Greetings!

Just a quick post today to let you know a few things...

1.  I decided to have a quick sale for Halloween!  I do NOT like Halloween, so this is my way of "treating" people!

2.  The next edition of my newsletter is coming soon...if you haven't signed up yet, just check the upper right hand corner of my blog to sign up!

3.  I am in the process of getting several new products finished...stay tuned!

I hope everyone is doing well...it's report card time and conferences here--and football playoffs and college applications and more!  There is never a dull moment is there?
If you have followed me for any length of time, you know that games are an important part of my math class--not every day, but often.  As I watched my students last week, I noticed a few things that weren't going as well as I wanted them to--and I realized that I haven't spent enough time talking to them about WHY we play games and what their role is.  I decided it was time to regroup!

First of all, I wanted to keep my points simple and get them posted.  Here is the chart I have hanging now--it's about 18 x 24 so it's easy enough to see without taking up too much room.
So...step one was to make sure students understand that we play games for several reasons--and YES, having a little fun CAN be a part of it!

First of all, we are working to build fluency.  By choosing games strategically, we can apply the strategies we have learned and make the math more fluent and efficient.  Games aren't times to LEARN new concepts--although they are GREAT to use in an intervention group as a teaching tool.  Once they have been coached and the strategies are in place, they can THEN become independent practice for fluency!
 Secondly, games are a great way to keep skills fresh.  Like I told my students, just because we aren't WORKING on large numbers right now doesn't mean that they no longer need to remember what we have learned!  Playing a game like "Pass it Over" keeps those skills fresh.  My students love to revisit games that were taught in previous units...especially students who might not have been ready to play them at that time.
My latest "Dollar Deal"...practicing multiplication fact fluency by learning about factors and what are "common" products.
 Finally, I talked to my students about how important it is for them to practice math talk when playing games. Most math games aren't "self-checking", so asking each other to "prove their thinking" and to justify answers is a great way for students to practice math talk--and to keep ALL players focused during game play!

I wanted to make sure my students understood their role...so we talked about "just right" games.  A student who is completely fluent with addition facts probably doesn't need to play "Turn Ten"--but can certainly benefit from the advanced version of "Target Number"!  I compared it to spelling...most fourth graders don't need to spend much time practicing how to spell "and" and "the"...it isn't helping move them forward with their writing.  The same is true for math games.

I also talked with them about being quiet during game time to allow all students to focus.  It is rare that my entire class is playing games; most of them some of them are doing games during math workshop while others are doing different types of work--much of which might require good focus and concentration.  I reminded them that they are working to build fluency so they should also be completely focused on their game...I shouldn't see dice flying, students sprawled all over, or hear non-math talk!  We also reviewed our storage process for games and how important it is to maintain it for the others in the class.
Double Trouble has been a favorite--and it's great because up to 4 can play!
I think it's so important that students (and their parents!) understand that games are not time fillers.  They are not a reward.  They are not just for Friday afternoon.  Math games can be a deliberate, carefully crafted part of your math planning.  I'd love to hear YOUR ideas about math games, how you use them, and what benefits you have seen from them!  (NOTE:  I have linked to several of the games I mentioned right in the post...but my "Dollar Deal" games are easy to find when you visit my store and look for "Dollar Deals" in the categories on the left.  There are other math games in my store as well...the "Math games" link on the left can help!
One thing that is a HUGE part of our curriculum in fourth grade involves multiplication concepts--facts, large number multiplication, measurement conversions, patterns, and more. 
 Although my students had a LOT of exposure to multiplication concepts and facts in third grade, every year I feel it is worth my time to go back and make sure we are clear on a few things--like the commutative property of multiplication, different strategies, and the use of arrays to represent multiplication facts.  All of these are key foundation concepts as we move into bigger and better things down the road.  A few years ago I started using really using a more constructivist approach to multiplication facts--I wanted my students to DISCOVER patterns in multiplication, not be TOLD.

