Time to Look at What's Working & Not Working

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In about 3 weeks, the first trimester is ending so I've decided to examine my classroom, my instruction, and my students to see what's working and not working so far.

Here's what's working and not working so far!

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Integration of Reading, Research, Writing and Technology

I am very happy so far with combining my writing time block with my content area time block.  Why did I do this?  For many reasons.  In the Language Arts Common Core State Standards for grade 3 (and grade 4 and 5 as well), there is a standard that seems to get little notice but is key to integrating the learning in a classroom:  W.3.7.  In this standard, students are expected to "Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic."  

Integrating Research, Writing and Technology

Now, if you combine this standard with some of the other standards for writing (such as using digital resources, taking notes, writing expository text, etc.), you can get more bang for your buck!  Then layer it with a social studies or science unit and you have more integration.  Because I'm in a 1:1 classroom with Chrome Books for each student, I've also integrated technology.  I've developed Google Slide templates and Google Slides Interactive Digital Notebooks for the students to use with the above-mentioned standards.  From one project, I can assess many standards, different curricular areas, and have grades for the report card.  I think that integrating writing with the content areas has not only motivated my students to write but to use models that they see in their research to write better.  


I've used ClassDojo.com now for the past 3 years.  The first year it was not very successful because I relied solely on that and not a behavior clip chart.  The second year, I combined ClassDojo with a behavior clip chart and individual behavior charts that each student filled out daily.  On Fridays, the student took home the individual behavior chart and had parents review and sign it to bring back on Monday.  My only problem last year was that I had about 9 out of 26 parents who I could NEVER get to sign up for ClassDojo.  That and the fact that their children would "lose" or misplace their behavior charts made for a long year.  

ClassDojo and Behavior Charts

This year, I have all but 2 parents signed up and it is working much better.  I also did something new. Each day, I award 1 ClassDojo point to each student who ends up on Green for the day, 2 points for Blue, 3 points for Orange and 4 points for Pink.  I also deduct points for students on Yellow, Purple, and Red.  That has really increased the effectiveness because no one wants to lose points.  In my class, once you've reached 25 points, you can visit my treasure box!  I still have other ways of awarding points for being responsible, being respectful and being safe (our 3 school and class rules).

RSP Students

For some reason, this year my grade level has the most RSP students, including 3 who are in my classroom.  So far, they are doing fantastic!  In California, if there are enough Special Education students (Speech, RSP, SDC) students in your school or district, they qualify as a subgroup that must be watched and monitored on the CASSPP, or California's version of the SBAC.  I am confident that this year, these RSP students will show significant progress to score well on the SBAC.  They are getting a lot of extra help during the day from the RSP teacher (pull out in the afternoon), small group instruction during RtI, and working with an interventionist on an as needed basis for math.  All that, and GREAT parent support means that these students really are starting to put it all together.

What's NOT Working

Math Instruction!

This year, I have a more challenging group when it comes to math instruction.  I have a core group of about 8 - 10 students (1/3 of my class!) that just does not do well on assessments.  During math instruction, I have been monitoring their progress and they appear to get it during instruction.  But then they take the chapter test and fail...and I mean fail with scores below 50%!  In the past, we used to group the kids by current achievement level in math.  So those students who struggled in math would be in a smaller group going at a slightly slower pace with more appropriate activities, while those who needed to be challenged were.  We are no longer allowed to do this (long story that is nothing but bureaucratic education code).  The grouping that we used allowed us to tailor math instruction to a smaller range of student achievement.  We saw some very good results from this format.  The groups were also fluid, so it allowed for students to move when achievement decreased or increased.

Time to Look at What's Working and Not Working

But now we are each left to teach to a wide range of abilities and achievement in our classes.  To meet the needs of all my students, I use hands-on instruction, anchor charts, direct instruction, guided inquiry, etc.  But the reality for those 8 - 10 students is that it is not enough!  So now I'm trying to reconfigure my math instruction to target just those 8 - 10 students with small group follow-up with me, partner work and/or using our interventionist to pull out the really needy students for some one on one or small group tutoring.

Parental Involvement

For the first time in maybe 10 years, I had two parents who I did not hold parent-teacher conferences to go over their child's progress.  I scheduled and reschedules their conferences.  I even let the parents choose their times!  But both were no shows.  Stood up both times by both parents.  This is very frustrating because both of these students are below grade level.  Both are capable students, who with enough of the right kind of parental support would be on grade level.  In the meantime, I have written up a summary of what I would have told the parents at the conference.  I'll be sending this summary with the progress report and assessments home in the Parent Communication Folder that goes home on Thursdays.  But, I will have to try again before report cards to reach out to these parents one more time to I try and schedule a face to face meeting.  I'm also sure I will have to schedule more parent conferences with these two parents in late January for the At-Risk student conferences.  Let's hope they show up this time!

