The Third Wheel

Free Online Professional Development for Teachers...Yep, its all free!!

As we know, teachers do not “have three months off every year to spend by the pool.”  Hopefully, you will have SOME time to spend by the pool.  Maybe you can fit in some professional development while you are soaking up the sun. 

Many websites claim to have free on-line professional development, but when you look a little closer, they do not offer certificates of completion, and/or require you to pay a fee for continuing education credits.  If you are in need of college credit, many of these paid courses also translate into college credits - for a rather large fee. Not always the ideal scenario with all the other expenses that come along with teaching. Instead, I've collected a set of genuinely free classes that offer PD certificates so you can get credit for all that learning you do over the summer. 

1. ALISON: A New World of Free Certified Learning

certificates and diplomas available (Yep, you can even get a degree!)
free (with ads), can pay to avoid ads
courses are self paced

A Taste of What's there: 
Diploma in Educational Psychology
Diploma in Teaching Skills for Educators
Effective Communication Techniques for Teachers
Instructional Planning for Successful Teaching
Introduction to the Learning Process for Teachers and Trainers
Motivating Students to Learn
Understanding Student Development and Diversity
Working with Students with Special Educational Needs

2. OK2Ask: Free, live online “snack sessions” for teacher self-directed professional development and exploration

Live sessions, archived sessions available
Professional Development certificates available

A Taste of What's there: 
Integrating Technology into Lessons
Teacher Timesavers
Google 101
Book Club Opportunities
Common Core Ideas for Literacy, Writing, and Math
Special Ed & Gifted Learner Training 

3. Intel Teach Elements

Courses offered are online, face-to-face, or a hybrid
Self paced and Facilitated courses available
Includes projects

Credit hours available depending on how the course is taken
21st Century Learner Focused

A Taste of What's there: 
Blended Learning
Assessment in 21st Century Classroom
Inquiry Based Learning
Project Based Learning

4. Staff Development for Educators

Known for high quality PD
Video-based options
K-12 Topics

A Taste of What's there: 
Common Core Trainings
Centers in the K-3 Classroom
Grit Mindset
Singapore Math Strategies

5. Coursera

Provided by Universities including Ivy League
Varied Options
Cool topics

A Taste of What's there: 
Engaging Students with Art
Inspiring Leadership with Emotional Intelligence
Blended Learning
Get Organized: How to be a Together Teacher
Teaching Character 
Classroom Culture

With all these great choices, why not bust out the tablet and get learning while you relax by the pool! 

How to Enjoy Your Summer Vacation for Teachers

Summer is upon us! Hot days, barbecues, and all sorts of fun. For those of us who are lucky enough to be teachers, we have officially entered the off-season. While much of the world thinks this is the time of year we teachers frolic in the sunshine, the truth is not quite as glamorous. This is when we spend our time preparing for next year, growing professionally...and maybe spend a little time enjoying the sunshine, too.

1. Go to a restaurant and eat lunch sitting down without a copy machine in sight. 
Take your time to peruse the entire menu. Order an appetizer. Actually chew your food and taste it. All of these amazing things are possible now that it is summer. There is no better feeling than sitting down for lunch without having to count every second so you can pick up your students on time.

2. Sleep in...or wake up early and lay in bed enjoying the fact that you don't HAVE to get up. 
Of course if you are like me and have little ones at home, this is impossible. If not, I beg you!! Please take advantage of a chance to sleep in. Look at the clock when you wake up. Roll over and go back to sleep. That alone is worth its weight in gold.

3. Take a bathroom break without begging someone to watch your class for a minute... or waiting for your lunch break. 
I know I didn't have to tell you this one. I think this is one of the biggest perks of summer. If there was a bladder holding Olympics, a teacher would surely win. The good news is no more counting down the minutes before you get a bathroom break...or watching how much water you drink to make sure you don't need one. Go ahead! Untrain that Olympic-ready bladder! Its summer.

