Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bedtime Math

Just a short post to share one of my new favorite websites: Bedtime Math. The premise is simple: each day a real world math application is presented in a short and lively informational text. The information is then followed by three leveled story problems -- one for "wee ones" (counting on fingers), one for "little kids," and one for "big kids." The solutions are explained at the end of the post. It's a great way to incorporate real world math at home with kids of all ages as part of the bedtime routine just as we typically have a bedtime story. And since solutions are provided, even math-phobic parents can participate! If you haven't already checked out Bedtime Math, I highly recommend it. I learned about through my K-5 Math Endorsement class after we read a very interesting Wall Street Journal article about the impact of math-phobic parents.

What are some ways you promote math at home? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Writing in Math

One of the reasons I opted to be an elementary teacher instead of a middle school or high school teacher is because I love teaching and learning about everything. I couldn't commit to just one subject. My passions change from one year to the next, and this year, I'm very passionate about teaching math.

This is the first year we're working with the Common Core in my district, and it has been a fun challenge to get to know all the new standards. It has been a big transition for my students, however. Many of them seem to be used to finding answers and being done with problems -- not persevering through challenges, representing their thinking in multiple ways, or explaining their thinking. As a result, the first 6 weeks were tough for some of my students.

I saw this quote in my math endorsement class this week, and it really struck me as exactly what my students needed to hear. We've been doing a lot of work on problem solving lately, and some of my darlings are all too willing to give up if they don't immediately know the answer to a problem. We had a great class discussion about what this quote means, and how it applies to the work we've doing.

We've also been talking about the Standards for Mathematical Practice lately, and connecting those to our process work in class -- especially when we write about math. The SMP's are pretty abstract for fourth graders, so I tried breaking them down into questions for students. For example, when we deal with the first standard to "Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them," we use these prompts:

Breaking it down into questions makes it a lot easier for students to know what they need to do to apply that standard to their work, and it has really facilitated our conversations. I've made posters for each of the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice, and I often see students refer to them when they're working on their problem solving and explanations.

Another thing that I've done to help with the SMP's is share student work in class discussion. On Thursday, we worked on a complicated story problem involving multiple factors of a number. Students had to solve the problem and write their explanation on a sheet of white paper. I covered up the names of the students, and displayed 5 or 6 with a document camera. Students read the explanations and were asked to name one thing the mathematician did well and one thing that could be done better. I was really impressed by the suggestions that students were giving! They were commenting about the efficacy of different number models, the organization and labeling of work, the thoroughness of the approach, and the need to have both numbers and words in a good explanation. It was some powerful feedback, and I'm excited to see where we'll go with this next. I can tell my students' confidence with math is increasing, and I really think they're becoming much more competent in their writing about math. Next week, I'll be giving them more writing prompts in math to include in their math journals, so we'll have to see how that goes.

To get your own freebie copy of the math quote poster, click here.  My Standards for Mathematical Practice Posters are available in my TpT store, or by clicking on the image below. They're on sale this weekend for $2.25.

Are you teaching Common Core math in your classroom? What challenges, if any, have you been facing this year? I'd love to hear about it in the comment section!

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bananas about Scientific Writing

One of the things that's really exciting to me about Common Core this year is how well it integrates with content teaching for Science and Social Studies. Now that I'm a working mom, I really appreciate anything that allows me to hit multiple subjects and standards at once, and last term, I found myself pushing a lot of informational writing into science.

During our first week of school, I was covering science process standards before launching into our first unit on ecosystems. One of the first activities that we did involved writing about bananas.

In the few days prior to this lesson, we spent some time looking at and talking about science notebooks and the importance of recording our thinking. We took a look at some examples of real science notebooks kept by actual scientists (Note: as I write this blog, the website appears to be down. I really hope this is a temporary thing because it was a tremendous resource!). For this day's lesson, I asked my students to get out their inquiry notebooks, and I gave each student a banana. They were instructed not to eat their banana, but instead, they were to observe and describe their banana in their notebook.

During this first wave of writing (3-5 minutes), students gave very similar descriptions such as "long, yellow, brown spot," etc. 

We shared descriptions at our tables, and then I asked the class how many students felt like they could identify their banana based on their description if I collected all the bananas from the tables and mixed them up. Only a couple of hands went up. We then talked about what kinds of information and details would be helpful to do that and started a list.

What really came out of this discussion was the idea that we needed to focus on unique characteristics. Everyone had a general idea what a banana looks like, but details such as having a brown spot in the shape of a heart approximately 2 inches from the end of the banana sure went a long way in helping us identify the banana in comparison to "long and yellow with brown spots."

I then gave them time to revise their descriptions. Some students traced their banana in their notebooks and then added details and markings from their banana.

Other students asked to get out tape measures to be even more precise in their details and descriptions.

At the end of this revising time, I had students mix up their bananas between two tables and trade notebooks with another student to see if the other person could identify the correct banana based on the description. It was a great check to see if the details were descriptive enough so that others beyond the writer would understand them. If the correct banana wasn't identified, the students made suggestions for additional details that could be helpful.

