Monday, March 4, 2019

1-2 Nim (Videos included)

I don't fully understand the name of this game called 1-2 Nim, but I understand how much my mathematicians enjoy it. I also understand how much it helps develop not only their mathematical minds, but their love for math. 

(I learned it from Dan Finkle who provided a math games webinar on Christina Tondevold's Build Math Minds site. Please consider following her work if you're an elementary math teacher.) 


  • Grab a partner and a collection of counters. (I use cubes, but it really doesn't matter.)
  • A player has to take 1 counter on his turn but can take 2 if he chooses.
  • The player who takes the last counter wins.

Ways to change it up:

  • Use more counters.
  • Play 1-2-3 Nim. (The player can take 1, 2, or 3 counters on his turn.)
  • Poison: The player who takes the last counter loses.
  • Use a ten frame. The player who puts the final counter in the ten frame wins.


My kids have the stamina to play this game and its variations for a good while. Though simple to play, it's so engaging. It's easy and fun enough for kids to teach family members at home too. 

Here are two videos of 1-2-3 Nim in action. Enjoy. :)




Give Nim a shot, and don't be surprised if a little person beats you a time or two! (Not that I would know anything about that.)



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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Stand Up, Sit Down

When the children cheer at the mention of a game, you know it's a good one. I learned Stand Up, Sit Down from Dan Finkle when he offered a math games webinar on Christina Tondevold's site, Build Math Minds. (If you're an elementary math teacher, you should be following Christina's work.) 

Stand Up, Sit Down is basically a quick mathematical brain break. It sounds so simple that it almost seems impossible that my students love it so much. Tis true though.


  • The teacher picks a number. 
  • The teacher then states other numbers one at a time.
  • If the numbers are above the original number, the students stand. 
  • If the numbers are below that number, the students sit.

For example:

T: 9 is my number.
T: 4
S: sit
T: 14
S: stand

It's that simple.

But wait, there are variations.


  • Choose a smaller or larger first number.
  • State the numbers in the form of an equation. (ie. 4+4, 8-1) 
  • Play the game with multiplication, division, fractions...

Give this one a try. Maybe your students will end up cheering too.

Thanks Dan and Christina!



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Thursday, February 28, 2019

March Madness #4


Sometimes I say smart things. For example...

Preventing the summer slide starts on day one. 

Yeah, I made that up. I believe it too. I believe in giving my students daily reasons to fall in love with books, and that has everything to do with reading irresistible books everyday starting on day one.

Well, my class is heading into day 115, and I'm still playing matchmaker. March is a perfect month to fall in love with reading all over again.

So welcome to my fourth year of March Madness.  

I'm excited to say, "Meet your new favorite book," 16 different times during the next few weeks. I'm even more excited to watch these books repeatedly loved on and adored.

(If you'd like to know more about how March Madness works, please check out my other March Madness posts here on my blog.)



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Sunday, February 10, 2019

I Build Floats

You don't have to build the whole float.

This is what Maria Goff told me this morning as I read her book, Love Lives Here.

She doesn't know I teach first grade - that I basically build floats for a living.

She does know that float building is hard work.

When she describes the painstaking, time-consuming, but rewarding process of gluing one rose petal at a time to the floats of the Rose Parade, she is describing what I do on a daily basis.

Yes, I build floats.

I glue beautiful and delicate petals onto floats. I watch them transform and grow up right before my eyes.

Some floats are more time consuming than others, though. There are days when it seems like all my attention is demanded by a particular float or two or three.

I'm at times disappointed about the lack of progress I'm making. For every petal I manage to convince to stick, three others fall at my feet. 

And in my frustration, I can't quite seem to envision who some of these floats might become.

In fact, do they even want to be in our parade?

After devoting much of my attention to the few, it's easy to doubt whether the others will even be ready in time.

I feel the weight of this float-building job. I feel the responsibility, the burden, to prepare each one for this parade we're part of. I want to see each one on glorious display, ready to show their greatness to the world.

The truth is I might not ever see the parade. In fact, I probably won't.

I simply, in faith, in love, glue petal after petal after petal and trust they'll stick.

