September 2013 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
As I sit here with this . . .

 . . . I decided to take a little break and get inspired.  If you aren't familiar with "The Teaching Channel", I recommend you check it out.  All you have to do is sign up for a free account--and then you are set to go--and get ready to spend a little time snooping around!  On the Teaching Channel, you can find short video clips of almost anything you want to "see" in a classroom . . . from how to run a book discussion to how to organize math centers to cool science lessons.  The videos are short and to the point and take place in REAL classrooms!  When you start your free account, you can put your preferences in and they will send you email video suggestions.  For example, a few categories I get updates on are:

common core

It's kind of fun to poke around and just see what other teachers are doing--and this is especially cool if you do not have a school climate where collaboration and professional development are valued.  Anyhoo--check it out.  You can customize it with different filters, there are lesson plans, a Teaching Channel blog with great ideas, and more!

So, perhaps, you have all heard of it, but I thought I'd put it out there for those of you who haven't!  I just watched a video about "precision" in the math classroom and one on discovering number patterns with skip counting.  Here is the link for those of you who want to investigate!  The Teaching Channel.

If you have been following along with recent blog posts, you know that we have been working on narrative writing. We have been working on creating a good plan, adding details and then using that detailed plan to write a draft.

We are producing so much more writing than we were even a week ago!  Today my mini lesson revolved around these two words:

We learned what these words mean and talked about all the different times in life when people elaborate. I use my own son as an example . . . how he always answers "fine" when he comes home from school.  I ask him REGULARLY to elaborate--with minimal success!

So, we reviewed our planning process and how we added extra details to our plan. I told them that I was going to be coming around to look for examples of places in their writing where they truly did elaborate.  Before we began, I told them that after we wrote for 20 or 25 minutes, they would work with a partner to read their narratives aloud. Their partner would be a listening to identify which part of their writing seemed like it had the most elaboration.  Off to work!

My favorite teaching tool in writing class?

Huh?  Does this help?

No?  This is me wheeling myself around table by table "hunting" for examples of elaboration and to be looking for students who are forgetting about our writing non-negotiables so we can get them corrected right on the spot.

In 25 minutes I made two full laps around the class!  When I noticed students working off their plan and stretching their details, I would share that with students sitting close by. A few times, I stopped the whole class to listen to some really well crafted sentences.  During my journey, I also made note of mini lesson topics I want to share with the whole class . . . errors I noticed many students making. (Today I noticed errors with where/were exchanges, using "d" instead of "ed" to make past tense, and "are/our" mistakes)

After our writing time, I sent the students off in randomly chosen pairs to share and look for examples of elaboration.

The students were GREAT today and were feeling really positive about what they had done.  Stay tuned for next steps!

My first "content" unit of the year every year is mapping, and every year I start with a quick review of the continents and oceans.  Students are supposed to come in with this knowledge, but as you know--sometimes it takes many repetitions before some things stick!  Because of this, I like to do a number of review activities with my students--but try to throw some new learning in along the way to make sure that they are always moving forward with their understanding of the world they live in.

The first step is to collect a little baseline "data"--in other words . . . I ask them to draw a world map from memory.  This always draws moans and groans, but I reassure them that it isn't graded, isn't being put in a museum, and isn't being shown to anyone--it's just for me to see what they remember!  It would be mean of me to put them on here wouldn't it?  After I promised them no one would see them?  Let's just say . . .

I don't feel bad about doing a thorough review.  At.  All.

So . . . this brings me to one of my favorite projects of the school year--one where they not only review their world geography but can refine their listening, direction following, and ruler skills!  

Here's how we start.  I pull down our world map and we talk about what we know about the continents (I stress that there are SEVEN) and oceans (that there are FIVE).  We look at how the oceans all connect to make a giant body of water that covers a huge amount of our planet.  We then start talking about what we know about life by the poles and by the equator, and I point out the "special lines" on a map.  We find the Equator and Prime Meridian first and talk about the idea of "hemispheres" and the different ways to divide the Earth.

I start by marking the lines on the Smartboard

and had the students use their rulers to do the same on paper.  We talked about finding the halfway point, making marks on each side of the paper, and dividing their pages on the Prime Meridian and the Equator.  This sounds so easy.  False.

