Keeping Kids Motivated With Dice


By @SGroshell

Keeping students engaged in what they are learning is central to any successful lesson. When I started my Masters, I remember calculating in my head how many hours I was going to be teaching my students over the course of just one academic year.

180 x 5 hours = 900 hours

That is a lot of time to keep a 7 year old engaged!

Bringing Out My Inner Creativity

What I didn’t realize at the time is how fun it would be to get to think creatively of different ways to keep these young students engaged and still get all of the practice they need on new material.

As a board game lover myself, one of the key ways I like to do this is by adding a little chance (and sometimes luck) into their practice by letting them roll the dice a few times.

The Roll Determines What They Do

One way to do this is by assigning one strategy or activity to each number on the dice.

My favorite chance game to play is with multiplication. Students are given a multiplication question, roll the dice, and find the product using the strategy they roll.

  1. Repeated Addition
  2. Choice: Check with Repeated Subtraction
  3. Draw Groups and Make Tallies Inside
  4. Draw tallies and Circle Groups
  5. Make an Array
  6. Teacher’s Choice

My students did this game for their school assembly last year and did fantastic. Their preparation was even better, because they didn’t know what the dice would land on.

The Roll Determines What Numbers They Manipulate

There are lots of games in this category. I’m lucky enough to have 100s, 10s and 1s dice, so rolling to make numbers is pretty much obligatory.

Here’s a game I just made for my kids this week. Click to download.


Here is another game the kids played last week. Click to download.


Let the dice roll!

XtraMath For Learning Times Tables

By @MrZachG

One of last year’s more profound PDs at my school was a book club on “Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 EdTech Mistakes”. In it, author Yong Zhao advocates exactly what the title suggests: That teachers should use technology whenever technology does the job better than humans. 

For this tech review, I will be focusing on XtraMath, which is a simple online tool that I use to achieve what many teachers can’t: Learning math facts. Instead of putting that responsibility on myself, the parents, and ultimately the students, I put the responsibility on a machine to get the job done.

How it works:


XtraMath is a simple flash card program that allows you to assign programs of flashcards to individual students. The program records which math facts they have mastered and drills them with math facts that they routinely get incorrect.

In the old days I used Rocket Math and spent a good deal of my time making copies of multiplication tables. I spent most nights with a red pen in my hand correcting in front of the television. Now we have XtraMath to do the work for you. Once you get students logged on and going on the flashcard program that you want (instant differentiation), you need to do little more than dedicate 10 minutes a day to the exercises.xtramath grid

Students see their own progress on their little fact chart, and they are motivated by earning smiley faces. I use a chart in my classroom dedicated to XtraMath to provide a constant visual of progress throughout the school year.

If you are a grade 1-6 teacher, or any teacher that needs to teach math facts to any student, I would suggest this program. It is free, it works on iPads and PCs, and it is easy to have students practice at home. Once students complete each of the levels, you can always move them up to a faster level, and there are easy to print certificates available for celebrating achievements.

So, gone are the days that teachers are responsible for drilling students in rote learning. Let a machine take care of it! 

A Need for Explicit Discussions on Mindset, even in 2nd grade

By @SGroshell


What is Mindset?

Before I begin, I’d like to put in Carol Dweck’s explanation of her research on fixed and growth mindsets for anyone new to the idea.

…students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.

You may also want to check out the article I took this quote from: Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’.

In the past…

I always thought developing a growth mindset in the younger years would come from how the teacher sets the tone in the classroom. And I have always worked hard to do this, saying things like “Your brain is a muscle, the more you work things out, the stronger it gets!” or “Instead of saying ‘This is too hard’, we say ‘I’m still working on it.”

But is that enough?

During my first week back to school this year, I had an experience that made me question my mindset teaching strategy.

One of my happiest new 7-year-olds is a fantastic reader. She could sit in the corner of the room giggling at a Junie B. Jones book for hours. But this week, while we were working on number patterns, I noticed her engagement waning. She gradually started looking at her shoes and the rug more than at what we were working on. She had found the content difficult and given up.

