How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

Hi, Teachers!!

Have you been setting goals for the New Year? I've been reflecting on my math instruction lately, and more specifically how I can deliver the most effective lessons for all learners. I've been wondering...

How can I reach all of my students at their level during math workshop?? How do I know if students can truly apply essential understandings to real life problems?

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front RowDo you find yourself worrying about these things while planning your math lessons like I do? I bet you that Front Row is going to be a HUGE help to you. I'm beyond excited about my new, favorite app and website: Front Row. Have you used it before? If you haven't, go sign up now. You'll thank me later (and so will your students)! There is a free version and a paid version, so there's no excuse not to sign up. Front Row's incredible, adaptive program helps teachers to differentiate and personalize their instruction by providing challenging and individualized problems for every student, inquiry-based lessons for teachers to use with the whole class or small groups, and tons of student data.

I've been using Front Row in math for a month now after some amazingly awesome colleagues introduced it to me, and I already see it making a big difference with my kids. The app serves as a great early-finisher activity for your students if you have access to computers or tablets in your classroom. I'm lucky enough to have 5 iPads and access to laptops, so a LOT of my kids get to use Front Row when they are ready to build problem-solving skills and fact fluency. It's always the first choice early-finisher activity in my room--the kids LOVE it. I actually had to implement a sign-out system for it because I wanted to make sure everyone had a fair chance to use it. In short, the students get to earn coins by solving different types of problems. If they need help, they can watch a video to help them solve the problem or they can find a recommended student peer to help them solve the problem. Then they use the coins they earned in Front Row's Piggy Store to personalize their own pig! It's so funny how obsessed with the pig store my kids are! Are these pigs awesome, or are they awesome?

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row
Anyway, what I don't think a lot of teachers know is how insanely useful Front Row is in helping you plan meaningful, rigorous lessons for YOUR WHOLE CLASS. In the rest of this post, I'll be discussing how to use Front Row's Inquiry Based Lessons (or IBLs) to really see if your students have a handle on what you've taught in a unit. In place of a boring, meaningless topic test during my study of telling time, I used Front Row's Great San Francisco Earthquake IBL. If I'm being honest, I hate grading tests, but more importantly, I don't think they are a true measure of whether students can transfer knowledge to a new task. That's what learning is, right? So, I'm going to walk you through my experience of using one of Front Row's IBL's in my classroom.  When I first clicked on the "Group Lessons" link on my Front Row account, something on the Front Row website IMMEDIATELY caught my eye:

Front Row Lessons are cross curricular activities that let your students explore mathematical topics. Use these lessons to create a dynamic atmosphere in your classroom that lets you help your students truly grasp and effectively argue their learning in math.

WHAT! If you know me, you know I'm OBSESSED with the Math Practices Common Core Standards because they focus on innovative problem-solving skills rather than just memorizing operations. And cross curricular lessons which help kids build their TALK!? I already had a feeling I'd be hooked on the IBLs. I was right!

Each thoughtfully crafted lesson includes:

  1. a meaningful objective
  2. a clearly and logically written procedure
  3. reproducible materials 
  4. a list of Common Core standards addressed in the lesson

Translation? Your lesson is already written for you! Honestly, it saved a lot of my sanity a few weeks ago. As I mentioned in a previous post, a family member of mine is going through a really difficult time in the hospital right now. Being able to depend on this incredible 3-day IBL made my life a lot easier, because there isn't enough time in the world to get it all done. We can all relate to life getting crazy, and it's so nice to be able to rely on lessons that are so thorough and hold so much value for our students. This is not the place to go if you want to give your kids busy work.

First, the kids spend a few minutes working on some daily review problems. I loved these! My kids did too, and of course it was great to have them engaged with something to work on as soon as they transitioned to math. There's usually a few problems, and I LOVE how the kids are meant to talk about the many ways they can solve these problems. It's SO important to talk about this, which I've discussed in a previous post here. Below you can see a few ways my kids tried solving a daily review problem.