4. Stay up REALLY late without thinking about what that means for tomorrow. 
See a concert. Go to the late movie. Head out with friends for drinks. The options are limitless. Now that you don't have to be up at 5:00 AM to be out the door in time for the first bell, you can partake in all those great things your friends who start work at 9:00 each day can do all year long. Just don't get used to it!

5. Take a sick day. 
Okay, so no one really wants to be sick on summer break, but if it is going to happen, this is the time. No writing sub plans for hours or begging a teammate to make your copies because you are pretty sure you are going to fall over any minute. No notes from the sub about student behavior. Just you, a Nyquil, and sweet dreams.

6. Teach Summer School and Earn the Big Bucks...
Of course, if none of the other ideas sound like they are up your alley, there is always Summer school! Half days and extra pay are pretty enticing! If you decide to go that route, check out these resources designed especially for summer school.


Happy Summer!

10 Fun and Simple Ways to Appreciate your Volunteers

Is it really already that time again? The end of the school year is upon us and that means it is time to thank all those wonderful parents who have been so helpful this year. Today's post aims to give you some fast, simple ideas for inexpensive gifts you can create to say thanks.

  • Hand cream - "Thanks for lending a HAND!" 
  • Chocolate chip cookies  - "Thanks for always being willing to CHIP in!"
  • Flowers- "I couldn't have PICKED a better volunteer!"
  • Plant - "Thank you for helping us GROW!" 
  • Cake - " You take the CAKE as an awesome volunteer!"
  • Notecards/Stationary - "Thanks for being a NOTEWORTHY volunteer!" 
  • Mason jar of lifesavers - "You were a LIFESAVER! Thanks for all your help this year."
  • Soup mix and a ladle - "Thanks for being a SOUPER helper!" 
  • Peach themed items (jam, lotion, etc.) - "Thanks for being a PEACH and helping out this year."
  • Coffee - "Thanks a LATTE for all your help!"

This year, I decided to go with my take on the last idea. While my position change meant I didn't have volunteers, I did have teacher gifts that needed to get made for my daughters' AMAZING teachers.  I found some super simple white coffee mugs at our neighborhood Walmart for less than a dollar each. With some cute labels (which you can get free for a limited time here), letter stickers, and a few Sharpies, I transformed them into super sweet gift.

There are actually two different versions. The dots only version you see above was made by me for my littlest's teachers. The more creative version  seen below was colored by my 2 year old for her teacher, and I added the dots on top to ensure the initial stood out.

You could even let your class decorate and design the mugs to make them unique and personalized! Just be sure to bake them for 30 minutes at 350 degrees and have the receiver hand wash them.
Don't forget to pick up your free (for a limited time) labels by clicking the image below!

3 Simple Things You Can Do NOW for a Better New School Year

Call me crazy (you wouldn't be the first one) but I love to walk out the door on the last day of my contract year with the start of next year in place. Sure, my things are in boxes shoved in every nook and cranny of the room so the custodians can clean and buff and make the building shine for fall, but there is nothing like the feeling of hitting the ground running those first few days back. 

Print labels. I always print all my labels for journals before I leave for the end of the school year. I know it seems silly, but it means I can quickly and easily prepare folders and journals in the fall. Since I am going to have to spend a good chunk of time taking all my things back out of boxes, it seems like a good trade-off to not have to fight with the printer while everyone else is trying to figure out how to get their labels to print on the correct side! Get the free version here or click the image to get the fillable set to personalize for your classroom. 

Make a shopping list. Before I pack up for the year, I start my shopping list for the next year. I always take a look for anything that is broken or that needs a better organizational system. I love doing this for two reasons. First, I can wait for sales because let’s be honest, what teacher doesn’t spend a ridiculous amount on their classroom each summer. And second, I hate the rush of people hitting the stores in August…plus what I need always ends up sold out.

