March 2013 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
I hope today everyone finds themselves together with family and friends . . . remember, spring is right around the corner!  


"Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer."

--Geoffrey B. Charlesworth

Just a quick post today to teach you a game that REALLY helped my students review the concept of "factors" and build their understanding of remainders.  This is SUPER easy to play, can be differentiated easily, and can be set up in a matter of minutes!

Because we have been going with a bit of a cookie theme, I refer to the counters as "cookies".  If I were a more adorable and cute and fun teacher, I would have made little cut out cookie shapes or something. Nope.  Colored cubes in my room.  I told them to use their imaginations.

Here is the way the game works:

A set of partners gets a set of plates (definitely need plates for cookies), one "die", and a set of counters.  I used 15 "cookies" per pair but you could easily go up and down from there.  For groups that finished early, I had them grab a "handful" of cookies for their next round.

I sat down with the students around me to model the game.  I tracked the rounds on the Smartboard so they could see how to keep track in their own notebooks.

Player 1:  Roll the die (I used a standard 6 sided die for this round).  That tells you how many plates.  That player then takes the 15 counters, shares them equally among the plates, and KEEPS the leftovers! If there are no leftovers, play goes to the next person.



Player 2:  Roll the die to determine the number of plates.  Take the remaining counters, share them equally, KEEP the leftovers!

Here is how we kept track:


After a few reps, students easily got it and were excitedly chattering about factor and which numbers "worked" the best.  I knew we were ready to roll.

It was such a simple game--but the students loved it!  I sat with a few strugglers and really watched them model.  Students who really "get it" stopped using the plates after a few round and did it mentally.  

As the game finished, I had the students put away their 15 "cookies" and grab a random handful . . . most had between 30 and 50 counters to use.  I also took away their standard dice and replaced them with:

Aren't they fun? Put them on your "I have to have these" list if you don't already!

I love dice.  If you don't have cool dice--no worries.  Just take pieces of masking tape or labels and make your standard dice into whatever you want!  Fractions . . . big numbers. . .  operations signs.  I wanted the students to have only single digit divisors, so I stuck with these.  This adaptation was MUCH harder for many of the students, and I needed to do more coaching.  I definitely feel we could play it again!  Remember as you get down to only a few counters left--say 3--and if the player rolls a number larger than 3, the division problem would read 3 divided by 4 = 0 R.3 and that player gets the remaining counters.  This is a great time to review the idea that the 0 stands for "0 groups".  This was a little tricky for a few of mine at first...

Lots of discussion with the bigger numbers!

Thanks for stopping by!  Let me know how it goes if you try it with your students!




Hello, everyone!  It's been a few weeks since I did a "5 on Friday", so I thought I would help you get to know me a little bit better.  I am a bit "anonymous" on my blog as you know, so I think I can open up a little . . . if you are interested!

1.  To start, I started teaching in 1991 (gasp!) and have taught grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 with the greatest chunk of that time in 4th.  I love their perfect (well . . . almost) balance of innocence and independence, and I love being able to help push them toward that next level of maturity.  Sometimes.

2.  I am the mom of two boys, husband of one boy, slave to one male cat.  We have a definite shortage of estrogen at our house.  My older son is into sports, music, and more and is too smart for his own good.  My younger son is severely autistic.  He is nonverbal, self-injurious, and our struggles with him are now entering their 12th year.  I try to keep a positive spirit, but as those of you who are parents know, watching your child suffer is a terrible burden to bear.  

3.  I am addicted to pizza.  It is absolutely my favorite food.  I keep thinking I will get sick of it--but, sadly, no.  I eat a piece of pizza nearly every day for lunch.  Am I proud of this?  Not so much. 


4.  I don't watch much TV, but I do have a guilty pleasure . . . reality shows.  Not the "Bachelor" kind--but the "Top Chef", "Project Runway" kind.  I think I have a secret dream to be an artist of some sort, and I live my life vicariously through the drama that unfolds in these shows.  I DID actually go to school to be an architect, but I quickly learned I wasn't really cut out for the business world.

