Grab Your Free School Year Calendar!

When I was teaching, I searched everywhere to find the perfect calendar for my students, but I just couldn’t find one that worked. I wanted 8 1/2 x 11 monthly portrait-style pages that would fit in a 3-ring binder, and I also wanted large blocks for writing in the dates and events.

Eventually I gave up the search and decided to make my own. To create more space for writing on the weekdays, I made skinnier date blocks on the weekends. It turned out to be exactly what I needed, so I decided to share it with other teachers.  They loved it, too!

The School Year Calendar starts with July of the current year and ends with June of the next year.  The calendar pages are in color, but if you prefer black and white, just change your printer settings to the B&W mode.

Sign up here for your free copy of my School Year Calendar!

Calendar Use Suggestions

After I began using these calendar pages with my students, I realized that they also make great planning tools for creating a thematic unit or planning with others teachers. Throughout the year, I discovered more and more ways to use this calendar until it became almost indispensable! Here’s a list that might help spark some of your own ideas:

  • Instructional Planning
  • Personal Meeting Planner
  • Literature Circle Schedules
  • Attendance Graphing
  • Project Planning and Organization
  • Homework Planner
  • Classroom Event Calendar

Editable School Year Calendar

My free School Year Calendar is a PDF file, and you can’t type on it, nor can you edit it. You can print the pages and write on them, but that’s about it. Fortunately, I do have a PowerPoint version that you can customize and make your own. You can add or remove clipart, change the fonts, type in the calendar blocks, resize the calendar, and so on. My Editable School Year Calendar pack isn’t free, but it’s worth every penny if you want to make changes to the pages before you print them!

Whether you use the free calendar or purchase the editable version, I hope you find the School Year Calendar to be helpful!

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Promoting Kindness in the Classroom through Teambuilding

I’ve been a fan of cooperative learning since I first stepped into a classroom, and I’m convinced that teaching kids how to work with others is one of the best gifts we can give them. Research consistently shows that in order to be successful in any career, we have to know how to get along with others and to work together as a part of a team.

These social skills are important in everyday life, too. People who embrace diversity and who treat others with kindness are far more likely to be happy than those who are rude and who have no tolerance for different perspectives.

Now more than ever, we need to take a stand against bullying and intolerance. We must proactively teach kids how to treat each other with kindness and respect. But we need to do more than teach kids to tolerate diversity, we should teach our students to appreciate each other’s differences and celebrate their uniqueness!

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to foster these character traits in the classroom. Cooperative learning provides a framework for promoting kindness, but teaching kids how to get along with others requires more than just seating them together in teams and telling them to work together. We need to teach specific social skills and do everything in our power to foster a caring classroom community, right from the first day of school. I believe in this point so strongly that I’ve created a whole page on Teaching Resources called How to Create a Caring Classroom. Visit that page to check out the freebies and other resources there which include a free replay of my webinar, How to Launch a Super School Year. I also created an entire page on my site with strategies for teaching social skills in the classroom.

The best place to start promoting kindness is within cooperative learning teams. When students take part in teambuilding activities, they develop stronger bonds with their teammates. As they work with different teams throughout the year, they will eventually connect with all of their classmates and will learn to appreciate everyone’s unique qualities.

Teaching Students How to Give Genuine Compliments

One powerful strategy for fostering appreciation for others is to teach students how to give and receive genuine compliments. Some children might not have any experience at all with praising and complimenting others, so begin the lesson by having your class brainstorm a list of positive statements and words of appreciation.

Remind your students that no one wants to hear empty praise because we know when others are not being sincere. Sometimes it takes a little work to find meaningful ways to praise and compliment each other, but it’s worth the effort. If you’ve introduced growth mindset to your students, remind them that praising someone for being persistent or open to new ideas is more meaningful than telling someone that they are smart or pretty. Here are some sentence starters you might want to introduce:

  • I like the way you….
  • I appreciate it when you….
  • Thanks for…
  • I enjoy working with you because…
  • I admire the way you…
  • What’s special about you is…
  • I’m glad you’re on my team because…

Teambuilding to Promote Classroom Kindness

After you discuss what it means to give a genuine compliment, you’ll need to provide opportunities for your students to practice this skill. Cooperative learning teams are the perfect place for students to test out these strategies in a safe environment. Furthermore, the process of actively looking for positive traits and complimenting others is a powerful teambuilding tool.

One way to do this this is to assign a team task that’s somewhat challenging, such as a STEM activity, and ask your students to practice complimenting each other as they work together. After you introduce the activity, remind your students to look for opportunities to give specific and genuine compliments. Walk around the room as they work, and point out any nice compliments that you hear. For example, stop next to a team and say something like, “I just heard a really nice compliment in this team. Sally complimented Linda for coming up with a creative way to holding the straws together on their puff mobile.”

Team Compliment Cards

Another effective strategy is creating Team Compliment Cards. In this activity, students show appreciation for their teammates by writing compliments on homemade cards. Each person writes his or her name on one card, and all cards are passed around the team. As the cards are passed from student to student, they write compliments about the person who is the “star” of each card. Finally, the cards are returned to their creators, and everyone can read the compliments their teammates have written about them.