Still trying to set the tone of hard work and perseverance, I stopped the lesson and we had our first class discussion on how we learn. The kids couldn’t think of a single time when they had learned something without participating and trying their best. With my lead, they came to the consensus that they need to keep trying different strategies, even when math got challenging. The student who unknowingly began this discussion then raised her hand to say, “I think I gave up back there. Did I?”

I put up my math and reading strategies on the walls, why not learning strategies?

I felt so great about her revelation that I knew I would want to refer back to it in the future. The question was, how? A few ideas popped into my head, but nothing got me excited enough to write a blog post until I saw this.


It visually shows kids what it looks like to have a growth mindset and what it looks like to have a set mindset. It even looks a bit like a brain scan with the brain lighting up when it is learning.

More importantly, this will be a reference for my students and we will be able to refer back to it as we create an atmosphere of growth and safety this year.

You can get this bulletin board from Emily Edelle’s TpT here.



Back and forth argument on Twitter helps me rethink why we do what we do.

By @MrZachG


Recently, this tweet came up on my feed.

As I sometimes do when I am reading through Ed talk on Twitter, I responded by tweeting to the user my personal reasons why I had gotten into teaching.

If you are one of these people, good for you! It’s okay to get into teaching for reasons other than your love of literature or math. I got into teaching because I care deeply about our kids. Later, as I continued my professional development, I learned about soft skills and some of the 21st century skills that go beyond the traditional subject areas. I started working in a PYP school, which has a transdisciplinary program that looks between and beyond the traditional subject areas. I certainly didn’t get into teaching just to teach math, but I am so glad that I get to every day at my school.

The Tweeterment Continued. .

After replying with my personal reason for getting into teaching, which was mainly about building relationships with students and parents in the community, the Twitter user responded as such:

Interesting. I needed to think about what this Twitter user was saying. I went back to her original tweet for clarification, and split it into two parts:

  1. Teachers join the profession because they have a deep academic love of their subject. Of course not ALL of us did or do. Some end up falling in love with their subjects after they get to teaching them. Some never do end up loving their subjects on a deep and academic level, but sure do convince their students that they do! I am a living example of a teacher that got into teaching for different reasons than the presumption that the Twitter user was making.
  2. How can you teach before having studied it in depth? I don’t necessarily think that most primary teachers have studied their subjects –  elementary literacy, math and science, etc. . –  “in depth” before becoming teachers. The sense I have always gotten is that, besides the few introductory courses that we were offered during our certificate and M.Ed programs, most teachers have had to learn the elementary ed subjects on the job. I didn’t know much about Alexandre Graham Bell last year, but I learned it right along with a student as he completed his board for Exhibition. And I don’t know much about making this one kid’s alarm bell out of everyday materials for my class right now, but we’re using the good ol’ internet to figure it out.

After a few more tweets of going back and forth with this polite user, it finally came down to a fundamental disagreement that we had.

What are Teachers Paid For?

And what is the role of teachers? The easiest way I thought to figure out why I am paid is to look at my teaching contract. In it are these seven professional standards:

  • Individual and Community
  • Planning for Learning
  • Teaching for Learning
  • Assessing for Learning
  • Creating the Environment for Learning
  • Pastoral Responsibilities
  • Professional Growth and Leadership

When I looked at these professional standards, it was interesting that 3 out of the 7 had entirely to do with why I became a teacher: Individual and Community, Creating the Environment for Learning, and Pastoral Responsibilities.

Of course, I am “paid” to plan, teach and assess for learning, and to seek professional growth and leadership when required, but at least my school understands that education is more than just knowledge of subject. At my school, which is a great school, we teach the whole child.

The Tweeterment Ends. .

Of course, I didn’t go into this conversation to try to ruin anyone’s day. I wanted to use Twitter as I have always used social media; as a medium for discussion on issues that matter to me. So it was a bit disappointing to me when the user abruptly ended the conversation as such:

Hmm. . Not really. .

Just started on Twitter and already making waves? Keep coming back to Education Rickshaw as my wife and I add content throughout the school year.

5 Things Not to Prepare for the 1st Day of School

Advice from a 2nd grade classroom
By: @SGroshell

Your classroom is incredibly important. Students will come to your door, make friends, and hopefully even learn a thing or two for the next 180 days in that room.