5.  I am an avid scrapbooker.  Like--obsessed.  Like here are some of my scrapbooks.  It's an interesting habit for those of you who do it.  Do you have to bribe people to look at them?  I wonder what in the world I will ever do with them--but I can't seem to stop.  Is there a 12 step program for people like me?  Maybe this ties into the fact that I am a "wanna be" photographer.  Some days I dream about selling my work, but for now it is just a hobby.  I love taking sports photos of my son, my cat, and also love "macro" photography of things in my yard.  Here are few of my favorite shots. . .







So . . . there you have it.  A few little "tidbits" about me!  I hope all of you have a very blessed Easter weekend.  I appreciate you very much!



I am sure ready for it!  I had a great day with the students today . . . we got tons accomplished, but I can't lie--I'm ready for a vacation!  I am going to be gone for the next week, but I have a few blog posts up and ready for you, so leave me comments and let me know what you think!

To celebrate the start of my spring break, I am going to offer my new resources to you for the rest of today at 20% off--if you are looking for a set of division word problems (We are digging DEEP into this when we return) or a set of multiplication problems "bundled" with them . . . (Note--if you have already bought my "Bigger Number" Multiplication Problems--don't buy the bundle!  :)  This sale goes from right now until the end of today--so act now if you want the "introductory price!" 

So . . . until tomorrow's "Five on Friday" post, I'm signing off!  Have a wonderful Easter and stop back and take care of my blog while I'm gone!










Back into the division trenches today with one of my favorite "kick off" activities!  I love it when a piece of literature can spark a lesson, and this is no exception.  Marilyn Burns turned me on to this idea a few years back, and I have taken the ideas in her lesson and expanded it to really challenge my students.  The lesson unfolds over a few days--I am going to try to paint the picture for you!

Are you familiar with this book?


We start by reading the text and the students immediately pick up on the division concept presented within. They start to chatter as I read and make predictions about what is going to happen next.  For those of you who don't know it, Mom makes cookies to share with the two kids.  They are each prepared to eat six--until the doorbell rings and two more people are there to share.  They are satisfied with four each--until the doorbell rings.  You get the picture.  Fortunately, right when TOTAL CRISIS is about to strike, Grandma shows up with more!

I use the time to review exactly how to "write" division.  We talk about the different symbols that are used, some of the "fancy words" like divisor and dividend, and review the concept of splitting into equal parts.  I then introduce one of two ways for the students to "Mathematically Retell" the story.  Some years I have them make a little flip book (see my quick mock up below) and other years I do a bigger "Cartoon" style layout.
Flip book version


Here's what we did THIS year...
Another version...

What we do is this . . . we make the first box a "title" box, retell the story in the next 4 boxes using words, pictures, and/or mathematical symbols and number sentences.  The kids had a blast retelling the story, and some got VERY creative with their sketching!  Being the math-smart teachers that you are, you realize that I have only addressed the first 5 out of 8 boxes. . . so here goes.

The 6th box is for them to show what happens when Grandma comes.  This is a little tricky for many--they easily figure out that the mom made 12 cookies.  When Grandma comes, I tell them that she brought 18 MORE cookies.  By the time she arrives, there are 12 people waiting to share cookies, so they do have some discussion before tackling it.  The two misconceptions?

1.  They only address the 18 Grandma brought when figuring out how many cookies everyone gets. . . they forget the original 12!

2.  They get stumped when it doesn't work out evenly!  This is usually pretty temporary, and they start dividing the cookies in a variety of ways.

The final two boxes are for the students to continue the story--THEY get to decide how many cookies Grandma brings!  This is a great way to differentiate!  I worked with a few strugglers by suggesting numbers that worked out well while others were VERY happy to load Granny up with a big pile!





I love to watch how students' minds work, so I snapped a few photos of several different ways I saw them representing the sharing!  I was on the lookout for incorrect use of symbols (Found one who wrote 6 divided by 12), those who were really struggling with the concept of equal parts (grabbed some counters to model the sharing), and those who didn't really understand the 30 divided by 12 problem.  We hashed through it, did some sharing as a class, and then I picked a few to show their final two boxes up on the Smartboard.


It was a fun kick off--and we continued the "cookie theme" for the next few days.  I'll fill you in more later!  Have a great night . . .







