Tuesday

Teaching Estimates: The Calculator or the Estimator?

My students seemed to forget how to estimate over the summer.  Their morale was really low while taking, and also after receiving their corrected estimation pretests.  I reassured them that the pretest scores won't go on the report card, but they should learn, as I did, that they have a lot to learn so we're going to have to work very hard during this unit.

Then, to get them invested, I wrote 4 scenarios on the board when estimating would be helpful:

1.  Find out how much money I would get per month if I was making a 6 figure salary.
2.  How much would it cost to buy all my friends, the teachers in the school, a cup of coffee tomorrow morning?
3. If I had 6 figures in the bank and wanted to buy a house and a car, (not on credit) could I afford it?

The kids made up the numbers for each scenario.  Then I challenged them to find the answers faster than me.  The hook: the student competing against me (name pulled at random) got to use a calculator, but I got to estimate.

Well, we were interrupted due to class photos, so before the competition took place I told them, "When we get back, we'll see who's faster:  The calculator...or The Estimator!"

They were still calling me The Estimator for 2 hours after math!

(And yes, I won, haha).

I tried a new procedure for teaching rounding this year, since it was clear from their pretest that teaching them the old "High 5" trick didn't work last year.  Not only did many kids think "rounding down" meant that that the number in the place they are rounding to goes down by one, but many kids forgot to change any numbers to zero.  I was shocked.  They remembered, "My teacher told us five or higher means to round up," but they did not remember how to apply that knowledge mathematically.

I found a different method on Pinterest that uses the idea of number lines, but in a different, slightly less visual/writing sort of way.  I like it because for some kids, drawing a whole number line is so much work that they forget what they're doing by the time they've drawn it.  And this way really reinforces what it means when you say, "Round down."  I think it will alleviate the issue of some kids thinking 523 rounds to 510 because they think the digit they are rounding to goes down!  Not to mention those kids who forget that a rounded number ends in zero.  My updated version of the rounding anchor chart I found looks like this.

The new chart worked really well!  Of course not every student liked the switch, but it was so worth it for those learners who were not remembering the old way.  Overall my class did much better on the post test, and all the kids remembered the basics during their MCAS review:
• They remembered the numbers need to end in zero.
• They remembered that "round down" means the number will be smaller but the number you're rounding to does not get smaller.
• The only thing that a couple kids forgot was the difference between, say, rounding 13,350 to the nearest hundred vs rounding it to the nearest thousand.
So once they got it, we practiced, practiced, practiced.  I created this estimating dice game, which is now available for you too!

Wednesday

Words Wall for Revising

My Tier 2 Vocabulary board is growing!  Last year I used chart paper and tombstones for those overused "dead" words.  We did a fun activity that got kids up, moving and talking about the shades of meaning for synonyms and antonyms for "good" and "bad."  Then this year I got a great idea on Pinterest to have envelopes for my "dead words."  The boring word is crossed out on the front, and the list of words we create is pinned below.  After a week or so, the words below are removed and placed in the envelope.

Much of the list is student generated, because I wanted to get some of those words in their receptive vocabulary into their productive vocabulary.  But of course, for those kids in my class who already have an impressive vocabulary, I added about 25% new words to the lists.  It was a fun addition to my collection of lessons on improving word choice.

As kids are revising their narratives, they can go up to the board to take better words from the appropriate envelope, then replace them once they've spelling them correctly.  The kids helped come up with the words, and the kids get up to it to revisit "their" words.  It's a truly interactive bulletin board!

The board is pretty cluttered at the moment because we tackled a biggie: "said."  You can see up to 6 distinct sections of words because we classified them into loud, soft, ask, tell, emotional, and "other."  As the year goes on, I look forward to more and more envelopes filling the space!

The lettering for the title, "Words We Change When We Revise" is just a fun, bold font.  I cut up the letters to make them stand out more than if I had just cut the words.  It took a little more time, but I figure if it's a bulletin I keep updating all year it's worth it to make it eye-catching.  And it really is one that can be built on all year.  The current list of green envelopes are more for narrative writing.  Once we start transition words for non-fiction writing, I think I'll switch to a new colored envelope, and another new color for persuasive terminology.

This was a logical extension to my lesson on adding dialogue to personal narratives.  Next time I'll talk about crafting power sentences and creating mood in our narrative writing.  These lessons will help kids understand the concepts for the reading portion of the state tests on a deeper level because they are using the techniques to strengthen their own stories and become better communicators.