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

Next, the kids watched and discussed a short video introducing and outlining the problem for them. We watch the video twice and really pick apart the important facts, what the question is, and what we'll need to do to solve the problems the task is asking of us. This is crucial to do because it really addresses the Common Core standard that students need to be able to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. I really feel that this is one of the best parts of the Front Row IBL's. Front Row includes really wonderful possible questions you might ask your students to help them determine what the problem is asking them to do. It also includes useful reminding language (shout out to my Responsive Classroom lovers!) that will help them be ready to tackle the academic content.

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

Here we're on the second watch of our Front Row video which sets up the problem for us. In this problem, we're fire chiefs involved in planning for San Francisco's relief efforts the day after a major earthquake. The kids were talking about this all week... at lunch, at recess, between classes. They were totally into it!

After the kids finished watching the videos and discussing the problem, I broke them into groups and reviewed positive discussion guidelines with them. Generally, I do this before all group work as it's a best practice, but I love that Front Row includes a slide in their IBLs about this. The kids then had independent time to go off and complete the day's inquiry lesson.

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

I had to cut my kid's faces out of the picture, but you can see that the kids are clearly talking about the problems they are solving if you pay attention to their body language. 

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

When the kids finish their inquiry projects, they then have to PRESENT their work. I could NOT love that any more than I already do!! The group selects a spokesperson, and then one group's spokesperson shares their group's answer and how they arrived at that answer. Then, the rest of the class participates in a discussion, debating about if they are in agreement with the group's proposed solution. This discussion framework is something I regularly practice with my class during literacy instruction (think book club debates) and Morning Meeting, so I was really excited to see how applied in math. WOW, I was amazed.

With the conversation starters that Front Row provides in the IBL slides, my kids didn't even need me. I sat back and listened to my kids talk about the problem, the best solution to find the answer, and more for 10 minutes. I did NOTHING but listen. My hands could barely keep up because I was writing anecdotal notes the whole time! The more you practice your kids, the better this will become. It is so clear how powerful this was for the kids; they drove their own learning. Personally, I didn't have students raise hands, but I regularly model how to jump into a discussion at the right time without interrupting and I emphasize how important listening is. Those are choices you'll have to make. The discussions will blow your mind!! The one thing I suggest doing before the discussion is giving each group a chance to discuss what their spokesperson should share so students come prepared to the discussion. Here's a group preparing.

How To Best Measure Learning: Rigorous IBLs By Front Row

After our discussion, we reflect on the day's lesson, which is an integral part of the learning process. Some of the reflection questions are academic questions, and some are more thoughtful about social growth (like what the group did well that day or how they might improve next time). Then, with leftover time, the kids can work on individualized Front Row practice by logging onto their personal accounts. That's it!! It's so easy, but SO. MEANINGFUL. It only took me about 5-10 minutes to prep for three days of lessons while using the IBLs. I have never been very interested in many educational software or apps before, but Front Row is clearly made by educators for educators. My kids love the IBLs and the independent practice on apps. I've been checking my kid's accounts over winter break, and several of them have been using their accounts while they are home! I'm one happy teacher.

Can you tell I love Front Row? So since you're going to be as obsessed with Front Row as I am, I suggest that you sign up for a free account to get you and your students started. Head to the group lessons tab and figure out which inquiry-based lesson you'll use first! If you love the IBLs as much as I do, you will probably be talking to your principal to see how you can get your hands on a paid account.

Which IBL do you think you might try with your class first? Do you already use Front Row? If so, what do you love most about it? Comment below!

How To Take Care Of Yourself When You're Teacher-Tired

Helping Busy Teachers Practice Self-Care - A Word On Third

Hi, Teachers!

There ain't no tired like "Teacher-Tired," am I right?! These past 2 weeks have been especially exhausting for me. Two weeks ago, I was hard at work house hunting with Mr. Word On Third and visiting mortgage brokers, and then this past week, my grandma went into the hospital. I feel like my life has been flipped upside down. This brings me to a very important question. What are you doing to take care of yourself when you are experiencing some serious Teacher-Tired?? I know with the holiday break right around the corner, you are probably as frazzled as I am! I've written a short post today to help you take care of yourself.


