March 2014 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
Did you miss me?  For those of you who didn't know, I took last week off to go on a five day vacation to Puerto Vallarta!  I got some much needed R&R and back to work tomorrow I go!  My student teacher is finishing up her last week and report cards are due soon and a bunch new units are starting up so I will be busy busy busy!

I hope you enjoyed the posts I had preset to go "live" while I was gone--our work with rectangles, area, and perimeter was fascinating to watch...I am always so intrigued by the misconceptions our students have.  We'll see how the next few days go as we try to derive formulas to help us out!

To say "thanks" for stopping by even while I was gone, I thought I'd offer up a special deal on two of my favorite products--and to let you know that "Set 3" is in the works!  These two are on sale for the next 24 hours or so if you are interested.

Also, I just thought I'd let you know that this week I have a "Math Is Real Life" post coming up on Wednesday and at least a few other posts coming up about some recent classroom activities.  Have a great week and see you soon!

Today I wanted to see how well my students were internalizing our perimeter and area explorations, so I gave them a cooperative task to complete.  The timing was perfect as I was missing 5 students for early spring break starters--so it seemed like a great plan for a Friday before break!

Here's the task...students were in teams of 5 or 6 and had to use the grid paper to find a shape with an area of exactly 24 square units--and with EACH team member having a different perimeter.

Huddle time!  They got to work immediately!

They drew...and counted...and erased...and drew...and checked...they had to use a LOT of mathematical language when communicating with each and explaining their ideas.

One team decided to get tiles to model before they drew...they each grabbed 24 and made sure they had different shapes.  Pretty efficient, wouldn't you say?

Some students needed some coaching on how to "track" their perimeters when they made more complex designs.

Once all members of a team agreed that they had met the challenge--time to color, cut, and fill out a name plate.  On their name plate, there was a place for the mathematician's name, the area, and the perimeter.  We checked to make sure they were correct and that they used the proper labels.

Ta da!  They LOVED the project--and it was 30 minutes start to finish!  It was a great way to apply the strategies and concepts we have worked on over the last few days. 

UPDATE:  I've had SO many requests for perimeter and area activities, so I have put five of my favorites together here!  I hope you enjoy them.

So to kick off our investigations surrounding perimeter and area, we had a great discussion on how to measure "shapes".  After a while, we came to the conclusion that there are lots of "dimensions" to measure.  We talked about words like "length" and "width" and "height" (and even talked about spelling those words...and how "long" relates to "length" and "wide" to "width" and "high" to "height".  This was an epiphany to some.  Who knew?)  We finally came to the conclusion that we can measure OUTSIDE shapes (which we identified as "perimeter" and INSIDE shapes (which we identified as "area").  I can't lie...I also try to help my students remember by calling them "square-ea" to remember that area uses square units and "fence-imeter" to remember that perimeter is like a fence around a shape.  Will it work?  We shall see.  

After we did some review of our rectangle discussion and looked at how we would measure the inside and the outside, I put my students in pairs and asked them to do a few explorations.

First, I asked them to use 12 one inch tiles to find all the possible rectangles they could and to record the area and perimeter of each.  I LOVE the "a ha" moments when each group realizes that the area is 12.  


As students finished, I let them try rectangles with a fixed area of this point, some of them were asking if they HAD to build them or if they could just fill in their charts.  Once they could explain in clear mathematical language why they could do it without tiles, they were on their way.

If they finished this investigation, they were on their way to see if they could find a pattern or a rule related to what types of rectangles have the biggest perimeters and which have the smallest.  There was some GREAT discussion!

Stop back a few more times this week to see what happened when we REALLY dug in to our area and perimeter studies!  There was some GREAT mathematical thinking going on!

The first part of our next unit in math involves helping students derive the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles.  Knowing what I know after doing this little "gig" for 20 something years, I was pretty confident that I needed to find out if, indeed, my students REALLY knew what a rectangle was.  Simple right?

I thought I'd start with asking students to jot down their thoughts about the following two questions:

What do you know about rectangles?

What do you know about measuring rectangles?

As I walked around, I grew increasingly glad that I didn't jump right into the first lesson of this unit!  We had some foundations to build!

I brought us back together as a class and began showing the students some shapes that I had cut out of construction paper.  One at a time, I held them up and we "played democracy"--majority ruled.  The question?  Is it a rectangle--or is it a "counterexample".  Here's what we ended up with.

Notice anything?  Yep.  MAJOR misconception!  My students did what I expected...they identified the "classic" rectangle by visual shape without really understanding what characteristics a rectangle must have. begins the discussion.