Phantom English Language Learners

In California, the only way to identify English Langauge Learners is when the parent fills out a Home Language Survey at enrollment.  Many parents, for whatever reason, fill it out incorrectly on purpose stating that the only language spoken at home is English when that is not true.  Then these children are never identified as English Language Learners.  They don't receive English Language Development that they need desperately.  Instead, they are just mainstreamed.  When that happens as a teacher I sometimes forget and in the middle of a lesson I realize that they are just not understanding because of limited English vocabulary.  The state of California is looking at English Language Development differently now, and the new focus is to make EVERY lesson have a language focus so that English Language Development occurs all day long.  But until I receive that training, I am relying on what I've been trained to do as a certificated bilingual teacher.  

Time to Look at What's Working and Not Working

As a certificated bilingual teacher and I try to use as many strategies as I can to shelter the instruction and make input comprehensible.  But in the end, if these students had been properly identified, they would be receiving even more targeted English Language Development.  I have about 4 students who are one of these Phantom English Language Learners.  Every year, it seems more and more of these students appear in my classroom and there's not much more we can do but to educate the parents to help us properly identify their children.   

Something New

My school purchased a grade level license to spellingcity.com.  This is the first year that I have used the premium version of the website.  My grade level decided it was time to try something new with spelling. We really didn't have a spelling program, but we did have spelling lists and worksheets.  At one time we also used a spelling contract, but parents seem too confused with that.  

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Now with spellingcity.com, we just upload a spelling list, select the type of spelling activities we want the kids to practice and assign it as homework for the week.  The students also take the test online and it is graded immediately.  Through the teacher dashboard, we can see who is logging on to practice and the test scores.  Students use their Google accounts to access spellingcity.com online through a computer or the app.  After working out a few kinks and glitches, students are now on board with spellingcity.com.  The activities and motivation of the students so far look promising.  I will update in the future if this is something that works or not for my class this year!

Is It Just Memorization? Multiplication is more!

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I have a vivid memory of learning multiplication in third grade.  My teacher, Mrs. Bowman, drew three circles on the chalkboard.  Then she put five milk bottles in each one.  She said this is 3 x 5 which is 15 milk bottles.  That's really all I remember about learning about the concept of multiplication, but for some reason, it stuck!  I also remember using my Pee-Chee folder to look up the multiplication tables for dividing in fourth grade.  I think that is how I memorized them.  But times have changed.

With today's Common Core State Standards, multiplication is more than just memorizing the tables.  Students have to understand the relationship between addition and multiplication, multiplication and division.  Students have to understand multiplication as equal groups that can be modeled with objects or arrays.  Students need to understand how to use the Properties of Multiplication.  And yes, students need to fluently multiply within 100 which you can infer as memorizing the multiplication tables to 100.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

In this blog post, I show you how I teach the concept of multiplication to my third graders.   In my district, we have the Go Math curriculum but are encouraged to use it only as a resource (meaning, we don't have to follow it completely...just use it as a guide).  With that said, I do use some of the pages in the consumable math book as well as, the pages from the practice book as homework.   I also supplement with resources I created and other resources I have found on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I don't want to completely abandon the Go Math book because my students will face similar questions on the SBAC in May.

Professional Development

First, let me give you some background on how I approach math.  My district has provided quite a bit of professional development in the area of math since the Common Core was adopted in California. Albeit, opposing types of professional development: one being Lesson Study and the other Direct Instruction.  And now this year, we are receiving professional development from Math Solutions, which is a company started by Marilyn Burns.  Essentially, the pendulum is swinging not just back and forth but all over the place.

Let's start with Direct Instruction model.  About four years ago, my district required all teachers to go through training for Direct Instruction.  It uses a step by step approach to teaching students procedures for math.  I did like some aspects of the approach but felt it was limited in that the teacher was spoon feeding the students the math and it was very limited on problem-solving.  We had even had direct instruction coaches that had to observe us!

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

But then a couple of years ago, my district included me in another professional development for math.  We conducted what is knows as Lesson Study, based on the Japanese model of Lesson Study.  From that professional development, I started teaching math differently.  If you're not familiar with the Japanese model of teaching, it does not use a gradual release of responsibility model that is widely used in the United States, rather they approach teaching this way:  You try it, you all try it, then we try it.  It is actually the opposite of how we teach!  The Japanese model forces the student to problem solve on their own first.  Then, students collaborate with a partner to compare solutions.  Finally, the last part is very powerful because as a whole group, the teacher is responsible for guiding the thinking towards the solution by highlighting the different student solutions to the same problem.   As you can see, it is very different approach when compared to direct instruction.

What did this lesson study approach look like in my classroom?  I would start the lesson with the students on the rug and present to them a problem, in this case, a multiplication word problem.  Then, the students returned to their desk with a bag of foam tiles (my go-to manipulative).  They had to use the tiles to solve the problem.  They would also have a small whiteboard (which I have stored in large baggies with a dry erase marker and a piece of felt for an eraser) or a piece of paper to do any calculations or record their answer.  As the students worked, I walked around looking for students who had solved the problem in different ways.  I would send those students up to the whiteboard to copy what they had done.  I chose between 4 - 6 students.

