Reflections and Resources from Tarheelstate Teacher: November 2016
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Task Cards are just Glorified Worksheets!

Task cards are an engaging, fun classroom activity and allow for easy differentiation, even in whole group instruction. Find out why I think they are awesome for whole group math instruction and differentiation. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade math teachers, you won't want to miss this post! Know the reasons why task cards ARE NOT just glorified worksheets!
Are you using task cards in your classroom, yet?

Today, I want to share my experiences with using task cards for math instruction and all the reasons why I believe they are BETTER THAN WORKSHEETS. I think it was around 5 years ago that I really embraced task cards and it's never too late for you to start harnessing the magic that I think they are!

That year, we had a math textbook that I thought was decent, but that relied heavily upon activity workbooks and whole group instruction (#notmystyle). As I was planning one day, staring at a workbook page of word problems that I thought would be beneficial for my students but hating the idea of them just sitting and doing desk work for another day, I decided to type up the word problems and cut them out so that students could move around the room working on questions {instant task cards!}. Later, I began making my own math task cards with word problems focused around the concepts I was teaching and using "real-world" themes that I thought would be fun for my students.

I know many teachers use task cards as a math station or center activity, but I always launch a set of task cards by using them in whole group first and then move students into differentiated stations as needed.

I think a lot of the magic comes from using task cards as a whole-group teaching method, so as I share some reasons why I think task cards are absolutely MAGICAL in math class and more than a worksheet, keep the image of all students working on a set of task cards at the same time in your mind.

1) Students think we are doing something fun because they get to move around the classroom. Sometimes, you'd think we were having a party in math class! (For End of Year math review, we actually DO throw a low-key summer-themed party with our Slide into Summer task cards!)

2) Students are more willing to ask questions and seek out help. I find that when students are up and moving around the room, I've created a safe place for students to feel more comfortable asking me for help. Task cards can also provide so much variety in the way questions are presented that any student may encounter a problem that they have a question about.

3) Task Cards encourage a growth mindset (if growth mindset is already a part of your classroom environment). I often use task cards for two days in a row. Students are able to see their growth from their initial exposure to the task cards to the following day. I am certain to compliment, "Doesn't today seem a little easier? You guys are getting the hang of it!"

4) ANSWER KEYS allow for EASY CHECKING! I print at least two answer keys for my task card sets because sometimes I have an AIG or inclusion teacher in the room with me. When it makes sense, I've also allowed students to use the answer key to check themselves. I walk around the room, sit at a desk in the middle of the room, or stand at a shelf where I can check papers while students are working. Students know to come check in with me regularly and I ask some students to check in with me more often, or have them sit beside of me so that I can give them instant feedback on each problem. If I have lag time, I call students over who have not checked in with me yet. With my answer key in hand, I can give students super fast feedback. When math class is over, I can also check over students work in a matter of minutes and see who needs more assistance and who is ready to move on. Workbooks, worksheets, and packets don't seem to have this same quick grading speed and I RARELY TAKE TASK CARD ANSWER SHEETS HOME TO GRADE because it's so easy to get them checked before I head out.

5) Task cards allow for easy differentiation. Many task card sets are organized by levels of difficulty and get increasingly more challenging. Task cards that are not organized this way can be sorted by the teacher and you can send groups of students to the cards that you want them to work on first. I've also purchased task cards on specific skills (like rounding or multiplication, for example) in varying levels so that I could use different cards with different students. (I've organized my Subtracting Fractions with Unlike Denominators and Regrouping and my Comparing and Ordering Fractions Task Cards into increasing levels of difficulty so that I could easily move my students from one version of the concept to the next layer of the concept).

6) Task card answer sheets make it easy to create small groups. This piggybacks on #5, but when I use a set of task cards for two days, I am easily able to use students' performance on the first day to create small groups or partnerships that will better support students' learning on the following day. I jot down groups of students that I want to focus my attention on and sometimes even sort the answer sheets based on performance to either modify the students' assignment or make plans to provide them more direct instruction.

