Sunday, June 16, 2019

Summer Professional Learning Goals for Teachers

Do you have any professional learning goals this summer?  I'm participating in a teacher blogger challenge from Hot Lunch Tray.  This post is week 1 of 8 in the 8 Weeks of Summer Blog Challenge for Educators.  I am taking a "meat fork approach" to my summer PD with an online course and attempt into online planning.  Points to you if you can tell from that reference what show I'm recently binging.  

Over the past 2 years I have been taking a few graduate courses and the one I'm currently finishing up is all about Anchor Charts.  I am loving this course.  I feel like I'm getting PD for browsing fabulous teacher blogs and Pinterest.  Of course, I'm learning actionable steps and reflecting on how I apply what I've seen in my own teaching, but it's one of the most fun courses I've ever taken for graduate credits.  If you want to look up this course here's my affiliate link for Advancement Courses.  I already have a master's degree and although I don't currently have plans to get a second, my district does offer salary advancement for taking graduate courses.  If you're not sure if yours does too, look into it! 

Another less formal way I plan to develop my teaching is trying online planning through Google Drive.  I've used the LMNOplanner for a couple years because I love the look of it and it's more streamlined than many of the others on TpT.  This year our principal is retiring so I'm not sure what our next principal's expectations will be for planbooks.  Our current principal hinted we might want to look into online planning in case she likes to collect them.  So I'm looking into the process of using Google Slides.  I already looked at A Modern Teacher's videos for setting up an online planbook, and I think this is where I want to start.  I tried and didn't like the feeling of putting all my work onto their system.  I feel like Google isn't going anywhere so it's a more long term, secure storage space.  I don't know if the LMNOplanner will work on Google Drive, but I'm going to give it a try!  

I think that will pretty much be it for my summer professional development because I will be traveling.  I kind of want to recharge and reset before finding out what my new principal's expectations are.  I have a few hobbies I'm pursuing as well, but that's a post for another time.  Are you planning any summer PD? 

Shut the Door and Teach
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Saturday, June 1, 2019

End of the Year Fun: From Current to Future Students

The last day of school is rapidly approaching, woo hoo!  In the past I talked about some tried and true activities that I do every year and how they went.  However, in this post I want to share a couple new activities for the last week of school that I'll be piloting very soon. 

Last year I tried having the kids write letters to the incoming class, but I was underwhelmed with the results.  Had I given them more time and more direction I'm sure it could have been a really worthwhile thing.  However since I do scrapbook/portfolios which are a HUGE project, I felt like another big project would be overkill.  So this year I've given each child their own individual, specific, manageable piece of the "letter" to do.  They'll each get just  a half sheet of paper with a short prompt, and I'll compile them into a booklet.  It will either become part of our classroom library or I'll make copies for each student.  Here are 4 sample prompts:

On the back, EVERY student will have the same second prompt, "And here's something else you should know about Mrs. Thomas's class!"  I'm hoping to get some funny and heartwarming stuff there!  :D 

Finally, before we're all stuck in a 90 minute "closing ceremony" with the rest of the school in the cafeteria, for our final Morning Meeting share, we'll be reading "Memory Strips," which we've been writing all week in secret as part of their Morning Work.  The prompt was simply, "Write a memory you have from this year.  We'll share them on the last day of school."  I have a handful that I wrote myself that I'm certain will get laughs and tears from my group.  I can't wait!

What are your favorite end of the year activities? 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Numberline Tightrope Activity

It took a while to really "sell" me on the idea of using number lines (and I'm a visual learner)!  However, since number lines don't seem to be going away when it comes to curricula and standardized testing, I knew I had to accept them, get comfortable with them, break them down for those kids who also are not initially "sold" on them either, and make them interesting for my class.  I've developed coloring worksheets and homework pages, but this year I wanted to "step" it up a notch and engage those kinesthetic learners.  So that's when I created "Number-line Tightropes!" 

The set up: 

While my fourth graders were at music, I broke out the masking tape.  I taped 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines on the floor.

Next, I labeled the whole numbers with tenths at each intersecting tile.  I started on a vertical line with zero and worked my way up to 2.20.  Notice at that point, there was an intersecting horizontal line.  