Then each volunteer explained how they solved the problem.  Now that this I am receiving district-sponsored professional development from Math Solutions (a company started by Math Guru Marilyn Burns), I've incorporated "Math Talk" prompts.  Math Solutions focuses on teaching students math conceptually with a focus on the Common Core Math Practices.  Here are some of the prompts we learned to use:

  • Who can repeat what __________ just explained?
  • Who can add to that?
  • Who has a different way?

There are more prompts that a teacher can use depending on the situation.  My district bought us a large poster with the prompts which I have hanging on my math board.

It is not a question of which approach to use.  It's a question of what do my students need?  This year, I have a class that really struggles with math and new math concepts.   Also, just like many teachers around the nation, I am under time constraints because my district uses a pacing guide and expects certain math units completed by a certain date!  So I decided to use a direct instruction approach for the beginning lessons of multiplication.  Eventually, I would move to the Japanese model once my students had some multiplication strategies to use.

Equal Groups

Now that you see my approach to teaching math, here's how I started teaching the concept of multiplication.  I first warmed up the group with skip counting.  Most students by third grade can skip count by 2s, 3s, 5s and 10s.  I found this wonderful FREEBIE on Teachers Pay Teachers which my students used to learn to count by 4s, 6s, 7s, etc.  I also use these FREEBIE posters I also found on TpT.

I wanted to first teach the students the concept of equal groups and why it is is a key cornerstone of multiplication.  Bear in mind, I have a class in which at least a third of the students struggle with new math concepts so they benefit more from a direct instruction approach.  I started the lesson with a Multiplication Concepts of Groups and Arrays PowerPoint that I created.  It is actually 2 lessons (Lesson 1 is Equal Groups and Lesson 2 is Arrays).

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

I used the first part that taught equal groups. The PowerPoint is interactive and animated to demonstrate the concept of equal groups.  There are slides in which students interact with each other and talk about equal groups and what each number in a multiplication sentence means (it also introduces the vocabulary of factors and product).  There is a place in the PowerPoint in which the students now work at their desk with a manipulative.  In my case, I use the bags of foam tiles that came with our Go Math program (at least that's one good thing about it!).  Each student gets his/her own bag for some hands-on practice.

Hands-on Time!

I instructed the students to take out 12 tiles.  I demonstrated how to put them into equal groups of 6.  Then I had them practice putting the same 12 tiles into groups of 4, then 3, and 2.   Each student had a dry erase marker to draw the circles on their desk around the groups so they could visually see the groups.  From there we practiced using the vocabulary:  3 groups of 4, 6 groups of 2, 4 groups of 3, etc.  When I could determine that the majority of the class understood equal groups, we practiced with a printable I created to go along with the PowerPoint.  They had to draw a model for a particular multiplication sentence using equal groups.  Then they answer questions about their model.  I collected the printable so I could quickly assess student understanding of equal groups.  The students also worked on similar problems in their consumable math book.  The homework also followed up on this concept of equal groups.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

Repeated Addition

The next day I reviewed equal groups again.  This time, it was time to directly teach the concept of repeated addition.  By the way, there is controversy about whether we should even teach multiplication as repeated addition!  But don't panic, I would say yes, go ahead and teach it as repeated addition.  You can read the linked article to see why there is a controversy about this!

So I posed a problem for them:  Looking at the equal groups on your desk, how could you quickly find the total without skip counting?  Eventually, we talked about how we could just add each group together (3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 12).   What is the purpose of this?  It's to get kids to see multiplication from many perspectives:  what it is and what it isn't.  For example, if you had 3 groups of 2 and 1 group of 3, would that be multiplication?  Some would say yes and some would say no.  No, because the groups aren't equal.  Yes, because you can multiply the equal groups and then add the unequal group.  The point is, addition is related to multiplication and the students need to know that!  At this point, I am not using a Lesson Study approach to math, but rather more direct instruction.  Why?  Because I need the students to have some strategies for multiplication.  As I indicated before, at least a third of my class would just sit there helpless because they just don't have enough conceptual understanding or "tools in their math belt" to get started.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

Using a Numberline

You would think that such a great visual that has been used since first grade and maybe even kinder, would work wonderfully to teach students how numbers are multiplied.  Nope, using a number line is tricky and confusing to kids.  Because I knew the difficulties of using a number line for multiplication, again I went to a direct instruction model.  What difficulties would they encounter?

  • not starting at zero
  • not skip counting correctly
  • counting the starting number as part of the skip counting
  • confusing "jumps" with "how many to jump"

In my instruction, I gave each student these wonderful and colorful number lines which I laminated. I like the fact they only go up to 30, which is a good number when dealing with multiplication.  Here are the steps I taught them.  For example, for 3 groups of 4 or 3 x 4:

  1. Circle the first number.  Think of it as jumps.
  2. Underline the second number.  Think how many each jump.
  3. Put a dot on the zero.
  4. Jump to the number 4 (as in this example of 3 x 4) and put a dot.
  5. Then draw an arched line back to the zero.  Label it with 1.
  6. Then count ahead another 4 spaces or lines and put a dot.
  7. Draw an arched line back to the previous dot, label it with a 2
  8. Continue the process until you have 3 jumps (as in this example of 3 x 4).
  9. What is the final number?