I build floats for a living.

But...

I don't have to build the whole float.


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Friday, January 4, 2019

The Gift of Affirmation

Christmas break has been a much needed gift for this teacher who doesn't believe in counting down the days yet really struggled not to count down the days. (That's another story for another day.) So against my lower back's better judgment, I've literally lived on the couch for two weeks and read sixteen books. Call me crazy or amazing. Either one. 

But long after I've forgotten the characters and plots from the many books I've inhaled (which doesn't take long), I will remember with fondness the email I received on the morning of January 2nd from the grandmother of one of my students. As a past elementary teacher and principal, she's been following our classroom journey and watching her grandson's growth, both emotionally and academically. And among other things, she wanted me to know, "You are the teacher I would love to have hired for my school." 

Affirmation. It's a priceless gift. 

Though I, like all teachers, basically put my life on hold for nine months in order to teach the little people in my care and do it without an expectation that the world will acknowledge my sacrifice or expertise, it is so gratifying to be noticed. Affirmation encourages, sustains, and even heals. In fact, it leaves behind a much longer list of beneficial adjectives than I have space to mention. Maybe that's why Mark Twain once said, "I can live for two months on a good compliment." 

I'm hoping I can stretch mine into five. 

As much as I yearn for affirmation, I understand the need to give it. My superintendent is accustomed to hearing from me when I want to brag about the amazing people at my building. She's not the only one who's received emails regarding my principal, instructional coach, or even custodian. I've made it a practice to speak up about the excellence I see. (It's when I'm quiet that, well, there might be a problem.)

I say all this as a challenge to whomever might be taking the time to listen. Notice. Speak up. Call out the greatness, and why not share with the boss while you're at it? That person doing her thing with excellence most likely isn't looking for a pat on the back, but if she were to get one, she might just have found the strength to continue on for another two months or possibly five.





P.S. As I was writing this post, I was reminded of one of the mothers of a previous student. She's an expert at affirmation. She regularly sends me stories - stories of how my words and love from over two years ago still impact her daughter. Wow, am I blessed. I hope to be more like her someday.



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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Celebrate and Celebrate BIG

This is just one of those years. I'm surviving but don't always feel like I'm handling my challenges gracefully. I take them to bed with me. They're there when I wake. It can be consuming at times. Though I purposefully look for the beautiful in each day and take notice of what's going well, I recognize the need to be more intentional about the space my thoughts inhabit.  

Recently I found myself reflecting on the word "embolden." Though I only knew its meaning in general terms, it felt like a word I was meant to embrace. I looked it up and found I was right. 



As a Christian, I am well acquainted with the story of David. Though he was greatly distressed, the Bible says he strengthened himself in the Lord. I'd like to think he emboldened himself. Though there are many people on my side, cheering me on, reminding me that I'm the teacher God is with, sometimes I simply have to embolden myself like David. 

Personally I know what encourages, fortifies, heartens, invigorates, emboldens my teacher heart - celebration. 




So Tam, be emboldened. There is no such thing as a victory too small. Recognize and celebrate each one. They will be your lifeline when it seems like you're simply surviving. As Wendy Hankins says, "Celebrate and celebrate BIG."


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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

How to Prep For a Music Program

My class sang their little hearts out at our Christmas music program today. I was so proud of not just their singing but their behavior. It's obvious how very amazing our music teacher is. She pulls the greatness right out of them. Even though she's as wonderful as they come, I know she appreciates how classroom teachers support her. And I feel like it's my responsibility to do just that. 

Before our program rehearsal, I intentionally prepped my kids.

1. We watched this short video of a children's choir from America's Got Talent.

2. I asked the kids to notice what the performers were doing and not doing.

3. We created the following anchor chart. The ideas totally came from them.



4. I took the chart with me to the rehearsal and the program.

The moral of this tale is be intentional and clear about expectations. We can do so without telling. Use mentor texts (yes, videos are mentor texts) when applicable. Let kids notice. Document what they notice. Make sure the chart is visible.

And doesn't it seem obvious that our music teachers would love us forever if we all took fifteen minutes to do something like this before a performance? I think so.


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