Plan Your Math Centers for an Entire Year in 1 Hour

Plan an entire year’s worth of math centers in an hour?!? Yes you read that right! I have always dreaded planning math centers. So, I have made it my mission over the years to make planning my math centers easier while still providing rigorous and differentiated instruction. Keep reading to find out how I plan a year’s worth of math instruction in just 1 hour!

Before you Start

Before you start you are going to want a few things in front of you. 

  1. You will want your pacing guide that shows what skill you are teaching with approximate dates. If it doesn’t already have dates assigned to each skill go ahead and take a moment to put the start and end dates of when you plan to teach each skill based on your schools calendar.

2. Pull all the resources that you plan to use for the year. I like to use resources that are year long resources so that I am using the same types of activities throughout the year I am just changing out the skill. Not only does this make it quicker to plan my math centers but it’s easier on the students as they know what to expect and how to complete the center. Below are the activities I use each week in my math centers.

  • Math Word Problems
  • Skill Practice
  • Error Analysis
  • Assessments
  • Number Sense/Hands On Math
  • Digital instructional programs provided by our district
  • Teacher Groups

Start Planning

When planning I like to use a Google Sheet™ to organize what resource I will use each week. Click here to grab a copy for yourself to use! (NOTE: Tab 1 is an example of the first 3 weeks in my classroom (5th grade). Tab 2 is blank for you to add your own content).

First, in the first column put the all the dates for each week (make sure you exclude weeks you are not in school. i.e. Winter/Spring Break). Then in the second column put in the skills you plan to teach during your whole group instruction that week.

Next, choose 1 of the year long resources you have and start choosing what activity or page you want them to work on each week. For example, if I grab my year long error analysis resource I will start putting the numbered worksheet I want them to work on every week. This is where having your pacing comes in handy, I don’t want to assign them a skill on a week if I haven’t taught it yet. I fill in the error analysis resource for every single week until the whole year is filled and then I move onto the next resource.

Complete each column/resource one at a time until you have filled in the entire Google Sheet™ with activities for the year.

Throughout the Year

While I have done a lot of the work upfront there are times I have to make changes due to schedule changes or pacing changes. This is why I don’t print/copy or assign anything until the Friday before. The Friday before I check my Google Sheet™ and pull out the applicable pages, make necessary copies or assign digital items to Google Classroom™. I organize my centers in a 20 drawer cart. Then I take my math centers Google Slide Presentation™ and update the activities as well as the drawers students can find the resources.

To Summarize

The key to making your math centers quick and easy to plan is to find the right resources. As I stated before I highly suggest you find high quality resources that will last you the whole year. If you are in need of math center resources, check out the resources below for some things that you will love for your math centers. These are resources I use in my own classroom each year!

Math Centers Organization

Word Problems

Error Analysis

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6 Ways to Prepare for the Science EOG

The 5th Grade Science EOG is coming quick, are your students ready? Here are some ideas of activities you can do to help prepare your students for the upcoming EOG.

1. Vocabulary Practice

If you have been teaching 5th grade science for any amount of time you already know how much new vocabulary there is. For students to be successful on the EOG knowing the vocabulary is going to be critical.

I work hard all throughout the year to provide constant vocabulary review but at the end of the year I still continue that practice. One of the activities I love to do is review a couple vocabulary words each day and challenge students to write a definition in 3 words or less.

For example, the definition of convection is “the movement of heat through liquid and gases”. If a student were trying to simplify that word into three words or less they might say “moving heat in fluids”. That example technically has 4 words but I don’t count like “is, the, in, and, etc”. If the word is really challenging I’ll let them go up to 5 words. It’s a great way to get them thinking about what the word means and having them focus on the key characteristics.

To specifically prepare for the EOG, about a month prior to the EOG I give students a science vocabulary book with all the vocabulary words we have learned that year. Each morning leading up to the EOG I assign one page of vocabulary words where they will write that 3-5 word definition. If they don’t know it (or aren’t 100% sure) they should just skip it. After giving students some time I will then ask the students to tell me what words were challenging that they weren’t able to get a definition for. We will see if any other students came up with a good definition and then students can write down that definition if they need it.

We will pull out this booklet any time we are doing any kind of test prep that might bring up these vocabulary words. Students can quickly refer to it to ensure they really understand the question.

Daily Review

A quick daily review that includes test type questions is a great way to review a lot of information in a short period of time. About 20 days before the science EOG I start to give my students a daily countdown in Google forms. It includes 3 questions a day of science EOG style questions. I try to include questions with a variety of DOK levels. When students finish we can review the results as a class and clear up any misconceptions students might have had.

