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Interactive Math Journal F.A.Q.s

I think it's no secret that I LOVE interactive math journals.  :)  Over the past three years I've blogged about my Interactive Math Journal, I've received quite a few of the same questions.  So, I decided to compile them all, and write a blog post about them.

F.A.Q.s about My Math Journals

Q.How long does it take you to complete an entry?
A.My math blocks are 60 - 70 minutes.  It usually takes a little less than one full block to complete an entry – including the lesson, discussion, and sharing that happens during completion.  I usually have a worksheet or math center (with the skill we covered) on hand for early finishers.  For those working a little slower, I can work with them after the majority of the class have finished.

Q.How often do you do math journals?
A.It usually works out to about once a week, but it really depends on when a new concept is introduced.  We do the math journal entry as an introduction to a concept – delving deeper into the concept with subsequent lessons after.  That way, students can refer to their journals as a reference tool.

Q.Do students keep their other work in their journals?
A.No.  These journals are kept separate from their other class work (with the exception of any other entries I want to add, or when we complete my Concept Posters).  We have a small 1” binder for math with two sections – one for unit work/lessons, and one for skills.  We keep our journals in a pocket within our math binder.

Q.How much modelling do you do with the journals?
A.For the first few entries, I take students through the entire process – modelling everything on the right and left pages.  As students become more comfortable with the process, I start to release some of the responsibility back onto them, starting with the learning goal, and moving on from there.  It takes a little less than 2 months (or 7-8 entries) before they complete the left side of the page completely independently.  I always model the entire right page because I’m teaching the lesson to them at the same time.

Q.What do you do about absent students?
A.I always make the journal alongside students in class during the lesson.  That way, I have a full, complete entry to provide students with if they are absent.  I can then either give the journal to the student to complete at home, or work with them during recess/lunch to get them caught up.

Q.My students struggle with the Reflection part.  What do you recommend?
A.This is difficult for the students at first.  I find that letting students share what they have done for reflections really helps other students generate ideas.  You could even let them brainstorm together.  I have also developed a set of question fans – Math Reflection Fans – that you can use to ask them direct reflection questions.

Q.What kind of glue do you recommend?

A.I highly recommend white glue – I haven’t noticed a particular difference between brands.  We have found that glue sticks will lose their “stick” after time, and the tools will fall out of the resource.  Teach students “just a dot … not a lot” when gluing foldable tools in.

Q.What do you do about students who don’t like to write in math?
A.I’ve always had a very high buy-in with these journals – the students are engaged throughout the process and do complete the required sections.  Of course, some students will always write more than others.  I don’t let that worry me as long as they do complete all sections.  If they haven’t included enough information I show them examples of what I’m looking for, and make note of it on their assessments.  If a student is required to write less because of accommodations or modifications, that is perfectly fine.  They can include point form, record their observations, or meet me for an oral conference.

Q.When do you assess the journals?
A.I do assess informally through observation all the time.  I do a formal assessment (rubric checklist is included) at the end of major units (about every month or so).  When I am ready to assess, I will collect about 5 journals each night over the course of a week so that I’m not overwhelmed with the number. 

Q.Where do you get the questions for examples and proof?
A.I use their textbooks or grade level workbooks for questions for their examples and proof.  That way, even if the concept is a bit of a review for them, the problems they are working with are at grade level for the students.

Q.How can I add more problem-solving to the journals?
A.If your students need more practice with problem-solving, I would add problem-solving questions to the proof each time.  More advanced students/grades are definitely ready for this type of application of knowledge.  If the particular concept is very new, or students are struggling with it, I would keep the proof skill based so they can master the knowledge first.

Q.Why are all the templates blank?
A.I have intentionally left the templates blank so you can modify for your grade level, or differentiate for your students.  The concepts and ideas are covered in many grades, often only varying in the kinds of numbers used.  This way you can adapt for the different levels and abilities within your classroom.

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Interactive Math Journal 2
Because of my split grade, I end up keeping about half of my students every year.  For this reason, I came up with many new ideas for my math journal.  I've also had quite a few requests for different lesson / journal ideas for different concepts.  So, this summer I worked on a "second edition" to my Interactive Math Journal - an add-on pack.  This new resource contains 27 new journal ideas - some are different ways to look at concepts included in the first journal, and some are brand new journal activities.  The resource is provided in PDF format, but I have also included an editable PowerPoint file with all the templates included in the resource so you can adapt them to fit the needs in your classroom.  Click HERE to see my newest resource.  Be sure to check out the preview - I've included two free journal activities for you to try out in your classroom.

I would love for you to comment below and let me know what kinds of math journaling activities your students enjoy to do.




Summary of Learning Anchor Charts

Are you ready for another bright idea?

We all use anchor charts to introduce concepts in class, and leave them up through the teaching as a reference for students.  I still use anchor charts that way, but I've also started to use them to summarize the learning we've done through a unit.  My Summary of Learning anchor charts are cumulative and student led.

