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Sunday, December 29, 2013

My New Year's [Teaching] Resolution 2014

As standards evolve and change, textbooks find it hard to keep up. Teachers must find or create more materials on their own. High-stakes accountability tempts us to focus on rote, skill-and-drill learning. 

This year I resolve to focus curriculum on standards, use data to guide instruction, and plan engaging activities for my students. This looks like a job for Superman! 

Photo clip from Warner Bros. Online
Fleisher Studios Superman Cartoons:
"The Mad Scientist"

My first endeavor involves the study of energy. Data indicate that my fourth grade students need to review sound (a third grade standard) before the first state assessment in early March. Since I still need to hit quite a few fourth grade standards before the test, the review must be quick. The answer? Hands-on centers and an interactive website!

These will be field tested in my class during the first week in January. Soon thereafter the complete Exploring Sound unit will be available in my store on Teachers pay Teachers. It will be followed by Exploring Light, Exploring Heat, and Exploring Electricity.

Like other teacher-authors on Teachers pay Teachers, I resolve to make learning more engaging - - - and to share it with you! Be sure to check back here for free and inexpensive materials for your third, fourth, or fifth grade classroom throughout the year.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Integrating Math and Literature

Integrating subject matter makes learning fun! My class has been working on writing longer responses to questions (complete with evidence and citing). They've been making great progress, but constructing responses was getting to be a real drag.

In math, we were just ready to begin perimeter and area. "Why not merge math and literature?" I thought. It was simple, really. I took a common perimeter and area problem and wrote simple scenarios involving characters from our novels, Hatchet and Strider.

Students warmed up with problems from then continued with these novel-based problems. Free graph paper can be generated at (I chose the square graph paper with grid spacing of one line per centimeter.)

Interdisciplinary teaching seems like a blast from the past, but there's no time like the present to liven up literature and make math meaningful. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Parts of Speech

My students have been working on parts of speech all year, and the cumulative exam is fast approaching. How can I hold their interest in a little more practice? I'll put them in the driver's seat with a Thanksgiving theme!

"Where do you find _______________on Thanksgiving?" will give them a chance to use a little humor (or not) with prepositional phrases. For example:

Where do you find the potato on Thanksgiving?
in hot water

Where do you find my cousin on Thanksgiving?
between Grandma and Aunt Sally

I'll use this template to create foldables for their best ideas, which can be displayed on our classroom wall.

Next, my students will write their own Thanksgiving-related sentences and label them. Since I usually write sentences for them to label, this exercise will give them a chance to think about parts of speech from a different perspective.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Conducting Short Research Projects

Common Core State Standards W.3.7, W.4.7, and W.5.7 ask students to "conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic," and W.3.7, W.4.7, and W.5.7 instruct them to "interpret information presented visually or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, diagrams, ... or interactive elements on Web pages." I have found that flip books really motivate students to conduct short research projects using the Internet.

Here are a few examples:

Inner pages may be lined, bulleted, framed for drawing pictures, or blank. Simply stagger page lengths, staple, and set your students loose! 

The thing I love best about flip books is that they provide polished products with no fuss. Enjoy!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Teaching with the Poetry of James Whitcomb Riley

When the grass is airbrushed white and the air is crisp, I reach for Riley Farm-Rhymes as I head off to school. It's time to share "When the Frost Is on the Punkin" with my class.

The vivid imagery of James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet, takes us back to a crisp autumn day on an 1880's Indiana farm. It's the perfect opportunity for a poetry lesson!

After reading the poem aloud, we discuss structural elements: stanzas, verses, rhythm, meter, and rhyme.

Skilled use of language makes this poem particularly compelling. We explore onomatopoeia, personification, sensory words, and dialect.

I use the first paragraph as an example; students practice locating these elements in the second, third, and fourth stanzas. Next, we discuss unfamiliar words, what the poem tells us about farming in the 1800's, and deeper meaning. To find out more about the life of James Whitcomb Riley, we discuss this article from the Indiana Historical Society. Now comes the grand finale: listening to Riley recite his poem! A scratchy, but authentic audio recording can be found in the Digital Collections of the Indianapolis Public Library.

Lesson plans and a corresponding PowerPoint presentation for "When the Frost Is on the Punkin" are now available in my Teachers pay Teachers store.