To find the full directions, download the Team Compliments Cards Freebie from my TpT store. Several templates are included, or you can have students create their own cards from blank paper. This activity works really well after students have been working with the same team for several weeks, and it’s a great closure activity to do right before you move students to new teams. In fact, this activity is so powerful that after students read their compliment cards, it’s not unusual for some of them to beg me to keep their team together for a few more weeks!

Promoting Kindness in the Classroom

I hope these teambuilding strategies will make it a little easier for you to promote kindness in your classroom. To find additional resources, search TpT using the hashtag #kindnessnation to discover dozens of freebies from TpT sellers who believe that promoting kindness and acceptance of others should be a priority in every classroom. To make this task a little easier, we’ve joined together to provide teachers with ready-to-use resources for fostering a caring classroom community. Enjoy!

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Teachers, Help MrOwl Help YOU!

Wouldn’t it be awesome to find a free tech tool for creating  collections of online resources, photos, and documents all in one place? Look no further! Welcome to MrOwl, a new platform that makes it easy for teachers to search for online resources and save them, upload photos and documents, organize resources by topic, share them with others, and so much more!

I discovered MrOwl last year when the founders, Becky and Arvind Raichur, asked me to review MrOwl and share my feedback about how to make the platform more useful for educators. After reviewing the site, I was so impressed that I wrote a blog review and developed a webinar to introduce MrOwl to educators.

To be clear, MrOwl is a public platform, and it wasn’t specifically designed for educational use. However, it does have loads of unique features that make it especially appealing to teachers. Here are a few of the things you can do with MrOwl:

  • Create topic-based collections of resources called “branches”
  • Make your branches public or private
  • Search for, save, and organize online resources
  • Upload photos and documents to your topic branches
  • Share collections of resources with others
  • Connect and collaborate with others who share your interests

Watch the Replay of the Discover MrOwl Webinar

 One of the best ways to explore the unique features of MrOwl is to watch my webinar for teachers, Discover MrOwl: A Free Tech Tool for Organizing, Sharing, and Collaborating. During the webinar, I explained how to set up your profile and how to use the basic features of the MrOwl platform. But the most important part of the webinar was demonstrating how to use MrOwl in your role as an educational professional and how to use it in your classroom with students.

Teachers, Help MrOwl Help YOU!

One thing that has impressed me about Becky and Arvind is their sincere desire to make MrOwl even more useful for teachers and more appropriate for students. They’re excited about MrOwl’s potential for classroom use, and they’re seeking feedback from educators about how to improve the platform so that it meets YOUR needs. They’d like to add a special MrOwl for Educators FAQ section to their Help menu, but they need help from teachers to make this happen. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Watch the replay of the Discover MrOwl webinarBefore you watch it, print out the Discover MrOwl webinar handouts so you’ll have a place to take notes.
  2. Create a free account on MrOwlWhen you register, keep in mind that your user name will be visible on the site, so choose one that you won’t mind others seeing.
  3. Log on to the MrOwl from a computer and explore the platform. Create a few topic branches and subtopics within those branches. Search for online resources and save them. Upload photos or documents to one of your topic branches. Download the MrOwl smart phone app from Apple iTunes or Google Play, and test out the mobile version of the platform. Find Laura Candler on MrOwl and follow me!
  4. If this is the first you’ve heard about MrOwl, read my original blog review to learn a more about this new technology. Then watch the Discover MrOwl webinar and share your feedback with Becky and Arvind. They really do want to hear from you, because they need YOUR help to make MrOwl an even more amazing resource for educators!
  5. If you have questions or need help with MrOwl, click on the Help menu in the navigation bar to access the help pages. Were you able to find the answers there? If not, make a note of your questions so that you can ask them during the webinar.How do you envision using MrOwl both professionally and in the classroom with your students? What additional features would make MrOwl even better for educators? What information should be included in the MrOwl for Educators FAQ help menu?
  6. How do you envision using MrOwl both professionally and in the classroom with your students? What additional features would make MrOwl even better for educators? What information should be included in the MrOwl for Educators FAQ help menu?

If this is the first you’ve heard about MrOwl, read my original blog review to learn a more about this new technology. Then watch the Discover MrOwl webinar and share your feedback with Becky and Arvind. They really do want to hear from you, because they need YOUR help to make MrOwl an even more amazing resource for educators!


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Discover MrOwl, a Free New Tech Tool Teachers Will Love!

Have you discovered MrOwl? It’s a free, new tech tool you can use to create a personalized Internet experience based on the topics that are important to you. You can easily build, organize, and customize topic “branches” that you share with friends and family. It’s completely free of advertising, too. These features make MrOwl the perfect tool for educators who can use it in the classroom with students and on their own for organizing lesson resources.  You can even use MrOwl to create a free class website!

Using the MrOwl Chrome extension, you can easily save your favorite website links so you know where to find them later. Furthermore, you can upload your own documents and photos to your branches, making it easy to create comprehensive collections of searchable information.