I know you probably feel like this in the morning when you wake up. It is so important to carve out time for your sleep. When you get adequate sleep AND have consistent sleeping and waking times, you can bet your "Teacher-Tired" will get less and less frustrating. If you can't do anything else in this post, do this. You will be healthier, happier, and more productive. It will help you get out of school faster. Did you go to sleep later than usual? Okay, that's life. So what can you do to shorten your morning?

I accomplish this by delegating when necessary (No, contrary to popular belief, I do NOT have to do it ALL) and preparing everything for work the night before (pack lunch and breakfast, set out clothes, sometimes even get my dogs' kibbles portioned out and stored in an air-tight container). If I'm going to work out, I get my yoga mat ready. I pick out my workout videos and load them on my laptop. If I'm going to the gym, I get my gym bag packed. I even sleep in my workout clothes so I can get started right away. These two tasks will save you time. And I love working out, but if you're not sleeping enough, you can't expect to wake up early and be ready to kill it in the gym. Our bodies don't work like that. I DARE YOU TO MAKE A SERIOUS COMMITMENT TO YOUR SLEEP SCHEDULE. You will thank me for it later. You can read an article I found on sleep hygiene after a quick Google search here.


This really saves me. Each week, before I go grocery shopping, I plan my meals for the week. This prevents me from wasting money, but more importantly, I have a simple plan for what I'm going to eat all week. On Sunday, I spend some time cooking for the week. This is as easy and painless as you make it. I like to cook, so sometimes I plan some more involved meals. When I'm experiencing some SERIOUS TEACHER-TIRED, I count on my quick and easy staples. Click on the picture above to be taken to a blog post I wrote about make-ahead meals. That pumpkin oatmeal recipe takes me 5 minutes to throw together in a slow cooker. I double it and have breakfast all week.

Seriously--go get yourself a slow cooker. They are on Amazon for 50 bucks. You can get some that you can program to stop cooking after a certain point, and you can come home to dinner. If you make big batches of things like soups, stews, and chilis, you can freeze them and they will taste awesome when you decide to defrost them. This makes me SO, SO happy. The best part of slow cooker recipes is that most of them take 5 minutes to throw together. Isn't it nice when you have most of your meals planned and made during the week? I also make sure Mr. Word On Third cooks 2 meals per week.

Personally, I find when I rely on take-out, I start to feel really awful. I am a big believer in eating clean, but if you aren't, I doubt you will tell me that you feel energized after downing a burger and fries from Burger King. If they are homemade and healthy, there is a big difference! Healthy does not mean you need to sacrifice on taste either. Food is fuel. Give yourself the energy you deserve.


Helping Busy Teachers Practice Self-Care - A Word On Third

There are so many little things you can do to make this work for you. I wrote a blog post earlier this year about this topic. There are two things I do to make this work well.

First, I schedule all of my time with my Google Calendar. I can see it on my phone, so I take it with me everywhere. I also schedule reminders for important things so that I don't forget them. This is so easy to manage on my phone. Doctors appointments, social events, faculty meetings... everything I need to remember goes in that phone. That goes for self-care appointments too. If I'm having trouble with working out, I start putting it into the phone. If Mr. Word On Third is a little bit lonely because I have been grading too many papers, I put date night in my phone. This lets me see how busy my week is at a glance and allows me to plan accordingly.

Next, I plan my prep periods. I wrote about that in the previous post which I linked above. It's nothing fancy. I don't have time for that! But here's how I utilize my prep periods this year. I put everything that always has to get done on it. It's not a perfect science, but having a plan makes a big difference. You have to actually do it though. Don't just sit on Facebook and Pinterest for your whole prep.

