Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mastering Math Facts

Do your students know their times tables yet? Every year, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade teachers face the fact that their incoming students haven't mastered their basic math facts.

If you're like me, you struggle with what to do about the Times Table Dilemma: Do we waste valuable class time teaching something they should already know? Or do we recognize that if they don't know their times tables, they are mathematically "stuck." It's not our job to teach them this stuff, right? But if we don't, we know they are going to struggle later.

As a 5th grade teacher with 28 years of experience, I've wrestled with this dilemma many times. And I always come to the unavoidable conclusion that time spent mastering math facts now will save many hours of frustration later. Because of this, I developed an easy system for teaching math facts in a fun way.

I love to tell my class my own story about how I learned the importance of mastering math facts. I myself was one of those kids who refused to learn her times tables in 4th grade. My parents found out during a Parent-Teacher conference, and they asked me why I wouldn't learn them. I'm pretty sure I said something to the effect that learning times tables was dumb and boring. I certainly remember feeling that way! My parents told me that it didn't matter how I felt about it - I would be drilling on times tables every night until I knew them! When I figured out they were serious, I buckled down and learned them in a short time. You know what happened? Amazingly, I realized that math really was much easier when you knew your math facts! I probably didn't admit it to my teachers and parents at the time, but they, in their infinite wisdom, were actually right!

Times have changed in some ways, but not in others. Kids still need to know their times tables, but learning them doesn't have to be boring. There are all kinds of games, computer software packages, and Internet websites to help. Check out the Multiplication page on my site for some free materials and great websites.

Over the years I've developed a motivational system that has proven very effective in helping kids master their times tables. I call it the Mastering Math Facts System, and since I've been using it, 100% of my class masters their times tables each year. And when they do, I see a big jump in their overall math proficiency. A few years ago, one of my 4th graders saw his score on the state math test and announced to the class, "Mrs. Candler is a genius! She said that if I would learn my times tables I would do well in math, and she was right!" As a teacher, I live for those priceless moments!

So last spring I compiled all the strategies, games, and activities into one big ebook: Mastering Math Facts: Multiplication and Division. I had a number of teachers field test the activities, and their students achieved the same level of success that I had observed. Best of all, their students enjoyed learning their times tables!

Then teachers began emailing me to see if I had some resources for addition and subtraction, so I created the Addition and Subtraction Add-on book for them. It's not as complete as Mastering Math Facts, so it's designed as an "add-on" rather than a complete book.

Why share this information now? Because I've found that it's best to start the Mastering Math Facts system within the first few weeks of the year. It only takes about 10 to 15 minutes a day and the activities are fun. The benefit of starting now is that your students will be proficient in the basics when you teach your multiplication, division, and fraction units later in the year.

Because I think that now is the right time to start, I'm offering a special on Mastering Math Facts. If you buy Mastering Math Facts book for $21.95, you can get the Addition and Subtraction Add-on book (normally $6) for free.

But there's only one way to get both books for the price of one:
  • Order the Mastering Math Facts Combo which is $25.95.
  • Enter "mmfcombo" into the discount code box and update the cart.
  • The discount will take off $4.00 which makes the Combo price $21.95, the regular price of Mastering Math Facts.
  • This special is for a limited time only, so you'll need take advantage of it now if you want both books for the price of one.
If you have use the Mastering Math Facts system, I invite you to post your comments and experiences below. Feel free to share other resources for teaching times tables, as well. Good luck!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

T.G.I. Facebook

When I set up a page for Teaching Resources on Facebook last month, I had no idea what a blessing it would turn out to be for me personally. I figured it would be a great way for me to send out quick updates about new materials I added to the Teaching Resources site. But I what I didn't anticipate was how Facebook would allow me to interact with others and ask for advice myself!

Every year in the classroom is different, and every year I face new challenges, just like other classroom teachers. Last week I posted two messages about areas where I needed help, and both times I received dozens of responses in a matter of hours! The truly wonderful thing about this was that not only was I getting help, everyone who visited the page could benefit from the responses. One question was about needing some great math tutorial sites and the other was about how to teach kids about 9/11. Both questions resulted in some really useful information and websites.