Study Guides

I love study guides! I love study guides because it pushes the responsibility of learning back on to the student and really shows them what they already understand and what they still need to work on. I give ample class time for study guides and give students a list of resources they can use to find the answer. I prefer to use digital study guides because it saves paper and allows me to include great visuals to support students comprehension.

Games

Whole class review games are a fun way to break up all the hard work and thinking students are doing. It’s also great to help improve those teamwork skills. Here are a list of some of my favorite online review games that you can make for your class. 

  • Quizalize
  • Kahoot
  • Quizizz
  • Blooket
  • Quizlet Live 
  • Gimkit

Choice Boards

Who doesn’t love a choice board? Students are much more engaged with their work when they are given a choice. I design choice boards very carefully. I typically include 9 options with students having to choose at least 3. I make the first row very simple and straightforward activities, the middle row is a little more challenging and the last row is usually a small project where they must create something. I do this to ensure students are practicing activities of various DOK levels.

Small Group Instruction

When you think of small group instructions you are probably thinking of math or reading; but they can definitely be done in science too! As we approach the EOG I love to do small groups 3-4 days a week. During those small groups I do a variety of activities including vocabulary practice, multiple choice questions, error analysis and opinion/justification type questions. I do group students by ability based on how they have performed in science so far during the school year.

To Summarize

Preparing for the EOG doesn’t have to be hard. I hope I have provided you with some ideas to help you prepare your students for the EOG. If you are wanting to implement some of these ideas but don’t want to take the time to make your own resources you can click the links below to find resources available for purchase that will fit the activities mentioned above. Wishing you and your students a great rest of the school year!

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Ideas for Teaching Ecosystems

Teaching ecosystems is one of my favorite units to teach my students and it’s usually the something they love as well. Here are some ideas that I use in my classroom that you can take to your own!

Introducing Your Lesson

Usually the first time I introduce students to ecosystems I start by taking them outside. I ask them to collect something small while we are outside. Then we will go back in the classroom and I ask them to sort them based on if they think they are part of nature or not and if they are living or not. Students love the change of scenery of going outside and love discussing what they found while outside. It leads to a good discussion on what resources are part of nature and if they are alive or not.

I like introducing the each day’s lesson with a question. It’s a great way to get students in the right mindset for the day but it’s also a quick and easy way for me to quickly gauge my students knowledge on a subject. Then I can adjust my lesson based on the knowledge they seem to have (or don’t have). Sometimes my questions are very direct to see what the students know and then sometimes they require students to analyze and think critically.

Allow for Exploration

I am a firm believer that before being explicitly taught, students should be given an opportunity to explore the content and try to learn the material themselves first. This give students ownership of the process and allows the teacher to focus on clearing up misconceptions. Students also tend to learn the content better when they can teach themself and learn from their peers. Below are a list of some of my favorite go to resources for articles and videos relating to ecosystems.

I like to give my students a list or resources and have them conduct their own research on the topic. Typically I let them work in groups. This allows them to practice their research and technology skills as well as practice working in groups. Give the students a list of resources and a graphic organizer and send them on their way!

Explicit Teaching

After my students have had an opportunity to learn about a topic I like to discuss it as a whole group. It not only gets them engaged but it helps me to understand what they understood well and what they need more support with. I’ll let this conversation lead to the direct teaching portion of my lesson. I personally choose to use digital notebooks in science. I have been using digital notebooks in science since 2017 and find that it’s not only easier for me and students (no cutting and glueing) but it provides amazing visuals for students that I couldn’t normally provide with a black and white copier. In my direct teaching portion of my lesson I review key vocabulary words and make sure to explain my teaching points for the day.

Practicing What They Have Learned

Hopefully at this point students have learned a lot about a topic and are now ready to apply what they have learned. There are a ton of different ways to have your students apply what they just learned. Here are a list of my favorite ways.

Sorts– I love to do sorting activities, but when I do them I tend to do them in Google Slides. First it saves time and paper since we don’t have to cut and glue. Second it allows students to see real images. Finally, they can add their own photos from the search function.

Create a Food Web – I love to give students some pictures of different organisms from an ecosystem and have them create a food web on their desk using them. I let them use their dry erase markers and write right on their desk! Even if you don’t have pictures handy, they can simply write the name of the organisms right on their desk. Increase the rigor of this activity by asking your student to create a few questions related to their food web that another student could answer.

Venn Diagram – Venn diagrams can be a great way to help students make sense of a lot of information, but have you tried a triple Venn diagram? They are great for comparing and contrasting biomes. The first time your students do them they might need more support making sense of all the inner pieces; but you will find these to help your students to really solidify the new information they have learned.

Be the Teacher – Allow students to be the teacher by creating their own test questions based on what they just learned. I always tell students if their questions are good enough I might just really use them on a future assignment.

