Random Team Maker

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a handy tool called the Random Name Picker.  It’s especially helpful at the beginning of the school year, when not all students feel comfortable to volunteer on their own.  It also keeps the students on their toes, since they know their turn to talk might be coming up soon.

Similarly, the Team Maker tool from Chirag Mehta is a fantastic way to quickly arrange your students into random groups for cooperative learning.  You get to choose the number of groups, and this free website randomly places your students into teams.


I really like using this site, because if given the option to choose their own groups, my students always tend to work with the same people.  With the Team Maker tool, students are exposed to new voices and new opportunities to cooperate and learn from each other.

I find that it’s also much faster to use this tool than to have students count off.  We all know that there’s always someone who forgets their number or who conveniently finds their way into the wrong group!

A nice feature with this site is that you can copy and paste a list of names that you already have saved, so you don’t have to type in the names each time you use the Team Maker.  I keep a simple text document (just use Notepad) with all my students’ names.  When I want to use the Team Maker, I just open the text document, use Ctrl+A to select all, Ctrl+C to copy the list, and then use Ctrl+V to paste the names into the Team Maker.team-maker-names

There are some fun options for team names, beyond just Team 1, Team, 2, etc.  You can use the drop-down list to select from Animals, Cars, Sports Teams, and many more themes, seen here.  You can even edit the names within the list, so if you select Cars, but your students aren’t familiar with a Bugatti, you can change it to Corvette, Mustang, or maybe even old rusty station wagon!

I recommend displaying the whole process on a Promethean Board or SmartBoard.  This way, students see that it truly is a random grouping, and no one is receiving special treatment.  They also like seeing the team names and when time allows, they generate some fun alternatives.  Plus, it’s really easy to display the names on the screen, so students can see their group name, instead of just hearing it.

You can choose the output format, including a small, scrollableteam-maker-output-format preview window, a whole new browser window, or a .csv file, which you can save in Excel.  I recommend  the New Window option, because you can see several teams at one time, and it’s a much cleaner, clearer look.

Just click the Generate Teams button, and your groups will appear in seconds.  This site is very fast, and it’s rare to ever experience a delay.

Here’s an example of what you will see if you use the New Windoteam-maker-teamsw option.  Apparently, the site’s creator was a big fan of the TV shows The Office and Mad Men, because the default names are all characters!  (Imagine a team with Don Draper and Michael Scott working together!)

If you have other random team/group maker sites or electronic tools that you enjoy, please share them in the comments!



Long Division That Doesn’t Stink!

As I wrote earlier, the dolts authors that wrote our textbook decided to start the year off with long division.  bart long division.jpg

Not a smart move!

After shuffling lessons around and avoiding it as long as possible, I finally decided to end our first unit with long division.  The Common Core Standard states that students must fluently divide multi-digit numbers using the standard algorithm.  The good news about that is that it’s the method that I learned as a kid back in the 1980’s, and it’s probably the way most of your students’ parents learned to divide.

This really nice, clear explanation fromlong division CoolMath4Kids.com walks students (and maybe teachers who grew up with another algorithm!) through the basics of long division.  The color-coded steps make it very easy to follow along.

Even though the Common Core Standards don’t explicitly state that students in grades 4 or 5 need to use the standard algorithm, I am very fortunate to be able to say that most students arrive in 6th grade with a familiarity and an understanding of this traditional algorithm.

And that makes things much, much easier!

However, it’s still necessary to review the steps for long division, since no one sat at home over the summer and practiced, and there are always a few new students who aren’t familiar with this traditional approach.

I actually make my students raise their right hands snorks.pngand repeat some sort of pledge that I make up on the spot.  I say that if they promise to follow along with a pencil and a piece of notebook paper, they don’t even have to open their textbooks.  This grabs their attention, and then I really hook them with this game, called Snorks, from KidsNumbers.com .