I came up with the idea of arranging candies in a rectangular box as a way for students to think about the different ways numbers could be broken into arrays.  I gave them ample time to experiment with foam "candies" (paper squares would work just fine) and try to find all the ways that one candy, two candies, three candies--all the way up to 24 candies--could fit in a box.  The results were fascinating!  

As I walked around I started to notice that students needed coaching on some of the basics--from writing number sentences correctly to representing arrays with matching number sentences.  We had a great discussion about turnaround facts--is 5 x 1 the same as 1 x 5?  (My answer may be different than yours--my answer is NO.  The ANSWER is the same--but 1 group of 5 candies is NOT the same as 5 groups of 1 candy.  3 cages of two kittens is NOT the same as 2 cages with 3 kittens.  This is an important discussion to have.)
 Another GREAT part of this lesson was the collaboration component.  Students were having fantastic math discussions about what they were doing, why it worked, and so on.  This became especially important later on as I started to ask them some questions to push them.  Many groups were speeding through the process and were "missing" facts...they did the 1 x 12 = 12 and 12 x 1 = 12 but failed to find 2 x 6, 6, x 2, and 3 x 4 and 4 x 3.  When I started to ask questions like, "Would a candy company really want to have a long skinny package of candies on the shelf?  What about a 24 pack?  Is their best option a 1 x 24 box?"  This REALLY got students talking and they frantically began to revisit their work.
As they were working, a few students started to make some predictions--which we coined "conjectures" as they attempted to make sense of what they were doing.  One pair came up with this conjecture as they started to notice that odd numbers seemed to only have one combination.  We shared the conjecture and students were eager to accept it.  I challenged them to try to DISPROVE it as they worked--and after a while, the same pair that made the conjecture, admitted that it was faulty. 
All in all, it was a great warm up for our unit on facts, prime numbers, and composite numbers--and after they finish working on their combinations, we will later go back and define what a "prime" number is...and then look for all the prime numbers in our candy project.

Want to see more about what we did?  Here is the resource I used to teach the lesson.
And after we are clear on what prime and composite numbers are--we will tackle this concept sort!
Have a great week!
Now that our realistic fiction story planning is complete and we are ready to start drafting, I wanted to make sure my students had a better understanding how dialogue, how to use it (judiciously, of course!), and how it can help tell the I start my dialogue studies with making sure students are clear about what dialogue IS.  We talk about how some words in stories are said aloud (or thought in a character’s head)—and that these words help us know what is going on in the story.  I write a sample of dialogue from our current read aloud on the board and we look at how the quotation  marks are placed and talk about the “tags” and how they show feeling in the story.

Someone “whispering” is trying to send a very different message than someone “bellowing”! I then display an anchor chart that shows three ways that students can punctuate dialogue…with the tag at the beginning, at the end, or in the middle.  After our discussion, it’s time to “hunt” for great tags we can find in the books THEY are reading.  I start by making a chart…and then students are free to continue to add to it over the next few days when they find a new one.

To get a little more practice with the punctuation part (this is VERY tricky for many students!), I made this interactive “dialogue builder” activity for them to work on to see WHERE the punctuation marks go. 
After they cut the pieces out, they work in pairs to match the spoken words with the best tag—and then try to put punctuation marks exactly where they belong.  This is a great partner activity.  I refer to the anchor chart if they are forgetting to put punctuation inside the quotation marks, and so on.

After they make one complete sentence and get it checked, they “clear” their punctuation marks and work to make the next one.  By the time they are finished and I have “coached”, they are ready to try their own!  This is a very complex skill, so remember that many students will need many repetitions to truly master this.