On the horizontal line, I did the same thing, but instead of starting at the end with zero, I worked around the intersection.  To the left it says 2.10, and to the right (although you can't see it) it says 2.3.  Of course, I did not fill in every number; some of that work had to be for the kids!

Next, I drew smaller increments on the horizontal lines.  Those represent the hundredths.
 I followed the horizontal line to the left until I got to 1.3.  At that point I came to another intersection.  Just as before, I worked up and down the vertical line from 1.3, filling in the tenths, but saving some spots for the kids to complete.

Below, I followed the vertical line to 0.4, which brought me to the final intersection.  I filled in the hundredths on the horizontal line.

The activity:

When the kids walked in after music, they were "floored."  They could not WAIT to interact with the tape on the floor!

I had each of the 4 groups take a "line" to fill in some of the blanks.

Finally, a simple dice rolling game kept the kids engaged in studying the lines.  Roll a dice, move your "guy" that many tenths (for the vertical lines) or that many hundredths (for the horizontal lines). 

So much more fun than worksheets!

How have you turned number lines into fun?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

How to Have a Decimal War Card Game

Right before our February vacation, my fourth graders start decimals.  To help them understand the concept of decimals, I always find it's easiest to equate them with money.  The Coin-Fraction-Decimal chart shows that 50 is 5 tenths just as it's 5 dimes, and .05 is 5 hundredths just as it's 5 pennies.  They understand that; it's those pesky zeroes that throw them for a loop!

To practice seeing decimals concretely (and relating them to fractions) we play Decimal War!

The game is easy if you have decimal cards.  Notice that in fourth grade we use units that are divided into tenths and hundredths (there are also thousandths in this set which are great for kids who like a challenge).

The basic directions for Decimal War are:
  1. Shuffle the cards. 
  2. Deal the cards so that each person has the same number of cards.  Note:  the number of red cards (tenths) and green cards (hundredths) each person has does not matter.
  3. Players should NOT look at their cards.  
  4. Both players flip over their top card at the same time.
  5. Determine who has the most shaded area.  That person wins both cards.
  6. In the event of a tie, both players will place their next 3 cards face down, and choose 1 of those to simultaneously flip over.  The winner takes all 8 cards.
  7. The object of the game is to finish with the most cards.

In this regard, the game is just like the traditional card game of War.  But now comes the math part!

Each player needs to create a T chart with their names at the top.  They write the card they flipped over in decimal form.  Finally, they need to write < > or = in the center to compare who had the greater amount.

This type of War Card Game is easily adapted to fractions, negative numbers, numbers of varying place values, coins, or anywhere that comparing or ordering numbers enters into your curriculum.  I love when I can reuse a format and save time teaching new directions (if the particular class loves it).

If you don't own decimal cards, I had a request to create a printable game.  If you would like a version that includes the cards and is ready to print, you can get a Decimal War Card Game in my TpT store.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

5 of the Best Fourth Grade Fractions Content Delivery Methods


If you've taught fractions before, you probably know that it's a tricky concept for a lot of elementary students.  But it's one of my favorite things to teach!  There are so many ways to explore and analyze fractions.  Here are 5 of the best fourth grade fractions content delivery methods.  Whether you're new to teaching fractions or you're looking to change things up a little, these activities will increase engagement and understanding with equivalent fractions, fraction of a set, improper fractions and mixed numbers.  


My Favorite Fourth Grade Fractions Content Delivery Methods

1.  Color.  When kids are ready to practice an algorithm, a coloring page is much more appealing than a worksheet of 20 examples set into a grid.  This post on 1/2 as a benchmark fraction breaks down the lesson and has a link to a free coloring page for finding fractions greater than, less than, and equal to 1/2.  
2. Make a real life connection.  I'm not talking about a worksheet with 10 completely separate word problems.  I'm talking about one overarching idea, such as meal planning, that can have multiple related math problems involved.  The more invested kids are in the topic, the more engagement you'll get.  Find out how I created an overarching fourth grade fractions lesson based on analyzing the sugar content in their favorite foods.

