Monthly Archives: January 2013

If you teach math – make the time to get your kids to this site (CCSS aligned)!

I had heard about this site a while back. I checked it out and knew that it looked pretty cool and that the kids would probably enjoy it. Then I got busy.  I didn’t have time to register all of my students and get their logins and passwords created. I just didn’t have time – period.

Well, turns out I should have found the time. Sumdog is an amazing math site (designed for ages 6-14) and I’ve only just scratched the surface. (I know that this is old news to some of you out there – so I’m talking to those of you who are like me and love to get new ideas and websites, but just don’t always have the time to actually do anything with the lovely new resources.)

sumdog math website


So, what makes Sumdog so great?

1) It’s FREE! There is a priced option that gets the kids more games and you more statistics on each student’s progress – but the basic package is free. I know you love that, right?

2) Students can play not only against the computer, but against other kids in their class or kids around the world who are online at the same time. They’re more engaged since they’re trying to beat their friends or “that kid from The States”. (I actually have kids playing this on the weekend – I can see when they last logged in!)

3) There are little extras to hook our middle-schoolers, especially. They can change their avatars to look more like themselves. As they advance through the levels (correctly answering questions and/or winning games) they collect coins to buy new clothes, accessories and other “cool stuff” like instruments and bicycles from the Sumdog Shop for their online persona. They can also use those coins to access special games. My students are surprisingly motivated by this “Shop”. We haven’t gone “shopping” yet, but they want to get in there!

4) Teachers can choose the skills to target, or you can let the computer generate the problems as the student is playing. Sumdog is set up so that the computer generates questions that are at the appropriate level for each of your students.  When the questions get too hard, the computer will automatically drop the skill level down, so that the student doesn’t become frustrated. It’s built-in differentiation!

5) You can easily find out how your students are doing because Sumdog has a “Reports” section that allows you to monitor the level that students are working at and where they should be working next. (Again, you can pay for more detailed stats – but the basics are free.)


Here’s a look at the page where students will start off  when they play. This is my avatar:)


sumdog math website




 Here’s a look at the “Shop”.

sumdog 3


There’s tons more that I could tell you, but you should check out the site yourself. You can set up challenges, lessons and activities. There are contests and competition options.

I know that my neighbors to the South will be happy to know that you do have the option of having students answer questions aligned with the Common Core State Standards (grades 1-6)! There’s also the classic version which is what my students are using.

If you teach math, make it your homework to at least have a look at the site by the weekend. Try some of the games. Then next week, make some time to get your class set up, and students’ logins created. That’s the only thing. You have to plan to take your kids to the site. They can play as “guest”, but it makes more sense for them to have their own account to start earning coins!

Sumdog has been motivating to my students and so I hope it’ll be motivating to yours too!

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Valentine’s Day “Making Words” Literacy and Math Freebie ~ Plus a February Freebies Link-Up!

Teaching grade 7, I don’t do as many activities with my students for holidays as perhaps teachers in the younger grades. Every once in a while though, it’s kind of nice to break away from the routine a bit, and celebrate a special day.

So, I have a Valentine’s freebie for you! It would be a great bell ringer activity for Valentine’s Day.

It’s a “Making Words” activity for grades 4-7, but has a math twist for the older students. Students must make words with the letters in “Happy Valentine’s Day” but depending on which challenge you give them, they are doing one of five things.

The freebie is below for you to have a look at!



valentine freebie activity


valentine's day freebieSlide4Slide5valentine's day freebievalentine's day freebie valentine's day activity   Also, I’ve linked up to an awesome February Freebies Link-up with Laura Candler of Corkboard Connections. Be sure to check out her blog post for TONS of February freebies by clicking on the heart!

Tracee Orman has a Valentine’s Link-up under way as well! Be sure to check her freebies out by clicking on the image below.




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Book Club Update: They had glimmers!

Lessons From The Middle, canadian teacher blog,book club discussionI posted yesterday about the issue that I’ve been having with my students just not having the types of discussions that I hoped that they would have (spontaneously, of course) in their book club groups. I told you that I was going to try a few things (I’m still open to more suggestions) and so I just couldn’t wait to let you know what happened in class today.

I started off by talking about their book clubs, if they were enjoying them and so on. I got TONS of insight in this little discussion as to why they were not necessarily “Chatty Cathy” in their book club groups.

One boy said that his book is a good book, but he just doesn’t identify with the female character who’s from another country and has run away from home. Fair enough.