In order for them to be successful, your classroom has to feel like a safe place. And to do that, you should make it theirs. Here are a few important elements to any classroom that you could do before the first day of school, but would be better done by your students.

1. Class Rules:
These are the number one thing that I never hang on my wall before the students arrive. I am in charge of my students, but it is their classroom. They deserve to have a part in discussing and understanding what rules our class will abide by. Evey year I have taught, students have brainstormed ideas of good rules and we have ended up being able to narrow them down to these same three:

-Be respectful
-Be responsible
-Be safe

Although it doesn’t look like there is much difference between this and if I had written them down on my own, going through the process of deciding what is important to us puts meaning behind those words and creates an ownership of them.

2. Name Tags:
Cutesy pre-printed name tags look fantastic in pictures, but they are a wasted opportunity to display the personality of your students. Their desk is their space and it should show that! I give my kids a blank piece of paper cut in half horizontally and let them design their name tags on the first day of school. In fact, watching them decorate is a great first introduction for me into their unique personalities. It is interesting to see who takes time on every detail of their pictures, who attempts the ambitious bubble letters, and even who whips through the task and is ready for the next thing. I then laminate the name tags and keep them for the rest of the year.

3. Comprehension Strategies:
One of the best pieces of advice I got about my classroom walls is to never put anything up you haven’t taught. If you fill your walls with posters, they will become like background designs that students largely ignore. Instead, slowly add strategy cards or posters to the walls as you teach them and continually refer back to the posters so the students understand how to do the same.

4. PYP Attitudes/Learner Profile:
I work in a PYP school and as part of that we teach the PYP Attitudes and IB Learner Profile. They are fantastic and really teach kids how to be the best they can be and give them the language to talk about it. However, if these are put up on the wall at the beginning of the year, it is easy for them to have the same fate as the comprehension strategies. My class discusses the attitudes and profile and makes the posters themselves.

5. Part of your Bulletin Board:
OK, I do start my bulletin board – but school can a nerve wrecking place for a 7-year-old at the beginning of the year, so I want it to feel like their room as soon as possible. I like to get most of the board ready with a welcome message and then post goals for the school year along with student pictures (or self-portraits).

Tech Review: WordPress for Teacher Blogging


First impressions from a busy teacher

My first experience with blogging was back in 7th grade. My initial understanding of the purpose of a blog was to post poorly written love poems and hope that the my tortured soul would be heard. To my disappointment, it didn’t actually seem like they were – although the tool I used then, Xanga, didn’t have all of the cool stat features that more recent blog creator sites have.

Recently I decided to jump on Twitter, and unsurprisingly, most of the people that I tend to want to follow have their own blog about teaching. Some use Blogger, others Weebly, but I saw many good quality blogs being posted on the platform WordPress. While I’m sure that each platform is good in it’s own right, this post is not intended to compare the different platforms, but to share some of the initial impressions I have had using WordPress to get a blog about education up and running.

Is it easy to use?

I think so. There are times where if you are not familiar with basic html – for example, how to link one page of your blog with the home screen, or how to change the title of one of your links – you may initially feel frustrated. I especially did when I was trying to put the blog together on my phone. Save yourself some energy and set up your blog using the old fashioned mouse, or like me, your laptop’s trackpad. It’s just too hard to fatfinger the thing together on a small touch screen mobile device.

Have people been reading it?

With WordPress, keeping track of who is viewing your blog is very easy. There is the option of upgrading your stats for additional functionality, but I quite like what WordPress gives bloggers for free. There is even a nifty little map that shows where your viewers are from. Seeing it for yourself gives new bloggers like me encouragement to keep going.

Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 2.49.37 PM

I’m popular in Jordan and India, eh? 

One of the best parts of WordPress is that it automatically Tweets and posts to Facebook after you’ve posted a new blog. This is where I imagine most of my followers are coming in contact with my blog.

Do We Recommend it?

If you’re just starting a blog, I think WordPress is a good platform. It’s easy to use, it helps you keep track of your stats, but most of all, it lets you just get to blogging. The feature of automatically posting to your social media sites makes it so that your social media is all connected, saving you time.

