Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Special!

I am so THANKFUL for all of you!  I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate your kind words, your thoughts and ideas, and your support.  I want to say "Thanks" today!

Not much more to say!  If you aren't interested in football and need some relaxation while you let your pie digest, stop on by my store and see what you can find!  

Happiest of Thanksgivings to all of you!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Creativity in the Classroom: Upper Elementary Snapshots

Today is my day to blog over on Upper Elementary Snapshots!  Make sure to stop by and see what I have to say about infusing creativity into the classroom.  Make sure to chime in with your ideas as well!

There is going to be a LOT happening in the next weeks both on Upper Elementary Snapshots AND my blog...make sure to tune in tomorrow for a special deal only for my followers....shhhhhh.

Also, if you haven't heard by now, TpT is having a HUGE sale coming up next week--but I am offering something special tomorrow if you want to check out it!  :)

Stop by in the morning to see...and have a WONDERFUL Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Power of NOT Giving the Answer

It was a busy week for me!  Report cards were due and we had two nights of conferences.  My son's football team made it to the state championship game and WON!  Whew!

So, we are starting to get deeper into the content of fourth grade and we are beginning the first of many "mini units" on fraction concepts.  Although our series is good, I MISS my fraction unit that I wrote a year or so ago and still feel compelled to use a huge part of it.  Part of what I love is the deep thinking that the unit requires.  I love to watch my students grow as thinkers and "reasoners". In fact, I have been using the phrase "Use your reasoning" a LOT lately...I want my students to get better at thinking about what they already know and what makes sense.

So, before I got into the fraction work from our series, I presented my students with this problem from MY unit and gave them some time to think about write about it.  
I was intrigued to walk around and see the "reasoning" my students were sharing...and it seemed to be clear that their understanding of fractions was really pretty unsophisticated.

I thought perhaps having a lively debate might help us clarify some understanding so I asked my students to commit to one or two sides of the issue and here is what we found...
Once the students committed to a side, we split into "teams" and practiced using math talk to try to convince students on the other "team" to come over to their side.  If students listed to the reasoning and changed their mind, they moved to the other side of the taped line.  I was a little disappointed that no students heard any compelling arguments...not enough to make them switch teams.

After only about 5 minutes. I could already see attention waning.  I couldn't believe it!  I could tell I only had about half the students with me when one blurted out...

"When are you just going to tell us the right answer?"


It was right then when I made the decision that they were going to have to wait for this one.  I was NOT going to tell them.  I wanted them to think.  I wanted them to stew.  To make sure they did?  Their homework was to take the problem home and discuss it with someone.

The next day they came in and picked up our discussion where we left off--but a few students HAD changed their minds.  We continued our discussion and our debate but I still wasn't really hearing deep enough thinking so after a few more minutes I heard the same request.

"NOW can you tell us the right answer?"

I decided to let them stew on it one more day...and I told them that I really wanted them to use their reasoning to be able to prove their thinking.  On Day 3 I finally had a student make an argument compelling enough (She got into the "half of a half" argument) that got a number of students to convert.  So why did I drag this out?  Math is not a right answer.  Math is not a fill in the blank.  Math is thinking.  Math is reasoning.  I want my students to know that not all answers come instantly or even after a day or two...and that's ok.  It's more important to really understand than to take short cuts.  Did they all understand the problem?  Time will tell--but I think it was worth the wait.

If you weren't a follower of mine back when I did my series of 16 posts about fractions, you might want to click the "fractions" label on the right to see more.  The resource I made with all 16 lessons can be found here if you are interested.  Have a great week, everyone!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Open Ended Problem Solving: A Holiday Feast Problem!

My current unit in math starts off with a pretty detailed and methodical set of lessons on subtraction using the traditional algorithm.  It's good--I like how it's presented. In earlier grades, they did a TON of work with subtraction in a more conceptual way using number lines, manipulatives, 100's charts, and other mental compensation strategies.  It's time for them to learn the algorithm.

But here's the deal.  A pretty good chunk of my class already knows the algorithm--and knows it really well!  The math program does FIVE lessons on it.  Is this really a good use of my students' time?  

I don't think so.

So...this week, I compacted the lessons for those students after teaching the first two lessons to everyone.  I watched, listened, and did a few exit slips and have sorted my class into two groups.  I am still having my "ready to move faster" group do the practice work (working on precision!), but I am freeing up a chunk of their time to spend on some 
Thanksgiving problem solving.  

So...for the next three lessons, I am splitting my class into two groups for the lesson.  I am going to have my students who need the lessons taught "as is" warm up with some problem solving and fact practice for 15 minutes while I meet with my "confident subtractors" to compact two lessons each day.  This will free them up to continue working on the Thanksgiving "Feast" open ended challenge we started Friday!  They were SO excited...and were eager to do the "extra" challenge part where they design their own I knew I needed to free up some time for them to work.