After that, we study the world map and talk about what they know about the Arctic and Antarctic Circles and what life is like on that part of the planet.  I sit back and wait for the Santa question--this year it does not come.  

I then show them how to use their rulers (only if they have the "skinny" regular rulers...the wider bendy, trendy, and wider ones don't work) to line their ruler up at the top and bottom of the page to draw in those lines.

Finally, we look at the tropic lines and talk about how life between the tropics and the Equator is very different than life at the poles and how the "temperate climates" in the middle part of the northern and hemispheres have a unique climate as well.  To draw the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, we simply put our ruler up against the Equator and draw one ruler width above and one ruler width below.  No measuring needed.

Once we have our world "grid" set up . . . It's time to put the project away until the next day. This was plenty of learning to get started!

On our second day of our project, we pulled down the world map and get out the atlases and spend some time looking at the sizes and shapes of the different continents. We look at which ones cross the equator and which ones come close to the Arctic and Antarctic circles.  We start by trying to draw Africa as it crosses the prime meridian, the equator and several other lines. Once we practice finding where it should go and how it should look, I send the kids off to work on drawing the continents.  It is so much fun to watch them helping each other and coaching each other and looking at the variety of maps to get things just right.

After this, we had a discussion about political versus physical maps and looked at some examples of each. I gave the students the choice of making a political map or a physical map and they labeled their continents and oceans (we talked about capital letters, neatness, and writing straight across just like a real map--no bendy, sloppy writing) and then colored with crayons.

Finally, the "water" itself!  Students painted their oceans with watered down tempera paint to create their oceans.

We are just finishing them up so we can display them above our lockers!  

Not bad!  I love to hang nameplates that say "Cartographer ____" to reinforce that term!

Hope you get some ideas for your own classroom!

UPDATE:  This lesson is now available in my TpT store with directions, photos, maps, assessment ideas, and a number of additional ready-to-use mapping activities--enough for 3 or 4 days.  Here's the link if you are interested!  Click here

If your house is anything like my house on the weekend, the discussion centers around everyone's football picks for the week!  I thought I would steal the idea for today's blog post and ask people to share out some of their favorite read aloud picture books they have used so far this year.  Many of the books I have shared with my class so far have focused on behaviors and other "big ideas" that we needed to discuss to get our classroom community established.

Our first big unit in literacy involves realistic fiction, so I will not be looking to pick books that really help me teach those elements.  I'd love to hear what books YOU have "picked"--and for what reason!  For example . . .

We are reading "Shredderman" as our read aloud and are finding nifty words in it that we don't know and are making a chart.
Not a single of my students knew the word "assertive" or what it meant so . . .

I picked this book . . . read it to them the next day and asked, "Why do you think I selected this book today?"  They had great ideas, but it took 10 minutes before one little one said, "I think it's because Katie Sue was assertive--like in Shredderman yesterday."  Whew.

So . . . I'd love to know . . . What books have you shared with your class this year--and WHY?  Why were they "top picks" for you?  I hope you picked better books than I picked football games this week!  Ouch!

Today we continued our focus on narrative writing by using our planning sheets from yesterday to dig into writing a quality draft.  Before we started, I wanted to continue to raise the level of quality in our writing. As in most classrooms, I have a huge range of writers in my classroom--both in terms of skills and motivation.  I have working hard to "paint" a picture of what 4th grade writing needs to be, so we have been studying anchor papers to see what we can discover about quality writing!  I started by sharing this anchor chart that I made with them:

This idea of "apply new learning" was SO new for them!  They hadn't really considered that when we do a minilesson, I actually then expect to see them try it!  Seriously!  That was news for them!

We talked about each and every one and how they will help them improve as writers.  We then reviewed what we had done yesterday with our organizer for our narratives, and we reviewed THEIR planning sheets.  I asked them to meet with a partner and "retell" their story and make sure they had enough "enriched details" (I cannot lie...some of my students STILL wrote sentences inside the box and no details outside...their drafts are then essentially those sentences copied over again.  Sigh.  We will try again next week.)

I reminded them of our bulletin board of expectations and read through them before getting to work...

