snowman bulletin board
Teaching minutes are precious, so being able to teach real content while still engaging our students' creativity is key!  Check out this book review project that reinforces opinion writing, reading, revising and editing--and creates a beautiful bulletin board as well!  I asked my students to think hard about one of the BEST books they have ever read (or heard)--because I wanted them to be ready to write about it. I gave them a few days to think and talk about it so they all had an idea ready.

As a class, we talked about what we remembered about OPINION writing--and how good opinion has a clearly stated thesis statement, so students worked to craft quality first sentences that would state their opinion about their book.  We did our drafting in our writer's notebooks and then did some peer revising and teacher editing.  I had asked students to only write 3-5 sentences which kept them on topic AND made it easy for me to get to everyone for editing!
winter bulletin board
 After they finished writing, self-revising, and peer revision, they put their names on the "teacher time" list on the white board and got ready to "build" their snowman!  I had a variety of circle tracers set out as well as colored paper.  I explained that they could create their snowman while they waited for their edits--and then they could do their final copy to add to their project.  It was fun to see so many students design their snowman to "match" the book they chose!
winter bulletin board
 When their snowman was built and their final copy done, it was time to finish the project!
book report project
 How stinkin' cute is this one?  She worked SO hard and was so proud of it!
snowman project
After they were all finished, I tore a paper snowhill out of bulletin board paper and hung our new friends above our lockers.  The students had a blast...got some great writing practice...and I have a beautiful new display that can be up for a VERY long time!  
snowman book report
Interested in the letters and the template?  Here you go!

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fourth grade social studies
One thing that I love to do is immerse my students in resources on a topic we have in our curriculum--with a specific task to accomplish.  If your school is like mine, social studies and science time are getting reduced more and more, so we need to be constantly searching for meaningful ways for students to incorporate this real world learning into our language arts curriculum.  Informational research "mini projects" are a great way to combine the two!

This book by Christopher Lehman is a really great way to think about research in a little different way...it's FULL of strategies that are super helpful in getting students to master key elements of research.  For this little project, I focused on a strategy he calls, "Slow and Steady Wins the Race" where he stresses the importance of helping students pause before writing notes to make sure they read, stop, cover the information, and then jot notes.  This really helps reduce the direct copying.  I add one more layer to the process by having students read, cover, then explain to a partner where the two together decide if the information is important enough to write down.  If you are interested in more of his strategies, I put an affiliate link to his book at the bottom of this post.  It's short and easy to read--and I have it FULL of sticky notes with ideas!

So here is what we are doing...I went to our library and got all the books possible on pioneer life and westward expansion--the next step in our social studies curriculum.  The textbook is another option, and I will be using it as well--but I really want my students to understand that true research uses multiple sources.  True research also involves students generating their research questions--and this project is too small for that.  What I really want is for students to practice their paraphrasing skills and to refine their ability to find facts that are most important. To keep the project small in nature, I gave the students categories to "collect" facts about...and to record in this research guide.  We used the textbook, the library books, and even some ebooks that our library has (if you haven't looked at TrueFlix, check it out!).  I gave the students two work times to work together to gather facts, practice paraphrasing orally and then in writing, and then we prepared to select the most important information to display.
pioneers
I then show my students a sample of how the lap book can be arranged--and tell them that it is their job (with the input of their partners) as to what is the most important information to include on each flap.  Students take their notes, explain in their own words, and then get creative!
fourth grade history

interactive notebook lapbook
It's fun to watch students take on this project and get creative...and the best part is I know that they are learning the content, working together, and learning more about informational reading and writing.  I love watching them share their "lap books" in small groups and compliment each other on how they did things!
interactive notebook lap book
Interested in the lap book (or you can use as a part of an interactive notebook) resource?  Here it is!
Here is the Christopher Lehman book that I love!
Thanks for stopping by!

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As 2016 wraps up, I--like many others--start to think about things I want to do better in 2017.  I have tons of personal goals (get healthy, get more organized, etc), but today's post has a few musings about some classroom goals I have to better meet the needs of my students in the new year.  
Ready for five of them?
 My first "resolution" is to incorporate more deliberate instruction on how to write about math.  My students have really struggled with this...they seem to be conditioned to "write the algorithm" and instead of explaining their THINKING, they simply tell me what they did.  They might write:

I put the 483 under the 820. I crossed out the 8 to get more ones...  (you get my drift)

What I WANT them to do is explain WHY they did what they did...and to look for patterns...and to make connections.  I made this anchor charts a few weeks ago but haven't done nearly enough with it.
I am going to use the problems in this resource to help--because each problem is available in three formats--one of which requires students to explain their thinking!