The Snorks website cheers on students as they walk through the steps of long division.  Every now and then, there’s an easy mental math division problem, but most of the problems require actual long division.  At first, I call on individual students to tell me what to do for each new step, but eventually I let the class call out the steps all together.  They really get into it!  Who knew long division could actually be exciting?!

For more advanced students, KidsMathTV.com has a Millionaire long division game.  There is a timer involved, so the students have to calculate really quickly.  Not everyone is going to be able to keep up the first time through, but it’s a fun game to offer students who are looking for a challenge.

millionaire Long division.png

So now that my students are engaged, what’s next?

I created this “Text Me” long division homework page, and
text me long division pic.pngmy students have done really well with it each year.  It’s set up so that students only write in the boxes that I’ve provided, so their work stays neat and organized.  The gimmick is that students are trying to find the missing digits in their friend’s phone number, so they can text the friend later.  Not only do students need to get the quotients correct, but they also need to provide the correct work, since some of the missing digits are found in the work area beneath the division bracket.  You can download the Text Me – Dividing Whole Numbers worksheet right here, as a thank-you for reading my blog!

You can also grab the Text Me worksheet as part of my “Long Division That Doesn’t Stink” bundle.  It includes a second teaching/homework sheet for dividing decimals by whole numbers and third sheet for dividing decimals by decimals.long division bundle.png

Each sheet includes around 8 problems, with plenty of space for students to show their work, and scaffolding is provided to make sure that students are guided through the entire process.

I’d love to hear what you think!  If you have other ways to get your students excited about long division, let me know if the comments.

Wordle Welcome Sign

If you’re looking for a quick way to decorate your classroom door, with a personalized, welcoming touch, I recommend heading over to Wordle’s website.  This site is an oldie but a goodie.

If you’re not familiar with Wordle, it’s a site that creates “word clouds”.  It’s basically a fun way to display a group of words, simply by adjusting the format and font, after you type or paste in a list of words.Wordle 1st variation

As a Math teacher, I’m sure there are other applications for this word cloud site, but I use it every year to create a quick Welcome sign, featuring all the names of my students.  Again, you can either type in their names or paste a list.  As I’ve written before, I highly recommend the book, The First Days of School.  In it, the authors emphasize the importance of making your students feel welcomed.  They state that you should always tell your students and clearly display for your students a warm welcome.  This is a fast, free, eye-catching way to accomplish this.  Students love finding their names in the word cloud.

I find that the Wordle site works better with Internet Explorer than Chrome, but your results may vary.  You need the latest version of Java installed.  It takes about 2 minutes, and you can grab it here, in case your version is out of date.  Because your results will vary, I recommend copying and pasting your list of names, because if the site won’t load in your browser, you can just open a different browser and paste in the list, in a matter of seconds.

After you type or paste in your student names, there are a few things to consider. First, any names that are repeated will appear larger than the rest, because the site displays the most common words larger than the rest.  You can get around this by simply using any confirmed nicknames, or by using variations such as JoeyL and JoeyZ.  Just click the Go button when you’re ready.Wordle type or paste.png

It’s very easy to experiment with the font style and the font/background colors.  Just use the menu at the top to choose from the difWordle color optionsferent options.  There are lots of fun fonts to try out.  You can also change the direction of the text until you find the one that you like best.  You don’t need to re-enter any of the text to make these adjustments.  It’s very easy to view the different layout options.  There’s even a “randomize” button that you can use if you’re feeling adventurous.

Here is another variation of the word cloud that I showed you at the top of this page:

Wordle 2nd variation.png

The names are the same, but I changed the font and the font/background colors.

Here is a third variation with a twist.  I pasted in the student names, but I also added the word “Welcome” three times.  The reason I included it three times is because of Wordle’s way of making the most popular words appear the largest.  Since it’s a welcome sign, I wanted “Welcome” to stand out.Wordle Welcome variation.png

It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s a fun way to welcome your students to your classroom.  I had a few parents at Open House stop and mention how cool they thought the sign was, and several parents made a point to stop and find their child’s name.  Give it a try!

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!