Monday

Edit for Dead Words: Lesson 1

On Friday, we did another Vocabulary Spectrum activity.  I started out by telling my fourth graders that I read the stories in their writer's notebooks, and although they all had different, interesting experiences, most of them described them the same way: they were "good."

So I told the kids to be more clear, we have got to get rid of "good," and for that matter, let's get rid of "good's" opposite, "bad."

For each group (of 4 kids) I picked one person to write "good" words, and another to write "bad" words.  I set 3 minutes on my timer (Kitchen Timer, an Android app for my phone, which crows like a rooster as an alarm).  The kids in each group told the note taker their ideas for "good" words.  When the time was up, they got another 3 minutes to come up with words for "bad."

At that point, the kids with more limited vocabularies were able to hear words they are not as used to using, so no one was going to be put on the spot if I called on them.  So I "pulled sticks," (like pulling names out of a hat, but instead I use the sticks from the lunch count that they put into cups) and asked every kid to give me a word.  I wrote each word on a (large, 3 by 5) Post It note, had them hold them, and go to the front of the room.  Then I asked the kids to line up according to degree.  "The MOST good on this side, and the MOST bad on that side."

There was some disagreement about where to stand, but as long as it bred discussion and reasoning, not personal attacks, I encouraged the kids to explain their reasoning to each other (and rock, paper scissor as a last resort).  Once most of the kids had decided where to stand, I asked them to read their word with emotion going down the line.

To reinforce the activity, the next day's Morning Work was to choose from the words they worked with and switch for "good" and "bad" within their stories.  It was a quick, simple revision activity that even the most reticent/wants-to-be-done-the-first-time kid can handle!

This activity is part of my Word Choice Activities product.  Next week I'll show you more about revising for word choice by tying our lesson on dialogue to choosing more specific words for "said."  Thinking about precise language will be a stepping stone for later on when we craft power sentences and create mood in our stories.  Some of these activities involve moving around, others involve art, some involve acting.  By switching it up, I consider the learning preferences of all my students because my ultimate goal is to help my students improve their communication skills.

Sunday

Teachers Who Buy Their Lesson Plans on TPT are Lazy and Criminal

This seems to be the charge.  Teachers are expected to write their own lesson plans and teach their students, everyone knows that.  Oh, and if your teacher catches you buying a report off the internet, you get severely punished for cheating, so it's hypocritical and criminal for teachers to buy lessons on the internet.  Right?

You decide.  Here are 3 scenarios involving teachers and their lesson plans:

1.  The First Year Teacher

Miss Jones was so excited to get her first teaching job.  She created a fantastic unit for her student teaching practicum, working all month on getting it just right, and when she taught it her cooperating teacher and professor could see she had what it takes to be a creative, compassionate teacher.

Now it's October.  Instead of getting a month to perfect a unit, and getting feedback at every turn, she is pretty much on her own.  Sure the other teachers are friendly and supportive, but she knows that ultimately, it's her name on the door.  She's planned out her Math, Reading, and Writing very carefully and has lots of creative ideas for math games and writing topics that are engaging to her class.  But since it's not on the state exams, there's not many resources at her school for science.  She knows she's supposed to teach about the life cycle of a butterfly, but the textbook only has one page on the subject.  Since she's just starting out she really can't afford to go buy a "grow your own butterflies" kit from a school supply store.  Should she:

1.  Muddle through with a lecture that bores the kids and leads to misbehavior, setting a lousy tone for the rest of the afternoon?

2.  The Veteran Teacher

Mr. Brown has been teaching for 10 years.  He's been lucky enough to stay at the same grade level for the past 4 years, and is feeling comfortable with the developmental level of his fourth graders, as well as the curriculum.  He taught his tried and true lesson on long division, which has always been very engaging for his students in the past.

Except no one told this year's group of kids that.

When he looked over the quizzes on Friday, he found that these kids did not understand that the quotient in division is always going to be SMALLER than the dividend.  Their answers were so far off the mark that it was clear they didn't understand the concept of dividing, never mind the procedureDoes he:

1.  Move on, because it was just this group of kids that can't get the concept.
2.  Purchase a long division matching game that shows kids visually how to divide items into equal sized groups, with some remaining?

