January 2013 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
fraction lessons
Wow...not really sure how to start this blog entry!  Seriously . . . I wish I had today's lesson on video tape!  It would be so much easier (and cooler!) than trying to explain it with words.

If you were with me yesterday, you know I left off with a challenge to my students--they needed to commit to either a "yes" or "no" vote on a fraction problem.  Our results looked like this:
equal parts
(Funny story .  . . I had a sub in my room with me today --and she thought the answer was "no".  Fabulous.)

So I thought this would be the PERFECT time to review our ideas about what one of the Standards for Mathematical Practice really involves.  I drew my students' attention to one of our posters that I have reworked to be in more kid-friendly language (I have a few decorative versions of these in my store if you need something like this, but you can easily do this on your own!)

We reviewed what it would "look like" and "sound like" to critique the reasoning of others and came up with a great list of things such as be polite, use good sportsmanship, give compliments for good ideas, use a calm voice, listen to others' ideas, and so on--and they we set to work!  I used the information from the graph we made yesterday to split the class into two groups--the "Yes, it is fourths!" and "No, it is NOT fourths" and sent them to opposite sides of the room to generate evidence to support their view.  
This team was very animated with their discussions and worked hard to use their diagram to prove their thinking.
Convinced he could prove his theory with measurements, this student sat off to the side collecting information!  
I gave them each copies of the shape again and asked them to make sure they could use it as a tool when they were explaining.  After a few minutes, I brought them back together and set them up in two teams facing each other "debate style".  (Sorry I can't share the photo--there was no way to do it without including faces.  Picture two football sidelines!)

I explained that we were going to alternate between the two teams offering up our justifications for our position.  After one person would share, the other team would get a chance to either share their reasoning OR to try to counter the first team's ideas.  I then told the students that they could AT ANY POINT switch teams if they heard enough evidence to change their minds. I wasn't sure how this would go, but things started off quite smoothly.  We politely exchanged ideas back and forth with students either pointing to their diagrams or using some of the points their team had established in their "pre-debate planning".  
teaching fractions
Back and forth they went, explaining and pointing . . .
Pointing and explaining. . . 
This student was SO adamant that they were NOT fourths.  He ran over, got a  whiteboard , and tried to draw another counterexample to explain that this shape wasn't in sixths just because it was 6 pieces!
This went on for several rounds, and I didn't feel we were making progress.  No one had changed sides, and the arguments were getting somewhat repetitive.  I knew I had to intervene, but I wasn't sure how to do it without leading them in one direction or the other.  So I tried this . . . 
fraction lessons
The problem states:  "Shade 1/2 of this shape.  Prove to me that you shaded exactly 1/2."
fraction lessons
They eagerly set out to shade . . . 
explaining thinking
. . .  and prove
fraction unit
Until . . . I happened upon THIS one!  Out of 22 students, only ONE  divided her grid in to something other than 2 rectangles.  I knew we were onto something . . .
So. . . back to the debate format we went, and I asked students to share their newly divided squares and share their thinking.  We had consensus that each 1/2 needed to have 8 squares.  I purposely did NOT let the little petunia in the photo above share until several others had . . .

When she did, she spoke quite eloquently and said something along the lines of, "I knew that 1/2 of the grid had to be 8 of the 16 squares.  All of you put all 8 of your squares together to make a rectangle, but they didn't HAVE to be!  I made a different shape and it is still 1/2 because it is still 8 out of the 16 squares!"

Imagine the pause.  I let the silence sink in for a few minutes.  All of a sudden, the chatter started up full force and two "no" students joined the "yes" team.  This same student asked if she could explain how she could use this idea to prove why the other diagram really WAS in fourths.  I could hardly contain myself when I shrugged nonchalantly and said, "Sure."  I was ready--I could almost feel the other "no" kids ready to bolt to the "yes" side!
fraction unit
Explaining her thinking . . . 
Using the Smartboard to talk about equal sides and not needing to be the same shape...

She explained beautifully. . . AND NO ONE MOVED! The "no" team's argument?  You cannot compare the two problems because the grid problem had 8 squares but THEY WERE ALL THE SAME SHAPE--the other problem had squares and triangles, and they were NOT the same at all!

