Random Name Picker

Looking for a fun way to get more students to participate?  Check out the Random Name Picker at the Barry Fun English website.

You will have to register for a free account, but it just takes a minute.

Under the Tools section, select Random Name Picker.

random name picker menu.png

The first time you use the site, you can either type in the names manually, or you can import a class from a .txt file.  Either way, you only have to do it once per class.  Since  you’re logged in, your information will be saved, and accessible from any computer.

If you have to edit lists later, if students move or if you realize Joseph goes by Joey, everything is quickly editable.  Just click OK to start using the Name Picker.

Random Name Picker - Import.png

The default setting is to have student names removed from the list once they are selected, but you can change that option if you want to keep students on their toes.

The site does make a very annoying noRandom Name Picker - names.pngise, so you may want to turn down or mute your speakers, although the kids seem to enjoy it.

As you can see, names scroll by when you click Go.  The Go button will turn into a Stop button, which you can click to stop the names.  As names start to slow down and eventually stop, it always reminds me of the wheel on the Price is Right.  The kids love it!

There is another version of the Name Picker available on the same site.  Under the Tools tab, you can choose Dartboard Selector.

It’s the same concept, with the same options, except this time, you get to launch darts to select a name.  Just be sure no one goes home and tells their parents that you threw a dart at them!Random Name Picker - Dartboard.png

It’s a little tricky to launch the darts from a Promethean or Smartboard.  I recommend using your desktop mouse for this one. You click to select a dart, then move your mouse without clicking to aim, then click your mouse again to launch the dart.  Yes, it’s possible to miss entirely, so practice your aim!

I find these tools especially helpful at the beginning of the school year, when students are more hesitant to participate, and when you might not quite have everyone’s names memorized.

If you know of similar tools that you enjoy using, please let me know in the comments.


Ladder Method for GCF or LCM

So, even though it’s been around for a while, I’m suddenly noticing the Ladder Method popping up all over Pinterest and several Math sites.

My question is why?  Ladder Method

How is this helpful?  Yes, students can get the right answer, if they perform all of the steps correctly and remember which numbers to include for their LCM solution and which numbers to include for their GCF solution.

But I don’t think it teaches them anything conceptually, and I recommend staying away from this approach.

Students end up multiplying to find their final answers with both the GCF and the LCM version of the Ladder Method.  But we want students to understand that finding the GCF is all about dividing.  In a real-life GCF situations, division should be the focus.  With the Ladder Method, students just mutliply the left half of a giant L, with no idea why they are doing so.

And when students find a least common multiple, the whole point is to focus on the multiples that a pair of numbers share.  This Ladder Method focuses on multiplying factors, and students don’t need to demonstrate any knowledge of multiples at all.

I literally have my students cross this section out of their consumable Math textbooks.  Have you used this method with success?  Perhaps with advanced students who definitely understand the core concepts, and who are looking for a shortcut to be used with very large numbers, this would be a neat trick to show them.  But the Common Core standards do not require students in 6th grade to find the LCM of numbers beyond 12 or the GCF of number greater than 100, so I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

GCF or LCM? Clue Words and Hands-On Learning

By the time students are in sixth grade, with a little review, they can easily find the greatest common factor or the least common multiple.  This is especially true when teachers (and textbooks) give students problems that fall within the parameters set in the Common Core standards.  Image result for GCF or LCM

The standards state that students must be able to determine the GCF of numbers equal or less than 100, and the LCM of numbers up to 12.  Keep that in mind before you accidentally ask students to make ridiculously long, tedious lists of factors or multiples!

But working within these parameters, it’s pretty easy for most students to do this.

Except, when they are simply asked to read a word problem and interpret for themselves which of the two is being asked for.  Many times, when I give my chapter 1 test, students encounter word problems and take a wild stab at either GCF or LCM, without understanding which one is appropriate in the given situation.

To help solve this problem, I give my students opportunities to practice finding clue words that point to either the GCF or LCM.GCF or LCM.png

By practicing with the real-life terms that one would encounter in GCF or LCM situations, students gain a much better understanding of what is being asked.  I have both a practice worksheet and a homework page available as a free download.  Check it out!