Another student voiced something similar, although he just doesn’t enjoy the book. His character has very different interests than him and he finds it hard to read about someone who is nothing like himself.

One of the girls said that there just wasn’t enough drama in the book for her to enjoy it – nothing was really happening.

Another girl is really enjoying the same book. She said that no one else in her group seems to like the book as much as she does and it’s hard to have a conversation when the other people aren’t into it as much as her.

Another girl said that she was hoping that there would be more to the plot – that the book seems kind of boring and therefore hard to discuss.

Okay, so mystery one – solved. I was under the impression that some of the students were enjoying the books more than they are and that is part of the problem. So how do you get kids to keep up the discussion on a book that they would normally abandon if they’d chosen it on their own? Answers…please?

Today I also showed them a video of a group of students having a book club discussion from the DVD set that we have at the school, mentioned in yesterday’s post. It was a perfect example modelling what their discussions could and should look like. This helped out a lot. They were very honest saying that their discussions look like that sometimes, but definitely not very often. They have been stuck in a turn-taking style of discussion, but they admit they’d like to have more of a conversation style. So…we’re working on it! The first step is identifying the problem – and we’ve got that covered!

 I did give my students their “think marks” as mentioned yesterday and most said that they much rather them over the response that I was getting them to do in their scribbler. I put them on bright paper too, to help “sell” them as a little different. I mentioned the stickies to them and a few thought that they’d like to try them, while others thought that they’d probably lose them.

Next, rather than doing our read aloud first as usual, I had them read their assigned sections, use their “during reading” think marks and then meet with their book club group (rather than having the process span over 2 days). This worked and it didn’t work. MOST students were finished reading their section close to the same time. The few students who are slower to read did not get to join their book club and be a part of the conversation before the end of class. What am I going to do about that? Before, I had set it up so that they were coming in to class, having finished their reading at home and ready to discuss. However, then I had the time-lapse issue, the loss of momentum for discussions and I ran the risk that they didn’t read their sections at all! But now, some students may not get to participate in the book club discussion, unless I hold the others off until everyone is finished. What will they do while they wait? Answers, please? I’d love to hear them!

I did get to meet with two groups and heard some GREAT discussion. Wonderings and predictions, building on each other’s comments and thoughts. It was SO much better! I asked the students at the end, how they thought it went in comparison and they agreed that it was a vast improvement over their last discussion. Yay! I’ll take it!

So now, I want to come up with some kind of simple reflection of each book club session itself, for them to assess the conversations that they’re having as a group and how they could make them better. Tonight’s homework, I suppose…Who am I kidding? The couch and “The Big Bang Theory” are calling my name. I hope it’s a new one! That Sheldon cracks me up!

Thanks for all of the awesome comments yesterday. I so appreciate you taking your precious time to do that. If you have any more comments on book clubs in general – please share!

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Book Club Discussions: Moving Beyond the Text To Make Meaningful Connections

So we’re about half way through our book club and things are going okay. My class is a group of very verbal kids (and then some not so verbal kids). They seem to be enjoying their novels and I know that they’re engaged in the read aloud text: Firegirl. I have been struggling with one thing, which is getting students to discuss their novels in a meaningful way, without my prompting.

book clubStudents are struggling to keep the conversation going for more than 5 or 10 minutes in their book clubs, after their assigned reading. They are finding it difficult to break away from taking turns, …I talk…then you talk…then you… rather than having a conversation. 

When I realized that this was going to be a struggle (after the first book club meeting) I modelled a conversation for the class. Basically, after reading the section of our read aloud text, a few student volunteers and I had a conversation in front of the class about what had happened. I tried to model what the dicussion should look like, asking questions, building meaning etc. It was a start – but just not enough! If prompted, they can come up with all sorts of ideas, connections and predictions. However, without my prompting, I am listening to very basic comprehension types of statements without any real excitement!

It’s sad. All this time is being spent on the book club and the real meat of the club – talking about what they’re reading – is falling flat. Now I won’t be too hard on them (or me, I guess). There have been some glimmers during their conversations, I just find that given the students I have – I expected more! I struggle to shut them up ( you know what I mean) on a good day, having to ask them to put their hands down because we’ll just never get to finish the lesson (sometimes their connections are not always on topic and once that train falls off the rails…).

Well, we had a short after school PD session on Guided Reading for K-8 yesterday, and it got me thinking about how I’m doing things in this book club and what they are actually getting out of it.

