Coding with Khan

I am lucky to be part of a wonderful team of Specialists.  Our school schedule allows our grade level teams to collaborate daily while their kids go to Specials.  We have Fitness, Art/Engineering, and Global Investigations as our specials. Sometimes students are referred to Surf Lesson (Intervention) with me during Specials time.  

Our Global Investigations time is a class that uses technology and Project Based Learning to explore the world.  It's teacher, Jen Ellison, decided she wanted our 4th-6th graders to learn to code.  It sparked an excitement amongst our upper grade students that made me ask her to do a guest blog post about Khan Academy.  Our students started off using it for coding and now are also using it for math.  I'm impressed with this FREE site that our kids find so motivating.

Here is Jen to tell you all about it.....

Like most children, my students feel powerless.  Their lives are controlled by the adults in their lives -- at home their parents and guardians determine their rising and sleeping. They control what and when they eat.

School is no different. I tell my students when to read and what to read - I even tell them how to read! And yet my decision to become an educator stemmed largely from a desire to empower students.

More than anything else I want my students to feel powerful enough to determine the course of their lives.  I want them to believe that they can tackle any problem great or small and be victorious.

This is where Khan Academy comes into play. I am always looking for ways for my students who are trapped in a cycle of poverty -- to find a way out.  Most people are familiar with the story of the young creator of Minecraft -- how he taught himself to code and created a game.  He learned basic java script and made boxes and squares, but step onto any playground and ask about Minecraft.  His simple, little game dominates the thoughts and minds of children everywhere.  And was a financial windfall for him.

I visited Khan Academy looking for a way for my own students to learn how to code.  I discovered that they have step by step lessons to teach students to code.  A person can log into Khan Academy and follow the lessons and day by day, lesson by lesson learn to code. No background knowledge or experience is required.  It works. Anyone can learn it.  ANYONE.

Even an old teacher like me. 

That’s right, in the process of determining whether it was appropriate for my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students, I taught myself to code.  Two months ago, I knew absolutely nothing about computer programing, and now I can write simple codes.  I completed the 100 introductory lessons, and am working my way through level two.

My students love coding and Khan Academy.  The computer lab is never silent when we are working in there.  Everywhere you can hear voices saying things like, “Wait, how did you do that?”  or “I just got 2,100 energy points!”  Khan Academy is amazing.  We have been working in Khan Academy and my students are still happy to log in.  “Are we gonna do Khan today?”  They ask and I expect them to groan -- we’ve been working on it for such a long time now -- and yet, they react with cheers.

I’ve got a pack of fourth grade girls who love to sit together and code.  “You gotta plus plus.”  I heard one of them say to the other just yesterday. That’s right, she’s nine and talking like a pro.  “You don’t have enough parameters.”  A fifth grade boy was explaining to a girl today. 

I should mention, my students do not live in an environment flooded with technology.  We are a Title 1 school, and most of my students do not have computers or internet at home.  They come to school to use computers or go to the public library.  And now they have learned to code like champs.

But more importantly, they feel empowered.  They sit down to that list of lessons, and choose what they are going to work on and how they are going to do it.  Khan Academy allows students the freedom to choose what to study and how to study it.  Students are tackling math, programing, history and science.  I’ve got one fifth grader who loves learning about physics.  He watches the embedded videos and leans in close to hear every word.

If you haven’t visited Khan Academy, I highly recommend it.  Start by watching the introductory video entitled “You Can Learn Anything”.  I am a lifelong educator and have always felt in my heart that given the right tools, you can learn so much, but now, I truly believe that you can learn anything.  Trust me, if an old teacher lady like me, can learn to write code -- anything is possible. 

When my students get discouraged, or feel overwhelmed with a new and difficult task, I remind them of two simple things:  In the beginning, even Einstein had to learn his ABC’s just like the rest of us, and it isn’t that you can’t do the work -- it is just that you aren’t good at it -- yet.

The world is filled with possibility.

Khan Academy benefits at a glance:

Free forever.
Spanish translation available.
Individually paced.
Short videos and hints for students who need support.
Endless choices.
Multiple paths to understanding.
Jen Ellison

Adding and Subtracting Mixed Numbers: A Looong Journey

I mentioned in my last post some fifth graders I worked with recently that were struggling to add and subtract mixed numbers.

It is no wonder.  You have to be able to fluently do all the previous fraction skills to be successful.  

