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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Halloween Writing with a Twist

My favorite Halloween writing activity is entitled "The Best-Dressed Witch." I use guided imagery to help my students imagine the setting and scan the witch from the tip of her toes to the top of her head.

From this, each student creates a lively descriptive narrative. It's a blast. It's one of our best pieces.

This year, however, I feel compelled to change it. Oh boy. We have been writing so many narratives. During the month of October, my students have written a personal narrative, a fable, and a pourquoi story. We've been writing, writing, writing. I can see they're exhausted. So what's a teacher to do?

Nothing motivates this group like the ability to work together. So that's it! Collaborative stories! I'll let you know how they turn out soon!!

:- )

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Writing to Explain - Whole Numbers 4.NBT.A.1

Common Core State Standard 4.NBT.A.1 asks students to "recognize that in a multi-digit whole number, a digit in one place represents ten times what it represents in the place to its right." As discussed I discussed in an earlier blogpost, we can use Beyonce's song, "Irreplaceable," to teach this concept:

To the left
To the left

Mmmm to the left, to the left
Everything's ten times in the place to the left
In the ones place, that's single stuff
Yes, if you move it, baby, it's ten times enough...

But is this enough? No. Looking deeper into the CCSS, we find the Standards for Mathematical Practice:
  • MP1 - Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • MP2 - Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • MP3 - Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • MP4 - Model with mathematics.
  • MP5 - Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • MP6 - Attend to precision.
  • MP7 - Look for and make use of structure.
  • MP8 - Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
Oh boy! These process standards made me realize that I need to provide my students with opportunities to solve challenging mathematical problems and explain their reasoning with words, pictures, structures, or models. For my students, a daily dose of writing to explain was in order. I began at the beginning, whole number numeration.

Before I presented this problem to my students, I had to do some deep thinking about how a thoughtful, appropriate answer might look. Here are two possibilities:

I want my students to think deeply about mathematics and write to explain every day. Beginning in November, our daily warm-up will be one "Explaining the Answer" problem. It's a win-win situation: they'll learn to reason and write, and I'll know that they will be able to conquer standardized tests!

:- )

Friday, October 17, 2014

Better Than an Anchor Chart

I find anchor charts to be clear, engaging . . . and limiting. You can create flexible charts using sentence strips, magnets, and tape. Here's how:

Step 1: Generate a list of the ultimate criteria for a specific skill or concept.

Step 2: Gather sentence strips, a marker, tape, and magnets. (In this case, I used outdated refrigerator magnets and cut them in strips.)

Step 3: Create a sentence strip for each criterion. Tape magnet strips to the back of each strip.

After you have created strips for each criterion, you can pick and choose as needed. For example, if my class was working on beginnings and endings, I might only display related strips:


Monday, October 13, 2014

Minds in Bloom

I'm honored to be a guest blogger for Rachel Lynette's blog, Minds in Bloom! If you're a frequent reader, you already know that I'm a passionate advocate of research-based instructional practices that focus on the standards. Check out my blog post to learn how to unwrap a standard, use backward design to create a unit plan, and employ a complete learning cycle to maximize learning.


P.S. If you need task cards for your intermediate-level class, please visit Rachel Lynette's Teachers pay Teachers store!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Halloween Area Activity

Have some fun finding area of irregular shapes with Halloween cookie cutters!

Materials: centimeter graph paper, Halloween cookie cutters, paper plate or plastic lid, paint

Step 1: Dip the cookie cutter in the paint.

Step 2: Press the cookie cutter firmly onto the graph paper.

Step 3: Count the square centimeters. (Partials should be counted as partial squares and added.)

Extension: Ask students to figure out other (faster?) ways to determine area. For example, maybe they'll draw a rectangle around the shape, multiply length by width to determine total area then subtract squares inside the rectangle but not inside the shape. Or maybe they'll draw a rectangle inside the shape and multiply length by width to determine the middle of the shape then add the rest. Shhh, don't tell them, though! Half the fun (and learning) can be found in thinking up new ways on their own.

Looking for more activities like this? Check out Halloween Metric Measurement Activities!


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Teachable Moment: Data Analysis

My fourth grade students need to know about mean, median, mode, and range (not to mention processes for crunching numbers and displaying data). Unfortunately, data analysis is one of the last math units we tackle each year. How could I introduce these concepts earlier in the year without disrupting my math schedule?

This week, I gave my students a science pretest on sound. Ah-ha! A teachable moment! I gathered their scores.

We took a look at the raw data, and ugh! What a mess. We couldn't make heads or tails of this.

After organizing the data from lowest to highest, things became clearer. Students could see which number occurred most often (mode), the middle number (median), and the difference between the highest and lowest numbers (range).

They got out their calculators to find the sum of all data points. Then they simply divided by the total number of scores. Voila! We had the mean, or average.

We reviewed the new vocabulary: MOde occurs MOst often, median is in the middle (just like the median between lanes on a highway), range tells the spread, and mean is the average (equal distribution). I plan to review these terms and how to use them over the course of the year, whenever possible. In my experience, repeated exposure to a set of concepts works better than simply teaching a unit of study once.

For the grand finale, I introduced line plots. These simple little graphs pop up on standardized tests all the time, but students rarely see them in the classroom.

Each piece of data is represented by one "x"---to show frequency. We talked about clusters (places on the line plot where data is clustered) and outliers (pieces of data that are set away from clusters), as well as how this graph helps us summarize and analyze the data quickly and easily.

We spent 10 to 15 minutes discussing data analysis: just a quick hit. I'm glad I grabbed this "teachable moment" with my students!


P.S. This mini-lesson also got my students thinking about their own learning (metacognition!) After analyzing the data, we could clearly see that the average score (9.74 out of 14, which was less than 70%) was in the "poor" category. Even though three students were in the "B" range (12 out of 14 correct), they did not know two key concepts about sound. Did our class need more review on this third grade standard? The answer was a resounding and unanimous "yes!" 

The next day they moved through six sound centers and made generalizations. After discussing thoroughly as a class, exploring a bit more with some websites, and practicing with flashcards and a study guide, we'll retest again on Monday. I feel confident that their scores will be high . . . and maybe it will be time for a little more data analysis!