Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Math Is Real Life: Shopping for Chocolate

It's the first Wednesday of March which means it's time for our monthly linky - Math IS Real Life!! If you want to see how the linky works, or just want other real world math ideas, check out our Pinterest Board of all the posts so that you can look back and find some great ideas and REAL pictures to use in your classroom!
If you are linking up, please include the below picture AND a link back to all four of our blogs - feel free to use the 2nd image and the links listed below!


A monthly REAL WORLD math blog link-up hosted by
This month's "Math is Real Life" post was inspired by a recent trip to the San Francisco areas.  We were off visiting Stanford with my son (now THERE is a MiRL post...tuition and room and board!) and we stopped to check out Ghirardelli!  Now...if you are like me...chocolate is a very important part of your life, so this is kind of a "Mecca" of sorts...but within a few minutes of walking in, I saw the HUGE amount of math on display!

I seriously could have just rolled around in this. This bin was huge.  Anyone want to estimate how many chocolates?  The answer?  Not. Enough.
How much could you save?  And the bigger you need 3 pounds of chocolate malt balls?

Think of the great questions you could ask...what is the MOST 5 bars could cost?  What is the LEAST 5 bars could cost?  What are all the possible totals for buying 5 bars?
How much are they per POUND?  (Pretty unusual to offer a "per half pound" price!  How many pieces do you suppose are in a half pound?  A pound?
I just wanted this.  No math here. much is one bag?  Two bags?  Three bags?  How much would it cost to buy FOUR bags then? many chocolates fit in a small take out box? How do these prices compare to the prices in the displays above?  
The very BEST math of the day?  This.  The one piece of FREE chocolate they handed out at the door!
What am I doing with this in my classroom?  I made a photo collage that I printed of some of these pictures and am asking students to generate questions from it that could turn into word problems.  This is SUCH an easy way to incorporate "Real Life" math in your classroom with very little effort!
Don't forget to check out the other MIRL posts below! Check back over the next few days - more will be added!!  Thanks for stopping by!  I recommend the caramel, by the way!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Collaboration with a new classmate

Today was my new student's first day, and in addition to trying to acclimate her to our school and routines, I wanted the class to start to "re-norm" itself as we move from 24 to 25 students.  We have gotten pretty good at working together, but any time you add someone new, I think it's a good idea to step back and practice and get everyone on the same page.  Each day this week, I have one "get to know you" activity planned--most of which give us the chance to revisit our expectations for working together.  

Today, being a Monday, I wanted something active so I pulled out an activity from my "teaching teamwork" resource...something I had gotten ready to do at the beginning of the year but simply ran out of time. (Shocking, right?)

Here's how it unfolded.  The task was simple.  Build the tallest tower you can.  Rules?  It has to stand unsupported for 30 seconds before measuring.  I gave them 5 minutes to brainstorm, 5 minutes to "experiment", 15 minutes to build, and then 5 minutes to reflect.  

Goals?  Cooperation.  Positive attitudes.  Encouragement.  Perseverance.  Equal participation.  Check it out.

Here we had the brainstorming and experimenting time.  I wanted them to see how the materials worked before actually completing the task.
Our 15 minutes of crazy construction!  I saw some amazing thought go into this...and loved watching them come up with ways to brace their structures as they started to fail.
After our 15 minutes of building time, I had them back away from their towers for 30 seconds...and then measured to the closest centimeter.
Not all towers stayed vertical...but EVERYONE had a great attitude and laughed it off.
After finishing, I asked the teams to sit down and look at how they did in each of the categories we were looking at--from participation to attitudes.  

It was so much fun to watch my new student slowly work herself into her group--and her group members did a FANTASTIC job of gently encouraging her.  All the teams accomplished the task and did a nice job letting everyone contribute.  We all agreed that the "encouragement" piece was the most lacking--so we are going to work hard to be more encouraging to others over the next weeks!

Interested in the resource this came from?  Just click the link below.  Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Constructivist Test Prep? You bet.