First, I asked students to help me select which of the shapes they were 100% confident were NOT rectangles...and to explain why.  We worked our way through the counterexamples and found out that shapes with curved sides can't be rectangles...shapes with 5 sides can't be rectangles...and eventually agreed that shapes without right angles couldn't be rectangles.  (Some were very upset by this and were pretty sure that "C" was a rectangle...they remembered that the opposite sides should be equal and that letter C fit the rule.  I intervened with what was becoming a hot debate and reinforced that rectangles do, indeed, need four right angles.)  Here's what we ended up with.
Sorry so blurry!  Didn't realize it at the time...and didn't take a second shot!
Interesting, right?  Time to come up with our set of rules.  Can a square be a rectangle?  Can a "diamond" (pet peeve...I had to do my "If I turn Megan upside down or on her side, is she still Megan?" talk.)  Students began talking and generating rules and ideas and after a few minutes I wrote them down.  Now...if you are a geometry purist, don't be alarmed.  I know there are more precise definitions out there--but this is what my students decided on, and they do work to help us define rectangles!

1.  It must have 4 sides.
2.  It must have 4 right angles.
3.  It must have two sets of opposite parallel sides.

We had QUITE the discussion about squares today and finally determined that a square IS indeed a rectangle-but that it is a SNOBBY rectangle that thinks it's better than other rectangles because all four sides are perfectly equal.  Will they remember that a square is a snobby rectangle?  I hope so!  

We worked through the shapes then and reorganized to find the TRUE examples of rectangles. steps?  I asked the students to process the information they had learned in their notebooks.  I asked them first to write about what they know to be true about rectangles, and then to make their own rectangle/not rectangle T-chart.  We'll see what they remember in a few days!

Want some more help looking for misconceptions in the area of geometry?  Try working with concept sorts...and here is a set of 5 geometry sorts that give you some great guidance to get started!

Next up?  Digging into area and perimeter.  Stay tuned!

For those of you who liked my last post about a Google assessment idea, I think you will REALLY like this one!  Did you miss the last one about using a Google form to do a student self-assessment?  CLICK HERE to read it!

Today I want to tell you about another one I did and the students LOVED it.  What I really liked about this one is that we did it as a part of math workshop, and the students just knew they had to get it done some time this week.  With 6 iPads, I am constantly looking for ways to maximize technology use, and this was a great use of those little buggers!

We finished our "big number" multiplying unit a few weeks ago, and I wanted to see how my students were retaining the skill.  We've done a bunch of exit slips, but I wanted to see how well they were REALLY understanding by taking a different approach.  First of all, I wrote a problem done by a fictitious student named "Carl" (NOTE:  My class named our full sized skeleton "Carl", so this "Carl Problem" was right up their alley!).  Here's the problem.

I taught myself how to insert an image into a Google form (see picture below...just go under the "insert" menu and choose "image" and select it from your computer).

I then added in the three very simple questions I wanted them to answer about Carl's work:

That's it!  I shared the form with them and over the next few days, all students were able to "Be the Teacher", decide whether or not he was correct, and then tell me what he did well as well as what errors he made.  As you know, the CCSS (and, frankly, good math instruction!) is asking students to be able to critique mathematical thinking and to explain their own thinking.  What I got was engaged students--and all their explanations nice and neatly imported into a spreadsheet for me!

Here's a small snapshot of some of it...

I think the possibilities for using my iPads for assessment--and especially other "Be the Teacher" problems are endless.  What do you think?  What other uses might this "insert image" function have as we try doing more and more with Google docs and forms?  Let's hear your best ideas!

I'm on vacation!  I'm on vacation!

Let me tell was QUITE a week leading up to it!  The good news is, I have some GREAT stuff to share with you this stay tuned!

First of all, make sure to stop back this week often as I have a bunch of blog posts going live--another fun Google idea. as well as THREE posts about teaching area and perimeter with some easy and fun ways to help your students build their understanding!  Also, to celebrate the fact that spring is FINALLY here (even if I still have huge piles of snow in my yard), I am putting these spring items on sale all week!

Finally, stop over and visit my friend Mr. Hughes to check out a fun giveaway--who doesn't love THAT?!?  Click HERE to check it out and enter!

Have a great week...if you are on vacation--tell me what you are doing!  If you had vacation, tell me what you did!  If you are waiting for your vacation, tell me your plans!  If you don't GET a vacation....

I'm cowering in the corner now...hiding.

(and I won't tell you where that corner IS either!)


Of a few weeks ago I asked for recommendations on new books to consider for literature studies in my classroom. A number of people recommended Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell.  I immediately put it in my Amazon cart (Isn't that just so easy to do?) and last weekend I read it in one sitting.