Start planning the first week. I know what you are thinking. Is she CRAZY!?! We aren’t even done with this year yet, and she is planning for next year! Hear me out though. You did some activities during the first week of school that were super awesome, right? The kids loved them. You loved them. They were engaging and totally helped you build your class community. Plug those into your plans for next year…or at least make a list of them (and copies if you have some left over). Sure, the schedule might change, but won’t it be great to have a little less planning to do once you come back?


Want more great ways to get your new school year off to a great start? Sign up for my summer challenge, 6 Weeks to a Better School Year. The challenge starts in July, and you’ll get weekly emails with one task to complete to help make your school year run more smoothly! There will also be exclusive freebies! It is perfect for returning teachers and new teachers alike. 

Join 6 Weeks to a Better School Year NOW to have your best school year ever!

Solving the Problem of Teaching Problem Solving

Math aversion is all too common in our schools. Many students are indoctrinated with a fear of math from an early age because we fail to give them the tools to help them be successful problem solvers. The Common Core aimed to solve this by connecting different methods of thinking to the teaching of problem solving. Regardless of whether you are a fan of the CCSS or not, I am sure you can agree that we need students who are not afraid to take risks and try to problem solve in math. Here are a few things we know about these successful math students: 

Students who are proficient mathematical thinkers make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.  This may seem like stating the obvious, but as teachers know, perseverance can be in short supply in the elementary classroom.  It is up to us to teach students how to look at problems so they can figure out which strategies they want to use to solve the problems.  We also need to provide encouragement so our students will keep on keeping on when the answer doesn't make sense on the first attempt.  In order for our students to be independent problem solvers, we need to challenge them with difficult problems and then teach them to tools to discover how to solve problems for themselves.

Successful math students know how to reason abstractly and quantitatively.  They are able to see the problem as it exists in the big picture, but then they are able to solve it by applying the correct operations.  They pause along the way to check their thinking process to make sure it fits the problem they are solving.  As a simple example, there were 7 cookies on the plate and Jane ate 2.  How many were left?  A student should be able to picture cookies on a plate and then being eaten.  Then they should think, 7-2=5.  If they started to think, 7+2, they should know to backtrack because cookies that are eaten are taken away.

Strong mathematicians can verbalize their thinking.  The other side of this coin is to be able to critique the thinking of others.  It used to be enough to memorize a formula and be able to apply it, but to be truly mathematical thinkers, students must be able to carry on a conversation about the strategies applied to solving problems.

Proficient math students are able to model solutions to problems using mathematics.  For beginning students, this means being able to write an equation to correspond with a word problem.  As students grow, they will be able to use math to plan the logistics for a classroom party… There are 20 students in the class and everyone wants three cookies.  How many cookies do we need?  But Sam can’t eat cookies.  Now how many do we need, and what can we provide for Sam?  By the time students are in high school, they should be able to use geometry to design a functional structure. 

Good math students use the mathematical tools that are available to them correctly and strategically.  Tools can be mechanical tools such as protractors and rulers, or they may be technological tools like calculators and computer applications.

Mathematicians are precise.  They communicate clearly and precisely.  In addition to being able to explain their thinking, students also need to be able to concisely state why they used the operations and tools they did to solve the problem.

Strong math students recognize the structure to mathematics.  Young students should be able to see the communicative property of addition, and the relationship between addition and subtraction.  They can count the numbers of sides to a shape.  As students grow older, they will see the how the distributive property can be applied to break down more difficult multiplication equations, and they will see how drawing an auxiliary line in a geometric shape can help them solve geometry problems.

And, last but not least, successful math students can see how repeated calculations lead to repeating decimals, or how they translate to geometric formulas.  That brings us back to the beginning - mathematical students need to be able to see the big picture and the specific steps needed to solve the problem.

As elementary math teachers, we are building the foundation of mathematical thinking in our students.  The cornerstone of mathematical thinking is problem solving.  However, without purposeful, repeated practice many students do not have the opportunity to develop into strong,capable math students. Looking for tools to teach problem solving? Click here for my favorite tools and resources.

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