Formative Assessments

Every good lesson has a way to track how well students understood the lesson. Here are some of my favorite ways to assess students understanding.

Exit Ticket One of the simplest ways to check for understanding is to display a question and ask students to write down their answer on an index card. You can make it easy on yourself and just re-write the lesson’s objective in the form of a question. I like to collect students cards as they walk out the door and then I review the answers right as they walk out.

Google Forms I like using questions in Google forms because when students finish I can show a summary of the class results (without showing their names) and we can review any misconceptions there might have been.

Writing – Writing is a great way to see what students understand about a topic while allowing them to be creative as well! You can take almost any topic and turn it into a writing assignment. When teaching ecosystems my favorite type of writing is personal narratives. To show what students know about a biome have them write a personal narrative in which they end up in their favorite biome for 24 hours.

I hope you have found some ideas to help you when you teach your ecosystem unit. These resources come from my personal ecosystem lesson plans that I have been using for years. If you would like them for your own classroom, check out the links below.

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3 strategies to ace the science EOG

I have been teaching 5th grade science in North Carolina for several years and I love it! Except I don’t love the science EOG. It’s brutally long and makes the science way too complicated (and not enjoyable)! Students usually love science and typically are very good at it but the EOG can be such a beast and students can feel very defeated if they don’t do well. Here are 3 strategies I use throughout the school year to help my students be successful on the EOG!

1. When in doubt, Draw it out

This is a very simple strategy but can make a huge difference in helping students to understand the question. Sometimes when students read the question on a science exam they read it so quickly that they really don’t comprehend what is happening in the question or what the question is asking them. A phrase we use in my classroom is “when in doubt, draw it out”. Students draw a quick sketch of what is happening in the question. This requires them to slow down and re-read the problem and make sure they really understand what is happening in the question. This is especially helpful for physical science type problems where it’s asking about things that are hard to see (forces, matter, heat, etc). I have found this strategy especially beneficial for my ESL students. When using this strategy it’s important to remind students that they do not need to be an artist; a quick sketch with maybe some arrows or quick notes to help them understand is all they need.

2. Focus on Vocabulary

If you have been teaching 5th grade science for any amount of time you know how many new vocabulary words students must learn! Last time I counted there were over 150 new words I had to teach during the school year (yes I really did count them)! That doesn’t include new vocabulary words from ELA, math or social studies!

In my classroom I make sure to address vocabulary often. There are a lot of great websites that you can use to teach vocabulary and great activities too. One of my favorite activities is to challenge students to define a science word in only 3-5 words. If you have to define it in just a few words it requires you to really think carefully about what that word means and focus on the most important elements.

One of the activities I love to do in the month prior to the EOG is give students a science vocabulary book. In that book it has every science vocabulary word we learn that year. Each morning leading up to the EOG I assign one page of vocabulary words. Students try to write a 3-5 word definitions of as many words as possible. If they don’t know it (or aren’t 100% sure) they should just skip it. After giving students some time I will then ask the students to tell me what words were challenging that they weren’t able to get a definition for. We will see if any other students came up with a good definition and then students can write down that definition if they need it. It gets student collaborating, supporting each other and is a great way to review all the words prior to the EOG. It also helps us with ink thinking (see next strategy).

This vocabulary book is available FREE! Click here to grab yours!

3. Teach students to INK Think

If you ever speak to any of my students (former or current) they will tell you “don’t ever turn in a science test without ink thinking first”. I must say the phrase “ink think” thousands of times in a year. I feel very strongly about it and believe many students have found success by using this strategy. When I tell students to “ink think” this is a 3 step strategy they must do for EVERY multiple choice type question on a test.

Step 1: Define every science vocabulary word

Sometimes the questions on the EOG can be written in such a challenging way even though what you are being asked is not that difficult. Sometimes it’s easy for students to just skip over unknown or unfamiliar words. This is where defining each vocabulary word comes in.

To do this students must find every science vocabulary word and write a short definition to it. This is where that science vocabulary book from above comes in handy! If students have forgotten the meaning of a word they can go back and reference it in their science vocabulary book.

When students have to define the vocabulary words it forces them to address all those words they really just want to skip over. It makes the question more clear and easier to understand.

Step 2: Simplify long & complex answers

Every time I see a multiple choice question with super long answers I cringe because I know so many students are going to read the answers so quickly and pick the best sounding one (or not read it at all – insert face palm here).

In this step students will take very long answer choices and simplify them to be more concise and to the point. Not only is it forcing them to comprehend the provided answers it’s also making it easier for students to select an answer because they can read their short snippets the wrote.

NOTE: This step doesn’t always have to be done. If the answers are already short and simple there is no need to complete this step.

