February 2015 - The Teacher Studio: Learning, Thinking, Creating
I LOVE this "mini" writing unit so much...my students are just having a great time working on our writing menu!  I typically do this project with a historical fiction unit I teach, but it could totally be done with any fiction unit. I am particularly proud of how well they are taking my minilessons and applying them to what we are doing.  I always tell my students that good students take the ideas taught to them and try them out--even if they aren't perfect.  All we want is for them to try!  I wrote a more detailed blog post last year about this unit and you can read about it by CLICKING HERE.
Writing about reading, point of view, compare and contrast, event study, characters, writing about characters, comparing and contrasting characters, historical fiction, creative writing, providing evidence, writing paragraphs, writing process

Comparing and Contrasting Characters

I thought I'd share a few snapshots of my students in action THIS year!  We have two items off our menu that are required...where we compare and contrast two characters (we worked on creating venn diagrams and then crafted two paragraphs where we worked on clear topic sentences, details, transition words and phrases, and a conclusion).  This is a great way for students to see the benefit of PLANNING using organizers to help them with their writing!  This ties so nicely to many of our writing units--we want students to state a "claim" or a thesis and then prove it with detailed evidence from the text.

Writing from Different Points of View

Our second required task is where we pick one key "turning point' event in our book and write about it from two key characters' points of view.  Today we worked back in our book clubs (we are all writing about our book club books) to do some brainstorming!  Groups worked to generate a list of 4-6 key events and the characters they felt could "tell" the story.  Tomorrow we begin drafting our "mini" stories.  We used our books and our reader's notebooks to go back and track our thinking--and eventually had everyone pick THE event they felt most compelled to write about.  This is a perfect way for students to not only recognize points of view, but also to practice digging back into a text for evidence.  This is a great way for students to really have some great discussions about which events in their books are truly the most important and impactful--and for them to recognize that different characters really do see things differently in a story...and that can really influence how they act.
Writing about reading, point of view, compare and contrast, event study, characters, writing about characters, comparing and contrasting characters, historical fiction, creative writing, providing evidence, writing paragraphs, writing process

Writing about reading, point of view, compare and contrast, event study, characters, writing about characters, comparing and contrasting characters, historical fiction, creative writing, providing evidence, writing paragraphs, writing process

Creative Writing and More!

What else are we doing?  During our reader's and writer's workshop, students are selecting from reading and working off the writing menu.  The hum of activity in the classroom is so much fun! Some are making cartoons...others are sketching key scenes and writing powerful captions.  I love that this unit allows for some creativity--and students REALLY respond.

Here a student is creating a story "map" to help him plan out a cartoon that represents a key section of his book...
Writing about reading, point of view, compare and contrast, event study, characters, writing about characters, comparing and contrasting characters, historical fiction, creative writing, providing evidence, writing paragraphs, writing process
Here a student is working on her final version of her compare/contrast project.  This project is a perfect way to combine paper and pencil AND technology.
Writing about reading, point of view, compare and contrast, event study, characters, writing about characters, comparing and contrasting characters, historical fiction, creative writing, providing evidence, writing paragraphs, writing process
One of the students' favorite activities on the menu is being able to pretend they are one of the characters and to write a diary as if they WERE that character living the experiences of the book.  Talk about deepening understanding!
Writing about reading, point of view, compare and contrast, event study, characters, writing about characters, comparing and contrasting characters, historical fiction, creative writing, providing evidence, writing paragraphs, writing process
One of my students' favorites is writing a series of diary entries from a secondary character's point of view.
This menu writing is such a nice break from big huge drawn out projects!  I usually have this unit last about a week and a half.  A few years ago I wrote it up...and it became a best seller of mine!  Here it is if you are interested in taking a peek.
Writing about reading, point of view, compare and contrast, event study, characters, writing about characters, comparing and contrasting characters, historical fiction, creative writing, providing evidence, writing paragraphs, writing process
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Writing about reading, point of view, compare and contrast, event study, characters, writing about characters, comparing and contrasting characters, historical fiction, creative writing, providing evidence, writing paragraphs, writing process
As I do every year, I start off with really trying to wrap my head around where my students are with their understanding of "number".  We start by talking about composing and decomposing small numbers, we make sure we understand the concept of "equal", and a number of other foundation concepts that are critical for later learning.

Not much later, I dig into my number line studies with numbers up to 1,000--and am always shocked at how difficult some of this work is for my students.  I put them in situations where they have to work with all sorts of number lines...lines that start with 0...lines that don't.  Lines that ask them to place a number in the right spot.  Lines where I show them a point and ask THEM to name the number.  I'm always amazed that many of them struggle knowing the concept of "half"...so if the number line starts at 0 and has a 300 on it, many have a hard time knowing that the halfway point between 0 and 300 is 150.  It is not easy going, but we work hard to develop these concepts.