 Another big goal for me is to spend more time conferring with students about their reading.  I have so many strugglers--and I find myself scrambling to pull together intervention groups and lessons.  I need to make sure to not ignore my top readers, so I am really going to make a concerted effort to keep up with my status of the class and anecdotal records.  It's such a nice time with students--even a few minutes a week helps keep me really connected to what they are reading and how they are doing.  Here is a blog post with more details about what I do...just CLICK HERE!


Another goal I have is to do a better job giving students feedback on their writing.  I feel I do a pretty decent job TEACHING writing...but I know I have a long way to go in giving them timely feedback on what they do.  Each student is, of course, at an entirely different place with their writing, so simply doing great whole-class lessons isn't enough.  I need to do more quick collections of work with a fast turnaround time.  Even ONE piece of specific feedback can make such a difference. 


 A fourth resolution for me is to build in more time for creative thinking activities.  Before break, we did a few different things in class and my students were SO engaged and had some AMAZING discussions.  It doesn't take long--and the benefit of thinking outside the box carries forward into other learning.  I also love these exercises because it allows some students who are less confident with our academic content to really shine and be actively engaged in what we are doing.  It was great for community building AND to get those neurons firing in new ways!


Finally, I am going to rework my math workshop time to find more minutes for EXPLICIT fact strategy instruction for my students who need it--and it's QUITE a few of them.  I started off in the fall pretty strong working with those students who needed review on doubles, tens, and fives but then things kind of fell apart.  I NEED them to be more fluent with their facts before we get into big multiplying, so I am really going to be diligent about working with them.  They love the activities...it's matter of ME doing a better job scheduling my time!

So...in case YOU want to set any of the same resolutions as me, I am marking these five products on sale until January 1!  Grab them and make a difference in your teaching for 2017!

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fraction lessons
Today is my day to blog over at Upper Elementary Snapshots--so I hope you will stop by and check out this fun lesson we did last week...and REALLY showed me where my students were with their math thinking!  Just click the image above to check out the details.

Missed any of my other fraction posts last week?  Click HERE and HERE to check out a few more!

Also...don't forget that I have a few holiday resources on sale for the next week for those of you who are still teaching--like me!




If you are still teaching....hang in there!  It's all we can do...keep joy in your heart as best you can!
equivalent fractions
As I have been working to build my students' understanding of key fraction concepts, I wanted students to really work to deepen their understanding that fractions can have more than one name--and can be represented in more than one way.

Today's "warm up" was geared toward reminding students that they can represent fractions in many ways...so I gave them 5 minutes to make a "mini poster" (literally 4 inches by 4 inches!) to show as many ways to show 1/2 as possible.  After they worked, we did a little gallery walk.  We came back together and had a discussion about what we saw...different shapes...number lines...fractions of sets...equivalent fractions...
equivalent fractions

equivalent fractions
It was a good warm up to our main lesson which worked to help students derive the "computation" method for finding equivalent fractions. (If you missed my post yesterday about building that understanding, CLICK HERE to read that one!).  After our explorations, it wasn't that big of a stretch for students to recognize that multiplying or dividing the numerator and denominator by the same number generated new fractions that are equivalent.  We proved it with some drawings, some manipulatives, and then moved to bare numbers.

So after working with equivalent fractions for a while, I wanted to put my students to the test to see how WELL they understood the concept!  So often we give students a quick exit slip or something like that--a "fill in the blank" worksheet that follows whatever computation rule we have taught.  If they fill in the blanks correctly, we assume understanding. It just isn't that simple.