Hello!  I don't know about you--but I can't lie.  I am excited to have a four day week and a week off next week!  I know not everyone has the same break schedule (or even breaks!) so I promise to  not rub in that not only am I off next week, but that I am going to be on a small land mass totally surrounded by water!  I have a few blog posts that I hope to write this week, but don't abandon me when you don't see as many posts, ok?

Today I wanted to let you know about a unit we are doing in reading and writing--and for those of you who use "Lucy", this may feel a little familiar.  We are writing and studying literary essays through "close reading" of familiar texts.  We are going to write an essay as a class on Tiger Rising--our beloved read aloud from earlier this year, group essays based on Flutter when we finish, and then students are going to self-select books they have read to go back and dig deeper into to write a succinct but important literary essay.  Here's what we have covered so far:


We reviewed the language we used earlier this year with our opinion essays . . .


We started working in pairs and trios to go back and dig deeper into Tiger Rising.  This has NOT been easy!  We have been wrestling with what to look for!


What I realized after presenting the idea that a literary essay can be based on a character, a theme, a lesson, and so on was that I needed to REALLY scaffold this--I gave them too much information.  So I  made a decision--we were going to write about a character. (Yes, I know this is the easiest type of essay to write, but this is all really new for my students.  I am hoping they branch out more for the next few essays!)


I thought this would be easier!  I sent the students off to dig for ideas about the two main characters, Rob and Sistine.  I said I wanted them to be able to fill in the blank:

Rob is a very ___________ character.  Sistine is a very ____________ character.  I thought we could then decide together which character and trait led to the strongest "reaction" from the class.  I sent them off to study and hunt and to be ready to share.  Oh . . .  and share we did.



Seriously!  Look at the amazing stuff they came up with!  I thought, "How I am ever going to help them narrow this down?"  So I asked them to meet with their study teams (the 2 or 3 students working together for this unit) and to really try to defend their thinking.  We agreed that all of them were true--but we were on a hunt for the ones that really stuck out.  After a while, I called them back and we voted.

Rob was easy--the fact that Rob was a sad character (although we REALLY like the word "sorrow" and felt it captured him more), but Sistine was another story!  We could not get agreement at all!

I'm not sure if you can see the numbers--but pretty much everything got a few votes.  We took the top 3 vote getters and I sent the students back to discuss further and to really hunt in the text for clear examples.  I reminded them that we were going to need at least 3 specific examples to use in our essay, so they needed to be thinking about that with their voting.

We came back, voted again--and narrowed it down to two.  It took YET another round of discussions, proof, argument, defense, offense, and pouting (some on my part, by the way!) to decide that:

Sistine is a very bossy character.

I was devastated!  I was so convinced that "independent" was a better choice.  I told the students that I was surprised and a little disappointed that my pick wasn't selected.  One of them reminded me that "the people have spoken".

Lovely.

Anyhoo--this led to our next steps . . . because we still hadn't picked our real thesis--would we write about Rob?  About Sistine?  I sent them away to think about it and told them that the next day we HAD to decide because we had to start writing an introduction.

I was already exhausted and was thinking that perhaps I should have just TOLD them the thesis statement I had in mind all along, but I am going to trust my gut and say the sweat and tears will be worth it in the end.  Cross your fingers--and stick around to see what happens!


Hello and Happy Sunday!

Thanks to ALL of you so much for your support of my fraction unit!  I was so happy to see so many of you were able to get it yesterday. . .  and the kind comments you left just made my day.  Thanks so much . . . hopefully lots of students will be having fun learning fractions in a really meaningful way!

I didn't really blog much about my little mini unit on angles and protractors . . . I do have something kind of fun to share with that, but I do want to start digging into division.  Now, if you have taught intermediate level students before, you know that this topic can take even the best math student down!  Over the next few weeks I'll try to share some of the lessons I try as I work to really help my students understand the concept of division and sharing as well as what to do with those pesky remainders!

So, to start, I asked my students to spend a few minutes journaling about what they understand about division.  We did a little sharing, and I found out that the kids knew a little--but didn't really have much to say!



We did have a few students who made the connection to multiplication and most were able to talk briefly about "sharing".  Now, here is where I might be a little different than some teachers.  It's time for me to ask my first division problem.  4 divided by 2?  10 divided by 5?  Nope.  