What I loved about this activity was how it really got us thinking about interesting details. It's the kind of anchor lesson that we can refer to in all types of writing when we talk about spicing up our writing and good word choices. The bananas were inexpensive, and of course, we ate them at the end of the lesson. 

Do you use science or inquiry notebooks in your classroom? What are some strategies you use to help your students write in science? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Secrets Buried Amidst Piles of Papers

It's Monday, but I am happy to report that I am home this week enjoying my fall break. My district has a pretty sweet calendar where we have a one week break at or near the end of each six week term. It means that we start school at the beginning of August (teachers report in July!), so we have a short summer. But it also means that I get a week off in September, November, February, and April in addition to the typical winter break. I think it's been really helpful in fighting off teacher burnout in my district, and I wish more districts had that type of calendar.

But really, I didn't decide to post today to brag about the fact that I have the week off.

Instead, I wanted to share this:

That is my dining room table covered in papers to grade and planning materials for term 2. While my darling fourth graders are off to vacations at the beach and circus day camps, I'll be spending most of my break grading their end of term tests and assignments, writing report card comments, and planning lessons for when they get back. I'm grateful to have the week to try to catch up, because, really? These piles are kinda out of control. (And they don't include the pile of papers that I still have in a bag in my trunk...)

I hate grading papers.

There, I've said it.

I love so many things about teaching. I adore lesson planning and coming up with creative ways to get my students to master concepts. I love working with small groups or one-on-one with students. But hand me a pile of 25-30 papers, and I will put them off as long as possible. I'll glance through them long enough to know which students understand the concept and which ones still need help, but taking a pen to them and assigning a score to upload in my grade book just makes me cringe. Giving the kind of feedback that will help my students improve takes so. much. time.

I know I need to do better with this. Now that I've made it through term 1 and gotten to know my students better, I can force myself to focus more attention on this. But still, if I only spent a minute looking at each paper, that's at least 30 minutes of work. With tests, quizzes, and writing samples, a minute is nowhere near enough to assess and give quality feedback, and if I'm not giving feedback, then what's the point of sitting down and grading it?

So here are some goals/strategies that I have for myself heading into term 2:
1. Decide which assignments will be graded at the start of the week, and only choose ones that can count in multiple categories (e.g., writing about math can be assessed for both a math grade and a writing grade depending on what standards I look at).
2. Try to grade an assignment for every subject at least once a week.
3. Build some Google Forms that can be used during my typical reading and writing conferences so I can use those to give formative grades.
4. Set a timer during 2 of my planning times for 30 minutes and force myself to do nothing but grading during those 30 minutes (no email or other distractions).

Help me out! What are some strategies you use to help you manage grading so you don't get buried under a pile of papers?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Favorite Read Alouds for the Start of the Year

I have finished my first six weeks of school. Six whole weeks! As in 1/6 of the school year! (Ok, technically, we are 3 days shy of that milestone because of starting school on a Wednesday and losing Monday to Labor Day, but our first grading period is over...). I am absolutely adoring my class this year, and I'm enjoying my job in a way that I haven't in a long time. Life is good in Eberopolis.

One of the highlights of the last 6 weeks was the read aloud that I chose for the beginning of the year. If you haven't already read Fake Mustache: Or How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind by Tom Angleberger, then you are missing out on a real treat.

This is the story of a boy named Lenny and his best friend, Casper. Casper purchases a very real looking fake mustache -- the Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven -- from Sven's Fair Price Store in downtown Hairsprinkle, and suddenly, the town erupts into chaos due to several strange happenings and criminal activities. Lenny quickly deduces that Casper's fake mustache is responsible, but he and teen TV sensation Jodie O'Rodeo are the only people who seem to be immune to the mustache's mind control. Will they be able to stop Casper from taking over the world? You'll have to read the book to find out!

The book was very witty and fast-paced with exceptionally short chapters (often 2-3 pages). It was the kind of book that I could pull out when we had only a minute or two to spare between transitions, and the students were constantly begging me to read more of it. If that's not the mark of a good read aloud, I don't know what is! I also liked it because the book unexpectedly changed narrators about half-way through, moving from Lenny's perspective to Jodie O'Rodeo's point of view. This led us to some great conversations about point of view, and segued nicely into our learning about Common Core RL.4.6. (Compare and contrast the point of view from which different stories are narrated, including the difference between first- and third-person narrations.)

Angleberger is also the author of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and I got to see him speak at a book festival last weekend. Not surprisingly, his presentation was also very funny and kid-friendly, and I think he would be a great speaker for a school author visit.

Next term, I think I will read my all-time favorite children's book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. I have read the book several times, and without fail, I always choke up when I read the last chapter and the epilogue. I hate that I do that, but I can't resist sharing the book with my students. It's just such a beautiful story full of rich language and interesting characters, and it will work nicely with our focus on literary texts next term. If you haven't read that book, I would highly recommend it as well. I'm not a very fast reader, and the first time I read it, I finished it in one sitting. It was so good that I immediately insisted that my husband read it, and he never reads children's books. He gave in quickly and less than 2 hours later agreed that it was an amazing book.

What are some of your favorite read alouds at the beginning of the year? Please share in the comment section!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...