There are options to go “Premium, where you pay for added features such as video playback, advanced stats and your own domain, but @Sgroshell and I aren’t ready for that yet. Like you, maybe, we’re not sure where this blog will take us just yet.


More posts on Education Rickshaw

5 Ways Camp Makes You a Better Teacher

Compliments During Times of Hardship


5 Ways Camp Makes You a Better Teacher



By @MrZachG

As a kid I loved Summer Camp, and always dreamed of being a camp counselor. I was hired to work at YMCA Camp Seymour my freshman year of college, where I was christened “Atlas” for my love of travel. I worked there for as long as I could, even staffing most weekends during my Master’s and first year of teaching. Because camp is so fundamental to my identity, I have naturally brought Camp into the classroom. Here are five ways that Camp is an invaluable experience for teachers.

  1. The Songs

You can’t go wrong with a funny repeat-after-me song. Are any teacher prep programs training teachers to lead songs that get kids up and moving?

  1. The Games

Whenever my students need a good incentive, I say we’ll play a game. Not just a dumb game like Heads-Up-7-up (Why is that the only game teachers know how to play?), but a variety of games that you can find on a ton of good camp websites.

Try Ultimate Camp Resource

  1. The Claps

“Give Johnny a round of applause!” gets old after a few weeks. Having kids do the Ketchup clap or the Cheese clap is not only entertaining but it gets their bodies involved.

  1. The Handshakes

One of the most important things that my Camp Director taught me was to make sure you are touching your kids.




Hold up! Did he just say “TOUCH” kids?

Now in this day and age, I know that a male even saying that makes people uneasy, but putting the unfortunate reasons for this aside, I believe teachers need to touch their students. All kids benefit from friendly, safe touches from their teachers, male or female. Camp taught me so many funny handshakes, quick hugs and clap games that I wouldn’t have learned had I not been a camp counselor.

  1. Hallway interactions

At camp, it’s totally normal (and expected) that very camper gets a hello and a hi-five from passing camp counselors. Surprisingly, this is not a practice that I have seen in schools. At one point in time, I got so good at camp that I could almost memorize the 300 campers’ names by the end of the week. Teachers should do better with their 180 days of hallway interactions.

My advice is use the resources available to camp counselors, such as My Summer Camps, and Ultimate Camp Resource to bring joy to your classroom, and encourage parents to send their kids to camp over the summer.

– Atlas

Compliments During Times of Hardship

By: @MrZachG

Most teachers have experienced a week where the students feel down in the dumps. This could be due to a number of factors, sometimes out of the teacher’s control. You can’t always have the best week of your life.

When I was in 3rd grade, my teacher must have sensed that we were having one such week and he busted out an activity that I have done every year since I began teaching.


What this 3rd Grade (me middle right)? Who knows, but that mullet!

Compliment Collage

How to do it? You basically hastily cut up a bunch of strips of paper and give enough to each student so that they can give one compliment to each of their peers. I try to give them some guidelines:


I always find it interesting that there is some kid that immediately starts saying, “I can’t think of any for so-and-so”. This is a great teachable moment. There is always something we can say nice about even the people we get along with the least.

Once the compliments are completed for all of the students, they are destined to be consolidated onto one piece of paper or poster. My teacher just typed them up for us and put them up in the room. We then had a museum walk where we looked at each others’ compliments. This is great but you can add one more part that students just love, and your neighboring teachers will just hate.

Cannon Ball

When I worked at camp, we had this tradition of giving compliments to each other as we sat in our cabins during the final moments of the day. We called this time “embers”, a name I quite enjoy. Once the compliments were given, one by one each camper would exit the cabin and scream out their compliment as loud as they could.

Boy shouting


This was inevitably followed by a huge round of applause from the group, and the cathartic feeling you get from such a “Cannon Ball” is out of this world. The Cannon Balls would persist until the Camp Director’s dog made such a fuss that he’d have to drag him up to prove to him that nothing was the matter.

