Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Practicing Long Division with Money

Do you find that the topics that you struggled with the most in school are the ones that you love teaching the most?  That's how I feel about math, and in fourth grade the math topic I remember struggling with the MOST was long division.

I remember when I was a kid, it would take me FOREVER to solve a page of 10 long division problems.  I was one of the last ones done, sitting off to the side to finish up.  I'd stare blankly at 658 divided by 7 and try multiplying every number by 7 in the attempt to get 65.  I felt so frustrated that I had to do all those "extra" math problems and hope that they were right too.

So when it comes time every year to teach my students long division, I've tried lots of ways.  I had them make their own mnemonic devices to remember the steps (similar to the Do My Scissors Cut Bricks type acronym for Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Check, Bring Down).  I've tried partial quotient.  But for me it always comes back to practicing the physical process of dividing.  Base ten blocks are a great way to do it, but my favorite manipulative when it comes to math is money.  There's just something about counting money that makes people happy! 

Previously I described how I introduce the concept of dividing hundred dollar bills, ten dollar bills, and one dollar bills into "wallets" over in this post.  This activity helps get the kids used to the manipulatives involved and has a high success rate; with numbers that are carefully chosen to be evenly divisible (such as 486 divided by 2) the kids are able to compute in their heads before long.  So to up the ante the next day, I give the kids numbers that are not as simple to divide.

In the TOP PHOTO, you can see that the child knew he couldn't divide a hundred dollar bill 4 ways, so he had to regroup it for ten tens.  He was then able to put 2 ten dollar bills in each wallet, and he had 2 ten dollar bills left as a remainder.

Of course this does not complete the problem, but he is learning that 20 is a reasonable answer to 100 divided by 4, which is pretty powerful!  I'm much happier with him knowing this than memorizing DMSCB and not understanding what numbers to compute at each step. 

The child in the MIDDLE PHOTO is working on the same problem.  She also knows that the answer to 100 divided by 4 will be about $20.  However she is developing her understanding of the regrouping process.  She is trading in those 2 ten dollar bills for one dollar bills.  Although she has written a bunch of zeroes in the ones place on her place value mat, she will soon be able to refine her answer to include the ones place.

The child who completed the problem on the BOTTOM PHOTO has completed the process of dividing 100 by 4.  She is also able to accurately record the steps she has taken to arrive at an answer.  She regrouped the one hundred to become ten tens (although she forgot to erase the hundred).  She also knew she could tally up the 4 twos in the tens place when writing out the long division algorithm.  She used the difference (10 - 8 = 2) to find how many tens to regroup into ones, and she divided the twenty ones by 4 to get 5.  Although the photo does not show her paper, she transferred the process she used with the manipulatives to the traditional long division algorithm. 

If you need more examples of numbers that increase in difficulty when it comes to long division, I have 3 different levels of long division task cards with numbers similar to these two examples available as a bundle.  I use the cards as review throughout the year because long division is one of those concepts that kids need to see many times before they can master it.  I never feel guilty leaving these in my sub plans because the kids know what to do and actually enjoy long division when they get to use the money. 

P.S.  Do you want more teaching ideas?  Follow me here:
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Teaching Poetry with CCSS in Mind

National Poetry Month is coming, although now with the emphasis that the Common Core State Standards puts on nonfiction it's become more like poetry fortnight.  And technically I had to teach it at the beginning of March, but nevermind!  There has always been a poem on the fourth grade MCAS test, from 2004 onward.  So because our reading program has very little poetry in it, I made an executive decision and decided to teach my poetry unit, but with a few "tweaks."

Of course the first step is to help kids understand what a poem is, and I do that by getting them thinking about how poems differ from paragraphs.  We looked at a poem and a paragraph side by side a that I engineered to have nearly the same content and most of the same words.  The kids came up with the following list mostly on the first day, although we added to it as the week went on.

During our immersion phase, kids read TONS of different types of poems with different styles and themes.  I asked them to pay attention to:
*How they look
*How they sound
*Why they think the poem was written
*Their favorites and why they like them

Once students understood more about what poetry is and started to get an appreciation for some (not necessarily all) types, I got into the meat and potatoes of the unit:  poetic devices.  Over the years, there seems to be the same 6 terms asked again and again.  So this year I created an anchor chart with those 6 poetry terms (if you like the anchor chart, I've created a student handout and added it to the PREVIEW of my poetry mini unit.  The unit itself is a priced item, but the preview is free to download).  Now, as I told my students, the word "onomatopoeia" has never, to my knowledge, made its way onto our fourth grade standardized tests, but the concept is almost always there.  I told my students, "You don't need to be able to spell it, or even say it, but you do need to be thinking about how the poems would sound if you were reading them out loud, and why the poet chose to make that sound at that moment."

