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

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Make Educational Videos for Elementary Students

Have you tried Educreations yet?  If you want to make or show educational videos for elementary students, look it up!
At the beginning of last year I started a classroom blog that was tailored more to my fourth graders than to their parents.  I posted photos of anchor charts as well as educational online games to keep them coming back to it on a weekly basis.  Then, later in the year, when the PTO bought all the teachers at my school iPads, I was determined to put mine to good use.  I wanted an app that was going to enhance my instruction in a new way, and that's when I found Educreations. 

Make Educational Videos for Elementary Students

Educreations is like recording yourself teaching a whole class lesson on a white board, except your audience won't see you.  They'll hear your voice and see what you draw.  You can also embed pictures into your presentation, and on the iPad you can add text (typed) instead of writing words. 
It takes a little bit of practice to find the possibilities and limitations to the program.  For example, I love that it lets me pause my recording so I can collect my thoughts after each slide.  However I don't love that if I make a mistake in the recording I can't go back and redo it!  There have been a few updates to Educreations, such as the addition of an eraser tool (because users begged for it) and you can now use Educreations on your computer as well!  I love a product that is regularly updated based on user feedback.  It's rare when a product is FREE.  That's right, it's a free app to help you make educational videos for elementary students.  
So how has this changed my teaching?  Well, although I'm not sure my district would approve of going the flipped classroom route (hard to do when not every child has internet access at home) it really has helped my kids learn some tricky, multistep processes in the following ways:
  1. Kids love anything novel.  Sitting in front of the computer (no, I don't have a projector either) for 4 minutes to watch a video is more interesting than the other 179 math lessons at the rug listening to me.  Suddenly no one needs to go get a drink of water!
  2. If a child needs reteaching, all they need to do is go back over to the computer with a small group of students and rewatch it.  Obviously I am available to answer questions, however sometimes, as one boy told me this week, "I just want to watch it a bunch of times until it REALLY sinks in!"
  3. Two words:  Sub Plans!
  4. Two words:  Homework help.
  5. If a student is absent of course they can watch it at home and learn without spreading their germs around!
If you're not sure you're up to creating videos, keep the following in mind:
  1. Don't feel you have to make a video on EVERYTHING.  I started out with the idea of 2 math procedures that I really wanted kids to see in action because historically their written notes just weren't enough.  This year I added another video for a third concept.
  2. You don't have to make videos for your class to benefit from Educreations.  The site is searchable, which means there are TONS of free educational videos for elementary students available.  You can show them in class or link up on your classroom website.  Once you start finding great videos you'll get a good sense of what you really want in a video, and then you can rethink the idea of creating your own.

Find Educational Videos for Elementary Students

To get you started, here is a video I created to help my fourth graders multiply 2 digit numbers by 2 digit numbers.   
It's a nice lead in to some hands on practice in class (this is a paid for product).  By keeping the direct instruction short, sweet, and engaging, we can get into the practicing quicker, which I love.  The work you put in creating or researching videos will make your job during class time much easier; you can focus more on the kids' learning than the subject matter itself.


Monday, July 30, 2018

Practice Basic Internet Safety in Context with Edmodo

Do children and social media mix?  I wanted to teach my students basic internet safety in a real context.  I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Edmodo.  Whenever I heard about teachers talking about creating a class page with their students, Edmodo always came up.  And I'm interested in using technology more with my students;  I already had a classroom blog which I talked about in this post.  I just didn't know how Edmodo was different.


Practice Basic Internet Safety in Context with Edmodo

The instructors likened Edmodo to Facebook.  While I wouldn't "sell" it to parents in that way, the kids did see the connection right away and were excited about all the features:
Basic Internet Safety with Student Comments and Posts
  1. Kids can personalize their account complete with avatar, learning style, career goal, and inspirational quote (they can even search by famous person within the system).
  2. Kids can reply to posts.
  3. Kids can write their own posts for others to reply to.
  4. Kids can upload photos, links, and documents.
  5. Teachers can post all of the above as well as polls and quizzes (very similar to using Google forms, but integrated onto Edmodo itself).
  6. Teachers can enter dates and assignments into an integrated calendar.
  7. There's an app for that (Apple and Android).
However, Edmodo is designed for children and therefore has safeguards against predators as well as cyber bullying. 

Practice Basic Internet Safety with a Classroom Code

First, when you sign up for Edmodo as a teacher, you are given a "classroom code."  You will give that code to your students when you sign them up, and no one else can see the page unless they register with that code.  It's not the same as a password, in that the children will sign in with a username and password each time they log in, but the code is only used by them once when the register.  Once your whole class registers, you can "lock" the group.  If you get a new student later in the year you can reset the code to register that student (students who registered already don't need to re-register with the new code).  So the bottom line is, to facilitate basic internet safety, no one is getting on now or later without your help.
Second, unlike Facebook and other social media sites, to promote basic internet safety, there is no private messaging between students.  Anything a child writes will be seen by you and every other child in the class, and it will be logged under their real first name.  If a child was going to say something inappropriate, it would be as if they stood up in the middle of class to say it; it's all out in the open.  Cyber-bullying is often perpetuated by individuals who are emboldened by anonymity.  Having comments out in the open is an important feature of basic internet safety for children learning to communicate online.  You even have the option (in case you do have a "bold" class this year) to "moderate" comments.  That is, you can set their posts to stay hidden from the other kids until you approve each one.  This is the perfect way to scaffold for students who need more or less support though the year as they practice basic internet safety in their comments and posts.

Get Parents on Board with Basic Internet Safety Practices

Edmodo does not require an Email to sign up (unlike most websites that you create accounts for).  The only tricky thing about signup is that children need to tick a box that says their parent has read and agreed to the terms of use.  Out of respect to this rule, I sent home a permission slip that granted the children permission to tick the box in class during my introductory lesson.  [Update] A reader requested a copy of this permission slip.  I've added it to my TPT store for free for a limited time, so if you're interested, grab it now!
I've used Edmodo for 2 weeks now, and honestly I am not sure I love it more than the classroom blog.  Tomorrow over on Shut the Door and Teach I will be writing a pros and cons list for Edmodo versus Weebly.  So if you're interested in Edmodo, I feel it IS worth trying, but you might find a different platform suits your needs better.
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