Sunday, February 5, 2017

Do Something Different on Valentine's Day! Make a Math Fractions Quilt!

Are you looking to change up your Valentine's activities?  Let's face it . . .  by the time students get to the 4th and 5th grades, they've counted and graphed conversation hearts probably several times.

How about doing something different?  Better yet, do something that taps into the creative side of the brain while reinforcing math skills. Ask students to create their own fractions quilt block design that has a pattern or symmetry and answer questions about their quilt block.

When all of the quilt blocks are made, cut them out and piece them together to make a class quilt. You can talk about how separately, we are individually unique and special but TOGETHER, we are complete.

Do you want to really hook students into learning?  Give them choices.  To differentiate, you can use forms B & C.  Form B in the set is the "D.I.Y." option and allows students to choose their own colors.  Form C gives students full control as the "Quilt Designer" and they choose the colors, decide the pattern, write questions and give an answer key.

Also, notice that there is a simple character education reminder next to the quilt block. Everyone needs reminders!

Here's an example of a quilt block FREEBIE:

You will notice the quilt block freebie in the photo is numbered 6A.  The Quilt Block Fractions math center in my TpT store has 5 different quilt designs, plus forms B and C for each.  They also include the manipulative pieces and answer keys.  Besides using this as a great math/art center, it makes the perfect stand-alone set of activities you can leave for a substitute or as a gap filler.  Easy and fun.  Best prep!

Teachers in grades 3-5, let's share other great Valentine's Day math activities!  What do you use?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Bringing the Real World Into the Classroom, Iditarod Style (Grades 3-5)

Do you love to use real life events to hook students into learning the skills you have to teach from multiple subject areas?  Well, you're in luck because the IDITAROD is only 28 days away!  This post will help inspire you and give you the ideas that you need to kickstart teaching the Iditarod! :)
There's so much you can teach that uses the Iditarod theme!  And... students love it so you have an engaged audience right away!  When teaching the Iditarod, you can intertwine Geography, History, Writing, Reading,Writing, and Math into your lessons.  So what are you waiting for?  Here's a quick little video to get you excited to teach the Iditarod!

The official Iditarod race website is a must for this unit, go to to see the official race site. Did you know that every year the Iditarod chooses one lucky teacher and allows the teacher to have a trail adventure?  The teacher writes curriculum and it is posted on the site to help other educators.  You will find tons of FREE educator resources to get you started.  Here's a peek at the Educator part of the Iditarod website:

Here's some teaching ideas and web links to get you and your students interested in the Iditarod:
  • Education World has tons of Iditarod teaching resources HERE.
  • KidsKonnect has the history of the Iditarod HERE.
  • The Discovery Channel put out a great educational video that explains all about Alaska and the Iditarod, and we all know that students love when they get to watch TV in class. (run time 43 min.)
  • Read the Scholastic article, All About Alaska. This gives great background for you and your students.  Tech Tip:  Project the web page for your students to read and/or follow along.
  • Do you have to teach friction?  Use this information to learn about the friction of the sled runners.
  • This video gives a pictorial display of the Inuit people of Canada and Alaska. Video (2:11)  Photos and Songs from the Inuit People
  • How about teaching forces of flight?  Yep, you can connect that to the Iditarod, too!
  • Here's a little mini lesson that crosses multiple subject areas: Dallas Seavey is one of the race mushers. To be more specific, in 2012, Dallas became the youngest person to ever win the Iditarod!  Dallas posted a YouTube video (run time 2:54) of his team racing. Your third, fourth and fifth graders will LOVE this one!  He says, "Now it's time to pull together," - talk about puns!  Be sure to watch and maybe pause the video where he shows you the thermometer and it reads about -30F!  Yowza that's COLD!  Use that to to springboard you to a lesson on thermometer reading.  There's a video on PBS learning (run time 3:51) you can show.
  • Once the race has begun, students can choose and follow a musher's progress on the trail.  Of course this means moving the place markers on their nametags but THEN once you have students hooked, you can easily teach Iditarod-themed math problem solving and review grammar concepts.  Students will be looking forward to the next day's learning.  If you want to use my No Prep Follow an Iditarod Musher Math and Musher Language, you can find it HERE.
  • Here's a fun Brain Break FREEBIE that demonstrates why teamwork is important!  Students draw cards to find their place on the sled dog team, whether it's the musher or a sled dog, they all have an important role.  Students get into their teams, and act out what a sled dog team would do on the trail, using sled dog language, such as "Gee" and "Haw".  This fun little freebie gets students moving, learning the language of sled dog teams, and most importantly, working as a team.  Get the FREEBIE Brain Break Here
The opportunities to connect learning to the Iditarod are endless!  Feel free to comment with other tips that you have for teaching the Iditarod.  Did you try any of the ideas in this post?  Let us know what you thought! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Valentine Math Art Gap Filler FREEBIE (Grades 3-5)

Hi teacher friends!