Typically, I have 2 weeks for an intervention group.  Luckily this group was before spring break so we decided to give this challenge 3 weeks.

Some of the kiddos came in, as the 5th graders often do, telling me that they don't need help with fractions.  Sometimes they are right.  Sometimes they just didn't give their best on the test in class and they really do have a grasp on the concept.  Sometimes they have no idea what our posted objective really means.  I let them take a pretest with the promise that they won't need intervention if they get 100%.

This time, the kids had a weird reaction.  Many of the boys that told me they knew how to do this, looked at the pretest and said, "Nevermind.  I don't know how to do this."

Most of the pretests were blank.  The ones that weren't had answers where the numerators AND the denominators had been added left to right.

Having already thought through the foundational skills, I was luckily prepare for starting at the beginning.

I spent a year teaching 5th grade math and had broken down the fraction skills to minute details.  If you take a look at my fraction section of my store, you'll see this was a huge focus for me.  I made task cards for each little step along the fraction path. Starting with my Identify Fractions Freebie.

It seems kind of silly that I created a 3rd grade product with such a simple objective while teaching 5th grade math, but it turned out I've needed it a lot.

When I taught 5th grade, I had them printed and hanging on my wall so I could have specific student practice their specific needs.

I gave those to the next 5th grade math teacher.  Now, I pull up task cards electronically on my interactive white boards and we use them with white boards.

Besides saving tons of ink, they give me a quick review option.  If kids can answer 4 task cards easily on their white boards, then I move up to the next foundational skill,

I discovered through my review that my students didn't know how to find a common denominator.  So we spent a significant amount of time practicing with my Find a Common Denominator Task Cards.

Then we practiced Adding Fractions with Unlike Denominators and simplifying.  We spent a lot of time on simplifying.

Then, I thought we could start adding Mixed Numbers.  I was wrong. 

So many of the students I see for intervention have anxiety surrounding math.  They are actually quite quick to learn, but if they miss one thing, they shut down and tune out.  Not exactly a successful strategy.  So, I encourage them to stop me if they get lost.

The first problem in, kids stopped me.  Oh.  So, we need to review what a mixed number is, what an improper fraction is, and how to go back and forth with them.  OK.

... SIDE NOTE... I attended a training where we were told to stop using the phrase "improper fraction" because there is a judgement that there is something wrong with it.  Really?!?  What should we say instead?  Well, we can call it a number in a fractional form.  Sigh.  Until someone gives me an actual label for it, I'm not going to stop calling fractions "improper".  How can I teach math without labeling the skill I'm teaching!?... Back to your regularly scheduled blog post...

So we spent some time working with Changing Improper Fractions to Mixed Numbers and Changing Mixed Numbers to Improper Fractions. 


Then we were ready to start adding and subtracting mixed numbers.  Thank God I had three weeks for all that!

Honestly, the last day when they were taking the test.  I was nervous.  I was so proud to grade them and give out mostly 100%.  Sometimes, grade level objectives can be daunting when working with students with a below grade level background, but just focusing on the baby steps along the way leads to success.  I'm not going to lie, though.  My feet were sore after all those steps.

If you are somewhere in that continuum of fraction skills and are looking for some resources, I have several bundles which are all at least 20% off.  I'm listing them in the order I teach them so you can jump on wherever your needs fit. :)  Just click the picture to find it in my store.

My newest was created in the midst of all that struggle. :)

My next 5th grade referral is for multiplying mixed numbers.  I'm already working on my next batch of task cards and breaking down the foundational steps needed.  Wish me luck. :)

You Oughta Know

I'm excited to join


I've learned a lot working as a K-6 Intervention teacher.  One of the most powerful lessons I've learned is to check assumptions.  Teachers refer students to me based on data.  They gave their class a quiz or test and the children coming to me need help in a specific area.  It is like a dream.  They don't know something.  I have what was lacking when I was a homeroom teacher- TIME.  So, I just teach them what they don't know and we're good.  Right?  Well...

I learned quickly that knowing that a student needs help with a certain skill doesn't give you the whole picture.   There are so many foundational skills behind what they know that are essential to success.  

That's why you oughta know about using foundational skills to plan for flexibility in your lessons.

Sample Problems

Every skill that we teach requires some background understanding.  The first thing I do when planning a unit or lesson is a couple sample problems.  I try to make myself go through the process and steps a student would take without any short cuts.
As I go through the sample problems, I pay close attention to any foundational skills I would need in order to be successful.

