5 Ideas for Project Early-Finishers

“I’m finished!” That dead phrase all teachers don’t want to hear.

So what’s next?

First, I teach my kids that “finished” is the F-word. We don’t say that in our class when it comes to projects. There’s no such thing as finishing an open-ended project. You’re only satisfied, not finished. You ran out of time…or it’s good enough. But you’re not finished because there’s always something else you could do to improve your work. Like this blog post. I will reach a point where I’m satisfied with it…and I’ll slowly and reluctantly hit “Publish.” And then I will come back to it and edit some more. 😉

When we assign an open-ended project, it’s inevitable that some kids will become satisfied with their work before the deadline. Then what?

I give my students options, but I’m always aware of this: If the “finished” choice is more enticing than the project itself, then the quality of the project work goes down…drastically.

    • Mentor. My favorite thing to do with these kids is have them mentor other students. I ask the mentees if they’d like Sarah to mentor them, walk them through the project. If both parties agree on the working relationship, I do a bit of coaching (don’t force your opinion on the mentees, listen to their needs, stay with them, your goal is mentee independence, don’t do their work for them, ask me if you’re confused, you don’t have to know all the answers, etc.) Here is some impromptu footage of Jake mentoring Alyssa and Karla in my 5th grade classroom.

  • Create another mini-project. If enough time remains, students can zip through the creation process on any topic they’d like. This option reinforces the process and gives the students another iteration to improve quality. One example: How about you make another movie but do it on your favorite hobbies instead of the American Revolution.
  • EduChoices. I ask the students what they’d like to learn about in the 20 minutes they have left. 99% of the time, I say, “Go for it! Have fun learning about ____.”
  • Be a classroom helper. Some students enjoy contributing to the classroom environment by picking up, tidying, cleaning, etc.
  • Share about our class. One other “finisher” activity is to ask the students to report something about what we are learning to the community. They can write a blog post, create a documentary-style video for YouTube, or write an email to the principal…anything that shares and reinforces their excitement for their education.

What do you have your students do when they’re fin… satisfied?

Step-by-step student guide for making an Adobe Spark Video project

The 5-Minute MishMash Education Podcast

5th graders who can’t see equivalence


So I’ve uncovered another math misconception, and I’m fairly baffled.

I’m pretty sure most teachers write blog posts to share something they’ve mastered, something they’ve learned, something on which they consider themselves an expert. This isn’t one of those posts.

I’m admitting that I’ve got a lot to learn, even after 28 years of teaching math to kids. The more I learn about teaching math, the more I believe that I DON’T know about teaching math.

A 5th grader looked at these two fraction models today, and could not figure out where the yellow portion was shown in the red shaded model. I asked him to find the yellow part in the model on the top and outline it. He first drew a line around three sides of a 1/6 piece on the upper model. He didn’t even know what it meant to outline something, let alone find 1/3 in a model of sixths.

The students were trying to solve this problem: 1/3 + 1/6 =

My confused gentleman was looking at another student’s model of the problem, which looked like the red example above.

So how did I get him to see the 1/3 hidden in the model of sixths? I did some improv teaching and grabbed two pieces of half papers. I partitioned them like the models above. I shaded the yellow part on one paper with a dark sharpie, so that the shading would show through the other paper. Then I placed the sixths model over the top of the thirds so he could see the fraction lined up. He then said, “OH!” and was able to return to the model on the board and outline the correct portion.

Wow! It’s amazing what you learn about kids when you force them to explain things thoroughly.

Am I at a place where I can fully understand how kids think? No way! Do I know how to use progressive instruction to develop spatial sense in all my students, so they don’t lack the skills to identify equal portions? No way!

I’m going to need a few more lifetimes to master this job we call teaching.

Adobe Spark Video Student Guide

My fifth graders have been doing research in science and then presenting their findings in Adobe Spark Video. I noticed a real lack of understanding of the design process so I created a guide to use with them. It has really helped!

Today I met with each team to check in on their progress. It made things really concrete to say, “Show me your work. Where is step one? Where is step two? Etc.”

So I thought I’d share. Feel free to alter the guide and make it work for your kids. If you have suggestions to make the guide better, I’d LOVE to hear them! Let’s collaborate for the good of our students.