The best part is that MrOwl gets wiser as more people use it. The branches that you build help to shape the MrOwl community “tree,” an ever-growing, searchable collection of web links and resources. These branches are curated by real people in the MrOwl community, not a computer, so they’re free of inappropriate content and organized in a way that makes sense. MrOwl is free of advertising, too, so you aren’t distracted by annoying pop-ups or sidebar ads.

But MrOwl is more than a safe search engine or a handy bookmarking tool; it’s also a unique social media platform that makes it easy to interact with others who share your interests. MrOwl community members can follow other users, message their own followers, and even invite people to collaborate with them on their branches. It truly couldn’t be any simpler! Members can also grab, “heart,” and share branches created by others.

Discover MrOwl in a Free Webinar 

To help teachers get started with MrOwl, I developed a webinar called Discover MrOwl: A Free Tech Tool for Organizing, Sharing, and Collaborating. The live presentation is over, but you can still watch the replay here. MrOwl is brand new, so if you like exploring new tech tools, you’ll love this webinar! MrOwl is a really powerful tool with a lot of cool features for teachers and even more on the way. During the webinar, I explained how to get started setting up a profile, creating topic branches, organizing your content, and collaborating with others. I even explained how to use it to set up a free class website.  When you watch the replay, you’ll meet Becky and Arvind Raichur, the founders of MrOwl, too!

Explore MrOwl on Your Own

To start exploring MrOwl on your own so you can see how it works, click over to my profile page, @laura_candler, and check out some of the branches I’ve created. If the page you see doesn’t look exactly like the one below, it’s probably because you’re not logged in. It’s easy to create a free account, but be sure to choose a user name that you don’t mind being public and visible to others. I recommend using your real name if it’s available, which is why I signed up with @laura_candler. After you log in, return to my profile page and follow me! Then grab branches you like to save them for later and explore MrOwl to find new interests and get inspired!

The MrOwl Backstory

MrOwl is the brainchild of Becky and Arvind Raichur, and their vision dates back almost 20 years to 1999, a time before Google and Pinterest when it was nearly impossible to search the web. Becky and Arvind envisioned making the Internet a better experience for everyone, where it’s easy to organize and curate collections of searchable links, documents and more in one convenient place. Their ultimate goal was to create a connected community curated by real people like you, not a computer. The word “crowdsourcing” wasn’t coined until 2005, but the concept describes their early vision perfectly!

It wasn’t until 2013 that they were able to put together a team to bring MrOwl to life, and it’s taken the team several years to build and test the site. During that time, they’ve added new features that make MrOwl more interactive and easier to personalize. MrOwl began as a web-based platform, but a convenient mobile app was just released so that you can access MrOwl right from your phone or tablet.

Reaching Out to Educators

Now that MrOwl is available to the public, Becky and Arvind are eager to spread the word so that others can benefit from this free tool. They’re especially excited about MrOwl’s potential for classroom use, which is why they reached out to me. They initially just asked me to review the site and offer feedback about how to make it even more useful for teachers. After I spent time on MrOwl, I realized that it’s far more powerful than it appears at first glance, and I knew that I had to share it with others! I was also impressed with Becky and Arvind’s sincere desire to make MrOwl even more useful for teachers and more appropriate for students. They’ve already started working on some new features, such as templates teachers can use to create free class websites, and they’re open to your feedback and suggestions as well.

Join the MrOwl Educators Facebook Group

I’ve also created a Facebook group called MrOwl Educators where teachers can learn about new features and get early access to them. Group members can also ask questions and share their ideas for using MrOwl in the classroom. A third function of the Facebook group will be to seek feedback about how to make MrOwl even better for educators, and this information will be shared with Becky and Arvind. If you’d like to join the MrOwl Educators Facebook group, fill out this Google Doc form and follow the directions on that page to request access.

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Interactive Teaching with Plickers (Free Webinar)

Click HERE to Register for the Webinar Replay

Do you use Plickers in your classroom? If not, it’s definitely worth taking time to check it out!

Plickers is an amazing FREE formative assessment tool that works like handheld response clicker programs, but it’s far cheaper because it doesn’t require expensive clicking devices.

If you’ve heard about Plickers, you might be wondering why everyone is so excited about it, especially if you tried to figure out how to use it on your own. Because Plickers can be a little confusing at first, the best way to learn how it works is to have someone walk you through the set up and explain how to use the program’s features.

If you don’t know anyone who uses Plickers, I’m here to help! I developed a free webinar to show you exactly how to get started and how to use the program to actively engage your students. The live webinar is over, but you can sign up to watch a free replay of Interactive Teaching with Plickers.

One reason I love Plickers, besides the fact that it’s FREE, is that it doesn’t require expensive clicker devices. Instead, this innovative program uses “paper clickers” that you can print for free from the Plickers website. You only need one card per student, and each card has a unique pattern that can be scanned like a QR code with just about any mobile device.