Helping Busy Teachers Practice Self-Care - A Word On Third

These are my tried and true tips. I challenge you to think about the one you need to work on the most and DO it. Spend a little bit of time during the break to set yourself up for success. And seeing as I've mentioned how important sleep is... it is almost my bed time!!! Off I go to take care of... ME! :) What are your tips for self-care? Comment below!

I've added a part 2 to this post, which you can read here.

3 Fun, Easy Ways To GET KIDS MOVING While Learning!

Hi, Teachers!

It's getting to be that time of year where we just perpetually want a nap all the time forever. Am I right? The kids are more active than usual, and everyone is excited for winter break. Today I want to share a few of my favorite fun ways to GET. KIDS. MOVING. while they learn.

Frequent movement breaks make a dramatic and positive impact on students' behavior. 

It's even better when these movement breaks can solidify skills being taught. The first of these activities can be used on days in which your kids need more time to practice before moving ahead, and the other two activities can be tucked in whenever you have some free time! And, let's be real. You can tuck them in in the middle of a lesson when the kids are flailing around at the meeting area and you know you're going to lose them if they don't get the wiggles out. Oh, that doesn't happen to you? Yeah, me neither...

Get Kids Moving While Learning - A Word On Third


Scoot is a fun game that gets kids moving but keeps them focused. My class LOVES to play! Today my class played an elapsed time version of the game, which was created by Janet at Fishyrobb and can be purchased online by clicking on the picture above. Basically, I set out about 20-25 task cards. Each card has a problem on it which kids have to solve. The kids have to focus and answer each question by getting up and moving from card to card.

Get Kids Moving While Learning - A Word On Third

I make sure my kids have access to manipulatives while they play. As you can see, my student chose to use her Judy clock, which I wrote about in a previous blog post here. You can see she's sitting by a task card, and her answer sheet is next to her. When kids are done before other students, that's no problem! I have them do something on the back of the card. Something quick and easy is to pick a number and have them represent it as many ways as they can. You can see a student of mine doing that while he waits for me to call "Scoot" so he can move to the next card below.

Get Kids Moving While Learning - A Word On Third

Since today is our 65th day of school, I chose the number 65. Some kids drew base-ten blocks, wrote 65 in expanded form, drew 65 cents in different ways, or showed addition problems with a sum of 65. The kids get really creative! It also serves as a great quick-check to see who needs to revisit concepts.

My advice? Don't re-invent the wheel. There are a lot of versions of the game "Scoot" available online in stores like Teachers Pay Teachers. I have also cut up worksheet problems and taped them to index cards which I then number. I prefer writing word problems that are fun or engaging, though! My kids love when I tell them I have real-life problems that I need their help in solving. Usually these problems revolve around my two puppies. They always get a chuckle of how much I need to "go to Petsmart" or "train my dogs." They must think all I do when I'm not at school is dog-related! Ha! ...Actually, they aren't far off.


Okay, I know I said the last game was one of my favorites, but this one is a bigger favorite!! I have the kids do this during Morning Meeting as a greeting pretty often (I play with them too!), but you can do it during any time of the day. My kids write their names on an index card and then answer a question I ask. Let's say I want my kids to get a little bit of review time during our study of Monarch Butterflies. On an index card or scrap piece of paper, I might ask my kids to write their favorite 2 facts about butterflies that they learned during our unit of study. Once they finish, it's time to play!

Get Kids Moving While Learning - A Word On Third

The kids circulate and trade their cards. When they start, they say, "Good morning, ___! Let me show you what's in my bag!" and read their card to their classmate. After they both share what's in their "bag" (index card), they trade bags. Now they greet someone else and pretend they have lost their bag. They greet the next person, saying "Good morning, ____! I lost my bag. Let me tell you what's in ____'s bag." After both people share their cards, they switch again. This exposes kids to a lot of different facts. At the end, I play "Who Remembers" and ask the kids who remember wrote which fact. The whole thing takes as long or as short as I want it to. I usually play Baggage Claim for about 3 minutes and then "Who Remembers" for 1. I love Baggage Claim because it connects a lot of important social skills to our academic work.