"Four children find a five dollar bill.  How can they share it?  Explain clearly."

See?  Isn't that WAY more fun?  I told the students that I thought with careful thought that they would be able to solve this problem quite quickly--and they did.  What I was really after, I explained, what that they work to apply all of those math practice standards that we have been studying this year--so I expected to see precision, organized work, labels, and so on.  


And so they worked and worked and drew and drew and labeled and labeled. . . I walked around to ask questions and to "notice" things.  When they finished working in their notebooks, I asked them to transfer their ideas even more clearly to a learning poster.  


I had my eye on a few that I wanted to share with the class, and I snagged them when they were finished.  As they finished, I asked them to try this problem:

"Six children find a five dollar bill.  How do they share it?"


Immediately those early finishers started pairing up to tackle this one--I was happy to see that they instantly knew that this was not going to work out quite as nicely!

As I noticed that most of the class was finishing, I called everyone to the front and told them that we were going to play a guessing game.  I was going to flash a learning poster on the Smartboard, and they were going to guess WHY I selected it.  I explained that I hadn't even really looked at answers although I was pretty confident that they were correct--I wanted them to think about it through the lens of the math practices.



Here was the first one:


The students all agreed that I probably selected it because the math was clearly organized and the explanation was kept separate.  I agreed.

Here are some of the others I selected.  See if you can tell why I picked them!

This student showed several different ways to solve the problem...I thought that was pretty cool!

This student took the time to use a straightedge to make straight lines for his explanation. He is NOT known for taking his time so this was a big step.  He made me promise he would get it back to show his dad.

This student used arrows that lined up with her explanation to really make sure we could tell what she was doing.

This student started out by solving the problem quite quickly . . . but then had second thoughts and documented "NEW" thinking -- see below.

It was a GREAT first day of division!  The students loved talking about each other's work--and one of the coolest things EVER was that I heard several different students giving compliments to some of the "showcased" students after we finished--not because I told them too--but because they genuinely appreciated their math work.  How cool is THAT?

I quickly want to mention the last student's work. This student solved this problem with ease in his notebook and wanted to work on the challenge problem.  I asked him if he was really ready to transfer his work to his learning m frantically working.  I let him work for a bit and then went over to investigate.  He said to me, "Well, I was thinking.  The problem never said that the kids shared the money equally."  Sure enough.  It didn't.

If you can't read it in the photo, his explanation says, "I knew if there was four kids, one would've found it so the finder gets $1.70 and the others get $1.10."

I don't know which was more exciting to me--the fact that he thought outside of the box or the fact that he RECOGNIZED that his ideas had changed and he noted that on his learning poster.  Math can be so much fun!  Thanks again for all your support over the months, everyone.  Have a wonderful Sunday!


Missed the link to the Fractions Unit?  Here it is one last time. . . 

I did it!  I published it!  190 pages of fraction fun!

I cannot begin to thank all of you for your kind words over the last few months . . . you have kept me going when it didn't seem worth the time and you  have made me feel very appreciated!

So . . . the unit is up and published. I feel so bad about how expensive it is . . . I asked several top sellers how much to sell it for, and they all felt $20.  I knew I couldn't do it, so I have it priced at $16.  For today, I am putting it on sale so if any of you want to buy it, it is at a reduced price for today--tomorrow it will go up to its regular price.  Thanks again!  I have added in quite a bit, so I really hope you find it helpful!

Tomorrow look for a blog post about my new unit--division!  We have been digging in to the concept for the last few days, and I have some cool stuff to share.  So . . . if you are interested, check out my new baby!  Thanks again to all of you...






My fraction unit is almost finished! I know MANY of you have been asking, so I am here for an update--I am hoping to post the unit this weekend! Here are some of the details... 