When you’re ready to use Plickers with your students, you’ll display multiple choice questions for the class one at a time. Your students will respond to each question by holding up and turning their cards in one of 4 directions. Next, you’ll scan all the student response cards from the front of the room by pointing your mobile device camera at the class and “sweeping” it around the room. Within moments, data will appear on your device to show who answered the problem correctly and who still needs help. That same data will also be captured in your online Plickers account to review and analyze later. Being able to capture assessment data quickly and easily means you can teach interactively and adapt your instruction to the needs of individual students without having to take home stacks of papers to grade each night!

I learned about Plickers over a year ago, and I loved it right away! I couldn’t believe that something so amazing was FREE! I started sharing information about it on my Teaching Resources page, and every time I did, the post went viral. Dozens of teachers commented on those posts to tell me how much they loved Plickers and about all the interesting things they were doing with the program.

Free Plickers Facebook Group

I was so intrigued by the program that I set up a Facebook group where teachers who were using Plickers can share ideas or get help with the features of the program. Plickers can be used with just about any grade from Kindergarten through college and in almost any subject area, but it was clear from comments on Facebook that elementary teachers use it a bit differently than teachers of older students. As a former elementary teacher, I wanted to know more about how Plickers is being used with K-5 students, so I decided to make those grades the focus of the Facebook group. If you’re interested in joining this group, click over to the K-5 Plickers Facebook group application form, read the details, follow the directions, and sign up.


Free Webinar: Interactive Teaching with Plickers

The more I learned about Plickers, the more I loved it. In fact, I’ve already written two other posts about Plickers to share how it can be used. Plickers 101: Digital Exit Tickets and More was the first post, and I followed that with Plickers 102: Innovative Ways to Use Plickers.

The only problem is that Plickers can be a bit tricky to set up and use, and it’s hard to explain exactly what to do in a blog post. That kind of information is easier to share in a webinar, and that’s why I presented Interactive Teaching with Plickers in February. It’s jam-packed with information including how to set up your account to using innovative strategies to use Plickers interactively.

To get a sneak peek at the webinar content, you can download the free handouts below from my TpT store. These handouts provide an outline to follow during the webinar that many attendees find to be helpful, especially if they want to use the webinar for professional development.

I hope you enjoy the webinar replay. I know you and your students will LOVE Plickers just as much as I do!

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Interactive Whiteboards and Web Tools

Interactive whiteboards are more than just glorified overhead projectors – the interactive tools allow teachers to create lessons that actively engage students in creative ways. They also allow us to use a variety of interactive web 2.0 tools with our students in a way that allows all students to participate actively.

I hope to add more items to this page throughout the year – great links to other websites and my favorite Smartboard files. For now, it’s a somewhat random listing of files that I’ve either created or discovered on the Internet.

Plickers Free Online Assessment Program

Are you using Plickers? It’s a free online program for assessing students, and it’s fun! Here are some resources to check out:

Cool Websites and Applications for Any Computer

BrainPOP Free Videos

  • BrainPOP Free Video Collection – Do you know Tim and Moby? They are the animated characters in all of the BrainPOP videos. Each video is about 5 minutes long, and somehow Tim and Moby are able to teach the essential aspects of almost any concept in that amount of time. My 5th graders loved them! BrainPOP has an entire collection of free resources for each video, too. Unfortunately, many of the videos can only be accessed with a subscription to the site. However, I found this link to all of the FREE BrainPOP videos on the site, and there are actually quite a few. They have a cool iPad app, too. Definitely worth a look.
  • Online Countdown Egg Timer – Egg TimerWhen you click the link, the timer won’t look like the one on the right. But after you enter your time and click start, you’ll see the sand begin to run out. Cool! This website also has other great timers so you can have fun and add variety to your classroom management. You can learn more about these online timers on Corkboard Connections.


Webinar Recording: 5 Amazing Web Tools for Classroom Collaboration

Free - 5 Amazing Web Tools Webinar Recording

  • Stop the Clock Interactive Game – Drag the digital times to match them with the analog clocks. Stop the clock when finished! Can you beat your time?
  • Bang on Time Interactive Game – Read the time below the clock and watch the hands move. When the time on the clock matches the time in word form, stop the clock. Score points for accuracy.

Click to watch the recording of a webinar hosted by Laura Candler featuring five terrific educators and their favorite web tools. Presenters include Joan Young, Paula Naugle, Erin Klein, Suzy Brooks, and Lisa Dabbs.

5 Amazing Web Tools Webinar Recording – This is the full version of the webinar as seen in Blackboard Collaborate. You can’t view this file on a mobile device, but it works great on a computer. You’ll feel like you are right in the webinar room with us in the live session! You’ll be able to view the chat area and navigate back and forth through the session.

More Amazing Web Tools Webinar Resources

Web Tools LiveBinder

Interactive Fraction Bars Computer Application

Interactive Fraction App
Check out this amazing free computer application for manipulating fraction bars! Use the first link to open the program and use it on your computer. The second link has directions and information. The third link is a video demo. Play with this program before you use it with your students.