So, months later, it's time to revisit number lines with larger numbers.  We have had a few GREAT days of exploration, discussion, and debate!   Check out a few pics below.
We continue to work hard on explaining our thinking-both verbally and in writing.  We are trying to show our thinking on diagrams and then translate that into sentences that others would understand.
Sometimes I need to do some coaching..."What do you know about the halfway point on this number line?"  That's all it took to get her started.
I threw a few of our problems under the document camera and we worked hard to use "precise math language".  
We even looked at a few different problems and tried to find how they were similar and how they were different.
We are going to do a few more days of work with some tougher numbers--and a few tougher situations (like where the number line doesn't start at 0...my FAVORITES!), but I already see so much improvement in their ability to "justify" (word of the week) their ideas and improve their accuracy.  

Interested in seeing more?  Here are the two resources I use.  The maroon one uses bigger numbers (up to 1,000,000) and the purple one uses numbers up to 1,000.

Today's "bright ideas" post is the result of me going CRAZY with all the math games I have been making for my students!  I have tried everything from boxes to bags...and I still have them all over my classroom.  I decided to keep using my gallon bags for games...but to streamline a bit.  I decided to keep 10 games in circulation at all times--and I wanted a way to store them so the students could find them and put them away...but a way for me to change one or more of them out whenever I want!

Here are a few pics to show you what I did!
I picked these labels up over the summer and wasn't sure where to use them.  I found their home!  

I used my 10 drawer file that has been sporadically used until now and stuck the wipe off labels on each one.  Did you know you can write on them with permanent marker--then use dry erase markers to color over the permanent marker when you want to change it?  That will keep your labels from wiping off.  I wrote the game name AND the focus skill.
I picked 10 games...a few review games, a few fluency games, and a few more "current" games.  Games I use for interventions are kept in a separate place.
The games I am not using?  In a big tub in a separate place!  I can change out one drawer at a time--or all 10 at once.  
Easy!  I love that my students can do a better job making "just right" choices by picking games that work on skills they need--and that games will get put away where they belong.  Everybody wins!

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Don't forget to check out all the other "Bright Ideas" posts listed below.  If you see something you like, please leave a comment.  We bloggers LOVE to hear from you!

Whether you teach from the Common Core or other sets of rigorous standards, the ability to decompose or “break apart” fractions and mixed numbers is key to strong “fraction sense” and the ability to successfully add and subtract fractions and mixed numbers.  I wanted to find a fun and challenging way for my students to practice the THINKING required to be efficient with this!

You may have heard of “number bonds” in the primary grades.  This activity taps into that concept to use fractions instead!  Students gain valuable practice in breaking apart fractions and putting them back together—all in a cooperative, “puzzle-like” activity!  Students work cooperatively to find the combinations of cards that can "compose" to be the large card.  We especially focus on "what makes one whole" in this process.

For each set, I had students lay out the larger number cards and the smaller fraction cards.  Cooperatively, they work to find the “decomposed” parts that add up to make the “total” number.  To keep my sets organized ( I made four at different levels so I could differentiate my groups), I copied my small cards on card stock of the same color as the border of the larger cards.  That way I know sets won’t get mixed up! 

Before they begin, I told the students a few things:

1.  Remember to use “like” denominators.  This activity does NOT ask students to change denominators.
2.  There are several ways to make some of the numbers.  You may not pick the correct one first and may need to “trade” cards to make the puzzle work.
3.  Use scratch paper or the recording sheet to keep track of your “tries” if it helps you stay organized. 
4.  Be patient with each other and persevere!

It was very interesting to watch my students work.  Some were very strategic and methodical while others were very random and struggled to keep track of what they had already tried.  This can lead to some good “coaching” moments for you!

I created the sets in the following order of sophistication...I was hoping to find a way for ALL my students to enjoy the rigor of the task--but at a "just right" level.  Some students worked through several sets today as part of our "review" day in math workshop.  One rotation was this decomposing activity, we did large number multiplication at another, and students worked to solve fraction word problems at a third--the three "big ideas" from this math unit.
So easy...just make some little cards with problems...have the students solve them on their own and check with a calculator!  We worked on organization of our work, accuracy, and EFFICIENCY today!  
As they worked on the decomposing card station, students did a lot of mental math as they looked for numbers to join together to make “the big number”.  Often, they needed several attempts.  On some of the sets, there are multiple ways to make numbers, and some students got a little frustrated.  I used some guiding questions to help.