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

By following these steps, a lot of the confusion is cleared up and students use the number line properly from the get go.  Even with these steps, I did have a few students use the number line incorrectly.  I helped those students individually while the rest worked on similar problems in their math book.  I prefer to sometimes use the consumable Go Math book to save on copying paper.  I hand pick which problems the students would work on.  This particular math program has a very poor design when it comes to independent practice.  It expects the students to make conceptual leaps with some of the word problems that are presented.  They're not ready yet!  So we do not work on those types of problems yet.  I just want to make sure the students understand the concept of multiplication and ways to approach it.


We finally arrived at the point in which I can now switch to a Lesson Study approach to teaching math.  Now that the students are armed with multiplication strategies, we can leave the direct instruction model to the Japanese model of forcing the students to struggle and solve it on their own.
We start out on the rug in which I present a problem on the whiteboard such as the one below.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

Then I quickly review some of our multiplication strategies:  equal groups, skip counting, repeated addition, and number lines.  With that, I instruct the students to use the foam tiles to solve the problem any way they can.  As this was happening, I would search for students who used equal groups and send them to the board to copy their solution below the problem.  I looked for other students who also used equal groups but put the groups in a different way to go up to the board to copy their solution.  Finally, if any of the students lined up their tiles in an array, I would have that student go up and copy it, too!  Once I had several solutions, we came back as a class and I had each of those students explain how they arrived at their solution.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

The other students had to listen because they knew I would use the Math Talk prompts (who can repeat that, who can add to that, etc.).  For the student who made an array, I had also taken a video of him making the array with my phone.

But first, I had him come up and explained what he did.   Would you believe me if I told you that he actually used the term rows!  Yes, he did!  I said I had to record his thinking on the board so I wrote:  4 tiles in 3 rows.  I explained to my class that this student just discovered another way to multiply:  arrays!  At this point, I explained that arrays are groups but they are formed with equal rows and columns and have a rectangular or square shape.  I then showed my class the video of the student making an array which you see below.

Using Video as an Example

What was great about the video, is that he did take some excellent steps to construct his array.  First, he put down a tile for each row.  Then he completed the first row.  From there, he just copied the first row to the other rows by adding tiles.  He recounted just to make sure he did have an equal number as the previous row.  So we named this method of constructing an array "The G Method" after his first name.  Needless to say, he was very proud.  I was very proud!  This boy is an English Language Learner who finally got the eyeglasses he needed (2 months of school with no glasses)!  He is reading below grade level and sometimes struggles with math.  But here he shone as a bright star to the entire class.


From there, we continued to practice forming arrays to match a multiplication sentence.  Once I knew the students had gotten it, I had the work with a partner on a more complicated multiplication fact such as 8 x 6 which required making a larger array.  Working as partners, they could quickly assemble the array and produce a product.  Finally, I assigned them independent work from the consumable which you see below.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

Properties of Multiplication

I will be continuing this math lesson with the second part of my Multiplication Concepts of Groups and Arrays PowerPoint, which I will use as a review of arrays.  So what is left to teach about multiplication?  A lot!  I will be teaching separate mini-lessons on the Properties of Multiplication.  I also have developed a PowerPoint for the Properties of Multiplication (Zero, Identity, Commutative and Associative Properties).

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

I also have some follow-up activities to reinforce those properties:  Properties of Multiplication Practice.  These reinforcement activities include:

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

  • Bookmark to use as a study guide
  • Flap book with the definitions and examples of the properties
  • Mini-book of the properties
  • Venn Diagrams to compare the properties
  • Commutative Property Match Up Center 
  • and Multiplication Hero!

The last one has been a favorite of my students.  It uses this page-sized X for multiplication.  On it, the student writes the definition of each of the properties and an example.  Then the X is cut out and taped to the student's chest (one piece of masking tape folded over is enough).  To play Multiplication Hero, two students face each other.  One student reads a definition or gives an example of one of the properties by reading his partner's X that is taped to his/her chest.  The other student has to name the property.  If the answer is correct, they cross their arms across their chest and say multiplication hero!  They continue to switch partners.  This is a fun game to play for a review.

Multiplication Hero Activity

These properties are very important to teach and to learn.  Why?  Because they make learning the multiplication facts easier!  Because of the Zero and Identity Properties of Multiplication, we know that any factor multiplied by zero is zero, while any factor multiplied by 1 is that factor.  But the most important property is the Commutative Property.

With the help of the Zero Property, Identity Property, and Commutative Property, learning the multiplication facts become easier.  Knowing that 7 x 4 produces the same product as  4 x 7 reduces the number of facts to memorize when you take into account the entire multiplication chart. Watch this YouTube video that explains how the entire multiplication chart can be brought down to 6 facts to memorize.

Memorizing those Facts!