 I could NOT believe it!  NOW what was I going to do?  I was sure she had found the missing piece that would help them see the light.  So, once again, I had to think on my feet.  I grabbed a copy of the grid and colored one to look like this and threw it under the document camera:


I figured this was my last hope.  I asked the class if I had shaded 1/2 of the grid blue--and noted that not all of the shapes were the same. . . some shaded areas were squares and others were triangles.

2 more came to the "yes" team.  Seriously--only TWO!  My students are SO stubbborn!  

I figured I probably had one more attempt before either abandoning ship or simply telling them the answer.  So I asked one of my most surly "no" team members how he would define "fourths".

"Something divided into four equal pieces," he said confidently.  He then reminded me that our diagram was most definitely NOT divided into four equal pieces (followed by moans from the "yes" team!).


I asked another member (The one with the ruler above--convinced that there was a half millimeter of error somewhere) of the "no" squad to define fourths a different way.  He thought and then said . . . 

"A fourth is a half of a half."  

5 kids moved to the "yes" team.  Several other "yes" members team members then worked together to explain how "That's what they meant!" . . . that the original shape was divided in 1/2--and then each 1/2 was divided in half again. . . . that fourths didn't mean four shapes of the same SHAPE, but four shapes of the same AMOUNT.

Victory.  The rest of the students move over . . . but I'm still not convinced one of them (white board guy) really believes it.  I think tomorrow I'll have him do some cutting and pasting of squares and triangles to play with it a little more.

I then followed up with another activity about representing 1/2 in different ways, but that might have to wait for another day.  

So . . . we spent 60 full minutes on this investigation today and it was exhausting and exhilarating all at once.  I absolutely loved watching the students process and reprocess and refine their thinking.  Their homework tonight?  I quickly created another grid--this time a 5 x 5 grid and asked them to represent 1/2 of it and prove it to me for tomorrow.  This should be interesting!  Thanks for continuing to follow our fractions saga as I try to make the Common Core come alive in my room.  Tomorrow is Friday--enjoy it!
This blog post is now a part of my comprehensive fraction unit available by clicking the image below.  Hundreds of teachers have now used it to change the way they teach fractions!  

Today was a "late start" in my district...3 hours of professional development with the students coming at 11:00 (more on that later!)...then a quick hour of instruction, a different lunch hour, then a shortened afternoon...and this is coming off a "no school" Friday--and a snow/ice storm yesterday!

As you can imagine, the students were a little . . . ummmm . . . excited?  So what is a good teacher to do?  ABANDON SHIP!  I scrapped my plans for today and, instead, did an activity that I had planned for later in the week, our "We LOVE to read" bulletin board!  It's so easy . . . students simply pick one of the books they have read this year that they LOVE, write a brief book review, and then mount it on a colored heart background that they then decorate.  Some years I hang this on my door, but last year I convinced my entire team to do it so we had 100 awesome heart-shaped book reviews down the hallway!  It was so fun to watch the students stop and read all the different ideas--it even prompted me to type it up and create a little something for my Teachers Pay Teachers store if someone didn't even want to have to THINK about it!  As you can see from the photos below, it is SO easy to do . . . and the students had a blast.  What a great way to spend a little time celebrating books--on the day the Newbery was announced!  Congratulations to "The One and Only Ivan" for winning the Newbery and "This is Not My Hat" for winning the Caldecott.

 Hope this inspires you to celebrate books over the next few days!

Like the idea but just don't want to have to think too hard?  I put together the heart template, the letters to spell "We LOVE to read", and other suggestions in my bulletin board resource on TpT and Teacher's Notebook.  (Note:  I am new to Teachers Notebook and am just testing the waters--I would love to know everyone's thoughts on it!  Anyone shopping there?)

Here it is in case you want to take a peek. . . 
(The one in my store is tweaked a little bit from what I did today)

Allrighty folks . . . 

This is what I faced this morning with report cards looming over my head.

I am not proud of my system of organization...

I have now dumped out the contents, have sorted the stuff, and have tackled the report cards.  Sadly, although we have a new report card which is aligned to the Common Core (YAY!), it is NOT clearly organized and we have not yet developed clear performance standards to determine what, exactly, we feel "grade level work" is. . . I know that everything is a process, but it sure is tricky to do report cards without those things clearly defined!  It is tough to declare a child is not at grade level when I am not quite sure what "grade level" is!  Baby steps, right?  My curriculum director told us at our opening inservice "We have to eat the elephant--but we can only do it one bite at a time."