Valentine's Day is just around the corner and you might be looking for a fun, colorful art project that incorporates some math to jazz up your bulletin boards.  This is great for gap filler for grades 3-5 and it's FREE in my TpT store!

The worksheet that has three versions of the same worksheet so you can differentiate for your students.  This is a photo of the basic worksheet:

The other two worksheets give students choices to choose their own colors and also to use a ruler to divide up the letters and design their own color key and design.  
Get it HERE on TpT
If you're in need of a great stand-alone math center activity, you might like the full set that has students computing multiples and common multiples!  Each coloring page has two additional pages that allow for differentiation.  It's a print and use, NO PREP set.

Teachers, I'd love to hear what you do for Valentine's Day and what gap fillers you love?  Happy Valentine's Day! ❤️

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Teach Students to Analyze Poetry {Grades 4-5}

Hi teacher friends!  April's poetry month is a short hop and a skip away.

You have to teach poetry to fourth and fifth graders but you may not have the time to prepare for dissecting poems.  There are 9 exemplar poems on the CCSS Poetry Exemplar List.  Yikes, that's a LOT and your prep time is limited.  Maybe you don't even LIKE poetry, let alone have to TEACH it.  Here's some hints that I hope help.

First you will want to learn about the POET:
  • Research everything about the poet.
  • What background can you learn about the poet?
  • Who is he or she?
  • Where is s/he from?
  • What was s/he known for?
  • What other poems has s/he written?
  • What is the audience for the poems?
  • What was his/her style?
  • During what time period was this poem written?
  • What elements of poetry does the poet emphasize?  Why?
  • What may have caused the poet to write this particular poem?
  • Has s/he written other similar poems?
  • Dig deep! Take notes.
Now you need to learn about the poem:
  • Start by first quickly reading the poem.
  • Now re-read the poem, this time  read it for understanding.
  • Then read the poem again, thinking about what the poet was (really) trying to say. 
  • What is the meaning of the poem?
  • What is the poem about?
  • Where does it take place?
  • Think through your teacher lens and make sense of the poem and consider what you would tell students.
  • What is the message and theme?
  • What is the poem's stanza structure? 
  • Does the poet choose to use rhyming structure or not?  
  • Why did the poet choose that structure?
  • What about the rhyme scheme?
  • How about the poet's use of alliteration, metaphors and similes?
  • What other types of figurative language are used?  
  • What other types of literary devices are used?
  • What words are used and what do they mean?
  • How does the poet use words to help convey mood and emotion?
  • Look for vivid verbs and colorful adjectives to point out to your students.
  • What emotion does the poem cause you to feel? 
  • Do you enjoy the poem?  
  • What makes you like or dislike it?
  • How will you teach this to students?
  • How will you assess student understanding?
There's SO much to teaching poetry but you have to do it right or your students won't enjoy it and that's just not okay!  {Quick Story!}  Here's a quick story about the importance of a teacher's love of their subject matter.  Did you have a teacher or professor in college that you loved?  If you did, it's likely because the teacher or prof had a passion and genuine interest in their subject matter.  I enjoyed  my high school French class, not so much because I loved French, but our teacher made it come to life.  He told us stories.  He made us laugh.  He made the subject matter come to life.  He didn't read slides or notes.  He talked to us.  He knew his stuff and he just talked to us and told stories connected to what we were learning.  Learning was fun in his class.  I actually went on to take French for a whole year in college and got a Bachelor of Arts (instead of a Bachelor of Science) because my teacher helped me love the subject matter.  I never dreamed I would do that but the inspiration from his class spurred me on.  YOU can be the storyteller that helps students understand why poets write and help them understand the deeper meaning of poems.  It's like a puzzle that needs solving!

Trust me on this; the more you know about the poet and the poem, the more you will be able to help students learn to read poetry and understand the (literal) words and the (figurative) word play.  I know it's not easy!  Some poems are hard to understand for adults.  Some of the poems on the 4th and 5th grade CCSS list are tough to interpret and I wondered how someone decided which poems were appropriate and understandable by 10 and 11 year olds?  Holy cow!  Think what those deep poems sound like to a student!  If they're tough for you to understand, you can empathize with your students as they struggle to grasp meaning.  You have to understand so you can help your students.  Don't short cut the steps of building your own background knowledge and understanding.  Read as many poems by the same author as you can so you get the poet's style and themes.