Eventually, all students do have to memorize the multiplication facts.  I use various approaches for the students to master the facts.  One is to hold them accountable for studying.  Learning to memorize is an important life skill.  The act of focusing on something for a length of time until it becomes committed to long-term memory requires discipline and good habits.  At Back to School Night, I give each parent a folder with my Multiplication Homework Activity Chart.  I once again remind the parents during parent conferences that this homework will now begin.  I explain how the chart works.  Essentially, the student must complete 3 activities (or more) per week to make a tic-tac-toe.  The activities are varied with different approaches to learning the facts.  I provide copy masters to make flash cards, paper dice, premade recording sheets and links to many multiplication websites.  The students do this as weekly homework for 6 months.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

Every day I give the students a one minute timed test to see if they have their facts memorized.  Any student who passes goes on to the next multiplication table.  Once they've reached ten, they have the option of continuing to 12.  I also have a Level 2 Homework Activity Chart for those who need to be challenged.  Learning the facts is self-paced and the chart provides many different ways to memorize them.  This resource comes with everything you need to get your students studying the multiplication facts.  There is also a bilingual English-Spanish version as well.

But that isn't usually enough.  I also teach my students strategies or tips for each multiplication table.  For example, doubling the 2s will give you the four times table.  Example:  4 x 6 is like 2 x 6 doubled.  2 x 6 = 12, then double it and you get 24!  The same trick works for the 3s and 6s.  I have created a Multiplication Tips and Strategies Chart of these tips and strategies to give to each student which they put in their math folder.  I also send an additional copy home.  I've also turned the chart into Multiplication Tips and Strategies Posters that also hang on my math board for reference.  You can try out the Multiplication Tips and Strategies Posters SAMPLER here.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

Usually, around the beginning of December when I start teaching division, I notice that some students are stuck on a particular multiplication table and can't pass the timed test.  So that is when I bring out the Multiplication Practice Cards for select students.  I already have these stored in baggies with a dry erase marker and felt eraser.  I give the student the set for a particular multiplication table and they take it home to study.  When I started this process last year, it helped jump start those kids that were stuck.

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

As a grade level, we also reward all the third graders who have memorized their facts to 10 with a popsicle party in March.  The goal is automaticity by March.

If you need more ideas or resources for multiplication, consider following my Pinterest Boards below.  I just created a NEW BOARD exclusively for the PROPERTIES OF MULTIPLICATION!  

Teaching the Concept of Multiplication

Follow them now!

Multiplication and Division Pinterest Board

Properties of Multiplication Pinterest Board

Complete Integration of Research, Writing and Technology

Google Slide Templates

As a teacher in a 1:1 classroom with Chrome Books, I'm always thinking of ways to integrate the use of the Chrome Books throughout the day and throughout the curriculum.  One way they are powerfully integrated is for researching and writing.  In the Common Core State Standards, third graders learn to:

Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
Introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension.
Develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details.
Use linking words and p
hrases (e.g., alsoanotherandmorebut) to connect ideas within categories of information.
Provide a concluding statement or section.
With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.

In other words, they need to conduct research on a curricular topic, write in an expository format and publish it all using technology.  That's a lot for an 8-year-old to accomplish!  Additionally, those same standards appear in grades 4 and 5 as well (slightly increased in rigor).  

Complete Integration

I have found a way that powerfully integrates those standards.  As a culmination project for our unit on Native Americans, my students researched three California Indians tribes.  They specifically focused on how the California Indians used the natural resources of the region to survive.

Google Slides Template

Here's how we did it.  During the unit, we used our Social Studies text to take notes on how the California Indians used their natural resources.  That was the first step, learning to take notes.  This is important because the students need to learn how to take accurate notes on a specific question or they will just copy down everything in the text without thinking if it is related to the question.  

The next step is to simultaneously teach the format of expository writing.  I like to teach it in concert with reading and finding the main idea.  After all, the main idea should be the topic sentence of the paragraph.  So as we read, we try to find the main idea and supporting details. Side note:  our Social Studies text is so poorly written that finding any well-developed paragraph with a topic sentence is almost impossible.  But this a good point to make to students:  this is why you are so confused when you read your social studies text!  Poor writing leads to readers not understanding the main point.  We practice writing an expository paragraph as a class using the notes we took.  

Once students can see the connection between their notes and their writing, it's time to introduce new sources:  websites and videos.  Again, taking notes from a website must be explicitly taught or students will waste their time taking unrelated notes or not be able to find notes.  Here are some strategies I taught my students when looking through websites.  First and foremost, the website must be reliable and trustworthy (I took care of that since I was the one who found the websites).  Then, scan through the web page for headers, especially those related to our topic of natural resources (foods, shelters, tools, etc.).  If there are no headers, scan for keywords.  

Google Slides Templates

Now, there is a shortcut for scanning for keywords which I did not introduce yet because I wanted my students to learn to use headers and keywords.  But on any website, just use the computer's search function to search the page for keywords.  That will be introduced in the next research project.  From the website, students only have to add notes for facts they did not add from the print resources they originally used.  