I talked to our presenter after the session about the conversation dilemma and she actually directed me toward a great resource that our school has: Teaching and Comprehending Fluency: Thinking, Talking and Writing about Reading (with DVD). I read the chapter on book clubs and got a couple of great ideas from it. The DVD that comes with the book has lots of other resources on it as well! The one that I plan to us is the video modelling what a book club discussion is supposed to look like – with real students discussing a real text.  I can’t wait to show it to my students and see what they have to say about it, especially in comparison to their own groups. I’m really hoping that it’s going to put some spark into their book club discussions.

I guess maybe I was a little naive, as this is my first book club. I just thought they’d dive in, like on Oprah and divulge their thoughts and wonderings, building elegantly on one another’s ideas. Ugghhh…What was I thinking?

Oh, one other idea that I got from the book was to have students use a “think mark” – basically just a folded piece of paper – to write ideas down as they come across things in their reading. They can mark page numbers down, predictions, opinions, wonderings, words they don’t understand etc. and then take those to book club to use as they discuss. I’m going to try this one tomorrow.

So, help me out! What other strategies can I try, to make the second half of this book club more engaging than the first? I’m completely open to your ideas!

I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far…

-Students are already expected to have a Reader Response ready and topic of discussion for the book club meeting (completed after they read). And, I’m going to try the think mark idea tomorrow.

-Students have “Guidelines for Book Club” to encourage listening and making sure that everyone has a chance to speak.

What I plan to try…

-Showing them the DVD of the book club discussion as a model and talk about what the students are doing well.

I’m ready and listening…share your wisdom…please!middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo


Calling All French Teachers!

You know those people who you just admire? They are so passionate about what they do and are so talented, as well? I am fortunate to be surrounded by these people in my life (you know who you are). 

I’d actually like to take a minute to highlight one of these people and if you happen to teach French or know someone who does, you’ll be all the more interested.

Tammy Aiello, author of Teaching FSL has a witty writing style on her blog and offers a range of products in her TeachersPayTeachers Store, aimed mostly at middle and high school French teachers. Yes, there are people out there making products just for you!  

You may remember me mentioning Tammy a few months ago when we actually met up in person. She lives in Ontario and I, in Prince Edward Island. Our families had a great little visit at the beach last summer when they were vacationing on the Island.

Some of her awesome products are below, but you really should take the time to browse her TPT Store Teaching FSL, follow her and pass her links on to your French teacher colleagues! Thirty two of her 37 items are under $3.00 or free! How can you argue with that?


coat of arms project



helpful phrases for french



i have who has french game





Tammy doesn’t know that I’m writing this post. I hope she’s okay with me highlighting her talent here on Lessons From The Middle! If not…too bad, I guess;) I just felt like giving her a well-deserved shout-out!

On a different, but not completely unrelated note, I mentioned in a previous post, I had a rough week last week, which was made all of the rougher by finding out that a former student of mine passed away in a car accident.

I’ve been reminded this week that life’s too short. Too short for what? For anything that does not bring you joy. Have a look at those in your life. Make a point of telling a friend that they’re doing a good job, or tell someone that you appreciate all that they do. Appreciate what matters and be kind.middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo


Mid Winter Mad Money Giveaway

I don’t know about you – but I’ve had a week from hell. It started off with finding out that my “privacy was breached” due to a stolen hard drive at my Student Loan Agency – me and 583 000 other borrowers…Class action pending… THEN I dumped coffee on my laptop (typing this from my Mom’s).
My point? I could use a pick me up! And what’s the best way to make yourself feel better? By doing something nice for others! So… despite my stressing (and depressing week) I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this giveaway hosted by The Tutor House.

Some of my amazing bloggy friends and I have teamed up for this Mid Winter Giveaway – just because! We are giving away not one, but TWO $75 gift certificates to TeacherspayTeachers. Per-ty awesome, huh?

This giveaway runs from January 18th and goes until 11:59 PM CST January 21st.