Here was one student sample of their planning sheet.

After they retold their stories, I asked them to help me write the first scene of MY story.  We came up with 3 or 4 ways to say the exact same thing . . . and they were all a version of

I got home and the garage door was up.


After work I got home and the garage door was up.


It was a scary day when I got home and the garage door was up.

They were all pretty satisfied until I showed them MY writing of the first "scene" of my narrative.

This rocket scientist didn't realize she cut off the top few sentences.  Sorry.  I think you get the picture . . .

You should have heard the "OHHHHHHHHHHH!  That's just like the STORY you told us!"

And there we go.

So . . . I sent them off to tell their stories.  I reminded them about how I used my planning sheet to keep focused on on topic--and I even showed them the trick of "checking off" the ideas you put into your piece.

They dug in and got to work, and after about 20 minutes of writing I stopped them and had their share at their tables about what they had accomplished so far.  It is Friday, you know, so I did provide them with a little motivation since their writing stamina isn't great yet!

They worked and shared and worked and shared.

Overall I heard students saying things like "This is the best piece I've ever written!" and "If I don't finish it, can I take it home?" and "This was way easier than it used to be!".  I'll take that as a success.  We are going to repeat the process on Monday and Tuesday (Planning on day one, drafting on day 2) and then they are going to pick their favorite of the two to do a little extra work (ie. revising and editing!) at the end of the week.  Don't get me wrong--these are NOT perfect!  I am just super excited that they were more willing to write, produced more, and seemed more positive about investing 40 minutes in actually writing!  Stay tuned--and Happy Friday!

UPDATE:  Several people asked me about whether or not this lesson was available on TpT.  It wasn't, but it is now!  If you want the blog post to print out, a ready-made graphic organizer, the anchor charts in full page posters, and a scoring rubric--check it out!  Click here!

Today started like any other day . . . kids were a little chatty . . . a parent stopped in to chat before school . . . the sky looked a little dark and ominous but--

I wasn't quite prepared for the storm that suddenly popped up and blew out the power for a fraction of a second--just long enough to wipe out our network.

My connection was not reestablished for 4 hours.

So . . . it was punting for math (our entire program is technology based) and writing (my entire lesson was  Smartboard based), but I think the resulting lesson was worth it!

Our first unit this year is realistic fiction, so once we finish our "launching" unit, we dig right in.  In the past, we have always done a personal narrative/small moment unit first which really helped us start the concept of "story", but--alas--no longer.

So, knowing that realistic fiction is a tough unit, I decided to do a crash course on planning narratives!  It started with me telling my students a story. Now, mind you, we have been working on collecting ideas over the last week or so--brainstorming "fun times", "scary times", "favorite things", "times with friends and family", and so on.

I told the story of a "scary time" when I arrived home from school and the door to the house was wide open--and how I freaked out and had to call the police (from Burger King--pre-cell phone!).  After I told the story, we mapped out the key "scenes" on the easel (I like scenes rather than events because we make the connection to TV and movies and how to picture them in their mind):

Arriving home

Freaking out

Driving to Burger King

Calling police

Meeting the police at the house

  . . . and so on

I showed the students a graphic organizer technique I like to use to show sequence--simply a set of boxes with arrows to show sequence.  After that, I asked the students to help me "retell" the story and beef up my plan by adding in more critical details that the boxes didn't cover . . . some of those "who", "what", where" questions and those important feelings and phrases like "heart pounding" and "mind racing".  Here's what we came up with--ignore the messiness.  It was a work in progress.
After that, I sent the students back to their desks to do their OWN "maps" of a memorable event in their lives.  The students first told their stories to a neighbor and then charted their key "scenes".
After the students sketched out their scenes, they met in trios to "retell" their story and work to add in all those critical details they want to include in their narrative when they draft tomorrow.
Sorry for the horrible blurry photo!
After we finished, I took our lesson and turned it into an anchor chart to refer to as we work on narrative writing.  Let me know if you give it a try--I'd love to hear about it!

Have a great Friday!
Click here! or the image below to see more!

Why number lines?