The next step is taking video notes.  This is something I introduced earlier and we do practice it throughout the curriculum.  Again, you must explicitly teach the students to take notes ONLY on facts that will help answer the question (how did the CA Indians use their natural resources to survive).  Then, of course, there are the technical aspects of taking video notes:  using the play and pause buttons, using the time sliders, using earbuds or headphones, etc.  Teach those once and they'll be set for the rest of the year.  I supplied my students with links to two videos on each tribe.  I previewed each video to make sure it was appropriate and contained usable information. 

Taking Notes

You might be asking:  where are the students writing down these notes?  Good question.  I didn't want third graders taking messy notes that were not organized.  So I developed a Note Taker sheet that helps the student with taking notes.  You can download the Note Taker Sheet as a FREEBIE right HERE.  The first task on the Note Taker Sheet is to write down what information is needed to be researched.  I have the students write this down in the form of a  question:  What natural resources did the California Indians use to survive in their region?

Google Slides Template

Then there are three separate boxes for taking notes:  Text Sources, Website Sources, and Video Sources.  We always start with text sources first!  However, it might make sense to start with video sources first if you have students who are reading significantly below grade level or have special education needs or are English Language Learners. For the print sources, we used our text book (and I had read aloud many wonderful non-fiction books on California Indians) as well as this very good resource from Sailing Into Second:  California Native Americans.   I gave each student a copy of the three tribes:  Pomo, Mojave, and Chumash.  

We did the first tribe, the Pomo, together.  I took them through the entire process of note-taking, paragraph writing and publishing.  So now every student had an example paragraph published on the first slide:  The Pomo.  Then I let them start on the Mojave.  They went through the process of researching and note-taking from the print resource, the websites, and the videos.  They had to show me their notes before they began drafting their paragraph. The drafting is done in their writing journal.  Once they have completed the drafting, they revise on their own first.  Then they work with a partner to revise. Finally, then come to me for a revision conference.  I think it is important for students to get as much feedback and learn to revise.  Once they revised with me, they were then given permission to publish their paragraph on the Google Slides template.  

Google Slides Templates

Editing was done on the computer since Google Slides has built in spell checker.  My students also have access to grammarly.com and can use that to check for grammar and also spelling.  I think it's important that students use the Chrome Book's ability to check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation...after all, technology is supposed to help us!  Once typed, the student added pictures (picture of the tribe, picture of food source, picture of shelter, and a picture of a tool.).  The pictures were gathered from using Google Image search.  My students had already learned to do an image search and resize the image.  

Google Slides Templates

If the student finished the Mojave Tribe, then they started the entire process again for the Chumash tribe:  research, writing, publishing.  We have worked on this project every afternoon (combining our writing block with the content area block) for about two weeks.  Not all students are finished because some just lose focus, are confused or are just slow at typing or writing.  So that means students can finish this work during other times of the day or even for homework (they can access their Google account from home).

Scoring the Project

Now comes time to score the project!  I informed the students that the entire project would count towards the Social Studies grade and a writing grade.  For Social Studies, I will score each slide for content (enough facts to show how the tribe used their natural resources to survive, the accuracy and appropriateness of the pictures, and showing the location on the map.  Four pictures, a map location and at least 5 facts give a score of 10 points that can be earned for Social Studies.  For writing, I have to use the District Informative Writing Rubric.  It's not my first choice, but I am required to score writing using district rubrics.  On the rubric, we look at how the student has mastered the genre, the organization and focus, and the conventions.  What I do is put a date in the box that best reflects the student's writing (using a scale of 1 - 4) for the genre, the organization and focus, and the conventions.  The student can get up to 12 points.  I total up the points and divide by 12 to get a score.  

Google Slides Template

For the next slide, I will use the same paper and rubric again from the first assignment to score the next writing assignment, but this time, I use a different date.  I will continue to use that same paper and rubric.  That way, over time I can see how the student is progressing.  I also use the rubric to inform my teaching.  I can see from scoring some student writing, that my students need writing mini-lessons on writing well-developed facts using more complex sentence structure.

Finally, does this process look familiar to you?  It should if you've ever administered the SBAC!  The writing performance task on the SBAC is very similar: research, take notes, compose!  If your students use this process throughout the year, then that SBAC performance task will not look so impossible to complete!  

Continuing the Process of Researching, Writing, and Publishing

My students will continue this process with our next unit:  Adaptations and Biomes.  I have developed an Interactive Digital Notebook on Desert Adaptations (Woodlands coming soon!).  It is a Google Slides ready resource in which the students will use their textbook and other print resources, as well as websites and videos to research and learn about desert animal adaptations.  The culminating task is a slide in which the student will research a desert animal to write a report on how that particular animal has adapted to living in a desert biome.  However, this time, the student will write 3 or more expository paragraphs!  

Google Slides Templates

This resource is similar to the California Indian Project, but the links to the websites and videos are located on the slide instead of external Google Classroom links.  Each slide is also different from the previous slide because students will be studying a particular aspect of adaptation whereas, the California Indian Project used the same template for each slide but just varied the tribe.