Another great way to reinforce the idea of GCF vs LCHands On LCM GCF Build It! Least Common Multiple, GreatestM is to have students complete a hands-on activity that I call Build It!  I distribute base-ten rods and cubes, and students practice solving GCF and LCM problems by actually manipulating the items into groups.

For example, students play the role of cafeteria worker, diving peas and carrots equally, forming the greatest number of identical plates.  Or they buy packages of baseballs and baseball bats until they have the least possible, common number of both.

I have my students work in pairs or trios to model the situation and perform the correct operation.  They enjoy the hands-on approach, and since they are physically creating the solution by dividing (factors) or repeatedly making groups (multiples), they gain an understanding unavailable through the boring old textbook approach.


When they finish, the back of the worksheets allows students the chance to create their own hands-on situations and trade with other groups!

As we review our answers at the end of class, students are actually excited to discuss how they knew if the situation called for finding the GCF or the LCM.  How often can we say that?!  IMAG1416

Do you have other ways to help your students distinguish between GCF and LCM?  I’d love if you left a comment 🙂

First Lesson of the Year: Prime Factorization

How can you tell your students’ textbook was written by someone who hasn’t taught in a long time, if ever?  Because the first lesson of the textbook is long division!  Ugh!  Welcome back, kids!

No thanks.

Our first chapter (we use the Go Math series) is about Whole Number and Decimals.  It’s basically a review of the 6th grade Common Core standards that overlap with 5th grade topics, with just a few new things added in.

But rather than torture the students and depress everybody with long division right off the bat, I decided to skip to the second lesson, which is prime factorization.

Prime Factorization is very easy to teach, and it’s a good way to determine which of your students know their basic mutliplication and division facts.

I only teach it with the traditional factor tree method.  I kImage result for factor treenow that other methods exist, and our textbook even suggest the “upside down division” method, sometimes called the “ladder method”.  But I really like the visual impact that the factor trees have.  Clearly the composite numbers are being “split” or “broken down” into their prime factors.  It’s representative of division, which is the whole point!

I wind up spending two days on this topic, not because it’s difficult, but because all the procedural aspects of Math class take a long time to explain.  We set up our binders, review our calculator policy, distribute textbooks, and we try to get to know each other.

Along with saving them from long division in lesson #1, I assign a Prime Factorization – Math Monsters Color-by-Number activity, on Day 2.  Prime factorization color by number

It features a wide variety of questions about prime & composite numbers and the steps of prime factorization, and it also questions students about common errors.

prime factorization color by number image.pngPlus, it has another benefit: Students have fun coloring, and they loosen up a bit, realizing that maybe, just maybe, this Math teacher isn’t so bad.  Maybe, we’ll actually have fun in Math this year!

There’s a whole bundle of these Math color-by-number activities in my TpT shop, but as a thank-you for checking out my blog, you can download a free copy right here.  Enjoy!

Installing Fonts to Make your Work Look Awesome!

font examplesWhen my colleagues find out I have made most of my own materials, or when they find out I have a store on Teachers pay Teachers, a lot of times they will ask me where I get my fonts.

While there are lots of great, free sites to download fonts, I’m going to show you how you can download fonts from my favorite font site, dafont.com, and install them on a Windows computer.

Most people don’t realize how easy it is to download and use a fun, new font in just a minute or two!

First, go to dafont.com.dafont website

Next, browse the categories, or use the search box to look up a specific font.


When you find a font you like, click the download button.

dafont download


Navigate to the Downloads folder on your computer.  Double-click on the .zip folder. You will recognize it as having the same name as the font you selected.

dafont DL folder


You don’t need to actually unzip any files.  You can just double click on the .tff file.  The .tff file extension just stands for True Type Font.

dafont TFF file

A new window should open, and you should see the font displayed in various sizes.

dafont install

Just click the Install button, and in a few seconds, the font will be installed.

That’s it!

Just open Word or any other program that allows you to select a font, and your new font will be there as an option.

dafont in Word


There’s one thing to keep in mind: If you save a Word document in which you use the new font, then try to open the document on a different computer, the font will not appear unless the font is installed in both machines.  So, either install it on all the computers you will use to edit the document, or save your work as a pdf, by selecting File, Save As, then using the dropdown menu to choose PDF.

save as pdf


Now that you know how to install a font, I just want to remind you to please be sure to check and read-me files included in the download, to learn about the rights associated with using the fonts in your own materials.