After we did this "kick off", I knew I wanted to give my students some more practice writing "real" dialogue before we started drafting the stories we had been planning.  I started off by giving the class a "scenario" and asked them to talk to a partner about what kind of dialogue might happen.
The students got busy sharing some GREAT ideas about what could possibly be happening in this story--and what Jose and his father might be talking about.  We talked about what "tags" might be used in such a conversation as well as how MANY different things could be said.  I then sent them with their writing partners to try writing their own version of the conversation--reminding them about how to punctuate dialogue, how to indent for new speakers, and reminded them of our anchor chart from the previous lesson.  As they worked, I circulated and coached.
 After that, I presented them with a new conversation prompt and encouraged them to really work as teammates to check for creativity, for correct punctuation, and for appropriate tags.  The writing was starting to really flow...some students were still working on the first one and were too excited to stop.  What's a teacher to do--students excited about writing?  Such a problem to have!

 After these two practices, I scattered 8 more cards throughout the room and encouraged students to move around and try at least two more conversations on their own.  Some stayed at one card for the rest of the writing time working on a more lengthy piece of writing. Others worked in pairs. Some wrote only a few sentences at several different cards--but I was able to walk around, notice great writing, correct misconceptions, coach on capitals and punctuation, and have a few laughs with the students.  I was super pleased with how seriously they took this task--and how creative some of their dialogue was!  Some students even moved back and forth between their work place, the dialogue anchor chart, and the "tags" poster to make sure they were doing things correctly.

Here are the two resources mentioned in this post...


Hope you are finding lots of ways to help your students love writing this year!  We are wrapping up our narratives next week and then on to opinion writing!
Every year I love to help my students really reflect on themselves as readers--and I strive to help them understand that reading is more than just getting the words right...as we start the year I really try to help them understand all the different factors that impact the ability to read and make sense of texts...

  • reading "behaviors" such as book selection and focus
  • accuracy and fluency skills
  • building a rich vocabulary
  • an understanding of text structures
  • taking the time to read and think deeply
  • the ability to write thoughtful responses
  • literature discussion skills
  • and, of course, even more!
Once students begin to recognize that there are SO many components to reading, it becomes easier to talk about our strengths and goal areas as readers.  Many of my students who struggle with one area of reading can recognize that they DO have strengths in others--and, with a growth mindset, we can start to tackle other areas with a positive attitude!  In fact, we talk at length about how readers often need to revisit old goals when they start to tackle more challenging books--where accuracy and fluency might not have been a problem at an easier level, students many now need to revisit some of those strategies as they encounter new words.  Learning to read is a constantly evolving process--not something that students can either "do" or "not do"...and I think it can be very reassuring to students to recognize that there isn't an "end" to the learning.  We are ALL learning to read.

Over the years, I have "collected" learning targets related to all these different areas of reading...I have them all put together in little flip books which help me talk to individual students about goal setting and also to have learning targets visible easily for small groups.  It has made life so easy--and really helps reinforce the complexity of reading...and helps students see what they are doing well!

So...a few years ago I started doing this "Me, as a reader" project that was inspired by Julie Ballew...if you haven't checked out her website, you MUST!  To celebrate some of our "favorite" parts of reading--and to set a clear reading goal--we create these "Me, as a reader" projects that we display.  After all our work, most students are ready to set a specific reading goal (note:  We do not set goals like "I will read 5 books."  These are specific goals related to improving the sophistication of their reading.).  For those students who struggled with goals, some flipped through our learning target books, some met with me, and still others met in small groups to brainstorm.
Each student created three panels that reflected them as readers...some spent a great deal of time designing their panels at home...others kept it more streamlined.  I didn't give a ton of class time for this...we focused on the reflections, got started on the "art", and then this became homework to finish.
 The next day, we wrote our reflections on our cards, traced some "heads", had a mini lesson on face drawing (eyes aren't round, lips aren't lines, and noses aren't triangles!), and student finished assembling their projects.
As students finished, we displayed them in the hall for all to see.  I love watching other students, staff members, and parents stop by to check out their cool projects!
I think this is a great example of a "project" that really has academic merit--it's not just a "craft"...and it really helped cement some critical reading "beliefs" with my students.