Step 3: Eliminate 1-2 incorrect answers

The last step is to eliminate answer choices. In my classroom we refer to it as “slash the trash”. I have students reread the question and answers will all their notes and push them to find at least 2 answers that are most likely wrong. By having them eliminate the wrong answers they can zero in on the last 2 answer choices and pick the correct answer.

In the beginning teaching students this strategy takes time and repetition. When they are doing it on a test for the first few times it can take them awhile to do. I teach students to ink think on their very first multiple choice test of the school year. Halfway through the year they have the process down and it only takes them 1-2 minutes per question to complete.

Using these strategies throughout the year has led to outstanding results! My students growth for the science EOG typically exceeds growth and it’s so amazing how when they finish that EOG they say “that was so easy”.

I hope you have found some strategies that you can use in your own classroom! Below are some other resources you might find helpful to help your students review for the science EOG.

P.S. Don’t forget to grab the FREE science vocabulary book! Click here to grab yours!

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Why I don’t do math mini lessons anymore…and what I do instead

A few years ago I was working in a school that was exceeding growth year after year. Teachers were doing amazing and kids were excelling; it was the perfect scenario. Towards the end of the school year my administrator came to our PLC meeting and said next year we would have to implement a new teaching model in math called Launch, Explore, Discuss. I didn’t say a thing; but I didn’t have to, my face completely gave it away. I was very hesitant to change our teaching ways as our growth was skyrocketing so I wasn’t sure why we we needed to make any changes. My assistant principal looked at me right away and said “don’t worry, this doesn’t really change much for you because you are already doing it”.

The Well Known Mini Lesson

Most teachers are very familiar with mini lessons and we know why they are important. Even thought I knew they were important, I always dreaded them. There was so much talking on my part. It was a lot of work for me and kids just had to sit back, maybe take some notes and maybe do a turn and talk in there somewhere. Worse yet, when it came to math there were so many times that I felt like kids were bored because quite frankly it wasn’t a challenge just having to “sit and get” the content.

I Did Things Differently

By my 2nd year teaching I started to find myself as a teacher and had stepped back from the traditional mini lesson. I had started to reduce the amount of talking I was doing and instead started putting the work on the kids. Instead of pulling out my anchor chart and immediately showing students how to solve the problem I would start by asking the students “I know you probably have never learned this but how would you solve this problem”?

In the first few weeks of school it was a challenge, kids were taken aback. I would give them a problem they likely had never seen before and had given them no upfront guidance. Instead I allowed them to work in mixed ability groups and told them to think about what they had learned previously about the skill. As students would solve the problem, I would see them struggle and sometimes get frustrated; but by the end almost all students got it right and hadn’t even done my mini lesson yet!

Year after year I continued this process, giving students a task that was tied to the objective and allowing students to work together to solve the problem. Then we would discuss and share out what each group did to solve the problem. Not only were the students able to teach themselves how to solve the problem but they heard various ways to solve the same problem and deepened their reasoning skills.

Back when our admin told us we would use a new instructional model they sent us to attend a PD opportunity to review the new method. While at the PD I learned that Launch, Explore, Discuss is an instructional model in which students work collaboratively on a task and they discuss their findings. The teacher works as a facilitator of the processes and students drive the process. It was something I was already doing in my classroom and wasn’t even aware of.

I Still Provide Direct Instruction

Even though this teaching method has been used in my classroom for many years, I still do provide direction instruction to my students. However, my instruction is based on my findings when students are working together on the task. I pay attention to misconceptions they have or struggles I see. My mini lessons are usually only a few minutes long and just clear up any confusion and students take notes of the process. There are times that it’s more of a challenge and I do a more in depth lesson of the skill.

Making Tasks

When our admin told us about our new instructional model many teachers were very stressed about trying something new. I observed other grade levels who were feeling overwhelmed and was surprised about how much work they were putting into creating an in depth task everyday for students to complete. While you can spend a lot of time creating a task for your students, the truth is you don’t need something very complicated; they can be a simple computation problem that is tied to the objective for the day or a more rigorous word problem.

Here are a few tasks I have created for my students to learn new concepts.

This problem was given to students to introduce 2 x 2 multiplication.
This problem was given to students to introduce finding volume with a missing dimension.
This problem was given to students to introduce order of operations.

I saw real academic results and improved engagement when I started to allow students to work and teach themselves. Even better, I wasn’t going home so tired since I was putting the work and effort onto the students. Over the last year I have been creating digital notebooks for my classroom and I have modeled them after the Launch, Explore, Discuss instructional method. If you would like to introduce this model to your students and need resources these 5th grade math digital notebooks will help you tremendously!

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