I LOVED hearing all the amazing math talk...the logic...the planning...the creativity.  Seriously--they were having hilarious discussions about how "no one likes stuffing anyway so let's double the potatoes we make" and "Is one piece of pie really enough?" and "I think we better plan for enough sleeping hours so we aren't crabby for Thanksgiving."  It was awesome!

In addition, we have REALLY been stressing work quality, organization, and precision, and I love when students work together on a task and "model" for each other things I never would have thought to show them. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, right?
 Although I started this task with everyone, some students will only get through part of it and others will take it much much deeper and do the additional challenges.  We'll see how far we get next week!
 What else are we doing in math workshop this week?  Precision practice with both subtraction and multiplication facts, some Thanksgiving word problems (using a few as an assessment as well), and a few new games I taught my students.  Stay tuned for more about those!
Hope you are all ready for a few days off with family or friends...or at least for a breather from school.  Have a wonderful Sunday!

Want to check these out?  Here are the links...

Saturday, November 15, 2014

It's a Bright Ideas Round-up!

Welcome to the November edition of the Bright Ideas Link-Up! This one is a special one! Over the past 10 months, we have shared thousands of great ideas through our monthly Bright Ideas event. This month, we’re re-capping all of those great ideas, just in case you missed any! Below you will find some of my bright ideas from the past several months: 

One of my most viewed "Bright Ideas" post showed one way I work more problem solving into my classroom.  If you have an extra pocket chart--you are good to go!  Click the picture to take you to the full post to see more.

Another popular one was my post about how my library is organized.  This is a constantly evolving system...but I know where almost all of my 5,000+ books are!

Finally, I thought I'd share out my post about using cooperative name tags in the classroom.  This SO comes in handy when you want to make groups...and some of you might want to switch up those name tags pretty soon--are they starting to look a little rough around the edges?  Check out my post about it!

So there you go!  Three "Bright Ideas" for you to take with you...and check BELOW for a zillion more!  Pull up a cozy blanket and a snack and let yourself  be energized!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Task Cards in Literacy? I can't believe I'm saying "yes"!'s time to be honest.

I cannot find time to do everything.  I want my students to read at least 30-40 minutes per day on self-selected books.  I know I need to do book groups--especially for my strugglers.  I need to teach quality universal instruction minilessons...and then follow those up with conferences.  I need to assess my learners and measure growth and write individualized learning plans so they can all maximize their learning time.  I need to document all of this so I can prove what I am doing.

I am failing.

The one thing I have noticed over recent years, the more a child struggles, the less they read.  They read less at home. They read less at school. They are given "doses" of instruction...small on one...but they rarely are just given time to select and pick just right books.  They are coached.  They are prompted.  They become dependent.  They see reading as a chore...a meaningless set of disparate skills...certainly not as FUN or meaningful. I look at my class and see a small herd of students reading below grade level, somehow I need to come up with a plan.  I went back and studied the running records that we just finished and started making a list of things I noticed.  I saw students who have accuracy issues...context clues issues...comprehension issues..the gamut.  So--how do I meet with all of them (many of whom need MULTIPLE groups) all while still doing whole class instruction and giving them time to read?

[Insert answer here] I still don't have an answer.  I did decide to start digging in, however, and I have picked my biggest comprehension concern kiddos and we are going to start working on reading one short text together per day next week.  Our focus?  For each section of text they need to be able to tell me:

What characters are in this part? 
Where are they?
What are they doing? 
What are they thinking and feeling? 
What do you think will happen next?

When I did their running records, they couldn't tell me those basic I thought I would start there. I am backing the text level WAY back...

I then decided to tackle some small group or one-on-one context clue work because I noticed a LOT of my students really didn't have any other strategy other than to try to sound out a word.  That doesn't do them much good if they never figure it out...or it takes them so long to figure it out that they forget what they were reading!  I whipped up a set of context clues task cards because I thought I could easily meet with each child for 3-4 minutes per day and not take away their independent reading time.  The first day, I tried getting through the first 3 cards with each student.  It was fine...but felt a little rigid and "kill and drill".  The next day, I flipped that stack of cards over and let the students pick one at a time.  I couldn't believe how excited they were for that little tweak!  Here's how it looked...

 I couldn't believe it...but my students were begging to "go next"!  I have to admit, I wasn't thrilled about using task cards.  I'm a HUGE believer in authentic literacy where we use the texts students are reading to practice these skills.  That being said, I felt there was some benefit to having some control over the content and giving some good "guided practice" as an intervention.  When I feel they are really starting to do this well without coaching, we'll go try it with their self-selected reading.  I'd love to hear your thoughts...and I am already working on my next set of cards based on what I learned about my students!  Stay tuned!