In the quiet of some schools, this might seem like a challenge, but I’ve always been able to get away with it, usually by having students go into a closet/link room/office and shutting the door. They feel alone enough that every student will participate, but we can hear them just the same. And the noise is muffled so that Mr. Smith across the hall doesn’t get too mad when a kid screams, “I have beautiful eyelashes!” during his math lesson.

Try out the Compliment Collage and Cannon Ball when your kids know each other well and they’re just not feeling it that week. And keep complimenting your kids as much as possible.

Lesson plan Here

Video about how to teach kids to compliment

Make Learning a Little Tastier


Students enjoying their freshly made tortillas

By @SGroshell

I was first inspired to cook with my students in Vietnam when we read a story called The First Tortilla, by Rudolfo Anaya. On the third page or so, a student raised her hand and asked, “What’s a tortilla?”

No one else in the class knew either.

I quickly projected a picture of a google search on tortillas and began an adamant description of the food, but soon realized that wasn’t going to be enough. It was time to break out the flour.

What engages students more than food? Making it.

Instead of buying tortillas for my students to try, I thought we should be like Jade in the book and make them ourselves. Click here for the recipe I used.

The potential for connecting cooking to what students are learning in class is huge, here are the connections I made aside from obvious connections to the book.

  • Procedural writing
  • Mathematical measurements
  • Problem solving skills

Procedural Writing

Recipes open the doorway to learning the importance of each element of procedural writing. Here are the reasons my students came up with for why we can’t forget these steps.

  1. Title – How will we know what we are making?
  2. Materials or Ingredients – How will we know what to buy/bring?
  3. Steps – How will we know what to do?
  4. Conclusion – What special tips do I need to know? How do I know the tortillas are cooked?

Mathematical Measurements

This could be done in a few ways, depending on what the students were learning. We hadn’t started learning about time yet, so we focused on measurement. I decided to measure the flour by its mass (in grams) and the butter and water by its volume (mL). I had to convert my American recipe from measuring with cups, but it still turned out great!

Problem Solving

I knew my students were fantastic, but I didn’t anticipate the extent to which they would help each other when working on an activity that was so exciting. As some students measured the ingredients, others would be carefully watching to make sure it was just perfect and were constantly praising each others’ work. When they ran into problems (such as “I can’t roll out the dough because it is so sticky, what can I do?”), students were also able to find solutions together.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, turning my classroom into a kitchen turned out to be well worth the efforts. Students were able to gain important insight into the book they were reading as well as work on their writing, math and problem solving abilities. I am looking forward to cooking new recipes with my new class this year!

Goals are Easier with A/C

The whole of Athens, Greece buzzes below us as my wife and I sit in a dark hotel room, ceiling fan clanking and vibrating over our heads, as we prepare for the school year ahead of us. Such is the life of an international school teacher.


Check out more teacher memes

My heart is pounding (like usual) as loudly as an Athenian night club about what prospects lie ahead. Goal-setting is one of the most important parts of the student experience in my classroom, and I like to model it as much as possible throughout the year.

Goal Setting for Teachers

Typically, I put my goals up on a big chart paper right next to where the students’ goals are. Using a great framework such as the SMART framework is helpful, but sometimes I find it easy to just dive right in, depending on the class.

There are many variations of what SMART stands for, but the essence is this – goals should be:
  1. Specific.
  2. Measurable.
  3. Attainable.
  4. Relevant.
  5. Time Bound.


However you start goal-setting, you have to maintain the process throughout the year. Students should feel like they are accountable to their goals. Students should feel pride when they are able to remove one of their goals (limit it to just a few) and replace it with a new one.

I have many goals this year. One of them is to maintain a blog. Let me try to model the SMART strategy:

  1. Specific
    • I will maintain this edublog with my wife
  2. Measureable AND
  3. Attainable
    • I will post a minimum of one blog post every week. I will spend 1 hour on each blog post, no more.
  4. Relevant
    • Teaching is my passion. It is important to me and to my wife.
  5. Time Bound
    • I will keep this blog updated until the end of the school year. I will take breaks from it during my vacations. I will reevaluate how well it has worked throughout the year, and decide if this is indeed the best goal for me.

What are your teaching goals for this year? Follow me on Twitter @MrZachG