Are you checking to make sure your denominators are the same?
If your “big number” is in eighths, what do you know about the smaller numbers?
Would there be another way to make ____?
What numbers might work to make the smallest/largest number first?

My students LOVED it…and want me to make some even more challenging ones!  Want to take a peek?  I did "pretty it up" and put it in my store.  Click the cover below if you want to check it out.

More fractions? YES!

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Last weekend I posted my thoughts about valuing "math behaviors" and the need to help students recognize some of the more "affective" sides to learning math.

The more I have been thinking about it, the more I think teachers need to talk about this--we tend to get so caught up in the "rigor" discussion that we forget to talk about how to help our students navigate this challenge.  The behaviors needed to become more growth-minded CAN be taught.  Research shows that students who can adopt this mind set can actually change the connections in their brain that lead to increased learning.  Pretty powerful stuff.

If you aren't familiar with the work of Carol Dweck out of Stanford, I highly recommend you begin there.  She has done vast amounts of research on many topics--but what has really been coming to the forefront of late is the idea of a "Growth Mindset".  The studies are staggering...and really stress the importance of our role as teachers to put students in situations where they can learn to handle new situations, that they can VALUE struggle, that they learn about taking risks, and that learning is NOT about getting the right answer.
My challenge to you this week is to spend a little time reading about her work...and I have included a short video clips to get you started.  I thought I'd also start by brainstorming a list of a few ways that you could begin to give your students more experiences with "productive struggle"...and I'd love for you to chime in with more ideas!

So...let's hear it!  Is this something you are talking about at YOUR school?  Are you doing things in your classroom to nurture this?  Let's hear about it!  Thanks for stopping by...
Today is my day to post over on "Upper Elementary Snapshots", and I would love it if you would hop on over to check out my post about culturing good math "behaviors"!  Here's a sneak peek!

Stop by and see what else I have to show you...and stop back later this week for more classroom happenings!

Click HERE or on the image below to check out the full post!

Once again it's time for...
This weekend I realized that a few big events are happening this week--my son's birthday and Valentine's Day.  Can I just tell you that shopping for 17 year old boys is REALLY hard?  Feel free to chime in with suggestions.  Seriously.
Here are a few of my Valentine made its...I wanted to do something small for my team because we are just all so doggone stressed out.  It's just a little something--but maybe it will get everyone through the week a little easier!  While I was at it, I started to make up my valentine's for my students--bad math jokes and all!  I just haven't figured out yet how I want to stick their lollipops on...this project is a Monday-Almost-Made-It.
So the next little "sort of" crafty thing I did was to write a suck up note to my neighbor BEGGING for her to come take care of my cat when we take our little trip to visit Stanford in a few weeks.  She does this for us a LOT and I never feel I give her enough "pay back".  They won't accept money...so I thought I'd try a pre-trip bribe!
First the suck up note--written by the cat, of course.
Then the goodies...canned cat foot, treats, and new toys for HER cat--and cookies for her!  I know.  I'm pathetic.

As always, I am busy creating  for my students.  I thought I'd share one of my new products because we had SO MUCH fun with the lessons.  My students have REALLY been struggling with writing and punctuating dialogue, and I have noticed that they aren't paying enough attention to the dialogue in the books they read...I wanted them to really see how authors use dialogue to set the mood of a story--and to learn how to write it themselves!  Check out some of the pictures and see what I mean!
Each task card gives a speaker, the person to whom they are speaking, a topic, and a "mood"...then we create dialogue to match!
We used the cards for THREE days...my students had a BLAST working together and I saw some REALLY creative work--and an improvement in punctuation!
We highlighted "dialogue tags" to check if we were punctuating correctly and using quality tags instead of "said".
On our final day we took cards and turned them into dialogues between the two characters.  We had so much fun!

I put it all together in a resource with pictures, suggestions, and 24 task cards.  Take a peek if you are interested.  By the way...my other "made it" is that I learned how to use transparent frames that I got from Amy Alvis.  WHERE have they been all my life?  You can make frames like these with ANY digital paper behind them.  I am in love!
So anyhoo...these were some of my little projects over the last week...hope you all have a great Monday!  Don't forget to stop by all the other great MMI posts--and make sure to leave some comments on those ideas that you were inspired by!  Just click the logo at the top of the page or HERE to get there!
It's time once again for "Loved That Lesson" and I think we are going to have some new bloggers linking up again this month!

During the last month, my fourth grade team has been working to learn more about "close reading".  We have been using the A-MAZE-ING book by Nancy Boyles.  If you want a realistic, helpful resource to get you going on close reading--I really recommend it, especially if this is new to you.