I have to admit… I finished it and wasn't quite sure what to think. I loved the story and the concept, but I was very intrigued by the writing style.  The story unfolds rather gradually, and I felt myself wanting to go back and reread the first few chapters to make sure I really understood the subtle nuances of the language.

As the story unfolded, I couldn't help but fall in love with the main character, the teacher, and even Sahara's mom.  I thought about Mr. Falker as I read...I thought about my students as I read...and I thought about the parents of my students and how so many of them must be frustrated with the system.

I'm curious to know know what all of you think...who do you read this book with?  How do students react?  Do they "get it" and really start to understand Sahara more deeply?  Fill me in!  I am super curious to know your thoughts.

I am starting to get my collection of spring break reading ready...some children's book and some professional books and some "me" books.  I'm taking suggestions!

Here's the first one on the list...

Chime in with some great suggestions that we can all take advantage of--and I am REALLY looking forward to hearing from anyone who has read Sahara Special with a class or a small group.  Spill it!  Thanks for stopping by...


It's one of my favorite linky's---"MONDAY MADE IT" with 4th Grade Frolics!  As always, thanks to Tara for organizing and supporting such a great link up.  Make sure to visit lots of the blogs who have hooked up this month to see what they have to offer!

This week I have all sorts of little projects to share with you...none are cute and adorable but hopefully will be useful to me down the road!

First of all, lately all I seem to do is make to do list after to do list.  I decided to make some lists that would be motivational as well as organizational--so I made my "products to make" and "blog posts to write" lists to hang in my little work zone in my office.  I am hoping they will keep me focused and inspired.  I'll let you know...

Another little project that I have been working on I have been forcing my teenage son to do is making these cute little goody bags to use at a few upcoming teacher conventions.  I spent WAY too many hours designing my business card and pen, but I do LOVE how they turned out!

I am also "getting my creative on" by making some samples to use in an upcoming product.  I have had fun just letting loose and playing a's been a very intense few months at school, and I think we all need to find some "fun" to work back into our day.  UPDATE!  It's finished!  Click HERE if you want to see more about it...

Finally, the BIG PROJECT I am working on...and it still isn't complete... 


That's right...instead of constantly having to scramble to find all my ten frames, my different dice, white boards, lesson ideas, and the like--I am organizing one single rolling cart of math!

The top is file folders filled with intervention tasks organized by topic--subitizing, composing/decomposing numbers to 10, and so on.  I can even keep my assessment documents handy so I don't have to go foraging every time I need one.

The drawers are filled with stuff I am always hunting for!  The top drawer has markers, paper, pencils, wipe off boards and so on.  The bottom drawer has counters, dice, bead racks, number cards and more.

 I can't wait to finish stuffing the folders on the top so I am always ready for my next group!  The Math Recovery training I went to last week was SO amazing...this cart will certainly make it easier for me to implement all the great stuff I learned.

I know I am desperately in need of some rejuvenation time...for my mind and my spirit.  Spring break...I NEED you!  Hope all of you are doing well...

In my attempt to learn more about Google and how I can use it in my classroom, I have made a commitment to try to take the online Google coursework offered for free!  I don't know if I will get all the way through it, but I have already learned some new things. A bunch of other bloggers have decided to do the same thing, and we are going to try to work together to share some of our learning with all of you.

This week, we are all posting about new things we have discovered about Gmail. As you know, with most email accounts, you can search for things that you are looking for by typing in the search bar.  Gmail has some particularly helpful search terms that you might be interested in!

So...when I am looking for an email, I have always searched by the sender's name...then I scroll through all the emails until I find the one I want.

I learned that the "search" function not only scrolls through the subject line, but the body of the text as well, so if you know of other words that will definitely be in the email, it can help refine your this!

Voila!  It ruled out a ton of emails that weren't relevant and made my search faster. This is especially helpful when the email was sent quite a while ago or is from someone who sends you a lot!  I use it to find emails from my principal more quickly...if I know the topic, I throw some key words into the search.  I never knew that!

You can also use a few different search terms followed by a colon.  Typing "from:Robert" will only search messages from Robert.  Typing "to:Robert" or "Subject:Robert" will limit searches as well.

You can also get even fancier by using search terms like "has:" to find emails that "have" certain things--like attachments.  So, typing "has:attachment from: Robert" will narrow it down even more.

Pretty slick, right?  I hope to do some more sharing of what I learn, but there are a BUNCH of other people doing this as snoop through their blogs to see what little tidbits you can learn!  Have a wonderful week!

Back to Top