To really get students talking, I asked them to do an activity in my big fraction unit....an activity where they need to first generate equivalent fractions (sometimes I do this activity where they can write fractions, draw fractions, etc like the warm up) but today I simply wanted them to use their new algorithm to make a set of 5-7 equivalent fractions for the "unit fraction" I assigned them.  The group below was working to generate a list of fractions equivalent to 1/8.
equivalent fractions
 Here's where the fun (and really deep understanding) kicks in.  The next task is to create ONE more fraction for their poster--that does NOT fit their "team"...in other words, that is NOT equivalent.  I explained that they would be then traveling from team to team to try to find the "mystery" fraction.  I had them write their "counterexample" on the back so students could check their work...and encouraged them to try to be as sneaky as possible when making their "outsider" so other students would really have to work!  Some groups did an AMAZING job...and I heard some great math talk!  This really immersed them in this idea of equivalent fractions and having to think hard about number patterns and the true meaning of equivalence.  We came back together after their gallery walk and discussed their findings--and talked about some of the trickier ones.  It was a ton of fun and a great use of time.  The paper and pencil practice work we did after this was done in a snap--almost all students were really getting it, and those who weren't met with me for a little extra practice.
equivalent fractions

I wrote about this a few years back with a slightly different twist if you want another idea.  Just CLICK HERE for that post!  These ideas are a part of my full fraction unit which you can check out by clicking the image below.  If you are looking for ways to deepen your students' understanding--plus have fun teaching, you might want to check it out!

fractions
We had a great concept sort today...and I just wanted to share a little about what we did!

We are working on the concept of equivalent fractions...we have drawn pictures, told stories (If I had half a pizza but cut the half into two pieces, what fraction would I have?), and generated lists of equivalent fractions.  What we DIDN'T do is what most math programs do right away--teach students to multiply the numerator and denominator by the same number.  We'll get there-but first I really want students to use their reasoning to really show their understanding of some key fraction concepts.

One of the Standards for Mathematical Practice involves the ability to "reason"--to create strong understanding of key concepts without merely computing.  It states:

"Quantitative reasoning entails habits of creating a coherent representation of the problem at hand; considering the units involved; attending to the meaning of quantities, not just how to compute them; and knowing and flexibly using different properties of operations and objects."

By helping students learn to reason about fractions, they become better at understanding without relying on tricks and computation--which helps them with estimating and checking for reasonableness as the math gets more challenging.  I love trying to help students VISUALIZE math and make sense of it before teaching them--so that's what today was all about!


Most students have a pretty decent understanding of the concept of "one half", so I wanted to experiment with a sort and see what my students could do.  We've already talked about the concept of "unit fractions"--and how they can by used to "count" fractions...1/4, 2/4, 3/4 and so on.  We also have used our reasoning to picture the relative size of these unit fractions...that even though "seven" is a bigger number than "three", sevenths are smaller than thirds because more parts must mean smaller parts!


This was really enough information for us to begin this sort--where students used what they know about fractions to sort them into three categories--greater than 1/2, exactly 1/2, and less than 1/2.

equivalent fractions
 One of our rules about concept sorts is that students work in small groups (usually trios) and must go one card at a time where they discuss together and make a decision about which category the cards fall in.  If they have any debate, they set it aside for later.
equivalent fractions
 While students are working, I'm circulating, asking questions, listening--and looking for misconceptions.  Anything "interesting" gets thrown under the document camera at the end!
equivalent fractions
For groups finishing early, I ask them to write their OWN examples for each category...
equivalent fractions
 I LOVED hearing the discussion this group had--they write the example and then couldn't come to an agreement about which category!  One of the students was trying SO hard to explain that HALF of 310 would be 155...so 149/310 HAD to be less than one half.  The other two were NOT understanding her reasoning!
equivalent fractions
After we worked for a while, I picked THIS fraction to discuss...and with NO computation about finding fractions equivalent to 1/2, we had two very justifiable explanations for why 7/15 is less than one half.  One student came up and explained how it HAD to be less than one half because 7/14 would be one half...and fifteens are smaller than fourteenths--so 7/15 had to be smaller than 7/14.  Pretty slick!

The other argument explained that the "halfway" point of fifteenths would have to be "seven and a half" of them...so 7 of them ha to be less than one half.  Such GREAT math discussions...with no computation. This is a perfect example of why I love concept sorts...so much discourse.  So much math.  So  much engagement.  Tomorrow--we learn the algorithm for generating equivalent fractions...and I think they are more than ready for it!
equivalent fractions
This sort is one of the five sorts in this resource.  Check it out if you are curious!
 Looking for just a single sort to address equivalent fractions?  Check out this one!
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