So...what we have all decided to do is to do some practice lessons with our whole class and then gradually work them in to small groups.  We started with a text that is a great kick off to our big immigration unit and dug in!

I started off by asking my students to brainstorm a list of what makes us "react" to texts...in other words, what do authors do to really hook us and keep us focused on the story.  They came up with a great list with very little prompting!  I blogged about this part of the lesson a few days ago--you can read it BY CLICKING HERE.

I then talked them them about how, as we get older and read more complicated texts, we have to slow down and really interact with the text.  I made up the acronym "REACT" to help us really keep focused on our purpose for close reading.  (Disclaimer....there are a lot of products out there for sale to help with "Close Reading".  I've also seen recommendations for students to read and reread texts 4, 5, and even 6 times--each time looking for something new.  Please--I BEG OF YOU--do not kill reading for your students!).  I plan to do close reading lessons sporadically--and they will comprise a very small percentage of my literacy block.  These lessons are meant to teach deeper thinking, and hopefully students will start to apply it to their own reading.  After only 2 weeks of doing this, I see a difference.

One of the key elements of close reading is the idea of annotating or "noticing" areas in the text that are important, that are confusing, or that make you "react" in a certain way.  I decided that these would be my three main areas of focus as we learn to slow down and annotate texts.

So here's what we did.  We took the first few pages of the text and made copies.  We broke it into small "chunks" and numbered them so we could reference them easily and tackle the text one chunk at a time.  I started by modeling MY thinking and annotations by using my document camera.  
I purposely only did a LITTLE annotating--because I wanted my students to chime in with their own ideas.  I took their ideas and added them to my page under the camera--and asked them to do their own annotating on THEIR copies.  We moved back and forth between reading sections, annotating, and sharing...and I could see the students really starting to get into it.  Because this was new for us, I read the sections to the students first (I won't do this once we have a better grasp on it...we are practicing annotating, not doing our own reading) and had them go back and reread looking for reactions, confusing parts, and "reactions".
This student was having a hard time...I had him highlight the dialogue green so he could differentiate when characters were speaking and where the author was simply "telling" us information.  It seemed to help.
We worked ourselves through the six sections and took about 30 minutes on the lesson.  I think it was just the right length of time to get them practice without going overboard.  The next day I asked them to give it a try again with a much shorter text, just to see if they could remember what we did.  They did a great job!
So...we will continue to add our to our "close reading" skills over the next weeks we try it within our historical fiction book clubs.  I LOVED this lesson...and I really recommend the book that we were inspired by.  Here is a link if you want to read more about it.

So...thanks for stopping by today's "Loved That Lesson" linky--and I hope you take the time to visit the other linked up posts and leave them some feedback if you like what they have to share!

Next week is a little crazy for me...a field trip one day, a sub another.  As I get going on my planning, I thought I'd share some of the products I am going to use next week--maybe some will help you!  To make life easier, I'm putting them all on sale through the 14th.  Yes, this post is a shameless product plug.  Tune in tomorrow for "Loved That Lesson" linky...catch some great lesson ideas.  I'm writing about a close reading lesson I did.

So--ready for the shameless Valentine's Day Product Plug Post?

LORDY!  One of my first products--so ugly!  I should revamp it...but the problems are good.  I promise!  I am using these as both homework this week (we are reviewing large number multiplication) as as a part of the problem solving station. 

Another early one--but my students LOVE it!  I got all 4 fourth grades to do it so we have nearly 100 book reviews hanging in our hall for students to read.   Last year I did it with my class and it made an adorable door decoration.
You've maybe seen this one lately...my students started it last week and have LOVED it.  I had students taking it home and working on it with friends.  No lie!
These are in my problem solving station all next week.  Students will work on these during math workshop.  Each problem has an "extra" part for easy differentiation.
We've been playing these since last week.  I sent some of  the black and white copies home for students to play at home as replacement homework.  My students play them all the time...for indoor recess, math workshop, and even when they aren't supposed to be.  Ooops.
These are a few fun activities that we will do on Friday afternoon as part of our "Friendship Celebration".  Some word work...some math...a writing prompt.  We won't do them all, but I will offer them up as choices during that last 45 minutes of the day.
Want those last three and a HUGE savings?  All 3 are bundled for only $6 until Valentine's Day.  
So anyway...here are some of the things I am using next week--to teach my curriculum and to have a little fun, too!  So I am sheepishly hanging my head in shame at the plug--and hoping the fact that I put it all on sale makes it a little more tolerable.  Happy planning!
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