Saturday, September 29, 2012

Multiplication Math Journal Goodness

This year I am learning so much about teaching math (thanks to our new math program). For the first time, I finally feel like I can scaffold students' learning appropriately and know what to do to help them when they don't understand. There have been some growing pains as we learn the new strategies, but I'm loving it!

We started a chapter on multiplication last week, and according to my pre-tests, students needed help with arrays, so I decided to take two days to front-load content as we worked in our math journals. Using this poster as inspiration, I introduced multiplication models. We modeled each one, spending a great deal of time modeling arrays with base ten blocks, then drawing them. I knew that they didn't quite understand that "3x5=15" means "three ROWS OF five equals fifteen" (which is why they kept getting arrays wrong. So I focused on teaching them the language. I think the color coding really helped. They drew the picture of the boat rowing across the lake as a reminder that rows go across. The smaller picture of the arrays is stapled to the back of the Multiplication page.

These activities gave the students the foundation they needed to understand the wording and expectations of our new math program, which requires deeper thinking. Plus, it gave them a deeper understanding about multiplication. I'm so glad I took the time to front load this knowledge and fill in some of the gaps they had!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reviving Four Blocks: Where Does Grammar Fit?

I recently received this question from a reader who was reading my posts about the Four Blocks Framework (which I LOVE). I must admit that grammar was always one of those things that was sort of up in the air as to where it fit...Word work? (nouns, adjectives, etc...) Writing? (conventions...) I just wasn't really sure, so I started questioning and researching it, especially during the years that I taught writing. After lots of research here's what I came up with. I certainly don't have all the answers yet, but here's what makes sense to me at this point in my teaching journey (Year 13).

  • Should it be taught every day?
    • Yes. I equate grammar and conventions in language arts to facts practice in mathematics. It may not be an actual part of the basal, but you just about have to practice daily to keep it fresh, make connections, and remind children of what they know. 
  • If so, in isolation or integrated in writing or reading? Which block?
    • I prefer to teach grammar and conventions within the writing block, although it is important during reading and speaking as well (more on that later). I always try to connect what they're learning to the other areas of Language Arts.
  • What is the purpose of knowing sentence parts, labels, etc?
    • Knowing the labels gives us all a common vocabulary for which to speak and learn about our language. The names are tools that allow students and teachers to converse about making improvements to writing, or noticing things in reading/speaking.
  • Why do kids "learn" grammar but not speak it or write it correctly?
    • Students will do what they are held accountable for doing. I have learned over the years to hold them accountable for what they know. My students know that if they speak incorrectly, I will correct them and expect them to repeat the correct version. I also hold them accountable in their writing. If they know to put capital letters and periods at the ends of sentences and chose not to do so, they will not receive full credit for work. This may seem harsh, but we talk about how they should be using what they learn, and my students understand that I expect them to do this.  
So...Where does grammar fit? As long as you connect it, anywhere that makes sense to you and works for your students. I teach it during my writing block because it is easy for me as a former writing teacher to help children see the connections between grammar and writing. Connections are the key. Without them, grammar and mechanics are just a bunch of isolated facts that may or may not be useful to kids. I'll post more specifically this week about how I integrate my grammar and writing instruction, but here are a few phrases I often use:

"Remember that good writers use a variety of sentences types. Be sure and use at least one declarative and one interrogative sentence in your writing today."
"Look back at the web you made about sentences. What does a sentence have to have? Remember to include those things in your writing today."
"Check back over your writing. Did you include...?"
"Today you learned that pronouns take the place of nouns. Be careful in your writing to use pronouns sparingly so your reader doesn't get confused."
"Can you find some proper nouns in a story you've written?"
"Circle some adjectives in your story. Can you think of some sparkle words that you could use to replace them?"
How about you? This is one of those topics that I can never seem to learn enough about! What experience can you share? When/how do you teach grammar and conventions? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

FluxTime Studio: Easy Animations

Searching for a quick, easy, FREE tech tool you can use in your classroom? FluxTime Studio is a site that allows students to create animations, then email them as ecards. We used it this week and my kids LOVED it. You can use the links in the email to embed them into blog posts or post them on your website. Here's how I used it with my class:

Our basal story this week was about some migrating whales, so during reading on Monday, students chose a sea animal to research. They were to find three facts about their animal and download a picture to their jump drives. Then, I posted an assignment in Edmodo:
In the computer lab students wrote and edited their posts. After they finished, they watched the FluxTime video I had posted for them on Edmodo. That's one of the great features about using Edmodo. You can create a library of videos for your students to use. Here's the video I made:

Finally, students created their animations. I posted the finished animations to our classroom website, and helped a few students embed links in their blog posts. This was only their second week on KidBlog and third on Edmodo, so they needed help with embedding. 