The title of the anchor chart is our overall unit (this one was for fractions).  After each lesson, we summarize our learning into one main point or idea.  The students take a minute or two to discuss this with their partner before they offer suggestions to the class. (A great way to tie in summarizing and main idea - integrating our Language Arts learning into math).  When we have agreed on the main idea and how we are going to word it, I write the one point on the chart.

You can see the colored circles around each point.  We call these our "Comprehension Dots".  Green means, "I've got it!",  yellow (or orange) means "I'm getting it - I just need a little more practice", and red means "I found that difficult.  Can we try that again?"   After we write our point on the anchor chart, I ask the class about our comprehension of the concept.  I ask them, "Who thinks today was a green?"  They raise their hands if they agree.  We go through all the options, and then color code our dot according to what the majority of the class thought.  Sometimes, if there was an even split between two colors, we include both colors.

Adding the comprehension dots is a great way for the teacher to quickly see how the students felt about a particular concept, and whether or not it needs to be reviewed again before moving on.  If only a few students felt the concept was difficult, they can be pulled during the next class to review the concept.

We keep this Summary of Learning Anchor Chart up during the whole unit, adding to it after every class.  When the unit is over, the Anchor Chart makes the perfect starting point for review before a summative test or assignment.  Although it only takes a few minutes, it has become a such a valuable tool in the classroom.

If you enjoyed this bright idea, please consider joining me on Facebook or Pinterest for more great ideas!

For more bright ideas from more than 100 different bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic/grade level that interests you.  Thanks for visiting!




What's Under Your Cape? A Book Study Blog-Hop

When my friend, Barbara, published "What's Under Your Cape" this year, I just knew I needed to get a copy right away.  Barbara's blog, The Corner on Character, is one of the most up-lifting, encouraging, and inspiring reads there is.  Through different groups and endeavours, Barbara has become a true friend and I am so honoured to be a part of this book study.


When the sign-up form went up for the book study, I was immediately drawn to Chapter 11 - S is for Self-Discipline.  Home with my three little girls all summer, I think the phrases, "Please show a little more self control" and "Make a better choice" are uttered far too many times a day ... and in different variations ... and sometimes not as nice.  ;)

At the beginning of the second chapter, Barbara links self-discipline to self-control, explaining that as teachers we need to give our students permission to try to new things, sometimes unsuccessfully, so they can learn and grow and become resilient.  Self-discipline happens when "we turn over control and give our students leadership roles and opportunities along with voice and choice."  Self-discipline is necessary to succeed.  Period. This definitely applies to our children at school and at home, so it was quite validating to read that I'm on the right track.

I've been doing a lot of reading about growth mindset this summer, and this ties in so perfectly.  We have to teach our students that they have choice - they can CHOOSE they way they think and respond to challenges in their life, and by doing so, they GROW while building self-discipline.  Stronger actions, stronger reactions, stronger students.  How empowering.  

I saw this anchor chart from Fieldcrest Elementary School earlier this year and fell in love.  I shared it at a PLC meeting, and everyone had the same reaction I did.  This is EXACTLY how I want to empower my students.  We need to teach our students to respond to challenges with this mindset.  Barbara says, "Every time we rescue a child and let or her off the hook, so to speak, they've missed an opportunity for growth."  We can't rescue them - we have to teach them to change their mindset.  It's not easy, but it's worth it.  And that's what self-discipline is all about - it may not be what we want to do at the moment, but it's what we have to do.  "When students are challenged to be self-disciplined, they become problem solvers, decision makers, and critical thinkers."


Self-discipline teaches decision making.  Barbara teaches this decision making through four steps:  Stop, Look, Think, and Decide.
  • Stop for a minute and give yourself a little more thinking time
  • Look at all of your options
  • Think about possible consequences - good and bad
  • Decide with confidence


When our students are empowered to make their own decisions, they begin to fly.  And then they can truly grow into the superheroes they were meant to be.  

You can read more about Barbara's book HERE.  It really is a must-have for every classroom teacher.  
Click through the links below to read other reviews and summaries of this gem.




Heading Back to School with a SALE!

Well, it's that time again.  Back to school.  Sigh.  But, maybe I can make the news a little more bearable.  It's the BIG BACK TO SCHOOL SALE at Teachers Pay Teachers.  Monday, August 4th until Tuesday, August 5th, all of my products will be on sale for 20% off, and when you use the PROMO CODE BTS14, you will receive an additional 10% off at the check-out.

Don't forget to leave feedback for all your previous purchases to earn credits towards your purchases - and stretch those back to school dollars a little more.  :)

Below are some of my absolute favorite classroom resources I've created.  These are tried and true resources I use in my classroom every single day.  Using the resources from the beginning of the year will set both you and your students up for success for the whole year.  You can click on any of the pictures to preview the resource in my store.