(Frankly, I am not that fond of elephant, I have discovered.  I must remind her to find a better analogy for next year.)

So . . . as I move forward into third quarter, I vow to try to do a better job of making expectations clear to students . . . to SHOW more examples of work so they can see what it is I expect . . . to give more and better feedback so they can make steady progress . . . and to NOT BEAT MYSELF UP when things aren't neatly tied up with a pretty little bow.  

Teaching and assessment aren't like that--and that can get a little frustrating for "I want to do it right!!!" people like me.  So. . . as I plug away at my report cards, I am going to take a deep, deep breath and tell myself that I am doing the best I can with what I have--and as long as I keep working to get better, the elephant will get smaller.  It may not taste better, but it will get smaller.  

Have a great Sunday!
Today was a work day in my district, and since I am not ready mentally or "organizationally" to work on report cards, I cleaned and rearranged my classroom.  When doing so, I first thought "Why am I such a slob?"  (Seriously--organization is WAY not my strength) but then began to notice some of the really cool stuff I have.  Below I have listed 5 of my favorite "nifty things" and why I love them so!

1.  Smelly Markers!  OK . . .I am an office supply hoarder.  I admit it.  I embrace it.  But, for me, smelly markers are absolutely my favorite.  I use them for my anchor charts because they leave such a bold line, but one other use for them was a discovery about 3 years ago.  I used to "sticker" my students' assignment books each morning if they had a signature but I was always leaving half used sticker sheets around, kids were peeling them off and sticking them all over, etc.  So . . . I moved to simply "starring" their notebook with a smelly marker.  Can you believe--my rate of signatures has gone UP because my kids want a smelly star in their notebook?  Craziness.  I celebrate BIG days with mixed smells (day before winter break I had cinnamon and mint for holiday smells!) and double stars.  They love it.  Go figure.

2.  DICE!  I love dice--12 sided dice.  Big dice.  Fraction dice.  You name it...but when I saw THESE I knew I had to have them!  That's right--dice within dice!  My students love them...and I sense a blog post coming up with some of our favorite activities!  You NEED to get some.

Have you seen these?  We LOVE them...the green one just has one "die" inside but the clear one has THREE LITTLE DICELETTES!  My photo does not do their coolness justice!

3.  Magnetic Locker storage thing!  I am a remote loser.  Again, I am not proud of this.  Now that I have a Smartboard, however, it is imperative that I know where the dumb thing is!  VOILA!  I stuck that bad boy on my board and I now have a place for my remote every time.

I'm sure a million of you have these.  This was a really big deal when the "AHA" hit me.  I'm easy to  impress.

4.  Small stuffed animals!  It seems weird, but I always keep a few, new stuffed animals in my closet--you know the ones...they only cost 4 or 5 dollars new and I buy them when I see them really on sale.  Any time one of my little petunias breaks a collarbone or gets a tonsil out or loses a grandparent, I can simply tie a little ribbon around a critter with a loving note and slip it into the child's desk when they come back.  Kids remember this kind of stuff.  Trust me.

5.  3M Hooks!  I've fessed up about the organization part, so this rolls on that theme.  I was forever having a problem finding my keys at the end of the day--and with the increased concern for safety and lockdowns, I knew I needed a better solution than rummaging through my school bag in a crisis.  Enter the 3M Clip . . . these come in a million shapes and sizes and can be stuck anywhere.  I actually got one that is a "clip", not a hook...I put it inside my room close to my door and immediately drape my keys over it--and then any paperwork I need to go to the office goes right in the clip.  Again--probably not rocket science to any of you organized types, but for me it was a "favorite thing" discovery!  Not quite Oprah quality, perhaps--but teachers can't be choosers.

Thanks for stopping by!  I'd love to hear about any other nifty products YOU use in your classroom!
Happy Thursday, everyone.  Tomorrow is a teacher work day for me...the end of the semester "work on report card" day that I always turn into "clear the piles and dump stuff in the recycling bin while eating copious snacks and drinking caffeinated beverages" day.

Just thought I would follow up on my post the other day about how important I feel it is to take "status of the class" during independent reading.  I love being able to tell you at any time what my students are reading, to reflect back on their reading trends and habits, and to be able to help them work toward their independent reading goals.