Interested in my reading goal resource?  It has the goal posters that are shown above (I printed 2 per page) as well as student bookmarks for each one that can be used to give to students who are working on specific skills.  
As you know, I am a huge believer in incorporating problem solving into math class whenever possible.  Over the years, it is has become more and more clear that students are on a quest to "get the right answer".  They don't value the problem solving process as much as what gets written on the line at the end--and I started my quest to change that thinking.

I want my students to enjoy the challenges.  To be willing to dig in and try.  To try to figure out how to get started...and to work alone and collaboratively to really dig in and  tackle a problem...even when it isn't always clear or might not result in a nice, tidy answer.

In addition to immersing my students in word problems on a variety of topics all year long, I felt it was important to start putting them in "real world" math situations where they had a task to complete--and no clear cut starting point.  I wanted them to talk about the problem.  Work together.  To have to organize their thinking...debate back and forth...realize when things have gone astray...and then even accept that there are many ways to approach the problem.  I wanted them to be able to have math "stamina" where they worked on a task for extended periods of time--even DAYS--where they felt complete ownership in their work...despite their final answer.

This is where my quest to design open ended challenges for my students began.  I couldn't find ANYTHING out there to help me...so I made my own!

Last week I introduced the amusement park challenge to my students where they had to use a set of information to solve a budgeting challenge.  I knew I wanted ALL my students to participate, so I differentiated it with numbers at different levels.  I knew I wanted my students to practice their collaborative skills and math discourse, so we worked in partners and trios.  I introduced the problem and then stepped back.
 I watched.  I listened.  I coached when needed.  I heard amazing things...and learned so much about what mathematical practices I still need to work on with my students.
 I started stopping by groups and commenting on their organization.  I asked questions about how they were labeling things...about how they were making sure they met all elements of the challenge...about how they were making sure they were working accurately.  This was a great time for some teaching moments--without getting in their way!
 After the first day, the challenge was tucked into their math folders to continue on in math workshop time.  After one full day, students are just scratching the surface!  I would have felt satisfied with this first day of work...but there is so much more we are going to do with it--and some students are REALLY excited to take on the additional challenges available after the task is complete.
Mission accomplished!  Math was fun, engaging, meaningful, and offered me a TON of opportunities to get to know my little mathematicians better!  

Want to see what this problem is all about?  Click the image below...or check out the other 6 "Thinker Task" resources in my store as well.

One topic that is in our reading standards involves helping students be more aware of different literary devices and different forms of figurative language.  Over the years, it has become more and more clear to me that some of these "older" sayings are no longer used at home and our students are simply not familiar with them.  I use adages when I speak all the time, so it is always surprising to me when students don't know what I mean!

I decided to continue working on our collaborative work and academic "talk" by using these task cards to get students talking about adages.  I divided the cards into sets of 5, put them around the room, and then broke the students into groups.

When they got to each station, they had 3 minutes to talk about what they THOUGHT each of the adage cards meant...THIS was hilarious to listen to!  After a few rotations, they really started to think and began to look for the deeper meaning.  After the three minutes, I had them flip over the "explanation" cards and match them up to see how close they were! 
 We kept the pace moving really quickly...3 minutes to discuss...another 2 to match up the cards...then we rotated around to the next stack of cards.
 It was great to listen to their discussions--and which adages they had NEVER heard of!  Not a single student had heard, "Curiosity killed the cat."  I was shocked!
After we got through all the rotations, we came back as a large group and talked about a few of the adages that seemed to be the most confusing.  Students noticed that there were several adages about horses--so we talked about why that is.  In a total of 30 minutes, we had some great academic talk and collaboration, learned about adages, and hopefully enriched their vocabulary a bit.

The best part?  Not ONE HOUR LATER, a student came running up to me during reader's workshop to show me that his book had an adage that we had JUST talked about.  #lovemyjob

Want to check out these cards?  Here they are!

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