The Desert Adaptations resource has 17 slides for the student to research structural adaptations of desert animals.  Below is a screen shot of the Table of Contents.  

Google Slides Template

Do your students spend time looking at inappropriate or useless websites?  Are you afraid they'll stumble upon an inappropriate video on YouTube?  Not to worry!  Each slide has a link to a trusted website and a child appropriate video.  I have personally chosen websites that are geared for students in grades 3 - 5.  The websites are also reliable (the site has been around for awhile and has accurate information).  The same with the videos. The videos have been linked through safeshare.tv which means the students will only see the video and not any other YouTube videos, comments or ads making it safer for students to view.  As a teacher, this is a huge timesaver rather than having to spend hours researching websites and videos for your students to use.  Each slide has directions for the student that explains the task to complete.  An answer key and scoring guide are also included.

Making the Switch to Digital Notebooks and Templates

If you are hesitant to make the move to digital resources such as Google Slides, this interactive digital notebook is a great way to start.  And if you're not sure how to create templates, this interactive digital notebook is a good place to start, too!  As a teacher, all you need to do is assign the digital notebook through Google Classroom (or email each student a copy of the file).  I've included instructions on how to assign the project in Google Classroom.  You can use each slide as a follow-up to a lesson or just have the students use the slide to research independently.  Once the interactive digital notebook is completed, they turn it in to you via Google Classroom for you to score.  The students can also view the interactive digital notebook in presentation mode which means they can use it to make an oral presentation.  

Using digital interactive notebooks means that there is not actual cutting and pasting onto paper notebooks, leaving the student to spend more valuable time researching and learning about a topic.  Since it is a virtual notebook, the student can use it to study for a test by viewing it at home.  No need to worry about using up ink to print in color, since using color photographs and clip art is highly encouraged and makes the interaction with the notebook more meaningful.  Speaking of interaction, some of the slides are created in a way that has the student dragging and placing objects on the slide to complete it.  Those are just some of the advantages to switching over to digital interactive notebooks or Google Slide templates.

Google Slides Templates

Another advantage of using interactive digital notebooks is that changes to a slide can be made at any time to update information or to differentiate tasks among students.  Multimedia can be easily incorporated with animations, videos, color photographs, charts, and tables.  

And here's an added bonus!  Parents can view the presentation anytime from home when the student accesses their Google account.  I've also used the interactive digital notebooks as part of Open House.  The student sits with the parents and shows them on the Chrome Book the various interactive digital notebooks we completed throughout the year (they stay in the cloud forever until the student deletes it!). 

If you are interested in finding out more about interactive digital notebooks, I've written some other blog posts about using them with my students.  Also, take a look at all the Google App resources now available in my store. More and more are being added throughout the year.  

For ideas on how to use Google in the Classroom, follow my Pinterest Boards Google in the Classroom! and Google Ready Products.

Google Pinterest boards

Why the Properties of Addition ARE Useful

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

My oldest son who is in seventh grade recently had trouble with a problem in his 7th-grade math book.  I couldn't believe he didn't know the answer!   It was a very straightforward problem with integers and all it asked was how you could solve the problem using the Commutative Property of Addition.  He couldn't remember what that property was!  And this is 7th grade.

Common Core Standards for Math

Way back before the Common Core, I did teach the Properties of Addition as a third-grade teacher.  But even back then I wondered why and for what purpose?  I did the lessons but did not worry too much if they didn't master them.  But as you can see with my son, the Properties of Addition do not go away.  Students will continue to add all through school, but they may be adding fractions and integers.  It doesn't matter!  They do need to know that the Properties of Addition are important and that they are used continuously and ARE very useful.

I made these posters and have them hanging on my math wall all year long so the students can reference them.  There's also a matching bookmark.

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

Those of you who teach the Common Core State Standards already know that the Properties of Addition are taught in grades 1, 2 and 3.  These are the specific standards which mention Properties of Operations:

Apply properties of operations as strategies to add and subtract.2 Examples: If 8 + 3 = 11 is known, then 3 + 8 = 11 is also known. (Commutative property of addition.) To add 2 + 6 + 4, the second two numbers can be added to make a ten, so 2 + 6 + 4 = 2 + 10 = 12. (Associative property of addition.)

Fluently add and subtract within 100 using strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction.

Fluently add and subtract within 1000 using strategies and algorithms based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction.

Teaching the Properties of Addition

So how does one go about teaching these properties and for how long?  Let me answer the second part first.  In my district, we are required to have an English Language Arts RtI block for English Language Arts which lasts for about 40 minutes, 4 times a week.  This RtI block doesn't start until a month after school has begun.  So essentially, I have an extra 40 minutes to fill each day for about a month.  So I use a week (or more) of this block to specifically teach the Properties of Addition as an extra math block.  That use of time has been one of the most valuable uses of time I've used all year long!