Foundational Skills

Recently, I worked with a group of 5th graders that needed to learn to add and subtract mixed numbers.   I thought about all the skills they would need to be able to be successful adding and subtracting mixed numbers.

Thinking this through helped me gather some resources and plan a scaffolded lesson introduction.

Quick Review

The quickest way I've found to do a review is with white boards.  I work with students in seven grade levels ranging from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade and I love how using a white board can put kids at ease. Maybe it is because it is easier to erase.  Maybe it is because they know it won't be collected and graded.  I'm not sure why, but the anxiety level eases when white boards come out.

I use a simple procedure.  Ready? Show me.  When I say ready, they hold the board facing themselves and I can see if there are kids still writing.  After they show me, they aren't allowed to erase until we sing the 'erase song' which is just the word erase four times to the Ole, ole, ole, ole tune.  (Sorry, I'm not sure how to type the accents.)

I use this quick review time to build their confidence.  I review things that are super basic to put them at ease and feel successful write away.  Sometimes, they laugh and ask seriously?  But, by doing this, I can review below grade level skills and get a feel for what they know. Some things I'll only do once.  "Write a fraction."  "Write a mixed number."  "Write an improper fraction."  Some of those are basic supports for my English Learners to review vocabulary.

With a solid white board procedure in place, the quick review can take just 5 minutes.  Sometimes, I go through all the foundational skills and realize they are ready for the target skill.  Sometimes, I realize quickly that we have a lot of background gaps to practice before they will be ready for the target skill.  Sometimes, I see a couple of students have gaps the others don't.  The information I gleam in this informal assessment is invaluable.


After a quick review, I can adjust my plan for the day without them knowing.  If the foundational gaps are small, I can just focus on that basic skill while we  do sample problems together.  I can see partnerships that would be useful and put kids together that have different gaps so they can help each other.  (They learn from their peers so easily.)  Of course, I can completely scrap my plans if needed.

I had to do the later with that 5th grade group I mentioned.  It became clear quickly that they didn't know how to find a common denominator, change mixed numbers into improper fractions, or simplify.

So that day, I pulled up some task cards on my interactive white board and we added fractions with common denominators.  Then, I was able to adjust my plans for the week to practice the skills that were really the obstacle to their success.


I have a little freebie for you.  I made a graphic organizer that can be used to think about foundational skills for units you have coming up.

You can print it and write on it or you can type directly onto it.  Just click here to find it.

Fraction Resources

If you have a similar fraction lesson coming up, you can check out my fraction task cards here.  (You'll find a free set there as well. :)

Hop Along
Now, make like a bunny and hop along to check out some great things that you oughta know.

Goal! Helping Students Set and Reach Goals

As an intervention teacher, I've seen the power of setting a clear goal.  I've seen students beg to take a test because they want to prove to me that they know something.

What more can you ask for?

When our leadership team was preparing to move our school in the direction of teacher led conferences, I share a goal sheet that I sometimes use in intervention.  

Goals for a Lesson

I created this sheet one day after I felt like my multiplication group was not focused.  Each student has a multiple to focus on and a test to pass.  I let them choose from a variety of ways to practice.  This works well when I have 4th-6th grade intervention students but a new 3rd grade group wasn't quite getting that choice doesn't mean free time.  

This form helped.  They filled in something as simple as I will memorize my 6s.  Then, they chose two ways that they were going to practice and they had to stick to those two choices.  I saw a difference in effort, concentration and motivation right away.

Goals at Conferences

Our leadership team decided to do something similar for conferences.  This was a tool they used during student led conferences to help them share what they need to work on.

For my Kinder and primary teams, I made a simple version with dotted lines.

Our upper grade students were able to handle a bit more.

Positivity is key.  We wanted to make sure that the students listed their strengths before setting a goal for improvement.  

Helping Students Exceed Expectations

Our school has been using a helpful book called Visible Learning by John Hattie as part of our Data Teams Process.

I'm part of an intervention team that meets a few times a year.  Our team of 4 teachers set two goals.  We wanted to track and make sure at least 70% of the students in intervention and SPED were making progress towards their goals.  We also wanted to support homeroom teachers to promote great teaching and Tier 1 interventions in the classroom.