This won't be our last Riley poem. We'll use "Little Orphant Annie" (a real crowd pleaser!) when we study the Orphan Trains and "A Worn-Out Pencil" to analyze metaphor.

I hope you enjoy the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley as much as I do!
Note: The poetry of James Whitcomb Riley is now in the public domain and can be reproduced freely.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fabulous Reading, Writing, and Grammar Resources

Every once in a while I'm lucky enough to stumble across resources that revolutionize the way I teach. This week I learned about DGP Publishing. Wow! Their newsletter, The Language Ledger, provides examples of their fabulous language arts products.

Created for teachers by teachers, these products really make sense. Check out the scope and sequence for Daily Reading Practice for Grades 1-10. Each week, students work with one passage to practice a variety of skills.

Grammar products focus on one sentence per week, as illustrated on the cover of "The Language Ledger" above. Students analyze parts of speech, phrases and clauses, capitalization, punctuation, and more! You can get an idea of what's covered with Daily Grammar Practice Scope and Sequence for Grades 1-5Daily Grammar Practice Scope and Sequence for Grades 6-12, and Advanced Daily Grammar Practice Scope and Sequence for Grades 6-12.

After attending a session on the Burnette Writing Process, I'm hooked! Dawn Burnette advocates focusing (and assessing) six or less skills for each assignment. When the assignment is complete, students annotate, or mark, their papers to demonstrate how they've successfully employed those skills. This makes total sense. Her Focus Skills Progress Chart helps teachers track students' progress throughout the year and can be passed on to the next grade for a seamless learning experience.

I've been waiting for these products. They will really make a difference in my classroom!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Equivalent Fractions Sites

Now that my students know how to find equivalent fractions and reduce, they need lots of practice! Today they'll be working on fluency using these wonderful free games:

Not only do we practice with these games at school, but I also share them out for practice at home.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Factor Finder

How do you use the Factor Finder? Let me count the ways:

1. Have students color the factors of each number.

2. Discuss the patterns that emerge. 

3. Have them shade the numbers that have exactly two factors. These are prime numbers.

4. Ask the students to shade the numbers that have more than two factors. These are composite numbers.

5. Let students use Factor Finder to explore common multiples and the Greatest Common Multiple of two or more numbers.

6. Keep the Factor Finder handy as students begin reducing fractions (but wean them off of it as they become more familiar).

Factor Finder is a great tool for middle grade students as they dip their toes in the factor pool. Grab it for free for a limited time at my Teachers pay Teachers store. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Teaching Equivalent Fractions

A fraction can be known by many names. As my fourth grade students learn about equivalent fractions, I want them to think about pictorial representations, patterns, the Identity Property of Multiplication, and benchmark fractions. Once again, I turn to the Fraction Worksheets page of Common Core Sheets for resources. A comprehensive selection is waiting for you if you scroll down to the Equivalent Fractions section.

My students used manipulatives and pictures to explore fractions in third grade. As a bridge to numeric representation, I began my lesson by displaying and discussing a sheet entitled Equivalent Fractions With Numberlines.

This established the fact that any given fraction goes by many names. I listed equivalent fractions for one-half and two-thirds and discussed how their favored name is always the first on the list (which can be called simplest form, lowest terms, or a reduced fraction). We discussed the "counting by" patterns of the numerators and denominators, as well as the relative sizes (or ratios) of the numerators and denominators.

The time had come to jump into numeric computation of equivalent fractions. We reviewed the Identity Property of Multiplication (any number times one equals that number). This, I explained, was how we would generate equivalent fractions.

Using a little trick I learned from Saxon Math years ago, I showed the students how to use a fraction with the same numerator and denominator, which is equal to one, to find equivalent fractions. With pictures, we also explored how this expresses cutting the fraction into smaller pieces. (For the fraction in the picture, for example, we would be cutting each of the thirds into three pieces to get ninths.)

Since my students are relatively good at math, I felt confident that giving them four different ways to practice equivalent fractions would not overload them. I chose these sheets from the Fraction Worksheets page of Common Core Sheets: Finding Equivalent Fractions - Visual, Filling in a Pattern, Missing Number, and Finding Equivalent Fractions (Multiple Choice).

The multiple choice problems were by far the most difficult. To help students limit their choices (and as a springboard to comparing fractions, which we will attempt in a few days), I taught them how to use one-half as a benchmark fraction. If the numerator was less than half of the denominator, the students could see that the fraction itself was less than one-half, and vice-versa.