Click HERE to see one of my student's posts with his animation linked.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Photosynthesis Lift the Flap

As I prepared for our unit on plants the other day, I was searching through Pinterest and was "Pinspired" by this amazing pin:

I loved the concept of lifting the flap, so I decided to tweak this idea for teaching photosynthesis. Here's the finished product:
"Plants use sunlight energy to change these ingredients into food."
"Leaves absorb Carbon Dioxide from the air that we breath."
I knew I needed a way to teach this concept that would make it stick in their minds because they are expected to be able to describe photosynthesis in detail. After reading and discussing the concept in our books, and watching this video from YouTube, we brainstormed ideas for what students could write under each flap. After all the information was added, they colored the picture. 

Want your own copy? Visit my files page or click here for the file. To make the picture, I traced over this one from How Stuff Works.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Teaching Kids to Write on the Internet (FREEBIE)

With the beginning of school upon us, many of us are introducing Internet literacy activities and websites to our students. After introducing my kids to Edmodo and letting them make ToonDoos last week, I realized that we needed a lesson on appropriate grammar and usage for writing on the Internet. After some thought, I came up with this anchor chart:

The goal was to help students see that an author's purpose for writing and the people who will be reading the writing determine the rules for what and how they compose. I did this lesson before ever having students begin posting on KidBlog, and it was a huge help! It was really great, because instead of ME telling them it was unacceptable to use symbols or lower case letters on a blog post, they came to that realization themselves! Here's a picture of what our classroom chart looked like:
You would not have believed the shocked faces I saw when my kiddos realized that their Internet projects and blog posts could be seen by anybody. That really started to put things into perspective for them. Once they started writing their first blog posts, they were very conscientious about spelling, punctuation, and capital letters. These were probably the BEST (most correct) first posts I've ever had! This is something I will definitely repeat year after year.

Now, on to your FREEBIE! I created a file for you to use to teach the lesson in two formats: Promethean flipchart and PowerPoint. I also included the PowerPoint file I used to create the words and pictures for my anchor chart. Feel free to change and adapt as needed! (Just link back if you post about it).

You can download the entire zipped file here.

How about you? Have you done something similar to this? I'd love to hear your insights.

You can find this post and other Common Core lessons here:

Common Core Classrooms

Go Math! and Guided Math

As this post is published, my fourth week of math workshop with Go Math will begin. I have to say I'm really enjoying using our new math program. It isn't perfect, and I'm not teaching it perfectly, but my kids are learning and my math instruction has changed dramatically!

Things I LOVE:

  • If the lesson is on subtraction, the practice is on subtraction as well...not 29 different types of problems as with our previous program. 
  • Upper grades teachers now have manipulatives!!!
  • Animated Math Models: I haven't used them yet, but look forward to introducing a concept with them. They're like interactive videos and they seem very engaging.
  • Workshop format is the perfect structure for this program: Minilesson, small group/independent work, centers, then back to whole group. Okay, so I've still not been able to fit in the last whole group time, but I'm working towards it. 
  • Lessons are built on using number sense to solve problems, not shortcuts. 
Things I'm still working on:
  • Fact practice: It isn't included in our program, but I just kept right on doing it the way I always have. I think they need fluency with facts, and it only takes about 5 minutes. 
  • Calendar: We didn't purchase the companion Every Day Counts Calendar, but I've put together something that I think is working.
  • Math Journals: We've used them for learning and practicing concepts, but I need to work in more time for actually responding to prompts during independent work time. Right now though, it is taking almost all of their independent work time to finish the lesson problems. 
Things I DON'T love:
  • The Promethean flipcharts (which were a huge selling point for us) are horrible. On the surface, they looked very professional and well put together, however some of the problems are missing. Some of the "independent" problems are on there as guided practice. The formative assessment with Activotes/ActivExpressions only includes one question and it doesn't assess the lesson. It is simply the test prep question at the end of each lesson. Also, the page notes with instructions aren't organized in a user-friendly manner. I've had to make notations all over mine. Basically, you can't use the flipcharts WITH the student book because there are too many discrepancies. 
  • Sometimes you aren't sure what the questions in the SE want. 
    • For example, "24 hundreds =______" I had to look in the TE to figure out that the standard form of the number goes in the blank (2,400). 
  • Sometimes the problems being broken down into tiny little steps is a hurdle. The program describes the 'in the head' processes that students should use...this is not a bad thing. In fact, it is great if your kids are used to it! For now, it can be a stumbling block as my students learn to slow down and think through the problems. I know this will get better and is better for them in the long run though. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