Another component of my independent reading program that some--especially if you have read "The Book Whisperer"--might frown upon is the use of student reading logs.  Before you roll your eyes or click to the next person's blog, hear me out.  Have you ever heard "I would NEVER use worksheets!" or other such comments?  Let's be honest...there is a time and a place for MANY things in education, and not all resources and ideas are created equal.  I am pretty confident that some of the materials I present to my students--SOME OF WHICH ARE PHOTOCOPIED PIECES OF PAPER--are pretty decent!  They challenge them...they push their thinking...they provide concrete examples...they provide opportunities for practice.  We all also know that there are "worksheets" out there that do nothing to promote learning or student success.  So--my point is simple.  Yes, there are bad reading logs.  Yes, there are inappropriate ways to use reading logs.  Let me tell you what I do and see if you might not see it my way.

First of all, my students read.  A lot.  Our goal is not to read a certain number of pages or a certain number of minutes, but instead to try to get into what we call...
that state of being lost within a book, that state where Aunt Betty might call you for dinner and you don't even hear here, that state where your eyes are drooping but you just HAVE to find out what happens.  Getting into the reading zone is what prompts deep understanding and deep passion for reading.

To help with this, I spend huge amounts of time helping students work to refine their reading behaviors--selecting "just right" books that are appealing to them, finding smart places to read where they can maintain their focus, noticing when they are losing focus and troubleshooting the reasons why--and so on.  For me, I think having students track their reading at school and at home is one way that they can begin to collect data about their reading habits and behaviors and use that data to make changes when necessary.

My process is simple.  The students write the date, their title (just an arrow if they are continuing the book they were reading earlier), their starting page, and ending page.  They mark "S" for school reading and "H" for home reading.  No parent signatures are involved.  No minutes read.  No rules.  Each day when I take status, the students have their logs out on their desks so if they are busy I can grab their status right off their log.  When I notice something during status (slow progress through a book, rapid progress through a book, frequent abandoning, etc) I might ask a student to study their reading logs to prepare for our conference. These reading log conferences can be so telling.  I hear things like:

"I noticed I haven't been reading at home very much.  My mom isn't reminding me any more and I need to do it myself."

"I read that entire Andrew Clements book in 3 days!  I was totally in the zone...maybe I should try another one of his."

"I have already abandoned 3 books this quarter.  Can you do a 'book shop' with me?" 
(Book shop = time one-on-one with me in our library to create a personalized list or book bin for students struggling with book selection)

At the midway point and end of each quarter, my students sort through their reading logs and do a more thorough study.  They look for patterns.  They look for problems.  They look for improvements.  They count up "H's" and "S's" to see if they are holding up their end of the deal (Our "homework" is that they read at home a minimum of 5 days per week--preferably 7!). They fill out a brief reflection sheet about their progress and set a goal for the next part of the quarter.

So...I understand that reading logs can be a bad thing.  Parents DESPISE having to sign the things regularly and have to badger their kids to do them.  I don't do that.  Students don't like having to write a response to their reading every night (It RUINS the book, Mrs. A!).  I don't do that.  Grading students based on a number of pages or minutes or book titles seems unfair--how you can you compare a beginning reader to a Percy Jackson fanatic?  But for students to have a way to keep track of their reading to become more accountable, reflective, and engaged?  I guess I don't see the problem.  My kids never complain--and they will frequently come up to me with amazing discoveries that they have made.  I'd love to hear what you think!

Looking for more help with getting independent reading started in your class?  Maybe one of these might help you out...

One thing that I always want to have easily available to my students of all abilities is work for them to do if they finish early or have some "down time"...they know they can always read or write, but I like for them to have math options as well.  My students have "Personal Challenge" folders that have a variety of problem solving activities in them...some of which are introduced whole class and others that are tailored for a specific group.  One other "tip" I have is to always have displayed a collection of problems that can be glued into their math notebooks...these usually feature students in the class and are written at a variety of levels.

To keep the system easy to manage, I use a small pocket chart that I have pinned to my math board...mine was just an inexpensive one I found at a special store with a special section where things only cost a dollar or three.  I just wheeled my red cart over and snagged a bunch to use for just this type of thing.  #Ithinkyougetmydrift

I tell the students that I try to put the easier ones toward the top and make them more challenging as they go down the chart--but I also always remind them that what makes a problem challenging for one person may not be true for another...and that they should just TRY!  What's the worst thing that could happen?