This is the time of year that many teachers dread.

The. Test.

I am a believer (to a degree) in some forms of standardized testing.  Districts need to get some feedback on how their students and programs are performing.  That being said, the evolution of testing into high stakes, pressure-riddled experiences for teachers and students about sends me over the edge.

Teachers around the country are worried about if they are preparing their students well enough.  If they have given them enough practice opportunities. If they have spent their instructional minutes providing them with EXACTLY the right amount of exposure to what they will see on the test.

I don't.

I don't make pages of practice questions. I don't do a "real" test preparation unit.  I don't provide ongoing practice on key skills I know will be on the test.  It's not worth my time.  I'm not preparing a group of students to be test takers.  I am teaching them how to think and how to learn and how to tackle ANY problem they encounter--with energy, with perseverance, and with an "I can do this!" attitude.

In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that students who can read, who can think, who are willing to try will do as well or BETTER than students who are given hours of fill in the blank practice.  I want students to learn how to do well on these tests without me telling them what to do and spending hours of their precious time drilling.  I want them to DISCOVER how to be successful by putting them in situations where they can learn this genre in a meaningful way.  Now--before you accuse me of doing my students a disservice, let me tell you what I DO do!

1.  I do teach my students about multiple choice questions.  In fact, I try to get them in the minds of a test writer by teaching them about distractors and even having them try writing questions with a right answer, a distractor, and two other relevant answers. We even talk about the art of "coloring the bubble".

2.  I do teach my students about healthy testing behaviors like getting sleep, eating well, and relaxing for best performance.

3.  I do teach my students about reading critically, about going back into texts to find answers, about thinking about what authors are trying to tell us.

4.  I do teach my students about staying focused and checking over their work.

5.  I do teach my students about answering questions fully and providing evidence found in the texts.

6.  I do teach my students about what to do when they encounter a challenging problem.  We learn all sorts of strategies that gives us to reread directions. How to find key words.  How to "give it a try" on scratch paper.  Even how to SKIP it if it is interfering--and then we come back later.

7.  I teach my students about problem solving and looking for patterns.

8.  I teach my students to read all sorts of materials...stories...poems...articles...graphs...infographics.

9.  I teach my students how to work with stamina so they can sit and complete a task that might take them an hour or so--without losing focus.

10.  I teach my students how to be ok with doing their best and having an "I can do it!" attitude.  I want them to treat everything they do with that spirit...and to walk away knowing that they did their best--and that's all they can do.  I want my students to walk out after the test feeling great--that they did their job...even when the questions were tough.

Do I do this with packets?  Nope.  Do I do this for 3 weeks straight?  Nope.  I do this all year long, when it's relevant...and BECAUSE it's relevant.  

Now--don't get me wrong--we DO a practice test or two.  In fact, we take it, study it, and break it apart.  I have my students hunt for terms they think are tricky like "passage" or "synonym".  We make anchor charts and lists of "things to know" about taking tests.  We practice this in a quiet room to mimic testing situations.  We talk about filling in the bubbles neatly and checking over our work so we don't miss questions.  If I taught third grade, I would have to do even more of this because the test is so new.  That being said, if we can teach our students to have a great attitude about trying, if they can stay focused and apply what they know, and if they can be successful at whatever task they are handed!

How are my test scores, you might ask?  My principal called me in several years ago to ask what I do...because my scores were SO much higher than the average.  It was hard for me to explain.  I told her, "I teach students how to learn, how to work, and how to try."  

One resource that has been super helpful to me is the book "Test Talk" by Amy Greene and Glennon Melton.  It gives some GREAT suggestions for how to incorporate test taking strategies into your reading workshop.  Check out the link below for more details.  