7) Task cards are a LOW PREP, high engagement, worthwhile instructional method. I can have a set of task cards, answer keys, and student answer sheets ready to go in a matter of minutes during planning. (Yes, this is easier when you have been using task cards for a while and know the ones you used in previous years that you want to use again, but task cards are also easy to find on teacherspayteachers, and I hope you look around my store to see what's available for your 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.) After the first day of introducing task cards, I may have to seek out a set of easier or more challenging cards to help me differentiate, but often, I've already got the next level of cards prepared for my students who are ready.

8) After I've used a set of task cards with the whole class, it's easy to move them into a station rotation for review, extra practice, as an intervention, or to differentiate for students who still need to work on the concept.

Task cards are an engaging, fun classroom activity and allow for easy differentiation, even in whole group instruction. Find out why I think they are awesome for whole group math instruction and differentiation. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade math teachers, you won't want to miss this post! Know the reasons why task cards ARE NOT just glorified worksheets!9) Students seem more willing to persevere when I'm using task cards. Ever have a student shut down when working on a worksheet? Well, this seems to be a little more difficult to do when working on task cards. Students have to get up and move, they have others around them who are working busily, and they have teachers and friends who are willing to help when they are stuck. When a student gets frustrated with a card or I realize that they are just not ready for it, I guide them to another card that can help them feel more successful.

10) Self-motivated students have the opportunity to push themselves. Some students are less likely to push themselves to see what more they can do when the instructional mode is to listen to a whole group lesson, complete a textbook page, wait for others to finish, listen to more whole group instruction, complete a textbook page, yawn, wait a little longer. There's very little waiting with task cards. Students can just keep moving along at their own pace, which is especially FREEING for those students' whose pace is usually faster than most of their classmates.

11) I am able to create student "math leaders." Often within a set of task cards, 1-2 problems are really tricky, even for my gifted students. After I work through a problem with one student, I can ask that student to be the expert on that question and assist other  students as they have questions about it.

12) Most magically, students LOVE task cards. They beg me for them. When it is time to head to lunch or go to recess, my students often yell, "No! I don't want math to be over!" It's so rewarding! I offer to skip recess and keep doing math, but they never take me up on the offer. At least they will be happy when we pull the cards out again on the following day!

If you have tried using task cards in your classroom and just didn't get the results or engagement that you expected, I'm sharing a few reasons why your students may not respond well to task cards in my next post.

Need some task cards? I'm here to help because I am madly in love with task cards as a differentiation and teaching strategy! I really can't say it enough about how much I love task cards--if you haven't tried task cards in your math classroom, I highly recommend them! If you already love them for a reason I left off of this list, let us know why in the comments!
Grab your 4th and 5th grade task cards aligned to the common core math standards and other important upper elementary math content.

 Check out the mega bundle of all of my 4th and 5th fractions task cards; lots of real-world themes incorporated in these task cards to help students connect fraction concepts to real-world concepts.

October Flew By on a Witch's Broom!

We just wrapped up a month of October festivities in my family. My daughter's birthday is in October and somehow she gets spoiled all.month.long. Seriously, it feels busier than December! We spent a weekend in Busch Gardens for Hallowscream, took her out to dinner on her birthday (complete with unnecessary chocolate ice cream), and invited her entire class and all the neighborhood kids over for a Monster Mash, Birthday Bash!
I made 42 witch hat cupcakes, 64 mummy dogs, and a dozen monster and Halloween themed carnival games for all of the kids to play in our back yard. I used pinterest inspiration more than I ever have in my life!

Needless to say, being the party planner in my family, my blog has been much neglected this month. I'm going to replace my feelings of guilt with the satisfaction that I pulled off a pretty amazing birthday party and made tons of memories with my family this month. I hope you did too!