I have gotten pretty good at making up word problems and other problems (if you aren't familiar with CGI math out of the University of Wisconsin you might want to do some reading...the Common Core uses CGI problem types)--but some of the ones in my pocket chart right now aren't word problems at all but are place value riddles like:

How many numbers can you find that meet the following rules?
*I am a multiple of 8.
*I have 3 digits.
*The digit in my hundreds place is odd.
*I am >300 and <700.

The possibilities are endless!  If you really struggle writing problems, I do have dozens of problem sets on a variety of topics in my Teachers Pay Teachers store if you need something to get you started...they are one of my biggest sellers, so look for more sets being added!

So--consider finding ways to make math accessible to your students when they have extra minutes...it's a great way to differentiate and a great way to get students excited about challenging math!

Here is another classroom "tip" that I thought I'd share...if you are like me, you have less and less time to create bulletin boards as you spend more and more time on curriculum, assessment, and other key teaching duties.  One quick tip that has added a little visual "pop" for some of my displays is simply to mount the letters I use on bright colored theme notepad paper...it only takes a few seconds more and the effect is pretty dramatic!  I save these letters from year to year so I don't need to make new ones.  Tip number two...save them in a plastic bag where you write out the saying/title so you don't have to play "Wheel of Fortune" next year trying to remember what they spell!

I think it is also helpful for me as a teacher and for students to have our guiding questions posted too...it keeps me focused on the key topics within our unit and is great for visual learners.  Add some student work and you have a quick and easy, content-relevant bulletin board!  Hope it motivates you--I know it NEEDS to motivate ME to get some new displays up as we start our new units!  Have fun getting creative--and saving yourself some work in the process!

So...today I am moving my math manipulative organization photos here.  I am a firm believer that students must be able to access manipulatives--whether they be counters, rulers, dice, or whatever--without an adult passing them out and saying "Today you will use these!".  As mentioned in the Common Core, students need to be able to successfully "Use appropriate tools strategically", and helping them know how and when to select them is key.  Below you will find one of my favorite storage system for miscellaneous "counters", so that students can take a drawer right back to their work space whenever needed.  You can see the bucket of rulers and protractors next to it, and the shelves below house dice, calculators, base 10 blocks, and other math supplies.
These awesome drawer sets come in a variety of shapes and sizes.  This one was only about 12 bucks at a local home improvement store.
Each drawer gets filled with a variety of different counters...some "standard" issue ones--and others that I have picked up at the dollar store and other fun places!
To me, the most important thing is that students have easy access to everything they need WITHOUT prompting.  We want them to independently use tools and to THINK about what will help them solve the problems they encounter!
This is my trusty dusty math cart...a shelf for a tub of markers and a tub of fabric square for erasers and the top shelf for my whiteboards.  We can wheel it to wherever the math happens!!!

I'd love to hear any great math organization tips you might have!  I love to learn new ways to make MY life easier and to make math more accessible to students.  Feel free to post great ideas below!

It's been a busy week...birthday excitement, finishing reading assessments, meetings.  In honor of Friday, I am simply going to reflect on 5 great things to say to kids!  I'd love to hear some of your favorite things...what makes a difference to your students?

1.  "WOW!  I am so amazed by your thinking!  I never would have thought to do it that way..."

2. "I can see how hard you are working!  I really appreciate that you always give me 100% when you work...it will pay off!"

3.  "That was such a kind thing to say...it's no wonder people enjoy being with you.  You treat them with such respect!"

4. " I love how you have kept on trying even when this got challenging for you!  Perseverance is such an important quality to have..."

5.  "Amazing!  I am so impressed with how carefully and precisely you have worked.  Your work quality is top-notch.  You should be so proud!"

I know these seem a little cheesy out of context...but I think my message is simply this.  As we get into more and more rigorous content, we need to be ever mindful of the little people who we are putting through the paces!  Just like the Math Practice Standards begin to tackle  math behaviors, we need to help students recognize that some of these academic and social habits DO make a difference and DO pay off.  We never know when a genuine, well-timed piece of encouragement might make all the difference.  My goal?  To never let my pressures to TEACH get in the way of my own knowledge of how to help young people develop into adults that love to learn, grow, and can take on challenges gladly.  I know I have room to grow in this department...I need to slow down and look in their eyes and let them know I care and I know how hard they are working.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

Today in math we started to step up our problem solving and, especially, our EXPLAINING about our thinking...something I know I have not been modeling enough.  I want to make sure we keep the climate open and honest, so today I introduced the self-assessment system we are going to use from this point forward.

