May 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 29, 2017

How to Teach Poetry, Step by Step (It's Easier Than You Think!)

April is National Poetry Month!

When you saw those words, what was your first reaction? Come on now, be honest!

You might have been thinking, "Yay! I love poetry, and now I have an excuse to teach it!"

But more likely you were thinking, "Yikes! Is it that time already? Poetry is so boring and hard to teach, and my students don't like it either. How will I fit poetry lessons into my already packed schedule!"

No matter how you feel about poetry, if you're an upper elementary teacher, you probably have to teach it at some point during the year. Poetry is included in most reading curriculums, and almost every standardized reading test has at least a few poems. Even if your students aren't tested on poetry, there are many reasons to teach it. Just think about the amount figurative language used in poetry, and you'll understand how learning to read and write poetry can improve comprehension of other types of text, too.

The good news is that even if you don't enjoy poetry yourself, it's easy to teach it in a way that will have your students begging for more! 

If you don't believe me, I hope you'll watch my free webinar, How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You't Don't). Every time I present this training, teachers tell me that watching the webinar totally changed the way they feel about teaching poetry. Instead of dreading their next poetry unit, they are actually excited to get started!  

Before I tell you more about the webinar, I'd like you to reflect on your own feelings about poetry and consider why you feel the way you do. This might seem like an unusual request, but after reading this post, I think you'll see why it's important.

What I've discovered is that whether you love poetry or you'd rather walk across a bed of hot coals than teach it, the way you feel about poetry now is a direct result of your early experiences with it. I'll admit that the study of poetry can be dry and boring, but it can also be vibrant and exciting when it's taught as a form of self-expression. Read the two scenarios below and ask yourself which one is most like your own experiences learning poetry.

The Best of Poetry
If you enjoy poetry and you like teaching it, your first experiences were probably relaxed, playful and fun. Discussions about poetry focused on personal responses, and you talked about the beauty of the language, noticed the musical quality of the words, or discussed how poetry made you feel. You learned that poems don't have to rhyme and often break the rules of grammar, and if you were encouraged to write poetry, you probably wrote free verse.

Free verse poems are so easy to write that almost anyone can compose them, even kids who normally struggle to write sentences and paragraphs. To see what I mean, read Corn Husks below, a poem written by one of my former 5th grade students while on our "Private Eye Poetry" field trip. I wrote a grant for a class set of Private Eye magnifying lenses, and later arranged to take my students to the local park to observe nature up close and write poetry. The students spent the first hour collecting items and using their private eyes to observe them, and the second hour was spent writing poems about the treasures they found. Anthony was fascinated with dried corn husks, and he wrote this beautiful comparison poem about what he observed.

The Worst of Poetry
Not everyone has been lucky enough to learn about poetry this way; in fact, most students have only seen the worst of poetry. If your early memories consist of painful and humiliating attempts to memorize and recite poetry in front of the class, it's no wonder you want to avoid it at all costs! Were you forced to analyze each and every poem to uncover its "true" meaning? If so, I'll bet you were frustrated when your interpretation was different from your teacher's, and you were told that yours was wrong. If you were given poetry-writing assignments, your poems probably had to rhyme which meant never being able to write in your own voice. Writing rhyming poetry is an art, and it's not something that comes naturally to adults or children. Inexperienced writers often end up replacing powerful words with weak ones just because they rhyme, so their poems sound boring and contrived.

So, did you experience the best of poetry or the worst of poetry as a student? If you don't like poetry, are you starting to realize why you don't like it? This is why I wanted to you to explore how you came to feel the way you do about poetry. Which of the two scenarios would you like your students to experience? Poems don't have to rhyme, and they don't have to be dry and boring. If that's what you've experienced up until now, let me introduce a whole new way of thinking about poetry and teaching it to your students! After you implement some of these strategies, you might even be surprised to learn that you actually like teaching poetry!

Sign up here for the poetry webinar replay. 