If you're STILL stressing about teaching poetry, and maybe don't have the time to devote to it, I suggest starting with one poet and poem. Then teach your socks off!

If you don't have time with the hectic year, don't worry.  I've got you covered!  I love teaching poetry and did all of the hard work for you!  If you're interested, I created 9 Poetry Analysis Task Card Sets for 4th & 5th Graders.  I bundled the task cards to save you money by including 2 free sets. (#everyonelovesadeal)  If you have teaching partners, additional licenses are 50% off for them.   You can use one poem task card set each week and have a 9-week unit.  Or you can set up the task cards as a literature station.  Or you can use the tasks cards as direction instruction lesson starters then let students work in discussion groups or with partners to fill out the response booklet.   The choice is yours!  BUT whatever you do . . .  make learning poetry FUN!

Teaching poetry is one of my favorite ELA units of the year and it can be your students' favorite, too.

I made a 30 second video that gives you a quick peek a the set.  {This is my first video attempt so be kind!  I WILL get better!}  😄
The bundled poetry analysis set includes everything you will need to teach all 9 poems.  The task card sets include a short poet biography summary.  I wrote task card questions and included sample response answers for each task card.  There's even a cool recording booklet that I designed to save paper for students to use.  It prints back to back and simply folds in half.  Website links are included so you can show students the videos, biographies, online versions of the poems and more.

Take the stress out of teaching poetry and start LOVING teaching poetry!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

This Year It's All About YOU!

Hi everyone!!
Gosh it seems like ages since I’ve posted on my blog.  But it’s a new year, new me, right? ;)  Here’s to hoping!!

We’ve been super busy digging ourselves out here in Central Oregon from two feet (no kidding) of snow that we’ve gotten over the past few weeks!  As we dig out, that leaves plenty of time to think about way to improve myself and my store!  After all, my motto is… “Teach, inspire, create, and help others along the way!!” 

For reference, the fence in the picture below is 5 feet tall!
What are some products that you guys would LOVE to use in the classroom, but just don’t have time to make?  I’m hoping to reach some of you and work with you to create products that YOU can benefit from, and so can other teachers!! :) 
Mrs. Renz' Blog Search!!
What are some things that you guys would love to see and hear about on my blog?  Being a retired teacher, I have a lot of knowledge spanning from my expertise in elementary/middle school math, middle elementary grades, science.  I also have been blessed with some pretty great opportunities to grow as a teacher through several different awards (Disney Teacher, JASON Project Teacher Argonaut in Panama, Microsoft Innovative Teacher, Mt. Vernon Teacher Institute, and multiple publications).  I would love to inspire other teachers to reach for these honors and distinctions, and share my experiences with each of them if there is interest!  :)
Instagram Search!!
What would would love to see more of on Instagram??  Pictures of my adventures, our adorable Golden (I may be a little biased), Instagram-only flash sales?  You name and it, and I’d love to post what interests you the most!!
Facebook Search!!
What do you want to see more of on Facebook?  New product announcements, links to videos, inspiring quotes, new product announcements?

I am so excited to hear what YOU all want to see more of!!  Happy New Year, and I hope you guys aren’t buried in as much snow as we are!  :o

I leave you with one last photo that I LOVE taken a few nights ago of Bend, Oregon by local photographer, Holly Fischer Photography.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Who Wants to Win a $10 TpT Gift Card?

Tis the season to be thankful and give!!  Who wants to win a $10 TpT store gift card?!  

Head on over and enter on both Mrs. Renz Class IG and Mrs. Renz Class on FB.  

There's 3 ways to enter:
#1 “like this post” for 1 entry, 
#2 share this post on your feed/wall tagging Mrs. Renz class for 2 entries, 
#3 tag a friend for another entry!!  

That’s a total of 8 entries if you enter on both FB and IG :D  

One winner will be announced Nov 27th at 6pm PST (just in time for cyber Monday)  

Happy Holidays and Merry Shopping to you!!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

(Really) Invite Parents into Your Classroom at Open House and Back to School Night

It's a brand new year with brand new students and families and you want the year to get off to a great start.  You may have a large class size and so much to do each day prepping, organizing groups, learning new curriculum, working with colleagues, setting goals, grading and evaluating student work and, oh yea . . . teaching.  And then trying to have a life outside of school.  You might not have the luxury of having an educational assistant to work with you.