It is an easy system...kids can "flash" the correct number of fingers if you want to do a quick check (scan the class and check for 1's and 2's!) or--like I did today--as an exit slip on post it notes or scraps of paper.  Today I wanted to monitor students' comfort level on larger number multiplication (1 x 3 and 1 x 4 digits) before we tackle building arrays of 2 digit by 2 digits, and I wanted to see who wasn't feeling confident yet.  With practice, students can become pretty adept at being honest!  I have a group of 4 "2's" that I want to sit down and trouble shoot with tomorrow while I give a warm up word problem to my "3's" and "4's"...hopefully we will be able to move forward after I get a handle on how ready they are.

I know there are lots of ways to check for understanding...this is just one of the many I use.  What I am really stressing is that to be a FOUR, you need to understand HOW to do it, WHY we do it, and be confident TEACHING others!  Give it a try--and I'd love to hear other ideas you all have for how you "take the temperature" of YOUR class! 
Some things just need repeating, and I am starting to see a few of my fourth graders slipping in their ability to make "just right" books choices.  You know the students...reading Magic Tree House one day and then trying to pick up a copy of Percy Jackson the next?

To start the year, we spent a great deal of time building a reading community, talking about how to select a book, what a "just right" book is, and so on.  That being said, as students' abilities change, they sometimes need a little "reminder" about what it is we are trying to accomplish! So...on the "to do" list for tomorrow is to go revisit the anchor chart we made back in September...

and to make sure we do some reflecting on what makes a book "just right" --for THEM.  I think we will then spend some time re-exploring our classroom library so students can make a new list of books they can't wait to read--I always like students to have some ideas about what their next few books are so they don't waste time aimlessly looking!  Hopefully students can find some hidden gems in my bins and on my shelves!

If you are like me, you are constantly stressing out about making sure your students are learning and growing.  If you are like me, you never feel like you have enough of the right DATA to know for sure!  After all, how do you REALLY measure reading comprehension?  Writing skills?  I think we are in a constant battle with ourselves to balance wanting to assign a "number" to things that aren't numeric and wanting to make sure we are "doing right" by our students.  I have asked myself so many questions over the years...

What do spelling tests tell me?
What does it mean to be a "proficient reader"?
How will I know if my student writes at a "fourth grade level"?  What IS a fourth grade level?
How do I measure number sense?
What does it mean to be "advanced"?
How does anyone expect me to open a can of Pringles on not eat the whole thing?  (oops...wrong blog for that)

and soooooo many more...

(By the way...if any of you have answers, I am SUPER excited to hear them!)

Another struggle I have is measuring student achievement based on work they do alone. Because my students do SO much collaboratively, it is hard to know what work is truly "theirs".  We just finished publishing our feature articles, and along the way they brainstormed, shared, and revised with peers...they took them home and got feedback from parents...teachers gave suggestions...the computer spell and grammar checked them...

So what do I grade?

I thought I'd share with you something that has been really helpful for me over the last four years or so...perhaps it is something that you might be interested in trying.  I do demand writing (also a very real world skill...) about 2 times per quarter where I ask students to write in a limited amount of time ALL ALONE.  They can still brainstorm, plan, write, and revise--but they do it without the resources that may have guided them along the way during their process pieces.  After our opinion unit I asked them to do an opinion piece.  After our narrative unit, I asked them to write a demand narrative piece--you get the picture.  So...I have had some of these resources in my store and they have started selling (which is cool for me), but I wanted other people to see how easy it can be to take the temperature of your class in writing...to chart progress of students over time and to see what deficit areas your class may still have.  This is something you could certainly create for your own class if you wanted.

To help people get a sneak peek, I have decided to share a "freebie" that helps give you the idea of how this can work in your classroom.  If you are interested, check it out!  I can honestly say it has been a real game-changer for me...I do SO much more reteaching of writing concepts and have been far more focused during my unit planning.  I hope it helps you as well!  Let me know your thoughts...

Happy weekend to all of you!  I know I needed it...