Moving away from my textbook has allowed me to show my students multiple ways to approach a mathematical concept. Rather than overwhelming them, exploring equivalent fractions in a variety of ways has strengthened their understanding and prepared them for a wider range of problems. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Repurposing Halloween Candy

Now that trick-or-treat is over, what will we do with all of that Halloween candy? Let's take a look at some ways to repurpose it in the classroom.

Repurposed Candy, Take 1: Candy Concentration

Prepare a game for your winter holiday party (or use anytime)! Candy Concentration is competitive, quiet, and keeps children focused. Ask students to bring in two identical pieces of candy (or raid your own child's stash). Count out two index cards for each of the students in your class. Printing as large as possible, number the index cards. Randomly tape one piece of candy to the back of each card. When game time comes, simply prop the index cards, numbers out, on the chalk ledge. Students take turns selecting two numbers. The cards are turned over to reveal the candy then flipped back to hide it. When it's a match, the student gets those two pieces of candy. Keep playing until all candy is matched. Everyone's a winner!

Repurposed Candy, Take 2: Sweet Probability

If your students are new to probability, use Trick-or-Treat Candy Probability at to teach the concept before this activity.

This activity involves students in a probability experiment.

  1. Place twelve pieces of candy in a paper lunch bag for each group of four or five students. 
  2. Tell the students that each bag contains twelve pieces of candy.
  3. Ask one child to record the candies pulled from the bag.
  4. Have each group sit in a circle and pass the bag. Each student should pull out one piece of candy then replace it. 
  5. After a set number of trials (30 worked well for me), the group should predict the number of each candy in the bag. 
  6. Then . . . drum roll . . . they may open the bag and see if their prediction was correct.

Using candy of the same shape (all suckers or all mini candy bars, for example) works well. That way, students can't reach around and select a candy for its shape, keeping the results random.

Repurposed Candy, Take 3: Reading Labels

Is one candy more nutritious than others? Ask students to bring labels from Halloween candy to school. Introduce the concept using How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label from the FDA.

Place students in small groups, and ask them to order a set of candy labels from most nutritious to least nutritious. Have each group present their findings to the class; discuss.

Repurposed Candy, Take 4: The Prize Box

Do you have a prize box in your classroom? No need to spend extra money this month! Simply ask students to donate unwanted Halloween candy to your prize box.

Repurposed Candy, Take 5: Your Ideas

How have you repurposed Halloween candy in your classroom? Let's add to the list. Please comment with your ideas. Thanks!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Improper Fractions and Mixed Numbers

How can we help kids really understand the conversions between improper fractions and mixed numbers? Using manipulatives and/or pictures is essential for initial conceptualization.

Step 1: Representing Mixed Numbers - In my experience, students are not ready to convert until they can look at a picture and name the mixed number and improper fraction represented.

Step 2: Converting Improper Fractions to Mixed Numbers - This part is easy if you've already worked on fractions as division. Your students already know, for example, that 5/4 equals five divided by four. The only piece that's missing is representing the remainder as a fraction (in this case, 1/4, or one out of four left). 

Warning: Some students will insist that the denominator should be the number of possible pieces instead of the number of pieces in one whole. For example, in the problem above, some of my students wanted to write 5/8. To counter this, I repeat (and repeat and repeat), "The denominator is the number of pieces in ONE WHOLE!" Additionally, I tell them that the denominator is like the name of these pieces. (For example, if I bring apples to class and cut each into four pieces, giving each student one piece, each student is getting one fourth of an apple, not one twenty-eighth.)

After lots of practice and discussion together, they're ready to roll. For my class, I use worksheets found on the Fractions page of Common Core Sheets. Scroll the bottom of the page, and under Converting Fractions, you will find ten versions of Improper to Mixed Number worksheets. Awesome! Now we have sufficient versions for introduction, practice, tutoring, review before the test, and more review as the year goes on.

Step 3: Converting Mixed Numbers to Improper Fractions - More pictures, please! I show students how to cut the wholes into the same number of pieces as the denominator of the fractional part. We add the pieces in the wholes with the fractional piece for the numerator, and the denominator stays the same. 