3.  Interactive anchor charts.  I've found there are 3 steps to making a great interactive anchor chart.  First, make an attractive title (bubble letters, rainbow letters, clip art if you don't feel artistic).  Then indicate a section for examples.  Finally, indicate a section for student explanations (definitions, algorithms, and so on).  Of course your role as teacher is to coach them on refining definitions and evaluating examples.  However once in a while a student creates a definition that is so well put that it blows my mind.  When you show your excitement about learning something new, your students will see learning in a whole new way.  You can see how I do this with after our fourth grade fractions pretest, introducing equivalent fractions for 1/2, other equivalent fractions, changing improper fractions to mixed numbers, and the inverse.  

4.  Manipulatives.  This one may be obvious, especially if you've worked with younger children (I've taught preschool, first grade and third as well as fourth grade).  However hands on learning is where it all begins.  One great instructional sequence I've learned in most areas of math and science is to start with hands on, then move on to visuals (worksheets, videos, anchor charts, and student drawings) before finishing with abstract (algorithms, definitions, and so on).  You can the progression that starts with fourth grade fractions manipulatives in this post.  

5.  Quiz the Teacher.  So one day the kids did NOT work well with their hands on manipulatives and games that I set up.  Hey, if one thing worked every time I wouldn't need a top 5 list in this post, right?  Sometimes group work is great for differentiation, but sometimes a whole class lesson is needed to get everyone on the same page.  In order to focus the thinking process of your class, try directing your students to "quiz the teacher."  In this post I describe how I facilitated a discussion about fractions that are equivalent to 1/2 using student generated examples and non examples that they "made" me sort in the form of a quiz.  

Bonus!  6.  Games.  I included this as a bonus because often manipulatives have a game component, but there are games you can play with the whole class using NO materials.  I walk you through a fun fourth grade fraction of a set game in this post.

Do you want more ideas for teaching fourth grade fractions?

If you are looking for a unit that has all of these content delivery methods for fractions, you get my entire Fourth Grade Fractions Unit in one download.  Otherwise, you can read my Fraction blog series here on Shut the Door and Teach.



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Fictional Holidays: Square Day's Eve

Happy Square Day's Eve, Readers!  Do you celebrate this (or other) fictional holidays with your class?  At my school, along with Math in Focus, we use Every Day Counts (or "Calendar Math," as we commonly refer to it).  The beauty of this system is its daily repetition.  But I like to make it fun with fictional holidays.  Kids, like all people, learn things better if they are emotionally involved.  So in looking over the math Common Core frameworks for fourth grade, I started thinking about where I could fit in square numbers.

I always feel like square numbers is one of those things that is easy to forget.  And what a waste that they get it wrong on their End of the Year tests or MCAS test, because it's not actually that difficult!  They just need a quick reminder every so often, and they'd all be capable of getting it right.

Fictional Holidays Make Calendar Time Way More Fun

This year I realized how easily square numbers could fit into the Every Day Counts portion of our day.  It would work especially well during a month when we work on area and perimeter every day.  So one day, after we looked at our improper fraction with a numerator of 9, the perimeter of a random figure we had drawn with 9 square centimeters, the geometric figures in our pattern, and the next entry in our running cash total, I got the idea of fictional holidays and wished my fourth graders a "Happy Square Day." 

"What's Square Day?"  They asked.

"What's Square Day?  It's the happiest day of the month!  You don't get brightly wrapped square presents, or eat square shaped cake or sing, Happy Square Day to You, but it's still the BEST holiday."

"Why?"  They asked excitedly.

"Because it happens FIVE times every month!"


Hey, some of them saw the humor.  The ones that didn't, well, their curiosity about this fictional holiday stayed piqued as I started to demonstrate how to create square numbers with one, then two, then three, and finally 4 small squares, the latter which formed a larger square.  "We had a Square Day on the 4th.  It's a 2 by 2 square."  I continued around the first square with 5, then 6, 7, 8 and finally nine small squares that formed a square.  "And today is also Square Day!  3 long by 3 wide is 9.  A perfect square."

"So it's basically a doubles fact" my smart little former third graders extrapolated.