  • It includes all the blog post text and photos in a more printer friendly format.
  • It includes all of my Hands On Fraction activities (I know some of you already have this resource . . . but I used it in my unit so I need to include it for those that don't!)
  • A number of exit slips to guide you along the way
  • Several homework/independent work pages (not a ton though...not what the unit is about!)
  • The student-friendly Common Core sheet as shown in my self-assessment post
  • Teaching "tips" about how I paced the unit (Since the unit is so "constructivist", I included tips on how I worked in some of the more computational stuff--let's be realistic . . . they have to be able to do it!)
  • My Fraction Word Problems (again, I know some of you already have it. . . I'm sorry for the duplication!)
  • All the journal prompts ready to print and be glued into math journals
  • Suggested learning targets for each lesson
  • . . . and more!
I am a little nervous about the unit, to be honest . . . if someone purchases it and is looking for a traditional fractions unit, they are going to be greatly disappointed!  I really hope it helps those of you who have requested it.  

Watch for a blog post coming up about the actual "release" date--because I will offer it at a reduced rate for a day or so for all of you who have stood by me through the process!  Again--look for it this weekend . . . maybe Saturday if all goes well!  If you can think of anything else you want added, now is the time!  Here is the cover I was thinking of using. . . what do you think?


True confessions . . .

I am a terrible organizer.  TERRIBLE!  I have spent 40-something years being pretty on the ball and pretty good at keeping things in my head--schedules, appointments, meetings . . . all in my mind.  Something has happened!  Either I am getting old (GASP) or my life has gotten more complicated!

Today as I was taking status of the class I realized how much I am going to have to change if I am ever going to get good at tracking data for RTI.  Keeping my "stuff" in my head isn't going to cut it!

One system that DOES work pretty well for me is my status of the class calendars.  I keep tweaking my system, but overall I have managed to maintain the system for a number of years.  Here is how I do it. . .

First, I have a calendar for each student.  I used to use a class list, then I went to a page for each student, then I went to a printed calendar--now I use a calendar that only has Monday - Friday so the squares are larger for note taking.  I keep these all in a binder.


Each day before we start reading, I take status.  Each child quickly chimes out what book is being read and what page s/he is on.  This is a time for me to do a quick conference or book talk--for example, today here were a few of my comments:

"Wow!  You must have read a TON this weekend!"  (looked back at where the student was on Friday)

"Hmmm...I've never heard of that book.  Could you tell the class a 3 sentence summary in case others might be interested?"

"_____, you've been reading that book for a few weeks now, what is your plan for finishing it?"

"OOOOH!  You are reading 8 Keys!  That has been so popular.  How many of you have read it?  Who has it on their "to read" list?"

So--in less than 10 minutes I can take the status of everyone, work in a few minilessons and/or conferences and/or book talks!  I love it!

After I take status, the students read.  Most days the students read independently for about 45 minutes. . . sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more.  During this time I confer with students or pull small groups.  I try to keep meetings short as to not take away their reading time.  Students learn to read by reading, right?

I then record conference notes directly on the calendars.  My notes probably look like scribbles, but they mean something to me!  Some students might be working on accuracy . . . on comprehension . . . on reading rate.  It doesn't matter--each student gets what they need.  Here is an example of a March calendar that is a work in progress:



You might notice the post it notes . . . they are my high tech "scheduling" system.  My pink notes are for my solid readers.  I meet with them when they come up in the rotation.  On this day, I met with this student and then moved the pink note to the next independent reader.  I try to get to 3-4 of these students per day.  My purple notes are for my "watch a little more" students--students I try to get to every other day or so.  



The yellow notes are for my daily students!  My daily students either meet with me or an interventionist (and usually both) every day for a lesson or readers' workshop lesson.  For these students, I monitor things a little more closely and inserted behind their calendar is a sheet like this:


I can do a little mini running record if accuracy is an issue . . . keep track of vocabulary words they didn't know . . . write down strategies we practiced, and so on.  I can also take a fluency score each day.

Like I said, it's always a work in progress, but it is one of the very FEW data collection systems that I have figured out!  I would LOVE to have all of you share some of your best ideas!  We aren't going to be dealing with LESS papers over the next years, and those of us who are "organizationally challenged" need the rest of you to give us ideas!

For those of you who don't like to take the time to create things, I do have preprinted calendar sets and reading goal bookmarks in my stores if you are interested.  Again--this isn't rocket science--but for me, any system that works is worth sharing!  OK--fess up organizers!  What works for YOU?

Happy Monday to all of you!

Want to see my system all ready to use?  Here is a link...it's updated yearly, so when you buy it--each year you can "redownload" the new year at no cost.






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