First of all, a "congratulations" to Lynn from over at Fun in the Fours for being the winner of my casual "Historical Fiction" giveaway!  I loved reading all your book recommendations, and a few are books that I haven't read--so guess who has new stuff in her Amazon cart!  Take a peek at Lynn's blog--she is doing some AMAZING things with her students in Bermuda--lots of creativity going on in her room!  Lynn, your copy of the Sarah, Plain and Tall  novel study is on its way!  I hope it's helpful!

Next, I wanted to just brag a little about my improving problem solvers!  We've been doing lots of word problems in my class--some just basic ones to reinforce decimals and basic multiplication and algebra thinking (it sure is nice having all those problem sets I created...I just have a stash in my room for easy access!), but also some "bigger:" problems like I have mentioned in earlier posts.  Earlier this week one of my students came up to me and informed me that she had written a problem and wondered if I could check it out.  Here it is...

Pretty cool, eh?  I asked her if I could type it up for the class to try and her eyes got WIDE.  She absolutely beamed!  So...the next day this was our warm up problem and the kids were GREAT!  We shared some different solutions, kids were running to the author for clarification, and she was in her glory.  I'm waiting to see if it "spreads" and other kids initiate problem writing in their free time...we'll see!

Finally, I am trying to get myself geared up for next week...in the next few weeks I am going to be out of my classroom for a number of different curriculum meetings, so I need to get myself organized!  Historical fiction, poetry writing, and big number multiplying are all on the board!  Feel free to send me motivational thoughts or ideas!  I did just finish a Valentine word problem set to use with big number multiplying if any of you are looking for something in the next few weeks...nothing fancy, just good old fashioned word problem with a Valentine theme!

Have a great weekend!  :)

Today is going to be short, but sweet!

We are finishing our "Feature Article" unit today, and I thought I'd share FIVE things we learned while writing them.  This was my first time teaching this unit, and it was as much a learning experience for ME as it was for my fourth graders!

So...what did we learn?

1.  Working together to research is the way to go!  Students had the GREATEST conversations about what they were learning, learned to ask each other good questions, and overall increased their enthusiasm the more they worked together!

2.  Enlist the help of your librarian!  It was great to have her on my team...she helped me pull books to teach different nonfiction text structures, helped teach students some of the research components, helped students refine their topics, and more!

3.  Explicitly teach students some of the different text structures they will encounter in nonfiction reading...cause/effect, question/answer, chronological, and so on.  It was so fun to spend a few class periods immersing the students in these texts and "hunting" to see what structures they could find.  It was also a great lesson for them to see that nothing is "pure"...that a text in chronological order (like "What Happens to a Hamburger"--we loved that one!!!) may have sections that don't fit the "rule"!

Working in teams to scan texts for different text structures!
4.  Immerse your students in a variety of nonfiction articles.  Students made all sorts of discoveries about what makes a great title, what kind of photos/glossaries/diagrams were most interesting, how different authors tackle tricky vocabulary words, and more!  (Not to mention--they LEARNED so much cool stuff reading these articles!)

5.  Do NOT underestimate what your students can do!  I was extremely cautious going into this and was unsure of what our "product" would look like.  I was AMAZED!  We learned so much new technology...they learned about inserting photos, citing sources, altering text sizes and layouts to make their article "look" better and more.  They are SO proud of what they have done--best quote..."These look like they could be in a REAL magazine!"  Fun stuff--have a great Friday, everyone!

Well, my fourth graders and I are NEARLY finished with our feature articles unit...and, boy, have we had a blast!  They have learned so much about different text structures, how to take a topic and "spin" it to make it more appealing--not to mention all the new tech skills they learned like inserting photos with citations, and so on.

So...next on the list?  Historical fiction!  I LOVE historical fiction!  I think it is a fantastic way to tie our content to our literature and to really help students see how history really IS a story!  Every year I start my unit with a few of my favorite pictures books, but my mentor text for the unit is always Sarah, Plain and Tall.  I don't know why--but I absolutely love this little novel.  We study how Patricia MacLachlan uses language...how the characters change...how the setting is SO important...how the book is filled with similes and other little word gems.  We read the book in literature circles/book clubs, and it is the only novel I read "whole class" all year.  We then move into book clubs of historical fiction and independent book selections.  Last year after finishing Sarah, half of my class begged to read Skylark and then several of those kiddos finished the entire series!