I've also noticed that other teachers are posting questions about their own classrooms, and teachers who have experience with these issues are responding. It's so uplifting to me to see these exchanges, and I'm very grateful to the teachers who have signed up as "fans" of the site. Where can I sign up to be a fan of all the fans? :-)

For several years I've been setting aside a part of my Power Pack eBook earnings to support teachers and classrooms. I've donated some of the money to Donors Choose projects, and now I'm also going to start sharing it with Facebook fans of the Teaching Resources site. Every Friday I will give away a free Power Pack to one Facebook fan, and I'll also give a free Power Pack to the person who referred them to my site! On the last Friday of each month, I'll also give away two $25 gift cards. To learn more about the T.G.I. Facebook Freebie giveaway, go to You can sign up as a Facebook fan by going to

Thanks to those of you who have been participating in the exchange of ideas and information on Facebook. You have blessed my life, and I'm happy to share some of my good fortune with you!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Abandoning AR

Like many elementary educators, I’ve lived with the Accelerated Reader (AR) program for the last decade. I’ve gone from using AR to define my reading program to using it flexibly as just one tool in my instructional toolbox. But this year I won’t be using it at all.

Because of recent changes in the way AR operates, my school has decided not to support the program. We can continue to use it until a problem arises, but there won’t be any tech support. I’ve decided to abandon it altogether and just go cold turkey into a new year without AR. Why do I feel like I’m jumping off a cliff into unknown waters, not just changing my reading program?

Tomorrow is the first day of school. I wonder what my students will think when I announce that we will not be using AR this year? I can just imagine their shocked faces. No AR???? Some will stand up and cheer, but others will feel lost without the program. I have similar mixed feelings. On the one hand, I know that the AR program does not produce joyous readers. On the other hand, I’ve found it to be a useful tool for tracking reading progress. It does get results, but at what cost? Face it - how many adults would enjoy reading if we knew we had to pass a test after finishing each book?

Luckily, I just finished reading a wonderful book called The Book Whisperer that will help me make sense of my decision to abandon AR completely. The author, Donalyn Miller, would probably be horrified that I found any value whatsoever in AR! She uses a “reading workshop” approach to deliver instruction, and passionately advocates for student choice in reading. She believes that to become better readers, students need to read more during the school day and become engaged with their texts in meaningful ways.

I guess in my heart of hearts I’ve known for a long time that AR was nothing more than a security blanket. It was an easy system for tracking progress, but it didn’t do much to foster a lifelong passion for reading. Promoting the joy of reading is a worthy goal; however, in today’s climate of accountability, it’s also important for students to perform well on standardized tests.

This year I’m on a mission to do both - promote the joy of reading AND increase reading achievement. I hope to inspire my students to grow as readers, challenging them to tackle increasingly difficult texts and a variety of genres. We’ll establish a climate where independent reading time is treasured and student choice is respected. I’ll create mini-lessons to teach skills, but mostly I’ll encourage my students to read, read, read!

AR won’t have a place in my classroom this year. It’s past time for me and my students to grow up and leave that security blanket behind!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How to Earn 4,000 Scholastic Bonus Points

Every year I cross my fingers in August, hoping that Scholastic will repeat its back-to-school deal. This deal is so terrific that I love to share it with other teachers!

Did you know that with a little bit of know-how and persistence, you can get 4,000 Bonus Points in just a week or two? I've been able to do this every year for at least 5 years, whether I worked at a Title I school or a more affluent one. I've created a system that works every time! Read on to learn how you can do this, too!

How to Earn 4,000 Bonus Points

The Deal:
  • Put together a $200 or larger order from one catalog and you'll get 20 times the Bonus Points! With a $200 order you'll get 4,000 points.
  • The larger the order, the more points you'll get up to 10,000. Don't panic about how you'll get a $200 order when you usually can't get a $10 order! Just read on. Follow my system and you can do it! It works!