Smartboard Notebook 10 Files

Polygon Explorations for the Smartboard
Mini Pack: Polygon Explorations for the Smartboard

Over 2 dozen pages of patterns, printables, and teaching strategies to supplement any geometry unit. The Smartboard version includes a unique gallery of all 30 “Poly Shapes” used in the activities.

Click through to the Polygon Explorations Mini Pack page to learn more and preview the materials online.


Note: The files below require Smartboard Notebook 10. A free trial of that program can be downloaded from Some of the activities have directions, but you’ll have to figure out the others on your own. 🙂 You may be able to open them with other types of interactive whiteboard software, but I can’t guarantee that the features will remain the same.

Attention Firefox users! Right click on each file name below to download the file and open it using your Notebook 10 software. Otherwise, you’ll just see gibberish!


Note: If you are looking for The Hat random name picker, I no longer host this file on my site. You can find it on this free download site, but download it at your own risk! Be careful not to download additional stuff that you don’t want along with that file!

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Daily Math Problem Solving and the Common Core

Daily problem solving is a highly effective way to help your students master the Common Core mathematical practice standards. Fortunately, when you have a plan in place, it can also be the easiest way to motivate your students to become proficient problem-solvers.

I’ve always recognized the importance of daily math problem solving, but in the early years of my teaching career, I struggled with how to incorporate this practice into an already-packed curriculum. I finally developed an easy plan that takes just ten or fifteen minutes a day, and this practice actually motivated my students to love solving problems! I called this method the Daily Math Puzzler program, and began sharing the strategies with other educators. Recently, several teachers have asked me if my Daily Math Puzzler program is aligned with the Common Core. The answer is a resounding YES, which is easy to justify when you take a look at how the Common Core Math Standards are organized.

Mathematical Practice Standards

The Common Core Math Standards are divided into “content” and “process” standards. The mathematical practice standards describe “how,” and the content standards describe “what” in math instruction. Much attention has been given to the content standards, so it’s easy to overlook those all-important mathematical practices. Yet those practices are at the heart of good mathematics instruction.

Because it’s easy to forget about the practices, I created the Standards for Mathematical Practices chart shown below to use as a checklist to be sure that you are addressing these important areas throughout the week. Print it out and keep it in your lesson plan book. As you plan each math lesson, review the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice to determine which standards you can incorporate into each lesson.

Daily Math Puzzlers and the Common Core

Each of the four leveled books in the Daily Math Puzzler program includes a variety of word problems integrating different content areas across the various mathematical domains. Because these books are not specific to a particular grade level, it would be impossible to align them with the Common Core Math Content Standards. When students solve problems, they need to integrate content from previous grade levels, so it wouldn’t really make sense to align the books with one grade.

However, the entire Daily Math Puzzler program IS compatible with the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which is the “how” of mathematics instruction. These eight standards can only be addressed by having students solve math problems on a regular basis, use mathematical tools, and discuss their thinking and reasoning with others. If you download the Standards for Mathematical Practices chart above, you’ll see that they range from “Making sense of problems and persevering in solving them,” to “Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.” All eight practices can be integrated into math instruction when you have a daily problem solving program in place.

All four of the Daily Math Puzzler books are included in my Math Problem Solving Bundle, along with Math Mindset Challenges and a Math Problem Solving Webinar. Click here to preview the entire bundle on TpT.

Problem Solving Assessment Freebie

Before you begin a problem solving program, it’s a good idea to assess your students to determine how they solve problems. You’ll find this free Problem Solving Assessment packet to be really helpful because each page of the assessment requires students to show their work. You can also require students to explain their answers in writing if you want to gain a more complete understanding of their thought processes. You can download this freebie when you sign up for my Candler’s Classroom Connections newsletter. Just follow the links in the welcome message to a page called Laura’s Best Freebies.

The Common Core State Standards have raised the bar for all students in mathematics, and incorporating math problems into your instruction on a daily basis is one of the best way to ensure success with word problems.

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Math Mindsets Matter: How Can Teachers Foster a Growth Mindset in Math?

Oh no! I’ve tumbled down into the rabbit hole of growth mindset research, never to be seen again! All kidding aside, the more I learn about growth mindset, the more fascinated I am with this topic, and the more I realize I have yet to learn.

But as fascinated as I am with growth mindset, I’m even more intrigued by the challenge of putting these research findings into practice. In other words…

How can we use the most current brain research to foster a growth mindset in our students… and in ourselves?

Mathematics is arguably the subject where mindset matters the most, especially when you consider how many adults have experienced math anxiety in the past. Take me, for instance. I always excelled in math, but I’ll never forget the horrible experience I had with college calculus. I’ll save that story for another time, but let me just say that it totally shredded my confidence about my ability to learn math!

Despite that experience (or maybe because of it), when I started teaching, I discovered that I have an aptitude for teaching math. I love breaking down complex math skills to make them easier for kids to understand, and I love using creative teaching methods to help all students succeed in math. Now that I’m no longer in the classroom, I enjoy presenting webinars where I can share these strategies with other educators.