This whole week I have been working to realign my unit "stuff" with the Common Core, and it was a big relief to finish that tonight!  Take a peek if you want--it was quite an undertaking for me!  And this collage is only half the pages!

Here is my request/challenge/bribe...I am asking for suggestions as to other historical fiction books you have read with students and loved!  Leave me your suggestions in the comments with your email and--if you trust me--I will have my son randomly select one of you to get a free copy of my Sarah, Plain and Tall unit!  If you just want to leave me a suggestion and aren't interested in the unit--let me know that in your comments as well...no hurt feelings, I promise!  I know it isn't a formal "raffle", but I'd really love to add to my historical fiction collection, and YOU are the people to help me do that!  It's only fair that I reward one of you!  

So...leave me book suggestions over the next two days, and I will have my son draw the name out of a hat (could be a plastic baggie--just trying to be honest here) sometime Saturday morning and I will ship off all 64 pages of that bad boy right to the winner's emailbox!  Deal?  I'm looking for suggestions for grades 3-6 reading levels...let's see what we can come up with together!  Maybe you'll get some new book ideas as well.

Today is my introduction day on our new "collaborative blog", ALL THINGS UPPER ELEMENTARY!

I would love it if you would stop by, read MY introduction, and then check out all the amazing posts by the other collaborating bloggers.  There are 14 of us in all to get to know--one of us is being "introduced" each day...and tomorrow is MY day!  :)  Hope you can stop by to check out our great new blog...it is really adding followers quickly!

This is not a new concept for people who are interested in constructivist thinking, but today's "opening day" of multiplication lessons had me wondering what would happen when give a series of multiplication problems to solve...my fourth graders had some exposure to multiplication concepts and algorithms last year, so I was unsure of how willing my students would be to experiment.

Here's what we did.  First, I explained that our goals for the day were to persevere and solve problems, to come up with ways to solve them that were comfortable and made sense to us, to work accurately, and to be able to organize our work to explain our thinking.  Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice all the way, right?

So...I modeled with a problem that was NOT multiplication...we glued it into our math journals, tried different ways to solve it, discussed in pairs ways to organize our work, then shared out several solutions.  I then asked students to solve four problems in their math notebooks (they were all multiplication--but the students didn't necessarily know that)...they simply came up front to grab them off the piles as they needed them (some students were done quickly, others never finished all four...the beauty of self-pacing!)
Problems...made 8 to a page, copied, cut, and "piled" for easy access.

As they worked, I wandered...asking questions, noticing things, commenting on organization and other math practices that I saw happening.

As students finished all four (or 2 or 3 for some), I asked them to select ONE of their solutions that they wanted to reorganize on a "learning poster" and to share in a small group.  I had reprinted extra copies of the problems a little larger to glue at the top of their learning posters, and they got to work:  problem at the top, work in the middle, written explanation of strategies on the bottom.

This student was VERY proud that he used his ruler to keep his work more organized.  He later shared on the document camera how he did it.

I walked around and asked 4 students to be ready to share when the time came.  But as students finished their learning posters, I started putting them into quartets (yes, we call them that--math lingo all day, folks!)
where they could share their work, their solutions, their thinking.  As more and more students finished, I formed more and more discussion groups and I simply eavesdropped.  
This group of "fast finishers" needed a little coaching to actually DISCUSS what they did--not just read off their papers!

One of my more struggling students was super proud of how she had solved this one...

When all the groups were finished and I had found a few good "teaching points", I had those students share their learning posters under the document camera.  (You really MUST get one of these...did you know you can get them for about 70 bucks?  Seriously.  Get one.)

This student explained to the class how she used highlighters to mark important information in the problem.   She then showed how she organized each step.  Our teaching point for her sharing was to discuss how labels might have helped her overall explanation.

Just wanted to share out one way to get your kids really involved with math!  We worked on these steps for about 45 minutes today and students were engaged, talking about math, coaching each other, and holding each other to higher standards!  We have a long way to go, but we sure have come a long way since September!

NOTE:  If you aren't comfortable writing word problems on your own--get some good samples from somewhere...a textbook, online, etc.  I like to use problems with my students' names and interests, but I also have a "bank" of go-to questions when I don't have time. I have written about nine million different problems on different themes and with different content and have put them in my TpT store if you need ideas.

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