Here is the guide on Google Drive.

Here is an example of a student-created Adobe Spark Video.

Teaching Evaluation Without the Teacher

Last year, it was my turn to be observed. After teaching for 27 years, I was ready to take a risk, try something new. So I went to my principal and asked, “Do I have to be in my classroom when you come do my observation?” As you can imagine, she didn’t exactly know how to respond. But since my boss was a good sport, and trusted me, she said, “Well, what do you have in mind?” After I explained, she decided to play along.

When the time came, my principal walked into my room and I walked out. It was a very good year, probably the best group of kids I’d ever had, a class of very mature fifth graders. One girl ran the class. She managed 32 students reviewing a language arts assignment. The students worked in groups, pairs, and held a whole class discussion. According to my principal, my observation went well. I had to take her word for it, since I wasn’t there.

So why would I do such a crazy thing?

About 12 years ago, I began my journey to make my students the most independent they possibly could be. I had read an archived newsletter at learningcentered.org that told the story of a sub who didn’t show up for school. The principal was walking the hallways, noticed the kids in one class working away diligently, but didn’t see any teacher. Upon inquiry of the students, the principal found out that the teacher hadn’t shown up, and neither had the substitute. So the kids just went about their business of learning. This struck me. Could my students do this? Would they?

So to me, the real assessment of my teaching is how my students work without me. And if that’s my goal, then why should I be in the room for my teacher observation?

Am I crazy? Did I get you thinking? Talk to me.

Fraction Misconception

I am on a mission to help students master conceptual understanding of fractions. This is NOT an easy task. Fractions are so hard for kids whose minds still operate primarily in the concrete.

I’ve been tutoring some struggling mathematicians after school a couple days a week. This last week, we were looking at comparing fractions with different numerators and denominators. I showed the students region models that represented 2/3 and 3/4.

Just about every one of the 10 kids looked at the model and said that 2/3 was greater than 3/4. I was dumbfounded. How could the kids look at these two models, where one was clearly bigger than the other, and say the smaller one was larger?

I tried to get inside the heads of my students. Where was the misconception? Then it hit me. I had been showing numerous examples of unit fractions and pounding into the kids’ heads how 1/4 was smaller than 1/3, 1/10 smaller than 1/5, etc.

I did my best to drive home the point that the larger denominator actually indicated the smaller fraction. Then, we switched to comparing fractions like 3/4 and 2/3. Eureka! The kids were looking at the individual pieces, not the entire shaded region! When I asked which was bigger, they said 2/3 was greater than 3/4 because 1/3 is greater than 1/4!

Lesson learned. When kids seem illogical and out-of-touch, there’s a reason. Our job as educators is to pinpoint these misconceptions and help students make sense of the world around them.

For a really cool visual math resource, check out this fraction model on the NCTM website, Illuminations.

Have you discovered any math misconceptions with your students that you could share?

Human Alexa





An Amazon Echo is quite pricey. I accomplish pretty much the same thing in my classroom by playing the part of Alexa. Learn more about this technique as well as how to use an analog clock to teach angles in my latest episode of The 5-Minute MishMash podcast. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!

New Gallery Learning Website

I’ve been helping a ton of teachers get going on Gallery Learning, especially in North Country, New York. I recently created a new website where I will be sharing my ideas for Gallery Learning as well as those of other Gallery Learning masters. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Topics currently on the website: Building the Gallery, Glimpses from a Gallery Learning Classroom, training students to flourish in Gallery Learning, rules and procedures, subject matter ideas, lots of photos of student work, and more!

Official Gallery Learning Website


New Podcast from Tim: The 5-Minute Mishmash

It’s time for something new from the older and uglier Bedley Brother. I started a new podcast a couple of weeks ago. It’s basically a quick slam of teaching ideas. The show is about 5 minutes long with absolutely no fluff. I’m in my 29th year of teaching and have plenty to share. Each episode will feature such topics as technology, pedagogy, book recommendations, subject area tips, and a Twitter follow suggestion. I will only be recommending Tweeters with under 1,000 followers.

Listen to episodes 1 and 2:

I would greatly appreciate anyone who is willing to write a review on iTunes. Look for the show on iTunes beginning March 3 2017.

Do you like the new show? Let me know.