Free Webinar: How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don't)
I've been sharing poetry resources with teachers for a long time, but until last year, I had never explained how to each a poetry unit from beginning to end. Frankly, I worried that trying to write out the complete, the step-by-step directions for a poetry unit would result in a 3-inch thick document that no one would have time to read!

Then last April, I had a flash of insight when I realized poetry would be the perfect topic to teach during a webinar! The format would give me a way to explain the steps and strategies in great detail, and I could also answer questions at the end of the live session.

I immediately set to work developing my webinar, How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even if You Don't), and it was a joy to be able to share exactly how I teach poetry, step by step. The webinar has been hit each time I've presented it, and it's equally popular with teachers who love poetry and those who don't... or those who didn't enjoy it in the past!

The most recent live presentation of the webinar took place on March 30th, but don't worry if you missed it. You can sign up to watch a free replay from the webinar registration page. If I happen to schedule another live webinar, you'll see the date and time when you click that link. My free webinars don't include a professional development certificate, but you can obtain a PD certificate for this session by purchasing my How to Teach Poetry Webinar PD pack or my Poetry Webinar Bundle. Both products include a PD certificate, the poetry webinar slides in a printable PDF format, a downloadable video to watch offline, and an audio replay.

What You'll Learn in the Poetry Webinar
If you're wondering what cover in this webinar, download the free How to Teach Poetry webinar handouts from my TpT store now and take a look. While you're there, read the comments and testimonials from teachers who attended the webinar in the past, and I think you'll see why I'm so excited to share this information with you! Whether or not you actually take notes, the handouts provide a nice outline of what you can expect to learn in this session:
  • Why it's important to teach poetry
  • A 6-step plan for teaching an entire poetry unit
  • What free verse poetry is and how it differs from other forms of poetry
  • My favorite poetry books to read aloud and share with your students
  • Questions to guide your poetry discussions
  • How to teach kids the difference between poetry and prose
  • 8 commonly-used poetic devices and how to teach them
  • A quick and easy close reading strategy for teaching kids to dig deeper into poetry
  • How to get kids talking about poetry
  • Strategies for teaching kids to write powerful similes and metaphors
  • A simple, step-by-step method for writing color poems
  • How to transform reluctant writers into enthusiastic poets

Ready to Get Started Teaching Your BEST Poetry Unit Ever?
Have you signed up for How to Teach Kids to Love Poetry (Even If You Don't)? I feel confident that after implementing the step-by-step plan described in the webinar, you'll actually begin to enjoy teaching poetry. Best of all, your students will discover the best of poetry instead of the worst, and before you know it, they'll be reading and writing poetry with enthusiasm!

March 7, 2017

Arr, Me Hearties! Island Conquer Gets a Pirate Makeover!

Do you recognize the Island Conquer math game freebie pictured on the right? If you've been following my blog for awhile, you might be thinking that the name sounds familiar, but the freebie itself probably doesn't LOOK familiar!

That's because Island Conquer Area & Perimeter recently got a pirate makeover! Arr, me hearties! I had the best time updating this math game, and I can't wait to share it with you landlubbers! :-)

If you're an upper elementary teacher, you know that kids often get confused between area and perimeter, so they need lots of practice with these skills. A few years ago, I noticed that my 4th graders were struggling with these concepts, so I created a math center game to give them a fun way to practice area and perimeter.

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

My 4th graders loved Island Conquer so much that I decided to share it with my followers, and the game became one of my most popular freebies. However, when I came across the original file last week, I noticed that it looked really outdated. I decided to revise the entire freebie and give a pirate theme, and what a difference it made!

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

Island Conquer Area & Perimeter Math Game Freebie

Click here to sign up for Candler's Classroom Connections and grab this freebie!