After working with a number of pictures, students can see that the number of pieces in each whole (denominator) times the number of wholes plus the numerator equals the numerator of the improper fraction. And the denominator stays the same (because the denominator is always the number that each whole is cut into).

Once again, I turn to the Fractions page of Common Core Sheets, and once again I find ten lovely versions of worksheets for practice. To locate them, just click on Mixed Number to Improper under Converting Fractions (near the bottom of the page).

I hope these hints help you and your students with converting mixed to improper and vice-versa!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fraction Representations

Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. If there's one thing that I've learned in thirty years of teaching math, it's to reinforce. Today each student in my class will select a fraction, draw it as a part of a whole, part of a group, and on a number line, as well as write a short story problem to express the fraction as division. We'll use this mini poster and display them in our room.

You can use it too! Just click on the image to grab this editable freebie from my Teachers pay Teachers store. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fractions As Division

Fractions as division seems to be largely overlooked. Since we didn't learn it well as kids, it can also be hard to teach. Let's break that cycle starting today!

First, we have to wrap our heads around what this means in real life. When four children are sharing four, eight, or twelve items, division is easy. But what if we have less items than children? Here's where fractions as division come in.

You can see that we essentially divide each item by the number of children. Then each child gets one piece of each item.

My students' textbook shows it like this, which I think is confusing. Sure, adults who have fully conceptualized this topic will understand. But will kids?

I'm going to present it like this today instead. My students will understand that EACH candy bar needs to be shared equally by the students. After seeing this, we can move to the model above to prove that the amount equals 3/4.

We will also begin using the word "per" today. For this problem, we can say 3/4 candy bar per child. This will provide a springboard to my class's current science concept, speed. In order to calculate speed, we divide distance by time, and that is written as miles per hour (mi/hr) or kilometers per hour (km/hr). Yes, that little slash you see when you say per is the same slash you use in a fraction. So dividing distance (miles or kilometers) by time (hours) is written as a fraction. 

Not only do I want my students to know that a fraction represents a division problem, I want them to think of a fraction as a division problem. This takes them one step closer to becoming great mathematicians.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Fractions of Wholes, Groups, and Number Lines

Fractions come in all shapes and sizes. Kids need to be able to name fractions of a whole and group (or set), as well as on number lines to show distance and time.

Fortunately, free online resources are abundant! My students will be using worksheets from these sites to name fractions today.

Parts of a Whole - You can create your own Visual Fractions Worksheets at Every worksheet has denominators of 2, 3, 4, and 8, but you can choose to add denominators of 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, and/or 12 as well. You also have a choice between pie shapes, rectangular shapes, triangular shapes, or a combination of all three. Finally, your students can identify the fraction for a shaded area, shade the area for a given fraction, or both.

Parts of a Group or Set - offers a wide variety of fraction materials, including five worksheets for parts of a group. And with Halloween right around the corner, I'd like to mention that they have a wide variety of Halloween-related math activities! Trick or Treat Candy Probabilities will tie in nicely with the study of fractions.

Fractions on a Number Line - I found worksheets for Fractions on a Number Line at Once again, the site offers many choices as you custom-create materials for your own class.

My math textbook offers limited practice with fractions of sets and fractions on number lines, so I definitely need these extra resources to ensure a well-rounded experience for my students. I hope you find them helpful too!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Resources for Numbers and Operations in Base Ten - Middle Grades

Are you looking for some engaging ways to reinforce all of the NBT standards? Look no farther!

Teacher-author Meredith Anderson has created a set of 32 task cards with word problems to review all Grade 4 NBT standards. Each card features a famous landmark.

Place Value Scavenger Hunt by Jonathan Pearson gets kids up and out of their seats to practice a variety of fourth grade skills related to place value: writing numbers in various forms, rounding, and comparing.

Visit the Teachers pay Teachers store of Terry's Teaching Tidbits for 5th Common Core Name Tag Centers in Base Ten. Simply fold these table toppers and allow students to rotate through the fifth grade NBT standards with a partner.

To help your students practice and conceptualize numeration skills, check out these fun activities from Scipi. Dots Fun for Everyone will give you fifteen games and three activities using dominos in math. Number Tiles, a 25-page resource, provides fifteen different activities for operations, primes and composites, exponents, and divisibility rules.

Engaging resources like these make my days as a teacher (and students' days as learners) so much more fun! I hope you'll try them!