Some of the poetic devices can be related to understanding fictional prose as well, such as mood, comparison, and inferring the author's meaning.  So those terms have already been reintroduced and spiraled throughout the year, but during our unit on poetry they become magnified! 

Usually the kids can see and verbalize on their own that a poet is a writer who tried to make a point with fewer words than a writer of stories.  So I tell them that figuring out what a poem means is like solving a puzzle.  Each line has a clue that's hidden inside a poetic device.  After thinking about each line from the text, you can figure out what the mysterious poem is really about!  Two column notes (a tool we use all year across the content areas) can help us record evidence from the text as well as our reactions to it.

 Finally, to round out the unit, I do have the kids write their own poems.  However, I don't focus so much on the form, but if they are able to use poetic devices that we've discussed.  To take the pressure off of them to start out with, first I ask them to think about their favorite color, objects that are that color, how those objects move, and how their favorite color makes us feel.  This year I also projected cool images onto the computer screen to get them talking even more (it's as simple as google image searching "green picture," just screen them before showing them to the kids).  We wrote the nouns (objects) on yellow paper, the verbs (movements) on blue paper, and the emotions (usually adjectives) on orange paper.  Identifying the parts of speech is the best way I know how to incorporate grammar into a poetry unit!

The results are short pieces that have so much going on so quickly that they can make the reader feel like they are dreaming! 

Finally, we spent time talking about comparisons.  They could all relate to those Geiko ads that promise, "Our customers are happier than..."  I asked them to underline them in poems they read.  For some kids, we stuck with using color in their writing (as green as grass) and for my deeper thinkers, we used emotion (as angry as a scalded cat).   

I miss teaching the different forms, like diamante and cinquain, but at the same time I feel like a focus on theme and making meaning is a worthwhile one.  The kids were still enthusiastic about poetry by the third day because we still embraced the playfulness and diversity of poetry. 

Are you feeling pressure to limit the amount of poetry you teach?

This article was reposted from All Things Upper Elementary.

P.S.  Are you looking for more ideas?

Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Response to Reading ANSWER Method

In Massachusetts, our standardized test is the MCAS, and in 4th grade, one of the challenges our students face on their reading test is the Open Response question. We've been gearing up for the test because it starts in mid-March this year, so test taking strategies have been at the forefront of my mind. 

We spend time every week pouring over past MCAS selections to help our fourth graders become more familiar with test taking language, as well as the stamina for an independent writing task for a topic they are probably seeing for the first time in printed form.  The kids have weekly homework practice, and I have an MCAS Practice Tips letter to parents that I posted previously.  Teaching the kids to use a graphic organizer for pre-writing, and analyzing the question (such as with the QAR method) is something we've done for years.  But this year is the first full year that we've implemented the ANSWER method.  And I think it's been working VERY well for this specific purpose.

The acronym is from the Keys to Literacy, who have provided a number of professional development trainings for my district, and if you ever see one offered in your area, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out (the vocabulary one was another fantastic experience).  I only tweaked it slightly by adding a bit to the "E" (originally the acronym read: "Analyze, Notes, Scan, Write, End by Rereading") and of course the explanations are my own rewording according to what's been working for my class over time.  Because as my students would tell you, I do my anchor charts in pencil, and that's only after I've written them on the white board with them first, until I'm feel that I've answered all of their clarifying questions and I'm happy with the exact wording.  They actually tease me, "You really ARE a rough draft kind of gal!"  I like to think this helps to instill a sense of importance of the revision process for them!

Each component of the ANSWER method is a lesson (or two) in and of itself, but by this point in the year, nearly every kid (as of last week, every kid, yay!) in my class knows what is expected of them when it comes to preparing and composing a written response to writing.  Along with a goal setting sheet each week, they know that when it comes to formal assessments, they don't just write about the story; they have to ANSWER the question!

How do you prepare your students for standardized test reading responses?

This article was reposted from All Things Upper Elementary.

P.S.  For more teaching tips, follow me here:
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Monday, February 26, 2018

Fourth Grade Test Prep: Math Review Centers with Both Classes!

Our state testing is rapidly approaching!  My fourth graders will take their math MCAS right in the middle of Teacher Appreciation Week.  Sad, but true, so what else can I do?  Pretend I didn't realize/care to my kids, whine to my colleagues, and have my fun this week instead with some of their favorite math review centers!