3.  The Not Quite Ready to Retire Teacher:

Mrs. Smith has dedicated the last 30 years to educating the children of your city.   She's been teaching second grade for 20 years, and absolutely loves her students as much as her grandchildren.  The other teachers in the building call her "Mom."  She KNOWS how to teach her students how to read, write, and compute, and she knows how to teach children how to care about doing the right thing.

Last year in math, Chapter 8 was all about telling time.  Mrs. Smith loves this chapter, and the dance she teaches the children for identifying half hours, quarter hours, and "o'clock."  But this year, the state has adopted the new Common Core Curriculum standards.  They assume that children learned all that last year, in first grade.  Of course, since they were just adopted this year, this current group of kids didn't.  She went to the fourth grade teacher in the building for materials on teaching elapsed time, and although she was happy to help her "Mom," the materials were just not "young" enough for second grade.  Although they were great for fourth grade, the font was too small, there weren't clear, big enough boxes to write answers into, and the page had so many problems on it that it would overwhelm a small child.  Should she:

1.  Give it to them anyway?
2.  Purchase more age appropriate elapsed time worksheets?

If your son or daughter had the above 3 teachers, would you prefer they selected the first option?  Or the second?  Because it doesn't matter how new or how seasoned their teachers are.  Even the best teacher, who has created hundreds of lessons, games, mnemonic devices, topics of study, and posters for their class is going to encounter a new challenge this year (or month or week).  When it happens, would you prefer that they use what they have with the attitude of "let's just get this over with?"  Or would you rather see them take the time to research another way to teach, or a more engaging activity to use with the kids?

Friday

Crafting Power Sentences Lesson

Thanks again to Pinterest, I found another fantastic anchor chart for our personal narratives on crafting "power sentences."  We all want our students to learn how to write with "emotion," but a lot of times they're at a loss:  how do you do that?  They recognize good writing, but they just don't have the vocabulary to liven up their writing.

Enter the 3 step "Power Sentence" formula!

To get the kids into the mindset that our stories should have a mood, before I even led them in topic selection (which has become easier for me thanks to Lucy Calkins) I asked them to write down moods that they wish they could create in their stories.  "Do you wish you could write a scary story?  A depressing story?  A funny story?"  Fourth graders are just starting to think about how they want others to see them, so this question speaks to their SOUL.

Once topics are identified, they've added some dialogue, and their stories are orally shared, and a first draft is made (and the kids think they're done, but as teachers we've only started) that's when I rolled out this anchor chart.  And just I did on the Author's Viewpoint (for My Brother Martin) I decided how exactly to roll out the poster.  I like how she taught it over on Teaching My Friends, but I decided to change it up and save the "mood" for the end, so that the kids would keep guessing what the writer was going for.

Instead of starting with the mood, I started with the "description" side, talked a bit about adjectives, and wrote down their guesses (spending more time on the obvious "the dark and shadowy stairs" than on "the stairs.")  Then I challenged them to go to their desk and add one describing word to their story.  They had 2 minutes, then had to come back to the rug.  It was good frenzied fun for a class that has very little writing stamina at this stage.

Then I unrolled the verb choice, took more guesses about the target emotion, and encouraged them to take whatever verb they want, depending on the mood.  I told them to cross out any example of "went," or "walked" or "came" and writing this word above.  Again, just 2 minutes!  And finally, the body language to show how the person was feeling even more explicitly, final guesses, and 2 minutes to add something.  We ended with a big reveal of the "answers," which they got (except they read "sad" as bored!)

It was helpful to have a preview lesson with the "dead words" we discussed in two separate lessons (photos later in the year as the board fills up!  But basically like this.).  Here is what the kids did for Morning Work:

I really feel like this anchor chart helped every student, regardless of first language or reticent, to add some emotive words to their stories.  Next step for Writer's Workshop will be a whole lesson about body language!  After that, we'll need more "dead words" lessons, especially for "went."  Luckily Brian over at The Write at Home Blog already posted 200 ways to help us use more precise language.  I can't wait!

Thursday

Math in Focus Chapter 2: Making Long Division Easy

Today I made long division easy.

Last year, when we adopted Math in Focus, we were all shaken up about bar modeling during our 2 in service days at the start of the year.  Once we started teaching the first unit on place value, things did not seem quite so bad.

And then we started Chapter 2.