If you have another font site that you like or a certain font you prefer, please let me know in the comments section.

Study Guides for Math Test

“Is there a study guide?”

That’s the question that I’m often asked.   study guide pic

In my former life as a Social Studies teacher, I understood offering a study guide before a test.  Students needed to recall lots of facts, which may not have had much relevance outside the classroom.  It made sense to me that they would need a list of key vocabulary terms, names, locations, and concepts.

But, Math is different.  There aren’t specific problems that students need to answer.  There are many, many variations of certain concepts.  Yes, there is essential vocabulary, but there are rarely straight out vocabulary questions on a Math test.  There are no famous locations, dates, or people that students need to know in Math class.

Plus, my students have the chance to pay attention and ask questions during class, during homework completion, during homework check, during the quiz, and possibly even during the “second try” quiz.  We always do some type of review game in class, and that’s another time students can pay attention and ask questions.  So, I never felt like a study guide was needed.

But still, I get the “Is there a study guide?” question from time to time.  And I guess it makes sense, because sixth graders are (in)famous for not telling their parents what we actually do in Math class.  I did the same thing as a sixth grader, so I can’t blame them.

So, this year, I decided to explore what a Math study guide would look like.  I’m attaching a pdf copy of my Chapter 1 Study Guide here.  Feel free to download a copy and check it out.  I will also post the original Word document here, in case you would like to modify it to suit your needs.

As you can see from the screenshot above, the study guide just covers the basics.  As I was creating it, I thought of the countless curriculum maps that I have been forced to make over the years.  The point of the curriculum maps is to torture us teachers lay out each unit for the teacher.  So I figured I would do a similar thing for my students.

Ideally, I would eventually like to include 3 additional sections.

The first would be a justification for each sample problem’s solution.  There is certainly plenty of room to write out each step leading to the answer, and I know it would be beneficial.

The second revision would be to add 1 or 2 specific videos for each topic.  At the topic, I included links to the 6th grade Khan Academy and Virtual Nerd video sites, but that still requires the user to look up each individual topic.  Adding a column to the right with specific videos would be an excellent way for students and parents to learn even more.

The third addition would be a link to an enrichment project for that topic.  I don’t know if that’s even possible, but hey, a teacher can dream!

But, creating these guides from scratch is going to take me a very long time, and I would like to see how well they work before I add these extra parts.

Will every student and parent take advantage of this resource?   No.  But at least I have led the horse to water, so to speak.  It can only help, so I would really like to make this a focus this year.

Do you offer study guides for your students?  If so, what do they look like?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

My Favorites – Electric Hole Puncher

Ok, I know this one is on the expensive side.  But, it will save you lots of time in the long run, and your time is valuable!IMAG1367

I have my students keep all their Math papers in a binder.  On the first day of school, we set up our binders with tabbed dividers.  We make 3 sections:

  1. Warm Ups
  2. Homework
  3. Other/Misc.

I make a huge deal about staying organized.  And really, isn’t that a key to being successful in Math?  You have to stay organized with the correct steps at the correct time.  You check your work by going back through it in an organized manner.

But, if your students can’t even find their work, then the whole system breaks down!  So, I usually hole-punch all the papers that I distribute to my students.  (And yes, I use the word distribute, and link it to the distributive property.  And yes, my students roll their eyes, but I don’t care.  They’re going to learn!)

My school has 2 electric hole punchers, permanently located in work rooms far from my classroom.  I tried a traditional, manual 3-hole puncher, even the heavy duty kind, but they always jam, and the paper capacity is way too small.

So, last year I finally broke down and bought this electric Swingline 3-hole punch.  No, I did not pay full price.  I watched a few used ebay.jpgitems on eBay for a couple weeks.  It was worth the wait.  I bought this one for around $50.  That’s about half price, compared to a new, boxed model.  And it worked great!  I have never had a single issue with it.  It saved me lots of trips to the communal puncher.  Every so often, I forget to hole punch an entire stack of papers, and if I’m in a pinch, I can do it right at my desk, even if kids are in the room.

I wish I had bought one years ago!  But, with 20 years left (Ohio’s retirement plans includes working 35 years for the maximum pension), I figure it’s better late than never!

What classroom item do you wish you had bought years ago?  Let me know in the comments.