When determining activities we would use for our centers, I look at data from our unit tests.   Each year there tends to be a trend, so my games and activities usually target 2 digit multiplication, long division, lowest common multiple, prime and composite numbers, equivalent fractions and fraction of a set.  Every so often I pull out these centers and group kids according to which skills they need (keeping a strong student at each group unless I plan to work with the lowest kids while the strong kids have a challenge to do). 

Then one year I had another idea to really motivate the kids and keep the centers from feeling stale.  I asked the other fourth grade teacher in my building what he planned to do for review, and when he said with a sigh, "just keep going over old MCAS tests," I asked if he'd like to join forces!  My idea was to "mix up" the classes, and have half of his class come to my room, half of my class go to his, and have a mix of half and half in each activity station.  Being the epitome of easy-going, he said sure!  

We decided to have a nice long block of time, since kids would have a new environment, half of them would be learning a new activity (Mr. E. had his own favorite fraction activities that differed from my usuals) and there would be a whole new group dynamic trying to work cooperatively with kids they hadn't worked with in nearly a year.  We also decided on only having kids visit 2 stations in that time so that they got a taste of transitioning (and nearly all could have a chance to visit the "other" teacher's room) but they didn't feel too rushed and frustrated to have to leave an activity just when they were getting the hang of it.  So we settled on 45 minutes on the first activity (since it would include some introduction time) and 30 minutes on the second activity, with 5 or 10 at the end to debrief and clean up before lunch.

Next, I created a table for the groups.  Names of centers (like Least Common Multiple) on the vertical, and teacher's names on the horizotal.  I put those kids who could use a challenge into the activities Mr. E. had created, then used my test data analysis to place the other kids into activities that they needed to practice.  I made sure I had at a child with a leader-type personality in each, but with my class there is no shortage of those!  I knew that if they could teach a center to someone else, they would feel much more confident come test time.  Once that was finished, I filled in a second copy of the sheet for session 2, making sure I had different kids in each, and I handed it off to Mr. E.

Once he got me a copy of the finalized roster, I wrote the 7 centers on the board (sorry no photo of this) and a piece of colored construction paper got taped under each.  I copied the 6 names for each center underneath, then flipped the papers over and wrote the next six names on the back.  This way once we were ready to switch groups, it was as easy as flipping over 7 papers.  It went pretty easily!  They did have to pack up and bring their centers into the other room at the end of the first session (to help everyone get their change of scenery) but that also ensured couldn't blame any mess on the previous session, since they had to have everything they needed in order to play for the half hour, hehe.  

Overall, it was a huge success!  The kids seemed very invested.  They seemed to enjoy showing new people how to do the games they were familiar with, and they concentrated hard on learning a new game that their peers were already familiar with, like Lattice Multiplication.  Then they relaxed and had fun until it was time to move on.  It really helped keep math practice fresh and interesting during a time of the year when test anxiety can make school feel like the last place you want to be.  At the end of the second session, Mr. E.'s kids were thanking me!  The following week we repeated the process, but had 3 sessions instead of 2 since they were familiar with the process.  I never thought I'd say this, but now I love MCAS review day! 

How do you keep review interesting prior to your state exams?

Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Fourth Grade Weather Unit

I wonder how soon schools will stop buying textbooks in favor of all the great information online.  I've never felt married to my science text before, but this year I have found so much great online content for teaching weather to my fourth graders that I just had to share!

My "segue" to my weather unit always starts with a review of solid liquid and gas.  Then we talk about the water cycle.  Although science books tend to have nice diagrams, I feel like they can't compete with an animation.  This year I showed my students this short video on the water cycle as a whole class.  Then I had them each go view this water cycle animation to learn at their own pace.  Since there is no sound, it was fine for a whole class to go on at the same time on individual computers (we don't have enough headphones to go around).  And they can take their time reading the labeled parts and watching the arrows move.  
Next we always focus on clouds for a lesson.  I give the kids a drawing lesson using clouds and smart background color choices for paper, and they represent three cloud types:  Stratus, cumulus and cirrus.  It's no accident that I placed the stratus lowest and cirrus up high on the display, since their actual elevation is relative in nature.  This year, along with notes on all three, I also had the kids write a short note (it almost could have been a text) to a friend asking them on a play date in two days, and it had to be conducive to the type of weather they were expecting, based on the cloud types.  This was a big hit!  It was a very short, to the point writing assignment, and it was very relevant to their lives. 

I let the kids know, "These are not the only 3 cloud types that exist, so if you look in the sky and can't tell what they are one day, don't feel bad.  For that matter, after learning the fourth grade unit on weather, please don't expect that you'll be able to accurately predict the weather 100% of the time.  Even the meteorologists can't do that."  They laugh, and I feel like they do feel invested in learning what causes weather events, even though they know they don't have the WHOLE story yet.