All of the contributing bloggers for this giveaway are listed below. You’ve heard me talk about many of them before, but if you haven’t had a chance to follow them – go check them out! You can earn extra entries for following these lovely folks.


 a Rafflecopter giveaway
Oh yes…one more thing. Last Friday I had a flash giveaway for a product from my TPT Store. I’d like to throw that out there again today! I’ll run it until the 21st as well. Some of the other bloggers in this giveaway are doing something similar – all the more reason to visit each one! If you’d like to enter to win a product of your choice from my TPT Store, enter below!  a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Flash Giveaway Winners and An Outside the US Link-Up

Just a quick post this evening…two things…

1) Thanks to everyone who entered my flash giveaway! I decided to choose three lucky winners and they were Mary B., Carey W. and Sherie R. Carey and Mary chose to receive:


 organzing writing

and Sherie received one of my newest items:

Fractions Percents and Decimals Package


This weekend it was a little giveaway – next weekend…I have something BIG planned! Stay tuned because you won’t want to miss out!


2) Making It As A Middle School Teacher is hosting an “Outside the US” link up and so of course I had to link up Lessons From The Middle, as I am in Canada! Check out all of the awesome bloggers from around the globe who have linked up! It’s such an amazing time that we are living in and technology allows us to connect with people from all over so easily. It’s really inspiring to see and read about what’s going on in other teachers’ classrooms in other parts of the world. Thanks for hosting another great link-up Michelle!

around the world link up


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What a Great Day! Flash Giveaway for you!

Well I had a fantastic day with my kiddies today. They finally got their individual novels for their book clubs and everything is humming along smoothly. They are continuing to enjoy our read aloud and are beginning to understand the purpose of a Reader  Response. The highlight? I had a disengaged student who genuinely does not enjoy school, complete the assigned reading and response. He actually asked if he could write “some stuff down” as he was reading! Umm…ya!! You can take some notes if you want. I tried not to look directly at him…I didn’t want to spook him. Anyway, it was a thing of beauty! I take things one day at a time with him, so I know that tomorrow could very likely be a different story. But hey – today was a good day!

On top of that, I introduced a game in math that I created for my students. They LOVED it! They didn’t want to stop playing. The laughs and engagement were genuine. It was so gratifying – totally worth the time it took me to make it. AND it was a practical assessment for me. As I walked around, it was easy to identify who was struggling with the concept and who “got it”.

Because I had such a great day, I’ve decided to spread the joy. I’m having a FLASH GIVEAWAY until tomorrow evening.  As a prize, you can choose any product from my TPT Store! I actually just recently posted a few new products, including the game that my students really enjoyed today, entitled, Mine!

Banner fractions, percents and decimals



 a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Middle School Math Freebies

Okay, first of all – I’m so sorry about the typo in the title of my last post! Ugh…made my stomach turn when I saw it. I know that my typing (and my spelling skills) need work sometimes but a mistake in the title? So sorry! Good thing I never claimed to be perfect, huh?


I wrote a post in the spring of last year, which linked up a whole bunch of great middle school math freebies. A few more links have been added and so I decided to post the collection again. If you have a great middle school math freebie that you’d like to add – feel free to link up! You can use the title of your product as the “Name”. I hope to see this collection GROW!




 middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo

On with the book club: What makes a person admirable?

Continuing on with our book club in Language Arts today, we discussed what personality traits make someone admirable. Again, the theme of our book club is “This is who I am” and all of the novels have main characters who display “admirable traits” and strength of character in some way.

I had students write what they thought were admirable traits on the board and here is what they had to say:Book club continued: What makes a person admirable? star photo


-Really cute

-Good singer

-High self esteem


-Make sacrifices for others

-Good personality



-An awesome actor

-Helps me with my basketball playing



-Sets a goal and works toward it



-Patient… and a few others…

We had an excellent discussion on the traits that they came up with, and then worked on trying to narrow our list down to 5 main traits.

Can someone be admirable and also be a horrible singer? Yes, of course – so we took “good singer” off of the board. Can you be admirable without a good sense of humor? Yep! So that “funny” was gone.

We worked our way through the list and finally decided on a few key characteristics that would make someone admirable:

They are kind, set a goal and work toward it, and make sacrifices for others.

The best part is that the class basically hit the nail on the head! The traits that they decided on are ones that the main characters in the novels display. Score! I love it when that happens – everything coming together the way it’s supposed to. They are already making connections all over the place and we’re only two days in. They’re connecting our read aloud, Firegirl, to the anticipation guide that we did on Friday and to the main character that we read about in our last read aloud, Shot at Dawn: World War I. Love it! Super pumped for when they actually get into their book club groups with their own independent novels which will be Session 5… and we’re entering Session 3 tomorrow.

Wish me luck! We’re on to a shared reading piece tomorrow about Myers-Briggs and personality inventories – should be interesting!

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