  • If you don't want to do this on your own, you can work with another teacher or your grade level. After you get the 4,000 points you can call Scholastic and have the points distributed to each person's account according to the amount their class contributed to the total.
Secrets of Success:
  • Make sure you have a Scholastic account. If you don't, go to to set one up. Then hunt around your school for a September catalog or wait for one to be mailed to you.

  • Look through the Scholastic September catalogs for the ones that offer 20X bonus points for getting a $200 order. Choose one and only one catalog. You have to get together a $200 order from one catalog to qualify, and if you send home 3 catalogs you'll never make it. Just pick the one that has the most books that would appeal to your students. Choose Lucky, Arrow, Tab, or whatever, but make sure it has the 20X bonus point offer.

  • Compose a letter to send home to parents with the order form. See the sample Scholastic Arrow Book Letter on the Teaching Resources Back to School page.

  • If you haven't set up online ordering, do that at this time. I've found that parents order more books when they are using a credit card online. Go to to set this up. Do not activate the option that gives parents 500 more book choices at this time or parents may place orders in that catalog. You want all the orders to come from the catalog you chose earlier. Write down your Class User Name and Password for reference.

  • When you give the order form out, devote some class time to discussing the books. Have the kids highlight the ones they like and allow students to tell the class about books they love. Tell them that if the class can get a $200 order, you'll be able to buy over 100 books for the classroom!

  • Distribute the letter and go over your book picks with the kids. Require them to get the letter signed by a parent even if they don't think they want to order. That way the parents will be aware of your goal and may want to help out, even if they don't usually order books.

  • Make a deal with students. If the class gets a $200 order, anyone who places an order will get a free book pick worth $3 or less from a future catalog. You can use the Scholastic Coupon on Teaching Resources to do this.

  • If you have access to a computer, demonstrate how to place an online order. That way your students can help their parents with this process. Make sure they know the Class User Name and Password.

  • As the orders come in, keep a running total on the board. Do not post individual student names and the amounts of their orders! Just announce the daily total. You can also use the Scholastic Stars $200 Countdown on Teaching Resources. Each section is worth $10, so you can color in the sections as you work to reach your goal of $200.

  • If you have a parent night or open house, put out some extra order forms and be sure to mention your class goal. If you have a copy of the Scholastic dictionary, display it. Explain why you want the bonus points - to order free books and materials for your class.

  • If the deadline passes and you are close to $200, send out another message letting parents know how close you are to the goal. If you have parent email addresses, send them a note and include a direct link to Scholastic's ordering page. You can also combine orders with another teacher to reach that goal and share the points later.

Other Strategies - Have you developed any strategies for cashing in on Scholastic's September deal? Please share your experiences!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

First Day Dilemma

Most kids would be surprised to know that teachers are every bit as nervous as they are on the first day of school! Why do we worry so much? Perhaps it’s because we know that the first day of school sets the tone for the rest of the year. We want to get it right on Day One or we may pay the price all year!

But the problem is that we hear conflicting messages about what the first day of school should look like. Veteran teachers used to tell newbies that it’s best not to smile until Christmas – that way the kids know you mean business. I don’t think anyone really believes that advice anymore, but we should we go to the other extreme? Should we seat kids in teams right away, or should they be in straight rows for the first few weeks of school? Should the first day of school be fun, or should it be a time to learn the rules and classroom procedures?

Personally, I think we can do both on the first day of school. In fact, if we want to establish a caring classroom climate, I think we must do both on the first day of school. We need to let kids know that our classroom will be a fun place to learn, but it’s also a classroom with clear rules and procedures.

One of the big considerations for the first day of school is how to seat students. Should they be seated in rows or teams? If they are in teams, should they pick their teammates?

My view is that the best way to teach kids how to work in cooperative learning teams is to start teaching them that way on the first day of school. If you put them in rows on the first day, then later when you put them in teams, your students may think it’s play time.