One final thing I do is ask my students to talk and write about all the ideas mentioned above.  It needs to be more than me TELLING them these things...they need to be able to process them and construct their own meaning.  I have put a lot of this together in an unusual test prep resource--in case you are interested!  Thanks for stopping by--and good luck on the tests.  Make sure you keep it positive and give your students the power to do well AND feel good about it!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Writing About Reading: Digging Deeper

I LOVE this writing unit so students are just having a great time working off our writing menu!  I am so proud of how well they are taking my minilessons and applying them to what we are doing.  I wrote a blog post last year about this unit and you can read about it by CLICKING HERE.

I thought I'd share a few snapshots of my students in action THIS year!  We have two items off our menu that are required...where we compare and contrast two characters (we worked on creating venn diagrams and then crafted two paragraphs where we worked on clear topic sentences, details, transition words and phrases, and a conclusion.  Our second required task is where we pick one key "turning point' event and write about it from two key characters' points of view.  Today we worked back in our book clubs (we are all writing about our book club books) to do some brainstorming!  Groups worked to generate a list of 4-6 key events and the characters they felt could "tell" the story.  Tomorrow we begin drafting our stories!  We used our books and our reader's notebooks to go back and track our thinking--and eventually had everyone pick THE event they felt most compelled to write about.  Tomorrow we begin drafting!

What else are we doing?  During our reader's and writer's workshop, students are selecting from reading and working off the writing menu.  The hum of activity in the classroom is so much fun!

Here is a student mapping out a cartoon he is drawing to show a key event in his book.

This student is finishing publishing her compare/contrast project.
One of my students' favorites is writing a series of diary entries from a secondary character's point of view.
This menu type writing is such a nice break from big huge drawn out projects!  I usually have this unit last about a week and a half.  A few years ago I wrote it up...and it became a best seller of mine!  Here it is if you are interested in taking a peek.

And did you hear?  Teachers Pay Teachers extended their sale one more day!  This is particularly good for me because I forgot to buy some human body clip art I needed!  If you want to check out this resource or others in my store while things are on sale...just click the image below.  Have a great day!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Number Sense with Number Lines

As I do every year, I start off with really trying to wrap my head around where my students are with their understanding of "number".  We start by talking about composing and decomposing small numbers, we make sure we understand the concept of "equal", and a number of other foundation concepts that are critical for later learning.

Not much later, I dig into my number line studies with numbers up to 1,000--and am always shocked at how difficult some of this work is for my students.  I put them in situations where they have to work with all sorts of number lines...lines that start with 0...lines that don't.  Lines that ask them to place a number in the right spot.  Lines where I show them a point and ask THEM to name the number.  I'm always amazed that many of them struggle knowing the concept of "half" if the number line starts at 0 and has a 300 on it, many have a hard time knowing that the halfway point between 0 and 300 is 150.  It is not easy going, but we work hard to develop these concepts.

So, months later, it's time to revisit number lines with larger numbers.  We have had a few GREAT days of exploration, discussion, and debate!   Check out a few pics below.
We continue to work hard on explaining our thinking-both verbally and in writing.  We are trying to show our thinking on diagrams and then translate that into sentences that others would understand.
Sometimes I need to do some coaching..."What do you know about the halfway point on this number line?"  That's all it took to get her started.
I threw a few of our problems under the document camera and we worked hard to use "precise math language".  
We even looked at a few different problems and tried to find how they were similar and how they were different.
We are going to do a few more days of work with some tougher numbers--and a few tougher situations (like where the number line doesn't start at FAVORITES!), but I already see so much improvement in their ability to "justify" (word of the week) their ideas and improve their accuracy.  

Interested in seeing more?  Here are the two resources I use.  The maroon one uses bigger numbers (up to 1,000,000) and the purple one uses numbers up to 1,000.