This can be as long or as short as you want it to be, but it can be chaotic if you don't have a plan for how to do it. Basically, the kids stand in two circles and talk to partners to share ideas. Here's how I do it...

  1. Have half the class stand in a circle facing inwards. If you have younger kids, you may want them to hold hands to form a good circle and then have them drop hands when they're in a good position.
  2. Have the other half of the class go inside of the circle and stand in front of someone from the outside circle. They should be face-to-face.
  3. Tell the kids what you want them to think about. (If you're reviewing or activating prior knowledge, it might be something like, "What did you learn about chemistry last week that surprised you?" or "What are you wondering about spiders?")
  4. Have kids talk about their ideas. Use a quiet signal to get the kids attention when you want them to stop. (Usually my kids talk for about 1 minute.) It might feel like it's not a lot of time, but I promise kids will learn to speak quickly if you are consistent with this.
  5. Have only the inside circle move one person to the left. It's important to tell the outside circle kids not to move.
  6. Have kids share the answer to another question and repeat the process. You can ask different questions each time the kids move to a new person in the circle, or you can ask the same question each time. It's important to give kids think-time for this again if you change the question! You should also keep it moving so it feels fun and keeps kids active.

Get Kids Moving While Learning - A Word On Third

I found this picture after a quick google image search. This is what it will look like. Those are some of my favorite ways to get kids moving when they are antsy! Anyway, I'm off to work on the winter math lab I'm going to post to my TPT store and use in my classroom. 

By the way, YOU CAN SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG NOW!! It took me a long time to learn how to do it, but if you look on the right of the page under my bio, you will see something that says, "Don't miss a post!" Enter your email and my posts will be delivered straight to your inbox. DO IT! I will be sending each subscriber a special freebie to thank you for subscribing! :)

What do you do when you know your kids need a bit of a movement break? Comment below!

One Easy, Quick Strategy To Get Kids Constructing Viable Arguments And Critiquing The Reasoning Of Others

Hi, Teachers!

Today will be a short post because--I'M GOING HOUSE HUNTING!!!! AHHHH. I'm really excited. Mr. Word On Third and I are going to see a house tonight, and I'm really hoping it turns out to be something special.

Anyway!! Onto my post. When you teach math, do you stop when kids get the right answer? If you do... DON'T! It's so important that kids see multiple ways to reach an answer. If they get the wrong answer, it's important that they try to explain their thinking so they can see where they went wrong. If a child gets the right answer, is there any other way to reach it? Talking about this lets kids practice constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasonings of others. SOUND FAMILIAR?! It's the one of the Common Core math practices! When students can have conversations with each other about this, it also addresses the Speaking and Listening standards! Talk about DOUBLE-WHAMMY.

Here is an easy way to squeeze this teaching strategy into your day. This is the morning message I used today in my morning meeting...

A Word On Third: Math in Morning Meeting

As you can see, during meeting, we talked about different ways to solve this problem. One student solved this by doing 100-67. Another person subtracted the tens and then the ones. I wrote these down as students talked about them during meeting. Another student said that they knew you could add 33 to 67 to make 100, so the answer must be 33. It's SUCH. IMPORTANT. WORK. to do this with kids.

The best part? This took me about 5 minutes during my morning meeting. Do this once a week, and you've modeled this strategy over and over again, and given kids a chance to practice this. Want more ideas? I highly recommend this book. It has incredible, practical, easy-to-implement and quick strategies you can use.

Click the picture to see the book on Amazon. How do you get your kids to reach this Common Core Standard? Comment below!

Five For Friday: Clocks, Apps, and Math Games, OH MY!

Hi, Teachers!

Today I'm linking up with Doodle Bugs Teaching for a 5 For Friday post!


I'll be posting about 5 things that happened this week. Want to join? Click the above link and you can participate in the linky party!