HOW will you get it all done?  Open House and Back to School Night is your chance to create a partnership with parents.  Make a great impression and recruit parents as your classroom volunteers. Invite the parents into your classroom and make them your partner in their child's education.  It's a Win-Win!  Parents get to see their child and you get the advantage of having extra help in the classroom.
Tip 1:  Make your room look amazing!  You will want your room and hallway to look great, so make sure your students have put their best foot forward with great work on display.  My students will create a poetry project at the end of the year and to get the unit kicked off, I always begin the year with a poem.  It's a three-stanza "I Am" poem with three purposes.  First, its a way I can assess students' writing abilities.  I instantly learn about students' spelling, punctuation, and writing skills.  Second, it will be an art/writing lesson that's beautiful to display for Back to School or Open House Night.  Third, and probably the most important for me, the information students share as they write the poem really helps me to understand the child as a person and get to know him/her.  I couldn't learn as much in such a short time without this writing task.  We save and include this poem in the poetry collection book students create in May.

I also begin with a graphing and surveys "Get to Know Us" math unit on mean, median, mode, minimum, maximum and range.  This unit has lots of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing in it and of course I am watching again to assess student skill levels.  Students design and create a survey question, then students take each other's survey.  The surveys are tallied and results displayed. This is a great bulletin board display that shows our class likes and favorites.
Tip 2:  Make your classroom an inviting and efficient space in which to work and learn.  If you're like me, you've spent a big chunk of your summer making and planning for your room to be organized, labeled, with everything strategically placed for efficient learning to take place.

I love my reading corner with books organized into tote boxes by topic.  If you can, add a rug and some camp chairs and a lamp to cozy up your corner.  Here's an old photo of my reading area.

My math tools area is all organized and labeled to quickly locate what we need.
Learning posters like your character traits expectations and math word wall posters need to be displayed. We use the character traits posters daily and it is a big focus of our "Student of the Week" and "Wise Owl Student of the Month" award system.  
Another must-have for me is my math word wall definitions.  The photo shows my (really) old word wall posters. I've completely re-made them and they're much prettier and more complete now.  :)  I post and organize my posters alphabetically and we refer to the wall daily.  My word wall is functional and it is readable from across the room.  Why put up posters if you can't read them from a distance?  If they're really intended for students to use, they must be readable from the child's seated location.  
Tip 3:  Make a great Back to School or Open House PowerPoint or SMART Board slideshow.  Once I got my SMART Board, I made my parent presentation in SMART Board format so it was interactive.

When it's parent night, I want parents to see how their children begin their day so I make a slideshow so parents do an attendance sign in just like students do.  Students teach their parents how to touch and move their name to answer the back to school question.  The sign ins are a great way for me to teach math skills each and every day and I want parents to know how it works and why it's important for students to be at school on time.  Students work with the attendance data, computing the fraction, decimal and percent using the question of the day as the focus.  Everyone loves the sign ins, but you'll love how well your students will be able to convert fractions to decimals to percents.  Parents are amazed at the math their students are doing.
Your presentation is your chance to help parents understand your rules and routines, procedures for absences, the curriculum and projects you'll be teaching, and so much more.  Make sure as you discuss the importance of parent volunteers that you explain how you will be using parent talents and skills to enhance the lives of all of your students.  Some parents will be great working with student groups, some will feel more comfortable running off and preparing student materials, some will be guest speakers or guest readers, and some will be your field trip chaperones. It's important that parents feel they are welcome in your classroom at any time.  I set out my volunteer sign up sheets and call every parent or better yet, have a lead parent organize your volunteers for you!  I seriously consider parents my teaching partners. 
Tip 4:  Feed them and they will come!  Our school puts out refreshments and treats in the common lunch area and that helps get parents to school.  If your school doesn't offer that, you may want to offer peanut fee snacks.  Everyone likes a treat!
Tip 5:  Offer a drawing for a free lunch for two lucky students who attended the parent night.   This encourages and rewards the effort parents make to come learn about their child's school year with you.  Each student is given a coupon for attending the open house with his/her parents.  The next school day, have your "Star of the Week" draw two names and treat them to a lunch.  My teaching partner and I did this together and we called the order in to a Subway sandwich shop close by then we picked it up during our prep period.  We set a table cloth and a vase of flowers on the table and our four students ate together in the common area.  Students loved it and it wasn't too expensive using coupons.

You want students know that learning in your classroom is fun.  And best of all, you've got parents partnering with you and helping you teach their children.  That's a big win for you!

Below are the links to the materials and programs that I use and to the materials that work for me. Maybe they  can help you, too. 😊
What do you do that works well for you for Open House and Back to School night?  I'd love for you to share it here!
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