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

When I first began teaching the properties, I created a PowerPoint that was interactive.  By interactive, I mean there are slides in the PowerPoint in which the students interact with the content on the slide (and it includes lots of animation). They interact by answering questions, discussing with a partner or writing in a math journal (or any piece of paper).  I use both a math journal and the printables.  The printables I created to go along with the PowerPoint so that students would be even more engaged and begin practicing the Properties of Addition immediately.

You can see a preview of this PowerPoint on my YouTube channel: YouTube Video.
or watch a version here:


The PowerPoint has gone through some revisions, but the format has remained the same.  Three properties (Commutative, Zero or Identity, and Associative) are all addressed as separate lessons so it is easy to pause the PowerPoint after each lesson and continue the next day.  The PowerPoint also comes with Presenter's Notes in which I give teaching suggestions and explain when to advance the animation or slide.  There are also three printables included.  You can find the Properties of Addition PowerPoint Lesson HERE.

Practicing with the Properties of Addition

In addition to the PowerPoint, I created a hands-on center which I actually use whole class though it can be used in small group or for intervention.  This center has a work mat and number tiles but you would need to add unfix cubes or some other type of manipulative.  It also has task cards which give the student a problem to work out on the work mat.  In whole class grouping, I read aloud the card and project on the screen.  Then I walk around as the students use their unifix cubes to build an equation.

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

Here's a video showing one of my students building with unifix cubes.  The center has task cards for all three properties, but in this video, we were working on the Commutative Property of Addition.  


Once the student has created a unifix train for the equation, they use the number tiles to build the matching equation.   From there, they build another unfix train but they switch the addends around (commute the addends), and again use the number tiles to build the new equation.  We then discuss what they notice.  Here's the same student continuing the work:


 This is a great opportunity to build and expand that math vocabulary:  addends, addition symbol, equal sign, commute,  sum, etc.  It is so important for students to learn and use that math vocabulary when discussing mathematical concepts (or else how are they every going to understand word problems!! i.e., see my son above).

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

The second part of this center involves a Commutative Property Match-Up.  I took a video of my youngest son (who's also in third grade) to see if he could explain how use the Commutative Property of Addition.  It was interesting to note his use of vocabulary (he said that 3 + 4 is the OPPOSITE of 4 + 3).  But he was able to show his understanding of this property.  Check out the video:


Why is the Commutative Property Useful?

The Commutative Property is a great strategy to use when adding multidigit numbers.  When I taught first grade, I taught counting up as an addition and subtraction strategy.  But if students know that they can switch the order of the addends and start adding with the greater number FIRST, it makes counting up easier.  Also, back when I did teach first grade, I was using Math Their Way and so the students were constantly using manipulatives to build the concept of addition and they would internalize this property.  They never saw 3 + 4 as just 3 + 4, but also as 4 + 3.  They knew that they could switch the addends because they had done that with the manipulatives.  By learning this property, in addition, it will help immensely when we start learning the Commutative Property of Multiplication!

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

What about the Zero Property of Identity Property?

Don't forget to teach this one!  Most students know that when you add zero, the sum is the same addend or addends.  Why would this be important to know?  In third grade, students learn to round (3.NBT.A1).  When you round numbers, you end up 2 and 3 digit numbers with zeroes in the ones and tens place.  Those numbers can easily be added using mental math.  We want students to be able to mentally round, add and give an estimate to check the reasonableness of an answer.  If they know that zero doesn't affect a sum, then all they need to do mentally is concentrate on adding the tens or hundreds digits to get an estimate.  But read on.  The Zero Property is also useful when combined with the Associative Property.

Why is the Associative Property Useful?

Do your students need to learn column addition?  Do they just go about adding a column of numbers in order?  STOP!  Teach them to use the Associative Property of Addition!  With this property, I teach students to find addends that make 10.  Ten is a great number because it has a zero!  And when you have zeroes in an addend, you can mentally add those numbers faster which makes addition more efficient and reliable.  I have a vivid memory of my high school teacher (this is back in the 70s before math instruction was more than just arithmetic), telling us to use this shortcut:  when you add find pairs of numbers that add up to 10 and cross them off as you add.  Can you imagine that I didn't now this until HIGH SCHOOL!  If the students have a good understanding of these properties, and you demonstrate how to use them in addition, I promise you they will become better, faster and more accurate with addition.

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

Continuing Throughout the Year

Don't forget to continue to teach and practice these properties throughout the year.  We want the students to enter 4th grade with an absolute understanding of these properties because they will be increasing their knowledge of place value into the hundreds of thousands.   I have an additional center which I use once the students have a good understanding of the Properties of Addition.  It has task cards and it requires them to think critically about the Properties of Addition.  You can see an example below:

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

If you want more information about each of these resources, click HERE to see them all.  Start your teaching with a FREEBIE:  Properties of Addition Practice Cards.

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

Finally, be sure to follow me on Pinterest.  Click to see my board devoted just to the Properties of Addition!

Why are the properties of Addition Useful?

How are you teaching the Properties of Addition to your students?  I'd love to hear your ideas!