A solid understanding of number sense and place value is absolutely critical as we move our students forward in their mathematical thinking.  We often expose them to numbers in a variety of ways…using manipulatives, using 100’s charts, and so on.  One area that is often overlooked is the building of understanding of how numbers relate to each other and how they “fit” with other numbers.  For example…students may have a solid understanding of what “10” is and how to model it—but they don’t always realize what “10” means compared to other numbers…that 10 is half of 20…and double 5…and closer to 0 than to 100 and so on!  In my attempt to really help my students understand place value, I have developed some number line resources that I use with my students and I finally have them ready to share with you!

I'm pretty excited because they have been CHALLENGING my students, and I know we are all wanting to raise the level of rigor in our math instruction, right?  We also want to be stressing the Standards for Mathematical Practice, right?

It includes 65 math journal prompts at a variety of levels to get your students really thinking about numbers and place value.  Note that all of them ask students to "Explain your thinking!"

We've been sharing our ideas and how we solved them on the Smartboard . . . 
 . . . and with the document camera
I've even included pages that can be used as homework or exit slips!
So what do I do with it?

I have used this type of problem in many ways . . .  
. . . As a daily warm up

. . . Over several days as a “mini unit” on place value

. . . To spot check understanding throughout the year

. . . To get a feel for which of your students need more intervention on their number sense

I noticed one kiddo really struggling with these problems . . . I pulled him and we started smaller--by trying to "squeeze" numbers between other numbers!
. . . To be able to differentiate instruction (watch for a similar resource with numbers to 1,000,000!)

. . . To teach the Standards for Mathematical Practice
Yup!  Included this rubric!
. . . To apply place value understanding in a new way.  Many textbooks use base ten blocks as their primary way to deliver this content.

So I have to say--I'm pretty excited. My student are not only developing better mathematical understanding, but they are helping each other learn to talk about their reasoning!  I already have one in the works for numbers up to 1,000,000 and also decimals and fractions down the road because I see SO MUCH how the number lines help with understanding.

I know the resource only uses numbers up to 1,000 but it DEFINITELY showed me how we have moved our students through the grades ASSUMING they understand about estimating and rounding and relative sizes of numbers.  Nope!

So--if you are interested in checking it out, I am offering it UNTIL FRIDAY at a reduced price so my followers can grab it before the price goes up if you want it.  I'd love your feedback and comments before I move to the one with bigger numbers!

I had a blast making it--and think the variety of problems and levels, the photos and teaching tips, and other included parts will make it a resource you can use all year long.  Let me know!

Happy Monday!

Stop on over at All Things Upper Elementary to check out my post today about a classic team building idea I use to start each year.  Maybe you'll stash it away for next year--or use it mid-year to spice things up . . . but it's a great way to get to know each other AND set some classroom expectations for work quality.  Click the link above and check it out!
 . . . and watch for a new product coming in the next 48 hours at a special reduced price for one week.  I'm super excited about it--it has been challenging my students like crazy and I know they are learning SO much about number sense!

I'm taking a little break from sharing out about my classroom today so I can share a few pictures and thoughts about the big event from my weekend--greeting the airplane from my father's "Honor Flight" trip to Washington D.C.  For those of you who are unaware of this amazing program, I encourage you to visit their website to learn more about what is being done to honor our veterans.

More about the Honor Flight Program

My dad is a World War II vet who served at the very end of the war and was in Japan when the bombs were dropped.  He was scheduled to be on the ground in the next wave of soldiers when they got the news about the bomb--and he is certain that he and his fellow soldiers would have met the same fate as those before had this dramatic change in the war not occurred.  To watch these 100 soldiers get the kind of treatment and respect they deserve after all these years was moving beyond words.  He came home emotional and exhausted. . . and I just wanted to share a few pics from the experience.

He's back!  

My dad was the first off the plane!  I was so excited that I couldn't take a clear picture!

Thousands of people showed up!

Here he is with my sister Deb--his "guardian" for the trip.  Can't lie.  I was jealous.

It was a long day for the 100 soldiers--all of whom are in the mid to late 80's.  They were at the airport at 4:30 and returned to their heroes welcome after 9 pm . . . and had toured the monuments and more in DC throughout the day.  It was an incredibly moving experience for all involved.  Thanks for letting me share . . .

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