We've been studying time in our classroom this week. The kids have been doing a phenomenal job. I'm really proud of them. I am attributing our success to two things: the manipulatives we're using and how I introduced time. I find that the hour hand tends to be the most difficult concept for the kiddos. At 9:55, the hour hand is pretty much in the center of the 10. So isn't it 10:55? I IMMEDIATELY use the clock in a mini-inquiry and ask the kids to notice what happens to each hand as the clock hands turn. That's why I LOVE the Judy Clocks--the hour hand moves along with the minute hand because of how it's built. I then talk about how certain times do not "exist" on a clock if the hour hand is in the wrong position. I make a whole big deal about it. When the minute hand is half-way through the hour, so is the hour hand.

You can see Judy clocks being moved in this short video:

I really recommend you check them out if you teach kids how to tell time. What a different it makes to get these amazing manipulatives in the hands of your kids! My kids love picking them up and using them. They are regularly getting these bad boys out of our math manipulative station.

A Word On Third: Using judy clocks to teach telling time


I am a firm believer that technology should be used in a way which actually transforms your classroom. I don't think putting a boring worksheet on an iPad makes it exciting just because it's on an iPad. That being said, I do like for my kids to practice fact fluency. Since we're telling time, I want them to be able to see an analogue clock (will those even exist in 50 years??) and know right away what time they are looking it. I have been using the app Clock Master and my kids have been enjoying it. 

A Word On Third: apps to support math instruction in the classroom

My kids like that they get immediate feedback so they know if they're correct or not, but they also can choose the difficulty of the problems they get on this app. It's been really interesting to see what my kids have chosen to do on the app. They will rise to the challenge if it's presented to them, but I find that my students also challenge themselves at an appropriate level. We have built such a respect for learning in our room. It's nice to see!


I've shared how much I love the book Smarter Charts. It has COMPLETELY, and I mean COMPLETELY!!!!, changed the way charts are used and created in my room. Our class created this anchor chart today. We are just starting our study of nonfiction writing, so obviously we will be adding more strategies to this chart. The students are totally pumped! I've shared how nonfiction writing is relevant in my life and how these lessons are meaningful, and they bought in immediately. The kids decided on the chart title, and you can see that they also wrote many of the "expert" phrases to our list. In fact, they generated all of the ideas on this list except for two phrases. I wrote the first bunch of ideas on the chart to save time.

A Word On Third: student-created anchor charts

I told the kids to pay attention to their writing today and see if they found themselves using any phrases that helped them to elaborate. It's interesting how posing a question can be so powerful with kids. The second half of the list was generated during the share portion of our lesson. There were tons of ideas that could still be added to our chart. I was so proud!


Of course, I'm really excited about my new bingo boards too! I made these this week. I created a paid version and a free version of this product. My kids absolutely love this activity. I love how genuinely enthusiastic they are about learning about each other.

A Word On Third: building a classroom community through active games

Click on the picture (or here) for the paid version and click here for the freebie! I hope you like them. I shared how to use these on this blog post.


Finally, I'm really proud of the fluency work my students have been doing. In third grade in my school, most teachers do not have students partner read anymore. I was really surprised about this coming from first grade. However, our teachers recently participated in a book club centered around building reading fluency skills. I am SO excited, because we talked about the simple act of incorporating partner reading into instruction and how important it is!

A Word On Third: supporting fluency instruction

I spent a lot of time teaching my kids to sit with their books in the middle so both partners can see, to coach each other, and to pay close attention to the words whether they are reading out loud or listening to their partners. Kids also get a chance to TALK about their books EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. I do this as a little warm up for the first 5 minutes of my reading period. Then I do my shared reading lessons (read more about that here), a brain break (something in which they move around the room and get energized), and move into my Reader's Workshop mini-lesson. I really love teaching reading to third graders. They are capable of making such thoughtful contributions to discussion, but they're still so sweet and amazed by everything.

Anyway, that was a highlight of my week! What did you do this week that was exciting to you?? Comment below!