"You do use the number twice, so it's like a special sort of doubles fact.  But here's why we call it a SQUARE number.  You CAN'T turn 5 blocks into a square.  You CAN'T turn 10 boxes into a square.  But you can with 9, and you can with 16, and you can with other Square Numbers, nice and even and neat.  That's why I love Square Day!  Definitely my favorite of the fictional holidays.

After giving them time to draw their own squares with a partner, I challenged them; "So when is the next "Square Day's Eve this month?"

Let the Kids Show YOU when these Fictional Holidays Fall

Instead of drawing the squares on an anchor chart, I drew it on the white board so I could erase one square from each corner.

"When is the day after Square Day, also known as 'Extra Boxing Day' in England?"  (The fictional holidays, not actual Boxing Day).  We added a box to each corner.

Once we explored squares (as well as what it looks like right before and right after a perfect square is drawn) I challenged them to redraw their previous figures for the month.  I asked them to create figures that were as compact as they could.  That is, I wanted figures that are as close to squares as possible.  Although sometimes it's great to draw creative, zany shapes to find the perimeter, interesting patterns emerge when the figures are more compact.  The kids love it when it's their turn in our Calendar Rotation to color in the boxes.  Coloring at their desk is a fun break from sitting with the whole group while we complete the rest of the routine.

As a result, the kids started to see patterns in their work.  They were noticing that the figure that is one off from a perfect square has the SAME perimeter as a square!  "It's like that one square is just inside out; it goes in at the corner instead of out to fill the corner."  They also noticed that the perimeter never went down as we progressed.  Previously there was no rhyme or reason to how area and perimeter were connected, because many kids were drawing skinny rectangles instead of allowing for irregular figures in between squares.  Now they actually had some data to analyze and draw conclusions from.

And so, in my class we celebrate these fictional holidays, Square Days, and they know that on the day before each Square Day their weirdo teacher is going to be giddy with anticipation. 

Do you use fictional holidays in Calendar Math?

Friday, August 10, 2018

How I Run Literacy Centers with Journeys

A while back I wrote about how I set up my Literacy Centers.  My school has been using Journeys for a few years now, and I'm more familiar with common core this year than I was at the beginning of last year, so I felt ready to really delve in.  You can see how I set up my literacy center rotation topics and schedule here.

Literacy Centers OrganizationOrganizing Upper Elementary Literacy Centers

Today I thought I'd share how I organize my materials.  Let's face it; the best instructional activities will not engage students if the organization behind them doesn't work!  And if it's too complicated for us to manage, we're not going to want to use it either.  There was some trial and error when it came to different locations in the room and moving desks, which the kids HATED.  Who knew how nervous they would get about other people sitting at their desk!  

Literacy Center Materials

So I scrapped that first idea and instead created a file folder system.  It worked for my math games, so I shouldn't be surprised that it turned out to be the best solution for my literacy activities.  They know where to access the folders, how to distribute materials, and they can stay at their own desk.  There is only one activity in the course of the week that requires a single group to move to a separate spot in the room, and fortunately I have the space to accommodate that.

I keep the bin with 3 file folders right in the middle of my leveled readers.  My literacy centers rotations are right above this set of bins as well, so everything is within reach.  Other than "read with the teacher," each of the other stations has its own file folder of activities.

Literacy Centers: Topics each file folder I can "preload" the activities for the week.  The Mentor Sentences page has 3 different activities in one, so it keeps them occupied in the "Editing" station for 3 days, and I load the spelling in on the final day.  The Vocabulary pages look different enough from one day to the next, so the kids don't mix up which one to do first, second and so on.  I clip the "not yet" pages to the folder as a gentle reminder, and their current pages are loose in the folder for them to take.  And finally, the Independent Reading Response folder has 3 separate envelopes.  These are clearly labeled for each Close Read slip they need to do, in order.  The kids know they need to tape the first into their notebook and complete it before they take the second.  This is the most time consuming center, so often they come back to it when they finish a different literacy center early. that this is my first year running literacy centers since moving to fourth grade (and since Common Core began) I think they are going pretty well!  I plan to offer my Close Reads in my TPT store this summer, so if you are thinking about trying stations next year, stay tuned!

[Edit:  I've started to post my Mentor Sentences products in my TPT store.  There are a few freebies in the section I've linked to if you want to give them a try!]
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT
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