Where to Find Island Conquer
Would you like to use this math game in your classroom? Island Conquer is free for subscribers to my email newsletter, Candler's Classroom Connections, and if you're not already a subscriber, click here to sign up and I'll send Island Conquer right to your inbox! If you are a current subscriber, look for a recent email from me with the link to the page called Laura's Best Freebies. If you can't find it, sign up using the link above and I'll send Island Conquer to you now. I hope you find this activity to be a helpful math resource and that your students enjoy Island Conquer as much as mine did!

February 22, 2017

Going Marbles for STEM Hands-on Learning

Guest blog post by Francie Kugelman

April 23rd, 2017 Update: Six teachers will each win 4 Marble Run Super Sets in this weekend's Caring Classrooms Contest! Click HERE for details.

Do you remember the thrill of dropping a marble into a maze and watching it roll, spin, and finally end at the bottom of your run? Having your students create a marble run can be a fantastic learning experience for your students, and it makes a great STEM project, too. Believe it or not, you might even be able to the materials for this project absolutely free!

I recently decided to have my 3rd graders design and test marble runs as a part of my Forces and Interactions science unit. I developed the activity to address the Next Generation Science Standard 3-PS2-1: "Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object."

When I began looking for materials, I discovered the Marble Run Extreme kit from Marble Genius which looked like the perfect resource for this STEM activity. I was going to order a kit from, but after noticing that many reviewers were able to purchase the kit at a reduced price, I emailed the company to ask about getting a discount. I ended up with something even better than a discount... they offered to send me a kit for free! I also ordered a set of six stopwatches from Amazon that my students could wear around their necks so they could time their runs and make adjustments.

For our first class experience with marble runs, we had large teams and I separated the kit so every team had the essential parts for their marble runs. After the activity, I contacted Marble Genius to thank them, and I raved about their Marble Run Extreme kit. I couldn't believe it when Jeff Forgrave, the founder of the company, emailed me back and offered to send me 10 more kits for free! One kit isn't really enough for an entire class, and he wanted my students to experience a true hands-on STEM lesson where every child could participate in designing, building, and testing marble runs.

After the kits arrived, I had classroom parents label every piece so I could easily put them back together again. Each kit includes 125 translucent plastic pieces and 20 marbles, so it was easy to make sure every group had essential pieces to create their marble run. I rolled up our classroom rugs and put them in the hallway so the marble runs would have stability on our floor.

The Challenge: Building the Slowest Marble Run
When it was time to start the activity, I divided my students into small cooperative learning groups and challenged them to design the SLOWEST run! I gave each team a set of marble run materials including a stopwatch, and I could feel the excitement and urgency in the room as each team worked on trying to build the slowest marble run in the classroom.

I loved hearing the excitement in my room as I watched how focused and engaged my students were, from high achievers to struggling students. One team discovered that the circular shape with the hole in the middle is perfect for slowing down the marble. I had the rest of the class watch that team’s marble run in action, and I challenged the other teams to match their time and increase it!

Every team wanted to time their run and change their design so they could increase the time it took for their marble to complete its run. Both boys and girls worked together on their marble runs, and had no difficulties making adjustments to the configuration of their marble runs.

Besides creating a run with the slowest time, we tried some other runs. One activity required the students to use all the pieces they were given to create the fastest run, and another criteria was to choose 5 pieces that could be removed from the kit that would help the run to be even faster.

Creating marble runs was fun for my students, and they really loved the activity. But what I liked best was the fact that they were experimenting and making critical thinking choices while exploring Next Generation Science Standard concepts related to forces and interactions!

Marble Run Extreme Kits 
The Marble Run Extreme kits worked great for this activity! The pieces are easy to assemble, sturdy, and made of colorful transparent plastic! My third graders are 9 years old, and the kits were so easy to use that none of them asked for my help putting their Marble Runs together. We loved watching the marbles as they traveled their way through the run because this kit features transparent plastic, making it extremely easy to watch and film the journey. Because I labeled the parts of each kit, putting the pieces away in the correctly labeled box was easy to do.