ToonDoo in the Classroom

ToonDoo is an easy, engaging, FREE tool that you can use in your classroom. Super easy to use, my students just logged in and followed the on-screen directions to create their Toon. I made this set of instructions and uploaded it to VistaPrint, but I forgot to use them. Even so, my students caught on very quickly, which is a huge plus when using a web 2.0 tool!
Feel free to use this. I uploaded to VistaPrint and
put the image on Oversized Postcards.
I used ToonDoo this week as an extension for the story we were reading about Jim Thorpe. My class has a group on Edmodo, so I posted the link and the log in information for them there. They were to create a cartoon about sports. Here's an example:


My students loved this tool! They even worked on it at home! Of course, we'll have to go over expectations for correct grammar and mechanics for online projects. (Don't worry, that's coming up this week!) But for last week (3rd week of school) I just really wanted to get them excited about some of the tools we'd be using and make connections from our literature.

**Important Note**
I made one account and all of my students logged in at once, but you might want to make more because I noticed the process slows down or stops when more than about 10 are using at the same time.

How about you? Have you ever used ToonDoo or something like it? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Go Math: The Adventure Begins!

With this year's Common Core implementation as well as our new Go Math program, the first two weeks of math have definitely been an adventure, to say the least. There have been ups and downs, just as with any new implementation, but I'm still excited to be learning and teaching something new. Here are a few of the things I've noticed/learned:

  • In general, my fourth graders do not have the number sense to really grasp the concepts in the new common core standards. This is not their fault, nor the fault of their teachers or parents. Many of my darlings had never even held a base ten block before the first week of 4th grade. It was not a part of the previous program, and most of the teachers didn't have those manipulatives. I'm playing catch up by trying to pre-teach, re-teach, and build number sense through games and yes, by putting the base-ten blocks in their hands. (The first few minutes after I passed them out, I just let them build things to become familiar with them). The chart shows the concept we worked on in lesson 1. They would build a number, then trade in flats for longs and count how many longs (tens) they had.
  • I'm moving at a very slow pace through the lessons. While I realize there is a test looming in early May, I also don't want to rush through and leave my kiddos in the dark. Once we all learn how the new program works, and get used to the wording and format we'll be able to move more quickly. I really believe that the extra time I'm taking now to build number sense and learn how everything fits together will benefit us in the long run. 
  • We can't do everything at first. This seems like a no-brainer, but with a new program sometimes it is difficult to determine what you MUST include and what can wait until you and the kids are more comfortable. I have 70 minutes for math each day. So far, I'm including:
    • fact practice daily (not part of the program, but a necessity).
    • calendar routines almost daily (trying here, but its new and sometimes I forget).
    • whole group lesson
    • small groups and independent games and practice-not every day yet, but a few times.
  • Collaborating with my coworkers has been super helpful! I'm blessed to be a part of a fabulous faculty, and have good friends at other schools in my system as well. We've had several planned and unplanned cross-grade level meetings to just discuss what's working or not working in our classrooms.  It's such an eye-opener to see what the other teachers are doing, what their students are expected to learn, and how things build each year. Plus, its been a great bonding experience for our faculty!
I'm hoping to post very soon about some of the specific strategies I'm using and how I'm using math journals along with our new program. And if you're starting a new math program like me, you might want to check out Penny's post at Teach the Math. She has some really great advice!

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