My kids are placed in teams from the very first day of school. When my students arrive in my classroom, they will find a nametag on an assigned seat for the first day of school. That seat will be a part of a team of four students, and we’ll begin learning appropriate ways to interact in teams. Throughout the day, we’ll do several fun team-building and class-building activities, and each time I’ll share specific procedures for movement and conversation. For the next two or three days, I will mix them up in different teams so they can get to know their classmates. Then on the third or fourth day I’ll create more permanent, mixed-ability teams. At no time do I let them pick their own teams. Sometimes they may choose a partner for an activity, but their teams are always assigned by me.

For more information on how to create mixed-ability teams, visit the Team Formation page on Teaching Resources. You can also find information and diagrams about how to arrange seating to foster cooperative learning activities.

What’s your experience with team formation? Do you like to put kids in teams on the first day of school or wait until you teach other classroom procedures? My way is just one way . . . and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Time for a Test Drive!

I've been working on this new site for months and months, and it's time to let other folks take a look! It's sort of like when a new store is about to open and they let people in a few days before the grand opening. You have to make sure all systems are working! My site will be taken offline late Friday night so that we can make the switch, but for right now I'm going to reveal its "secret" location. Saturday morning you'll be able to get to it by going to

Before you click on the new site link, please be aware of the following:
  • Navigation is very easy, but one confusing aspect right now is getting back to the Home page from within the site. You can use the link at the bottom of the page, and when the site goes live you can click on the post it note at the top. Unfortunately, right now clicking on the post it goes back to the old site.
  • Some people using Internet Explorer 7 have experienced a problem with the drop down menus. Unfortunately, this problem can't be resolved. When we try to fix it, a problem crops up somewhere else. However, you don't need the drop downs if you just click on the main headings or use the links at the bottom. The problem is solved if you upgrade to IE 8 or use Firefox.
  • I was planning to switch to a new shopping cart system, but it's proving to be problematic. For right now we are sticking with the shopping cart/PayPal system currently on the site.
  • The search feature is only returning pages in the old site, but that should change soon.
Want to give it a try? Go to and poke around a bit. The shopping cart should work just fine. To celebrate this special occasion, I'm offering a special 30% discount on all my Power Packs! Just enter the word "newsite" into the Discount Code box in the shopping cart after you make a selection. This discount will apply to everything in the shopping cart! Be sure to click Update before you check out to make sure the code is applied to everything. If you find any problems, let me know by sending an email to I want everything to be perfect!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

How Do You Feed a Happy Thought Rock?

Remember the pet rock craze years ago? Recently I discovered a positive- energy twist on this old idea. Marie Bryant, a visitor to my Teaching Resources site, sent me an unusual gift - a box of rocks! However, these were no ordinary rocks. Each rock had been hand-painted with a unique happy expression by her husband, Wayne Dalzell. They were adorable! Included in the box was a small stack of cards labeled Care and Feeding. The back of each card said to feed the rock by telling it a happy thought every day. I was enchanted by the idea!

The timing of the gift couldn’t have been better. The rocks happened to arrive the day before two of my students had to retake the state reading exam. I let them each pick out a rock and told them to keep it in their pockets for good luck. I also gave them each a Care and Feeding card and asked them to follow the directions. They were so proud of those rocks! Watching them with the rocks gave me another idea - what if we wrote our happy thoughts in a journal, kind of like a gratitude journal? What a great way to focus on the little positive things that happen every day! So I created a small journal and shared it with Wayne. He liked it and created his own pages for the journal which were even better than mine.

Through several email conversations with Wayne and his wife, I learned that he is a custodian at a California school. He has been giving away his rocks for years just to spread joy to others, and he has lots of great stories about the positive impact they’ve had. He began giving the rocks as rewards to the students with the cleanest classroom each month, and before long he had painted hundreds of Happy Thought Rocks!