I'm getting together with some of my friends to promote the sale.  If you're looking for more resources absolutely perfect for grades 3 - 6, you've got to check out the links below!  Start adding items to your wish list today and save BIG tomorrow!!





Keeping Parents Involved at Home

Lately I've been thinking a lot about how to get parents more involved in the learning that happens at school.

In my board, more and more over the years we have been discouraged from sending home work that is to be assessed.  There has also been a major reduction in homework in general - homework is not something to be assigned for the sake of giving homework - if work is sent home, it is usually something the student didn't complete during class time.  

Now, don't get me wrong - as a parent of three, it's lovely having that home time free of homework most nights.  My kids are quite busy with their extra curricular activities, and we do read nightly at home (along with other learning rich activities).  But, as a teacher, I have noticed an increasing disconnection with parents involved in their students' learning.  Yes, they support the school, and are kept aware of activities and the learning we are doing through newsletters, phone calls, or apps like Remind 101, but they just don't have the same opportunities to get involved in the learning - to actually SEE the learning their students are doing until after the fact when the completed and assessed work is sent home.

I asked my followers on my Facebook Page how they keep parents involved in the learning, and they (as always) had some great suggestions to share.  
  • Send parents links to websites or apps to support students' learning (update regularly to match classroom work).  You can even make your own videos to send home (showme app) (Katie)
  • Have a "Secret Reader".  Parents sign up for a time once a month or so to come in and read to the class, and then do a craft.  It's so neat to have the kids figure out who the reader is using clues from the parent, and it's also pretty amazing to see which book/craft the parent picks.  (Christina)
  • Have a classroom blog or website where the students chat about what they are learning and invite the parents to ask questions and make comments.  Some of the more reluctant students really blossom when their blog post gets comments.  (Carol-Anne)  
  • After class assemblies (twice a year), parents are invited into the class afterwards to take part in topic-related activities with their child for the morning.  (Holly)
  • Use a twitter account that the students post to about their learning for the day (with parent permission first). (Karen)
  • Monthly parent meetings on different school topics.  (Amy)
  • Show parents a minilesson during conferences or on parent night.  (Kathleen)
  • Have students create youtube videos to share with parents.  (Meredith)
  • Challenge students and parents to "beat the teacher score" on online math game websites.  (Alan)
  • Send home Friday folders with all the completed and graded work for the week.  (Stephanie)
  • Family Math nights once a month - have centers and games with food and music.  (Katie)
  • Instead of traditional math homework, send home math games which parents need to play with their children to complete the required homework.  (Ellen)
  • Send home half-sheets for parents of each of the standards or expectations in math.  It has the "I can" statements and example problems on one side, and then the answers and any notes/explanations/steps on the other.  (Eildh)
  • Have a parent discussion question each week that students write in their planner.  During the week, they discussed it with their parent, wrote the response, and parents signed the planner.  (Krista)
  • Send home weekly reflection sheets that the kids write about themselves, their behaviour, and their work.  (Kathleen)
  • Have leadership nights where students share their data notebooks and goals.  (Laura)
  • Have a science kit with fun experience that goes home with a student to complete with a parent.  (Laurie)
  • Setting up online challenges through the class website.  (Marci)
  • Weekly homework sheet that has a current math concept, mini reading log, and quick reading piece with short questions to answer.  Parent participation was encouraged.  It kept parents in the loop and gave students practice with current work.  (Kathy)
  • Phys ed portfolio that is sent home with a family fitness challenge.  (Melissa)
  • Pose a question on the classblog about something learned each week.  Parents check the student responses before they post ... that way they learn about something we learned, and help their children with spelling and grammar.  (Kristen)
  • Send home math extension menu activities and get parents to try them out, too.  You can then have the parents do a reflective note back to the teacher about the experience.  (Melissa)
  • When preparing for tests, have the students teach their parents a lesson/skill from the unit.  The parents write to the teacher, telling what they learned ... and they get to brag about their child as a teacher.  (Lisa)
  • Through the shutterfly blog, you can take pictures of students actually completing the work, and parents can order the pics right through the site.  (Jen)
  • In the Friday journal, there are 3 specific questions about the learning from the week.  Students choose 1 of the questions and write a letter to their parents explaining what they learned.  Parents are supposed to write a short letter back to their child.  (Jennifer)
Thinking about this particular topic led me to create my Math by the Month resource.  Once a month, the corresponding math sheet / poster could be sent home for students to complete with their parents.  To encourage completion, students could be given a small reward, coupon, or entry into a monthly draw if sheets are returned by a certain date.  The posters also include the answers, where applicable (some of the questions are open-ended, or depend on the number of students in the class or number of members in the family).  A parent reflection checklist is also included for the parents to complete alongside the student (if desired).  You can take a peek at this resource by clicking HERE.  Be sure to download the free preview (I have included a free poster for you to try out in your classroom). :)

If you have any other ideas about keeping parents involved with the learning at home, I'd love for you to leave them in a comment below.  :)

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