Next came a discussion on precipitation.  I made a new anchor chart this year:

And last but not least, we talk about air masses that create fronts. 

Instead of doing a demonstration on warm air rising and cold air sinking, I showed them this very short video involving the movement of hot and cold liquid, differentiated by colored food dye.  Free, and no mess!  Easy enough for kids to try at home.

Next we watched a fun little cartoon about fronts, a more realistic animation of cold and warm fronts, and our FAVORITE...BY FAR, was a parody of "Keep Your Head Up" by Andy Grammer, which is all about air masses and fronts.  Most of it is way too advanced for fourth grade, (it was written and performed by a 6th grade science teacher) but it was great for my gifted student, piqued the interest of my more curious students, and entertained my musical students!  To keep it relevant I just encouraged them to remember the bridge and they were happily singing along.   

I knew the unit struck a chord when one of my students told me last week, "Mrs. Thomas, look, it rained, so now the stratus clouds are going away.  We're going to have good weather.  It will probably cool down, too."  

This article was reposted from All Things Upper Elementary.

P.S.  Want more ideas?  Follow along here: 

Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Monday, November 13, 2017

Winner of Ralph Fletcher's new book, The Writing Teacher's Companion

The winner of Ralph Fletcher's new book, The Writing Teacher's Companion is my first commenter.  Congratulations, Susan!  Please leave your Email in the comments below.

Everyone else, thanks for reading.  I'm working on my next book review and I hope to have it up in a few weeks.  Stay tuned for another giveaway!

Disclaimer:  I had to choose another winner because the original did not contact me within 2 weeks.  I'm sorry for any inconvenience! 

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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Review of The Writing Teacher's Companion by Ralph Fletcher

When I was asked to review the newest book by Ralph Fletcher during Back to School season, I couldn't resist.  The man is a legend when it comes to Writer's Workshop.  And I feel like ever since our district adopted Journeys, I've been floundering a bit in terms of refining my writing instruction.  So I forced myself to take a break from my Back to School to do list and crack open The Writing Teacher's Companion.  Suddenly 45 minutes had passed and I was halfway through it.

For a professional text, this book is a super easy read.  Fletcher's voice is strong, and as the title suggests, it's companionable.  It really does feel like a naturally flowing conversation you might have with someone who enjoys their topic and feels so comfortable with it that you feel like you want to hear more, and then go try it yourself.  He doesn't claim that writing instruction is easy, but all his talk of "student choice," "building interest" and "less focus on high stakes testing" is infectious.

The only drawback to this book is that it feels a little unorganized.  I found myself laughing a little because he says himself that he doesn't like graphic organizers, doesn't use them, and values voice over structure.  Mission accomplished then!  Even some of his Table of Contents headings fail to help you find what you're looking for:  "The Burnt and Broken Cookie Plate" and "Something for a Rainy Day" are hints that this book is not primarily about actionable steps, but more about piquing interest.  And he does explain he was purposeful he chose the word "companion" for the title.  The book does what it says, and even as one who appreciates organization, I enjoyed it.

So if you're already familiar with Writer's Workshop, but need a refresher, or need to feel that excitement about launching it again this year, it's a good choice.  And don't get me wrong, it's not JUST a feel good book.  I did learn some new things.

One of the most valuable sections for me was on "Engaging Boy Writers."  This is something I have always struggled with.  Not EVERY boy, obviously, but those 2 or 3 every year that shut down and say "I can't think of anything to write."  And will not write.  And will either disrupt the whole class, haunt the nurse/bathroom/water fountain like clockwork during independent writing time, or just suck all your conferring time needing his hand held and still not produce anything other than direct answers to your most basic questions.  Fletcher has 2 other books devoted to this topic (as I learned in the appendix) so I now know what to read next to further my own development. And really, the appendix has a variety of "next steps" once you finish reading and realize, "I need to troubleshoot THIS part of Writer's Workshop."  Again, just as a knowledgeable companion would do. 

So if you're interested in this book, I'm having a contest to give a copy to someone!  It's open from now until Sunday 11/12/17 at 12pm EST.  That way you should receive your copy in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.  In the comments below, write something you love or struggle with when it comes to teaching writing.  You may even enter with TWO separate comments (one with your love and the other a struggle) because I'd love to have a balance.  Since I already wrote about my struggle, I'll write about favorite part of Writer's Workshop as well.  I love reading those stories with strong voice, where it sounds like the child is telling me something funny that someone said, and the circumstances around it.  When I start getting stories like that, I know I've "arrived" in terms of making the class a place where kids are comfortable enough to share authentically.   

Disclaimer:  I received two free copies of this book from Scholastic in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...