So...have you heard?  TpT is having a HUGE sale today!  If you are at all interested in these or any other "wish listed" items, today is the day to shop!  Don't forget to add the code "HEROES" to your order to save an additional 10% off the 20% I marked down my entire store--including the resources above and all my bundles.  Enjoy!  I know my cart is full of new clip art!  Just click the logo below to go right to my store if you are interested.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bright Ideas! Math Game Organization

Today's "bright ideas" post is the result of me going CRAZY with all the math games I have been making for my students!  I have tried everything from boxes to bags...and I still have them all over my classroom.  I decided to keep using my gallon bags for games...but to streamline a bit.  I decided to keep 10 games in circulation at all times--and I wanted a way to store them so the students could find them and put them away...but a way for me to change one or more of them out whenever I want!

Here are a few pics to show you what I did!
I picked these labels up over the summer and wasn't sure where to use them.  I found their home!  

I used my 10 drawer file that has been sporadically used until now and stuck the wipe off labels on each one.  Did you know you can write on them with permanent marker--then use dry erase markers to color over the permanent marker when you want to change it?  That will keep your labels from wiping off.  I wrote the game name AND the focus skill.
I picked 10 games...a few review games, a few fluency games, and a few more "current" games.  Games I use for interventions are kept in a separate place.
The games I am not using?  In a big tub in a separate place!  I can change out one drawer at a time--or all 10 at once.  
Easy!  I love that my students can do a better job making "just right" choices by picking games that work on skills they need--and that games will get put away where they belong.  Everybody wins!

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Don't forget to check out all the other "Bright Ideas" posts listed below.  If you see something you like, please leave a comment.  We bloggers LOVE to hear from you!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Decomposing Fraction Fun!

Whether you teach from the Common Core or other sets of rigorous standards, the ability to decompose or “break apart” fractions and mixed numbers is key to strong “fraction sense” and the ability to successfully add and subtract fractions and mixed numbers.  I wanted to find a fun and challenging way for my students to practice the THINKING required to be efficient with this!

You may have heard of “number bonds” in the primary grades.  This activity taps into that concept to use fractions instead!  Students gain valuable practice in breaking apart fractions and putting them back together—all in a cooperative, “puzzle-like” activity!  Students work cooperatively to find the combinations of cards that can "compose" to be the large card.  We especially focus on "what makes one whole" in this process.

For each set, I had students lay out the larger number cards and the smaller fraction cards.  Cooperatively, they work to find the “decomposed” parts that add up to make the “total” number.  To keep my sets organized ( I made four at different levels so I could differentiate my groups), I copied my small cards on card stock of the same color as the border of the larger cards.  That way I know sets won’t get mixed up! 

Before they begin, I told the students a few things:

1.  Remember to use “like” denominators.  This activity does NOT ask students to change denominators.
2.  There are several ways to make some of the numbers.  You may not pick the correct one first and may need to “trade” cards to make the puzzle work.
3.  Use scratch paper or the recording sheet to keep track of your “tries” if it helps you stay organized. 
4.  Be patient with each other and persevere!

It was very interesting to watch my students work.  Some were very strategic and methodical while others were very random and struggled to keep track of what they had already tried.  This can lead to some good “coaching” moments for you!

I created the sets in the following order of sophistication...I was hoping to find a way for ALL my students to enjoy the rigor of the task--but at a "just right" level.  Some students worked through several sets today as part of our "review" day in math workshop.  One rotation was this decomposing activity, we did large number multiplication at another, and students worked to solve fraction word problems at a third--the three "big ideas" from this math unit.
So easy...just make some little cards with problems...have the students solve them on their own and check with a calculator!  We worked on organization of our work, accuracy, and EFFICIENCY today!  
As they worked on the decomposing card station, students did a lot of mental math as they looked for numbers to join together to make “the big number”.  Often, they needed several attempts.  On some of the sets, there are multiple ways to make numbers, and some students got a little frustrated.  I used some guiding questions to help.

Are you checking to make sure your denominators are the same?
If your “big number” is in eighths, what do you know about the smaller numbers?
Would there be another way to make ____?
What numbers might work to make the smallest/largest number first?

My students LOVED it…and want me to make some even more challenging ones!  Want to take a peek?  I did "pretty it up" and put it in my store.  Click the cover below if you want to check it out.