Mind-blowing Brain Research About Mistakes and Mindsets

During one of my recent math webinars, a teacher suggested that I read Jo Boaler’s book, Mathematical Mindsets. I had already been planning to develop a webinar about how to foster a growth mindset in math, so I ordered a copy right away. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to read it when it arrived so the book ended up buried on my desk until I noticed it yesterday.

Oh my goodness! Have you ever read a professional development book that was so compelling you wanted to talk about it with anyone who would listen? That’s how I felt when I started reading Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages, and Innovative Teaching. I was hooked from the first page!

All I can say is the book is definitely living up to the premise of that very long title. I thought I had a good grasp on growth mindset research, but after reading just a few pages, I realized that I’ve barely scratched the surface of this topic.

For example, I knew that mistakes should be considered to be a sign of learning rather than as a sign of failure.

But I didn’t know that when we make a mistake, our brain responds physically with increased electrical activity and actually grows a synapse! Neuroscientists discovered this by measuring this electrical brain activity in test subjects they observed while working. This brain response happens even when the person making the mistake doesn’t consciously realize a mistake was made!

This research finding just blows me away. It means that if our brains actually spark and grow when we make a mistake, mistakes should be encouraged rather than viewed as obstacles to overcome! Furthermore, completing too many assignments without making mistakes should be seen as cause for concern because students are not being challenged!

I learned this tidbit about the brain’s response to mistakes in the first few pages of the first chapter of Mathematical Mindsets, and as I continued to read, I encountered page after page of mind-blowing facts and information. That’s when I realized how much I had to learn about the scientific research supporting growth mindset classroom practices.

Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter Webinar (Register HERE)
I must admit that this realization was humbling in light of the fact that I had just scheduled a webinar called Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter to share strategies for motivating kids to love problem solving by fostering a growth mindset.

I decided to reschedule the webinar to give myself time to dig into Mathematical Mindsets a little more before the presentation. I’m really excited about what I’ve been learning, and my brain is just exploding with new ideas and information! I’m also excited to have uncovered a gold mine of information that could potentially have a tremendous impact on mathematics instruction! As a result of this, I’ve completely changed my plans for the webinar and I’m going to take on the role of facilitator rather than an instructor. Let’s think of the webinar as the beginning of a journey we can embark on together to discover ways of rethinking math instruction. We’ll explore some of the myths that educators and parents have about math education, and I’ll provide more information about where to find that goldmine of math mindset resources I mentioned!

As a former upper elementary teacher, I’m particularly interested in how to implement these strategies in grades 3, 4, and 5. I love collaborating with classroom teachers who are implementing innovative strategies to see how these methods actually work in real classrooms. So I’ve decided to create a free Facebook group for upper elementary teachers who want to share math mindset strategies and who want to support each other on this journey. I’m also hoping we can collaborate to develop appropriate “low floor – high ceiling” math tasks for this age range. During the webinar, I’ll explain how to sign up for the Facebook group.

Won’t you join me on my journey to discover how we can empower all students with a mathematical mindset? If you want to accept this challenge, register for my live webinar, Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter. If you read this after the webinar has ended, you can sign up for the replay by visiting the registration page.

Whether or not you sign up for my webinar, I urge you to read Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets. But be forewarned… you’ll need to adopt a growth mindset about making changes to your current instructional program. Implementing new strategies won’t always be easy, and I’m pretty sure you’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way. But, wait… that’s a GOOD thing because mistakes fire up your brain and make it grow!

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Island Conquer: Free Pirate-Themed Math Center Game!

Kids often get confused between area and perimeter, so they need lots of practice with these skills. When I noticed that my 4th graders were struggling with these concepts, I created a math partner game to give them a fun way to practice area and perimeter. They helped me name the game, and it became a favorite in math centers.

Island Conquer involves plotting rectangles on a coordinate grid and then finding the area or perimeter of those shapes. The grid represents the ocean and the rectangles are the islands. At the end of the game, players calculate the total area or perimeter of their islands to find out who won.

In the most recent version of Island Conquer, the players, or pirates, are given a mission to map all the islands in Quadrilateral Bay and to conquer them by correctly calculating their areas or perimeters. At the end of the game, both pirates count their “treasure” by calculating the total area or perimeter of all the islands they have captured. Island Conquer is a terrific review game because both luck and skill are needed to win. Players have to rely on luck when they draw a coordinate card from the deck, but they must correctly plot the island on the map and calculate the area or perimeter in order to capture the island and win.

Island Conquer Area & Perimeter Game Freebie

Click here to request this freebie!

Where to Find Island Conquer

Would you like to use this math game in your classroom? Island Conquer is free for my newsletter subscribers. If you’d like a copy and you’re not a subscriber, request Island Conquer here.  I’ll add you to my email list and send this free game to you.  If you are a current subscriber, look for an email from me with the link to the private page, Laura’s Best Freebies. I hope you find this activity to be a helpful math resource and that your students enjoy Island Conquer as much as mine did!

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Teaching Order of Operations: No-fail Strategies that Work!