I was so touched by the gift of the rocks and by what Wayne is doing that I wanted to share the information with others. I set up a page on my site with the free printable journal and the information about how to order Happy Thought Rocks for your own students or for family and friends. Wayne’s prices are extremely reasonable - in fact, considering the fact that he paints each rock individually by hand, I’m not sure he can even make a profit at those prices! However, at this point he’s more interested in spreading joy to others than in getting rich.

Can you think of a better way to start the year off than by giving your students an adorable gift and having them journal and share their happy thoughts? Wow! The positive energy you generate from this one small investment could totally transform your school year! I’ll keep you posted about how the happy thought idea goes with my students this year, and I’d love for you to post comments here about your experiences with them. Visit the Happy Thought Rocks page on my site for more information and to download the free journal. Make this school year special by pumping up the positive energy in your room from Day 1!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New Site on the Way!

If you are follower of the Teaching Resources site, you probably know that the site is getting a complete makeover. I'm excited that if all goes according to plan, the new site should be ready on August 1st! In the meantime, I'm giving you a sneak peek at the new design.

I hired Doug Brown Design to come up with the overall concept and do the design work, and now my daughter Wendy and I are uploading content and connecting all the links. We also have a programmer working on the shopping cart and other technical elements. It's lots of work, but it's so exciting! I'm finding files in the File Cabinet that I put there years ago and completely forgot about. It's like doing summer cleaning and reorganizing at home!

What's new and improved about the site?
  • More attractive, professional design and layout
  • Reorganization of site contents into 4 major categories with subcategories
  • Shorter pages with less scrolling
  • Drop-down menus
  • Clear, consistent navigation system
  • Search engine to search the File Cabinet and Strategies section
The most frequent question I get about the new site is whether I'll still have a File Cabinet with free materials. The answer to that is a resounding YES! I'm not changing anything about the content of my site - just its appearance and navigation. All the old content will still be there.

When the time comes to go live with the new site, please help me spread the word! My old site has a lot of great content, but it's outdated and difficult to navigate. My new site will combine the best elements of the old site with a clean, professional look you will love!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

End of the Year: To Teach or To Celebrate?

I have a confession to make . . . it's the last week of school and I've stopped teaching. I know I'm supposed to teach until the last day of school, and I really did try. I know the common wisdom is that teachers should continue with instruction until the last day of school in order to keep each day as normal as possible. But I found that the more I tried to teach, the more my students resisted learning anything new. Don't get me wrong - I have a wonderful group of students. It's just that at the end of the year, their brains are fried and so is mine! They couldn't sit still, and they couldn't focus on instruction. I was using every management trick in the book to keep them on task. I finally gave up last Tuesday when I realized that I had spent the whole day fussing at them and we were all miserable.

My ah-ha moment came when I wondered why I had no memory of last year being so miserable for everyone. Then I remembered that last year I spent the last week doing fun activities to celebrate our time together as a class. We made a class scrapbook, created personalized autograph books, wrote reflections, played math games, and had a Scrabble tournament.

So last week I ditched the instruction and planned some activities that we could enjoy together at the end of the year. I'm reading aloud more and we take more time with our class meetings. We are making our class scrapbook, learning math logic games, presenting reader's theater plays, and enjoying class kickball games. The kids voted on class awards that will be presented on Wednesday along with a photo essay of our year together. I'm posting some of my end-of-the year activities on my website ( although I know many people are out for the year.

My conclusion? The end of the year is not for academic learning . . . it's for celebrating as a class. It's for recognizing accomplishments and solidifying friendships. It's for creating memories that will last a lifetime!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Save the Rain Forest!

I'm excited that our school is starting our Adopt-an-Acre campaign which is run by the Earth Foundation. I've worked with this project for almost 10 years, and it's so gratifying to be able to teach my students about the rain forest and offer them a chance to make a difference. The Earth Foundation heads up a huge project involving thousands of schools across the United States. They provide educational materials to teachers such as lesson plans and DVD's that explain why the rain forest is so important.