If you didn't catch my last post, you might have missed that I did accomplish one big thing in October. I finally have a REAL-LIVE email up and running for my subscribers. In my first few emails, I decided to take the opportunity to introduce myself, talk about a few of the teaching topics I get passionate about {developing a love of reading, all things math instruction, using morning meeting to give our students a chance for personal development and to improve our classroom communities, and tips for fabulous science instruction--could you have guessed any of these?!?}, and share some pretty awesome freebies in each one of those intro emails. These are freebies that are exclusive to those who sign up for my email newsletter.  You can sign up here to grab your goodies and learn more about me!
I've continued working on revising the resources in my tpt store. After creating a Growth Mindset freebie for my newsletter subscribers, I decided all of my morning meeting themes could use an update. Right now, I am about halfway through with the 10 themes. I have updated the individual listings for my belonging, kindness, perseverance, conflict, and compassion theme sets and will update Morning Meeting Set 1 with the new pages by Thursday. So, you are going to want to re-download these themes if you have purchased them. I will work on updating the other 5 themes {all of Set 2} next week. You can find all of the themes here. And if you haven't read about my take on Morning Meetings, I wrote a 10 part blog series last summer that covers most aspects of implementing morning/community meetings into your classrooms. I LOVE my take on morning meetings because I get to integrate literacy and the common core standards for Themes in Literature. Community building and teaching my standards = win-win!

Another update I made in order to provide a special freebie to my newsletter subscribers was to freshen up my Ecosystems Vocabulary Mats resource. If you have not tried my Vocabulary Mats study strategy for science vocabulary, you might want to check these out. I developed them years ago to help my 5th graders practice and master science vocabulary for our end of grade science test. {It's a little secret, but these vocabulary mats are next on the list for resources that will be getting updates and improvements. I have plans to expand what's included in these resources. The price will go up, but not until I get to them, so if you grab them in the next month, you will receive MORE for free later!} I have vocabulary mats for Weather Words (and tools), Energy and Matter, Force and Motion, Rocks and Minerals, Landforms, and Phases of the Moon.

Standards Based Math Assessments for Number and Operations in Base 10 5th Grade Common Core all operationsIn the world of all things differentiated math assessments, I finally got my assessments for 5th Grade Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, and Division for Decimals finished. It includes themed word problem assessment sets that I am just so in love with!

What's included in the 5th Grade ALL Operations Set? 

3 Test Versions for each of the Following Concepts:
ADDITION AND SUBTRACTION ♦ whole numbers and decimals
♦ Addition and Subtraction Multi-Step Word Problems with reference sheets and real-world data

♦ Multiplying with Whole Numbers
♦ Multiplying with Decimals
♦ Multiplication Multi-Step Word Problems with reference sheets and real-world data

♦ Dividing with Whole Numbers
♦ Dividing with Decimals
♦ Division Multi-Step Word Problems with reference sheets and real-world data

The three (so exciting!) themes for the word problems include:
♦ Movie Time (theater tickets and concessions)
♦ Grocery Store/Bagged Lunch Items
♦ Planets in Our Solar System
5th Grade Number and Operations in Base 10 Word Problems, Standards Based Assessments for Adding, Subtracting, Multiplying, and Dividing Whole Numbers and Decimals
Although I didn't get to blog as much as I would have liked, I did write about the 11 Things I think Teachers Should Stop Doing {all things I'm guilty of, of course!}. If you haven't read it yet, it might give you a laugh and help you reset your sanity as you go about trying to be the very best teacher you can be.
Advice for New Teachers 11 Things to Stop Doing
I also shared an update to a post that I wrote a long time ago about How I Run Student-Led Report Card Conferences. If you have not held your conferences yet and are looking for something fresh and exciting (that will probably get your adrenaline rushing too), you might check my approach out and give it a try.
Tips for Student Led Report Card Conferences {goal setting with parents, report cards}
Growth Mindset and quotations to inspire hard work and perseverance were a big theme for me on Instagram this month. Follow me on Instagram for your daily dose of teacher inspiration! 

Until next time!


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