Order of operations can be frustrating to teach, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s no question that this is an extremely challenging topic for elementary students. Fortunately, there are loads of strategies for teaching order of operations that are both fun and effective.

One reason kids struggle with this concept is that there are so many rules to learn and follow. Even worse, rules that appear to be simple often prove to be deceptively complex.

For example, most kids can easily remember that multiplication and division are always performed before addition and subtraction, especially after they learn to follow the order described by “PEMDAS.”

However, they tend to get stuck when an equation includes both multiplication AND division. Most kids automatically multiply before dividing, but order of operations tells us to perform the operation that comes first when reading the problem from left to right. No wonder kids find order of operations to be super confusing!

Another reason kids struggle is that even when they understand how to use order of operations correctly, they don’t apply the rules systematically. Because the problems look easy, students try to rely on mental math alone to solve them. This may work with the easy problems, but mental math isn’t effective with more complex problems that include multiple operations, parentheses, exponents.

After watching my students struggle with order of operations, I developed a simple lesson that worked every time. As a result, my students actually remembered the rules and could easily apply them to any problem. I’d like to share these no-fail strategies with you, along with two free order of operations printables you can use to help your students grasp these concepts.

Order of Operations Lesson

The lesson begins with a quick activity to get students thinking about why we need rules for solving equations. This lesson “hook” is followed by an order of operations mini-lesson, a guided practice session, and a fast-paced game that doubles as a formative assessment activity.

To get the most from the activities, each student will need a dry erase board or tablet where they can work out the problems. You’ll also need at least one calculator for the class that uses order of operations correctly. A physical calculator is fine if displayed under a document camera, or you can use an online calculator. Be sure to test the calculator prior to the lesson to be sure it can handle order of operations problems. To find out, enter 1 + 2 x 3 and press the = sign. The correct answer is 7, so if your calculator displays 9 as the answer, it does NOT use order of operations correctly.

1. Lesson Hook: Solve a Not-so-simple Equation   

Before you teach PEMDAS or any other strategy, challenge your students to solve a simple equation such as this one: 3 + 8 x 2 = ?  Ask your students to write the equation on a dry erase board or tablet, and then solve it and show you the answer.

You’re likely to see two different answers, but resist the urge to reveal the correct answer at this point. Most students will say the answer is 22 because they added 3 and 8 and then multiplied the sum by 2. However, who have studied order of operations in the past will say the answer is 19 because they multiplied 8 times 2 and added 3 to the product. Your students might be a bit confused when they notice that some of their classmates have different answers, but they are about to become even more confused!

Tell your students that you’re going to use a calculator to check the answer, and as they watch, enter the problem above. When the calculator displays 19 as the answer, act surprised and say you must have entered the problem wrong. Enter it carefully again, and when you get the same answer, try a different calculator. When you get the same answer yet again, ask your students to pair up with a partner to discuss why the calculator keeps giving the “wrong” answer. After they talk it over for a few minutes, tell them that 19 is actually the correct answer, and that you’re going to teach them some important rules for solving problems that involve more than one operation.

This activity is a great way to start your order of operations lesson because it creates a feeling of “cognitive dissonance,” a state of mind in which we struggle to assimilate new facts that don’t match what we thought we knew about a topic. When students experience cognitive dissonance, they become eager to learn and open to new ideas, so it’s the perfect time to start the actual instruction.

2. Direct Instruction: Introduce Order of Operations

How you introduce order of operations will depend on your students’ readiness and their prior experiences with algebraic concepts. You might want to start by teaching your students how to use parentheses to indicate which part of an equation should be solved first. Write an equation two different ways, keeping the numbers the same but placing the parentheses around different pairs of numbers like this: (5 + 3) x 2 = ? and 5 + (3 x 2) = ?

Show your students how to solve both problems, and point out that even though the numbers used in the equations are the same, the solutions are different. Give your students several more pairs of problems that have the same numbers and the parentheses in different locations. Stop after each problem to discuss the solution and clear up misunderstandings.

Next, display an equation that doesn’t have parentheses, like 15 – 5 x 2 = x. Point out that it’s not clear which part of the problem should be solved first, and as they’ve seen with the previous example, the order in which you perform the operations DOES matter.

Tell your students that mathematicians have agreed upon a set of rules called the “order of operations” that must be followed when solving problems. If your students have already studied exponents, you can teach the acronym PEMDAS which stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction. The phrase “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” will help them remember the order of those letters. If your students haven’t studied exponents, you can substitute the acronym PMDAS and the phrase “Pass My Dad a Sandwich.”

3. Guided Practice: Teaching the Step-by-Step Method for Solving Problems

For the next part of the lesson, you’ll need to download the Order of Operations Freebie shown above. This freebie consists of three pages from Order of Operations Bingo Level 1. Exponents are not mentioned on these pages, and the acronym PMDAS is used instead of PEMDAS.

After using the Order of Operations Review to explain the PMDAS acronym, display a copy of the practice page or give each student a paper copy. Introduce the step-by-step method for evaluating algebraic expressions by explaining the example at the top of the page. Using this strategy, each step is written on a separate line.