With NO background in division and little experience multiplying beyond their facts (which most of them forgot) this was a nightmare for children and teachers alike.  I was frustrated that it was so new to me that it was all I could do to keep up with the materials gathering and pre-teaching, and it was killing me to see kids who used to think they were smart, now feel like failures.

I was NOT going through all that again.

The second year is always better.  Their third grade teachers had the same frustrations with the new program last year, but at least this group of kids got a taste of the methodology.  I had a better sense of what they need to do BEFORE hitting Chapter 2 (5 weeks of extra facts and regrouping practice for identified students for a start) and also what they needed to know by the end (they don't actually need to be expert long dividers or 3 by 1 digit multipliers because that comes later, in Chapter 3)  Instead, I could focus on the bigger picture:  developing stronger number sense.

So as I went through the chapter again this year, and they hit their first significant stumbling block, instead of feeling overwhelmed, I was ready.  I realized that all the place value work that seemed silly in Chapter 1 (why do they need to know 140 is 14 tens?) suddenly made perfect sense.  Suddenly, I realized that this is the key to why the long division algorithm actually works!  And then, the day after a lesson that semi-failed (5 kids mastered it, 8 got it but only with support, and 6 felt like they would never be able to do it) I had an epiphany.  I saw just how to set up a long division problem so that they wouldn't forget where to write that multiple and where to write the answer (any 4th grade teacher knows it is SO hard for some kids to get used to writing their answer at the top instead of bottom!)

Now, when the first lesson (the purple visual on the left) didn't work out, I took a step back and whipped up a quick worksheet for homework that got them practicing one isolated step:  namely, step 3.  I gave them a problem like the 4 divided by 14, and modeled on the worksheet how to count by 4s and write 12 under the problem.  And NOTHING else.  No zero, no place values, no estimated quotient.  Just listing multiples to find what to write underneath.  That was something they were ALL successful with, because we'd been practicing multiplication and division facts since the first week of school.  But that wasn't my stroke of genius.

Look again at the diagonal red line.  It crosses out the 14, leaving the 4, 12, and 3 fact family plain as day!  As I told the kids before I started, "You're going to love this, it's going to be like a magic trick."  And they ate it up.  I knew I created a system that worked when more than one student thanked me for teaching this to them.  "Mrs. Thomas, I finally GET it now!"

Monday

I have been re-inspired to create more anchor charts in language arts.  Along with a sample reading response, I posted my expectations for responses.  I think it's short and to the point, and I think the 6 main points stand out.

The chart shows how to start, the mechanics, the focus, and the content.

Hopefully it will help students work more independently on their reading responses this year!

Wednesday

Fourth Grade Journeys Lesson for My Brother Martin

Loosely based on another fantastic Pinterest find, I created an anchor chart for Journey's 4th grade Unit 1, Lesson 2 objective, finding the author's purpose.  The name of the selection is "My Brother Martin," and it's a biography that Martin Luther King's sister wrote about her brother, including humorous accounts of the early years!  (I think Journeys has GREAT selections for their whole class lessons).  Well, the chart was a hit!  I used the same layout, but noted those details Kristine King included about her brother to infer what she wanted us to know about him.

Since there is a LOT of text on here for a 4th grader to take in, I didn't just tack it up on the wall and read it to them.  Instead, I kept it rolled up and only unraveled down to the top 3 blue inferences I made.  The kids had to go back into the story with a partner to find evidence to support my inference.  After sharing, we did the same thing for the next two, and then for the bottom 3.  The kids were very engaged, not only finding relevant evidence, but also asking meaningful questions about civil rights.  They were practicing a usually difficult task, and getting excited with the suspense of seeing the entirety of the poster.

The lesson that followed involved the kids making their own inferences about the author's purpose.  It was obvious to them that "My Brother Martin" was supposed to inform us about what MLK's early years.  However, to help them make inferences about what various authors were trying to convey, I gave them a list of character traits (that's right, more Pinterest inspiration) to describe characters in their independent choice books.  This was a huge success!  Instead of hearing "this character is nice" and "that character is good (or happy.  Or friendly)," kids chose words that they were familiar with (just not part of their productive vocabulary) and found evidence to support their inferences.

Once they were able to think critically about the characters, the fact that (most) of their authors had the same purpose: to entertain, became clear.  All in all, a really successful lesson!  If you want to try it with your class but you don't use the Journeys Anthology, you can get a copy of My Brother Martin here (affiliate link).