One of the great things about the book Visible Learning is that you can see which teaching strategies have proven effective.  After looking at a ton of students, they created an "effect size" score.  One strategy that is most effective is self reported grades.  My intervention team put together this little flyer encouraging ways to encourage students to have high expectations for themselves.  I included this with the goals sheets because I want you to remember to have students set challenging goals for themselves.

Spring Time is a Good Time for Goals

You don't have to wait for conference time to have your students set goals.  Spring time is a time when students lose a bit  a lot of focus.  These goal sheets can help remind your students why they are at school and what they need to learn before summer. 

These can be used to set academic or behavioral goals.

I'd love to hear about how you use them in your classroom.

Superhero Product Linky

My friend, Diane, from Fifth in the Middle is hosting a fun linky to celebrate the upcoming TPT sale.

One of my most recent products is my Super Subtracters pack which helps students learn the 35 subtraction facts between 10 and 20 and become fluent at subtracting.  This product helped my kiddos go from feeling overwhelmed by subtraction to feeling like a superhero.

You can see it in action in my classroom here.

You can click the picture or click here to find it in my store.

Remember to use the code HEROES to get an extra discount during the sale.

Be sure to check back at Fifth in the Middle by clicking below for more fun heroic products.

I'm off to go give some feedback and stock up on points for the sale.  
Don't forget leaving feedback can be lucrative. :)

Thanks for the Love Celebration

I'm so thankful for every one of you.  What's the best way to thank a teacher?  Freebies of course!

One summer day in 2012, I decided it was time to venture into the Teachers Pay Teachers world.  I pulled up something I'd made for my classroom and made it cuter.  I like to call it fanc-i-fied even though the teacher in knows it isn't a real word.  That same day I started this blog.  I'm kind of a jump in the deep in kind of person.

When I started, I thought it would be awesome if a couple people could use something I had made. Honestly, my mind is blown when I think of how many students have had the opportunity to have a little fun while learning because I took that leap that day.  I've reached my first milestone on Teachers Pay Teachers and I want to thank you.

Thank you for trusting me and my products by using them in your classroom.  Thank you for the positivity in your feedback.  Thanks for talking with me through this blog and social media.  I appreciate every one of you.

I have two items that will be free until the end of this long weekend.

Multiplication Cover Up 

I love playing this game with my students that are working to memorize their facts.  I've played it with 3rd through 6th graders during my intervention group.  The goal is to get 5 in a row.  I seeing the students start to think strategically and do things like block their partner from getting 5.  I also have had a few kids that love Bump so much that they try to get 5 in a row while also bumping each other. If you are looking for ideas on how to encourage multiplication fluency, check out this post.

Super Subtracters

For my primary people I have my Super Subtracters currently free.  I keep getting kids in intervention that struggle to subtract within 20.  I realized that there were only 36 facts between 10 and 20 that the kids didn't know so I created this fun packet as a way to help them learn those facts a little at a time.  I just blogged about this fun packet here.  

If you have anything in your cart from my TPT store, now is the time.  Everything in my store is 20% off until the end of this long weekend.

Thanks for the Love!

Subtract within 20

The step from subtracting within 10 to subtracting within 20 can be a big step for kids that relied on their fingers.  As I was working with a group of third graders that were still struggling with basic subtraction, I realized that they really only needed help with between 11 and 20.  

I broke that down into 8 levels.  Each level had a few flash cards to practice with and get to know.  Focusing on around 20 facts made our practice time much more focused and beneficial.

I started with subtracting 9.  We worked with 10 frames and I led the students to discovering that the answer to all the minus 9 facts was one less than the number in the ones place.  Of course, if I told them that, it wouldn't have been meaningful.  Discovering on their own though was like a beautiful aha moment.  Suddenly, they knew how to quickly answer 8 more facts than they did a few minutes earlier.

I created a Super hero themed packet to got through the facts they needed to learn.  Each step had a quick timed test.  Once they had those facts down, they'd learn a few more for the next level.  

They loved the games I created to go with their flashcards.  They were super excited to move on to another level and be allowed to cut out a few more flashcards.  

I put all the flashcards into a packet with a motivational cover page.  They got to design their own super heroes and color in each level as they passed.  I told them we were speeding through the facts and I wanted them to imagine they were a super hero.  Their pictures were adorable.  Here are a few:

The kids loved the fun aspect.  

I loved that they were remembering the facts and performing better in math.


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