Guide your students through the process of solving the 6 practice problems one at a time. Check and discuss the solutions after each problem, and be sure to have them show you their work. If needed, refer to the answer key on page 3  of the freebie for step-by-step solutions.

If you have not taught this step-by step-method of solving order of operations problems, you might be tempted to skip it and let your students use mental math. Most of the problems are so easy that your students may be able to solve them without writing out each step.

However, relying on mental math to solve more challenging problems results in a lot of careless mistakes, so I recommending teaching your students to follow this step-by-step strategy with EVERY problem. If they get in the habit of using this systematic approach, they will be able to solve more complex problems with ease later. Trust me on this!

4. Play an Order of Operations Game

After your students understand how to solve order of operations problems, they’ll need lots of practice while the concepts are fresh in their minds. Games are far more effective for practice than worksheets because they are fast-pace and fun, motivating students to solve dozens of problems in a short time.

If you play the game as a class and discuss the answers after each problem, your students will know within a few round of the game if they are solving the problems correctly. If they aren’t, they will be motivated to ask questions and seek help to improve. Furthermore, many games can serve as formative assessment activities if you walk around while students are solving each problem to observe their work. Without having to administer a formal test, you’ll be able to see who understands the concepts and who needs more help.

Order of Operations Bingo is my favorite activity for practicing this skill because players can’t win without using order of operations correctly. To foster math skill development, ask your students to work out each problem on a dry erase board or tablet, using the step-by-step method. Stop after each problem to discuss each solution before presenting the next task card. Remind your students that they can only cover the answer on their Bingo boards with a chip if they had the correct answer BEFORE you revealed the solution to the class. If you enforce this rule, I can guarantee a huge drop in careless errors after the first round of the game!

5. Review and Practice with Order of Operations Task Cards 

The first four strategies are extremely effective for teaching kids how to use order of operations correctly. However, in order to retain what they’ve learned, your students will need opportunities for more review and practice throughout the year. The Order of Operations Task Cards below will make it for your students keep these skills fresh. You can use the task cards in math centers or for cooperative learning activities like Showdown or Team Scoot. Both sets include images for Plickers, so they can also be used for whole class formative assessment.

Order of Operations Task Cards Bundle from Laura Candler

Differentiating Instruction is Easy

Differentiating instruction is easy because there are two levels of instructional materials, including the task cards, bingo game, and assessments. Level 1 includes basic problems like the ones used in the freebie. The materials for Level 2 have more complex problems and some of the problems include exponents. Both sets of bingo games, task cards, and assessments are included in one cost-saving bundle.If your curriculum includes exponents, the Order of Operations Games and Tests Bundle is your best option. If you use both levels in your classroom, you might want to print the task cards and game materials for each level on different colored card stock to keep them separate.

Order of Operations Games, Task Cards, and Tests Bundle

Classroom-Tested: Teacher and Student Approved

I’ve updated both Order of Operations Bingo games by adding more task cards with problems, along with new game boards to go with those task cards. The original game used a 4 x 4 Bingo grid, but I switched to a 5 x 5 grid to include more numbers for a longer game. I also revised the directions to include more information for teachers about how to use the game as an instructional tool.

After making these changes, I posted a request for volunteers to field test Order of Operations Bingo with their students. Several teachers offered to help, and two of them sent pictures of their students playing the game. I love to see photos of kids using my lessons and activities, and I couldn’t resist sharing a few of them with you!

Fourth grade teacher Christina Ashburn tested Order of Operations Bingo and had her students solve the problems on dry erase boards as described in the lesson. She didn’t have bingo chips, so she laminated the game boards and had her students color over the answers with dry erase markers. I honestly never thought of doing that, but it’s a brilliant idea! For one thing, if kids are solving problems on dry erase boards, their markers should be handy. Also, you don’t have to worry about plastic Bingo chips ending up all over the classroom floor!

Order of Operation Bingo is a fun and effective math game for practicing order of operations skills. #orderofoperations

Fifth grade teacher Sheryl Nicholas also tested the game in her class. After observing her students play Order of Operations Bingo, she discovered an unexpected benefit. Sheryl explained, “My favorite part was how my non-English speakers immediately felt involved in the review. So much lately is ‘drill and test,’ but this made it a lot more interesting for the students. All were engaged in the activity and there was quite a bit of math talk as well as individual practicing of skills.”

After they played the game, Sheryl interviewed her students to get their feedback and shared some of their comments with me. I especially loved reading two comments about having to write out the steps of each problem. One student said, “I liked that you wouldn’t let me do them in my head but made me write the problems on the iPad and do them.” Another student wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about that part of the lesson, stating, “I wish you would have let me do these problems in my head. But then again, I always work too fast so I probably did better since I had to write them down.”

I just laughed when I read that last comment because it’s exactly the sort of thing some of my students would have said! This “no-fail” order of operations lesson is fun for students, and the step-by-step strategies make it highly effective, too. After playing the game, even kids recognize the importance of writing out the steps when solving order of operations problems, whether they like it or not!

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