Want to see the ones I'm using now for context clues?  Here they are!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Getting Started with Opinion Writing

As we begin our unit on opinion writing, I wanted my students to realize that there are many different types of opinion statements…from as simple as requiring a yes or no answer (“Do you agree that school uniforms should be required?”) to more numerical/quantifiable opinions (“How many days long should our school year be?”) to more open-ended statements requiring students to provide their own idea (“In your opinion, what is the best brand of pizza?”).  To get my students thinking, I provided them with the following 32 topics and asked them to work with a team to sort them into categories and to be ready to give each category a label.  I wasn’t really interested in a “correct” answer—just in getting them to realize that opinion statements come in many shapes and sizes!  Different groups sorted in different ways, and it was a lot of fun to talk about all the different categories they made.  This was our first day of our opinion writing unit—and the students got REALLY excited about some of the topics!

Trying to come up with "headings" for our categories
After we finished made piles, we did a gallery walk to see what the other groups did.  We then met together as a class and discussed our findings!

By the time we finished, we were able to have a great discussion about what an opinion is and how when we write about our opinions, we need to be able to state them clearly and back them up with several strong, reasonable reasons!  Not bad for a day’s work!

Interested in these cards and the next two days of lessons?  I did "pretty it up" by request, so if you are interested in a 3 day "kick off" to opinion writing, here you go!  I also included links to my two opinion demand prompt sets for those of you who are interested...I marked all three on sale for this week.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Made It!

I missed last month because I couldn't get my act together but it's time to link up with

I have a few different things to share with you this week.  I certainly don't feel like I've been very creative or crafty of late--so much to do.  So little time.
My student teacher started this week, and I always like to put a little something together for them to make them feel welcome.   I take being a cooperative teacher really seriously...what we do for them can impact 25 students a year for 35 years!  That's a pretty awe-inspiring I really try to do what I can to get them ready to be their very best.

Recently I've been cooking (and eating) a LOT.  Spaghetti with meatballs...roast bread...cookies.  Not.  Good.  I love how I can avoid doing pretty much any work as soon as I walk through my kitchen.  Sigh.

I've been pretty busy making stuff for my classroom and thought you might benefit are a few things that I have made in the last few months in case you are interested.  It's strange how every year is such a different group of students...there may be 24 fourth graders every year, but each year has SUCH a different feel.  I never do things the same way from year to year...sure make more work for myself though!

First, we had a BLAST kicking off our opinion writing unit with a "topic sort".  It was tricky--but really got us interested!  Check below for a little more of what I accomplished!

We are digging into our opinion writing unit and this was SO FUN to kick it off!  My kids are totally excited about writing opinion essays now.  Seriously!
I LOVE doing these rigorous team challenges...they naturally differentiate so not all your students have to do it the exact same way.
People have been clamoring for easy to make and use math stations so I started a line called "Dollar Deals" where I am making "no frills" resources to use in math centers.  Here is the latest!

Hope everyone has a great week!  My report cards go home tomorrow so I have a little more work to do tonight, then proofreading.  Tune in tomorrow for a post about getting my opinion writing unit up and running!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Loved That Lesson! November

It's already time for "Loved that Lesson" again!  I am super excited to share with you one of my favorite lessons from last week.  

We are getting close to finishing up our electricity unit, and I wanted to give the students a chance to "show what they know" WHILE learning some new technology skills.

I taught my students how to do the following with Google Slides:
*insert text boxes
*draw shapes
*draw different line types (including free form lines)
*add fill colors

I showed them how to do all of these things on the Smartboard before we went to the lab and gave them one work time to play with their new knowledge.  They had SO much fun...they were teaching each other and everyone was able to use all 4 skills before we left the lab.

What's next?  The task!

I told the students that during our NEXT lab time they would be using their new skills to make a scientific drawing of an electrical circuit.  I told them that they were welcome to get as creative as they wanted, but their drawings needed to show the following:
1.  a battery ("source")
2.  the bulb ("load")
3.  the wires ("path")

The only rules were that their circuits needed to be scientifically accurate and labeled with text boxes.  Then the fun began!

We had SO much fun...and the students were SUPER proud of their creativity and their new tech skills!  I am pretty sure that lots of you could come up with other ideas to piggyback off of this...students could make their own story maps, show the life cycle of a plant...the possibilities are ENDLESS!  

Make sure to take the time to check out the other great posts linked up below and if you aren't following the "Loved That Lesson" pinterest board, CLICK HERE to do so...and check out the posts from previous months!