The Earth Foundation's main focus is raising money to save acres of rain forest through the sale of t-shirts and other items. The t-shirts are high quality and have wonderful designs, so they're very easy to sell. (See the sample design above.) One acre of rain forest is saved for every ten shirts sold. At the end of the year, they take the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are raised and use it to buy a tract of land in an endangered rain forest. This year the Earth Foundation is working with Conservation International to save the rain forests of Madagascar.

One exciting aspect of the project is the fact schools that save 100 acres or more can send one teacher to the rain forest for free! Last year our school met this goal, and one of our teachers was randomly selected to take the trip. It was a 10-day trip to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, and she said it was a fabulous trip! I know we can do as well this year, and I would love to be the one chosen to take the trip. However, there are 6 other teachers on my grade level who are also heavily involved in the project so we will just have to wait and see. :-)

This year I decided to set up a web page of resources on my site to help other teachers who might want to participate. On that page I explain how our school was able to sell 1175 shirts and save 117.5 acres last year. We were third in the nation in sales, and it was our first year participating! You will find all the letters and forms that we are using, along with some tips for success. Click on the link to visit my Rain Forest Resource page.

I hope other educators will decide to get involved with this project. Sales are down this year due to the economy, and the Earth Foundation needs to sell a certain number of shirts in order to purchase land in Madagascar AND get started with the project again next year. They have been involved in this campaign for almost 20 years, so it would be a shame if their good work came to an end this year. If you are interested, just call Kellie at the Earth Foundation (1-800-5MONKEY) and ask her to send you a kit to help you get started. It contains teaching materials, DVD's, and sample t-shirts. Tell her you heard about it from me!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rethinking Praise

I recently discovered that learning something new just might be the best way to improve my own teaching. A few days go I experienced a powerful lesson about praise. I was learning a new style of cross-country skiing, and it was quite a challenge for me. I'm very comfortable with the "striding" style of that sport, but I had never tried the more athletic "skating" style. It looked fun, so I decided to take a lesson. Wow! It's been years since I tried anything that physically challenging! I felt completely uncoordinated and off-balance the entire 90 minutes! The instructor was wonderful, but she had the nerve to do something that I do every single day in the classroom . . . she praised me when I was struggling! The problem was that hearing "good job" when I felt like a duck on skis was more insulting than encouraging. I knew that I wasn't doing a good job, and the praise did not ring true. What I would have liked to hear was, "Keep on working - it will get easier in time." Experiencing praise from the standpoint of the learner really opened my eyes and made me rethink the role of praise in learning.

This ah-ha moment may have been partly due to the fact that the role of praise was already on my mind. A few weeks ago I read "The Perils and Promises of Praise," an article by Carol Dweck that appeared in the October 2008 edition of Educational Leadership.This article examined two kinds of praise that teachers often give students and the long-term effects of praising in those ways. It seems that how we are praised may impact how we view our own intelligence. Some students believe that intelligence is a fixed trait - that people are just born with a certain amount of intelligence. Others believe that they can develop their intellectual abilities by working hard and learning more. As it turns out, praising students for being smart causes them to adopt the former attitude, with quite damaging consequences. Students who think their intelligence is fixed become easily frustrated when they face a challenge. Their self-confidence is tied up in "being smart," and they are afraid that if they ask questions, they won't seem smart. On the other hand, when students are praised for working hard and putting forth effort, they don't worry about appearing smart. Instead, they are willing to tackle challenges and try new experiences. This article is a must-read for any teacher or parent.

There's a happy ending to my cross-country ski story. I didn't give up, and after a few days of sticking with it, I was able to navigate my way around the green beginner trails of Tahoe Donner Ski Area. The weather was gorgeous and I had a wonderful time skiing with my family. Maybe I'll be able to tackle those blue trails next year! I must have had teachers and parents who praised me for working hard rather than being smart, because I've never worried about asking questions. In fact, I have discovered that the more you know, the more you realize you DON'T know! My new year's resolution is to use praise more effectively in the classroom, never giving false praise and always praising students for their efforts rather than because they are smart.