. I use these visuals in conjunction with a set of engaging story problems so that children are learning about measurement in a real-life context. You can find my Pinterest board at: or by clicking here.

I also just made the measurement story problems available as an inexpensive item on my TeachersPayTeachers page. You can find the item at or by clicking here.
In celebration of the San Antonio Spurs victory in the 2014 NBA Finals, I am sharing a short biography of future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan. This humble superstar from the Virgin Islands is both a top athlete and a wonderful role model for children. The biography is taken from my e-book 2-Minute Biographies For Kids, which you can find on amazon. Because of the biography's "riddle format," you can read it aloud to your child, stop right before the final sentence, and see if your child can identify the featured individual.
Though well-known as a basketball player, this athlete began competing as a swimmer following the lead of his two older sisters. By the age of 13, he set records in his hometown of St. Croix in both the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle and was thought to be a solid contender for the 1992 Virgin Island Olympic Swimming Team.
On April 24, 1990, his mother Ione passed away from cancer, one day before he turned 14. He stopped swimming at this time because he didn’t believe it made sense for him to continue. Swimming had been such an important part of his relationship with his mother that when she passed away, he lost his motivation for it.
A short time later, he took up basketball with the help of his brother-in-law and made the freshman team at his high school. He was clumsy, yet patient and eager to learn. He continued to progress as a basketball player throughout high school, but he only received his scholarship to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina after a former Wake Forest player saw him in action and recommended him to Demon Deacon Head Coach Dave Odom.
At Wake Forest his success on the court was due as much to his intelligence, work ethic, and thoughtful approach to the game as it was to his physical talents. He was always a dedicated student. In fact, at age 8 he was so capable that he skipped a grade in school. “I love to think. I just love the inner workings of the mind,” he once said. Coach Odom said he was the best listener he ever coached and felt that the player’s mental approach and regular studying of game tapes were responsible for much of his improvement. This was a player, according to Odom, “who used his brain as much as his body.”    
In only his second season he led Wake Forest to victory over North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference Title game. As a sophomore, he was the National Defensive Player of the Year, First-team All-ACC, and on the All-ACC Tournament team. Jerry West, then the General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, said that he was the best player in college basketball, and many experts thought he should give up his final two years of college to turn pro. The Golden State Warriors General Manager openly said that he would have taken this player with the first overall pick in the draft. Because he enjoyed college life and his studies, he decided to forego millions of dollars to stay in school. He also stayed because before his mother died, she asked him to promise he would go to college and get a good education. It was a promise he took seriously. Both of his parents were very committed to education.
Following an even more impressive junior year, again everyone wondered if he would leave early for the draft. The temptation of the money and the risk of injury made it so that very few top players stayed in school all four years. All he said was, “I’m not going anywhere.” According to author Sean Adams, “He had made it clear that he intended to finish college and get a degree before moving on to the NBA, and that wasn’t up for debate. His reasons were the same they’d been all along.”
In 1997, the San Antonio Spurs selected him with the first pick of the NBA Draft. He became an instant star as the league’s Rookie of the Year. He is the first player in league history to make an All-NBA Team and All-Defensive Team in each of first 13 seasons. He won the NBA MVP award twice, was named to an All-NBA First Team 9 times, played in 14 All-Star games, and led the Spurs to 5 NBA Titles. His Tim Duncan.
Note: Due to a recent technical problem I have been having involving the downloading of the free 8.5 by 11" PDF copy of The Ultimate Mystery Writing Guide for Kids, I will now be sending out copies via e-mail. I am working to have this issue resolved, and I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Simply contact me via this site, and I will send you the PDF right away.

With the PDF copy of the guide, you will be able to complete the lessons on the lines and pages I provide. Plus, you may prefer the page layout of the PDF to that of the e-book. Of course, you can also use your own writing notebook or individual sheets of lined paper to write your mystery.

If you choose to complete the lessons in a writing notebook or on your own paper, you will still need to print out (or at least be able to look at) the following sheets in the PDF:

• The “Three-Dimensional Bone Structure” sheets on pp. 18,19
• The “Mystery Writing Planning Chart” on page 25 and page 29
• The “Story Mountains” on pp. 42,43
• The “Chapter Plan Template” on pp. 46,47
• The “Four-Color Editing Checklist” on page 51
• The “Mystery Writing Reflection Questions” on page 54

Here are some of the blueprints my 4th graders made during our 3-week Dream House Project. The students began by creating a two-dimensional floor plan on a 38 x 24 square grid. They then calculated the area of each room, determined flooring costs, and transferred the floor plan onto this larger blueprint paper. On this paper, the kids measured the angles in their gardens, swimming pools, courts, and walking paths/dirt bike trails. Finally, everyone colored in the various parts of their property.

Saturday, 24 May 2014 00:03

Exemplary Sample of 4th Grade Writing

A 4th grade student of mine recently wrote this paragraph as part of her Writing Workshop fiction story about a girl who showed poor judgment and then faced the consequences once her parents found out what she did. When I first read the paragraph, I was reminded how wonderful it is to work with children who fall in love with reading and make books an important part of their lives. Kids who read for significant amounts of time outside of school advance to higher levels of text that feature complex sentence structure. Over time, enthusiastic readers such as this child will begin to experiment with this type of sentence structure in their own writing. They will experiment with sentences of different lengths, include parenthetical phrases, and purposefully incorporate sentence fragments that add power and drama to their writing. If you have any noteworthy examples of quality student writing that you'd like to share, please feel free to send it along.  
Saturday, 24 May 2014 00:30

Make It, Take It (Teaching Tip #118)

          "Make It, Take It" is a teaching strategy I use during word work and other frequently conducted whole-class activities that have the potential to become monotonous after a while. I adapted this idea from the realm of playground basketball. In organized games at the professional and amateur levels, when a team scores a basket, the other team then gets the ball. Playground games, however, sometimes follow the policy of "make it, take it," in which the team that scores a basket maintains possession of the ball.
          One day, when my students were practicing their editing skills by correcting sentences that I put on the board, the "make it, take it" idea popped into my head, and I decided to try it out, not expecting much of a reaction. After explaining the concept to the class, I was shocked when tons of kids raised their hands to answer the next question as if I was asking who wanted free ice cream.
          The way it works is that when a student answers a question correctly, (s)he gets to answer the next one. If a child makes a mistake, I choose a different student for the next question. Initially, I was worried that the kids might have bruised feelings if they missed a question and didn't get the chance to answer the next one, but this never became an issue.
          Many times, when a new idea is introduced, everyone is excited about it, but then the novelty soon wears off and enthusiasm wanes. After many months, this hasn't yet happened with "make it, take it." Perhaps it's because I have many athletes in my class, and they appreciate any connection to the sports world. Or, maybe the kids like having the chance to earn another chance to participate, and they enjoy their moment in the spotlight. Either way, making this minor change to how I call on students during whole-class learning activities has led to greater engagement, better attention to detail, and improved performance. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Friday, 23 May 2014 00:04

Check Out This Cool Mission Statement

is a mission statement I recently found at a local restaurant called "The Counter." When I first saw it, I knew I wanted to add it to the collection of mission statements I share with my students at the beginning of each school year when we begin writing our class mission statement. Not only is the hamburger shape an attention-getter, but also the statement itself contains some powerful messages that apply to classroom life, such as "create something special," "creative construction," and "life should be about experiences." If you find any strong mission statement examples in your travels, please let me know.
Here are some of the models my students constructed during our 3-week Dream House Project. The students began by creating a two-dimensional floor plan and then calculated the area of each room, determined flooring costs, measured angles, and made many other decisions about the house itself and the items in the backyard.