If you do this activity with your students, I recommend purchasing several kits so you'll have plenty of materials for your students to use when designing their marble runs. The more marble run kits you order, the more pieces each team has to work with. A total of 4-5 kits would be perfect for a classroom of 25 students so there would be lots of pieces for each team to work with.

If you order enough kits, you could even create a Makerspace in your classroom where your students can design their own Ultimate Marble Runs any way they want to!

Marble Genius Ambassador Program (Free Kits for Teachers!)
If funding for marble run materials isn't available from your school, don't lose hope! The folks at Marble Genius have just launched their Marble Genius Ambassador program, and they're planning to give away over 1,000 Marble Run kits to teachers like me who are willing to use the materials and to help spread the word about them! Interested teachers can request up to 10 free kits in exchange for agreeing to share about their experiences on social media as well as in a school or class newsletter. If you're interested in signing up for the program, click over to the Marble Genius Ambassador page to learn more and get started.

DonorsChoose Funding for Marble Run Materials
You can also explore grants and funding opportunities to obtain the materials. If you teach in a public school in the United States, you could easily write a DonorsChoose proposal for the marble run kits and stopwatches, and there's a good chance it would be fully funded. is a nonprofit organization that helps teachers get funding for classroom materials, and if you aren't tapping into this source of funding, now would be a great time to begin!

I've had 200 DonorsChoose projects funded with a total value of over $100,000, and I've learned a few tricks for getting your project funded successfully. First, try to keep your total materials cost under $350 because small projects are much more likely to get funded. Also, look for match offers and keep them in mind when writing your proposal. For example, your project can qualify for a 50% match if you use your marble runs in an after-school club as described on the Science Everywhere Innovations Challenge page. Another 50% match is available for those who teach at a highest poverty school if they follow the directions for the STEAM Innovation Grant.

To learn more about how to obtain funding through, follow the Caring Classrooms Community on Facebook. Members of this group help and support each other as they work to get their DonorsChoose projects funded. Laura Candler and I are the administrators of the group, and we love supporting teachers who are trying to obtain DC funding. You might also want to watch the replay of the DonorsChoose webinar that Laura and I presented together a few months ago because we shared a lot of helpful information!

Marble Genius Partners with Caring Classrooms
While I was communicating with Jeff Forgrave a few months ago to share my excitement about the Marble Run Extreme kits, I also told him about DonorsChoose and the teachers who make up the Caring Classrooms Community.

When he found out about our mission, he offered to sponsor the Caring Classrooms Community with a $500 donation AND 20 Marble Run Super Set kits to give to teachers in our community! Laura and I are so appreciative of this level of support from Marble Genius, and we're planning to give those kits away in the Caring Classrooms Contest which will take place on April 22nd and 23rd. Click over to the contest page now to see how it works! Six teachers will each win 4 Marble Run Super Sets, and you can enter even if you aren't eligible to use DonorsChoose.

If you want to be reminded when the contest begins, sign up for the Caring Classrooms email newsletter. Who knows? You might be one of the lucky winners!

Francie Kugelman teaches 3rd grade at Dahlia Heights Elementary School in Los Angeles. She loves actively engaging her students in the learning process, and she's obtained over $100,000 in classroom funding from to help bring those lessons to life. Francie is a passionate advocate for, and she enjoys helping other teachers obtain funding for their projects through this nonprofit organization. Francie also holds the honor of being the very first Marble Genius Ambassador!

February 2, 2017

Interactive Teaching with Plickers (Free Webinar)

Click HERE for the Webinar Replay

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

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

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

If you don't know anyone who uses Plickers, I'm here to help! I'm offering a free webinar to show you exactly how to get started and how to use the program to actively engage your students. If you want to know more, click over to the Interactive Teaching with Plickers registration page and sign up now!

In the meantime, let me share a little more about how Plickers works. You won't need to purchase expensive clicker devices because this innovative program uses "paper clickers" that you can print for free from the Plickers website. You only need one card per student, and each card has a unique pattern that can be scanned like a QR code with just about any mobile device.

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

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