Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Figure Me Out Beginning of the Year Math



With Open House coming up this week, I thought I'd tell you a little about the work I chose to display.


One assignment I gave the kids at the very beginning of the year was to incorporate numbers into a page about their own lives.  Although I've seen this sort of assignment called "Math About Me" elsewhere, I added another layer to the page of birth dates, shoe sizes and number of pets. 

I challenged my fourth graders to create an equation for each number on their page.  I started out VERY simple: 200+1=201, my room number.  I told students "If you remember how to do expanded form, you can."  Of course, this was the simplest sort, but it gave them confidence on that second day of school!

 On the other hand, on my example I included a couple of fraction questions (one simple that many kids were able to figure out, and one that none of them were able to figure out).  There were 3 out of the 8 equations in my sample that I thought would be too hard for them at this point in the year, because I got to promise them, "By the end of the year you'll all be able to figure these out."  I made it a mystery and they were all begging to let them see the answers, haha. 

I required an addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division equation, and they were in fact all able to do it!  I told them I would allow them to use between 2 and 4 numbers per equation.  This way I laid the gauntlet down for problems more interesting than 5+5=10, but not the super annoying 1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1=10, haha. 

These equations were each written on small sticky notes that fit right over the answers.  The result:  anyone walking through the hall can see the topic (My age) the equation (8-3+5) and try to solve it before peeking at the answer.  I think parents would enjoy looking for their child's work (the self portrait in the center is a hint that didn't take up too much time from the actual math learning). 

Do you use a Math About Me activity with your students at the beginning of the year?  Do you think having them come up with equations would work (and if so what age do you teach?)  

Update:  If you like this activity, Figure Me Out is now available for purchase in my TPT store, Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites!  The worksheet, a student checklist that you can use as a grading rubric, 2 pages of instructions, and even 10 pages that you can edit (to include your own shoe size, birthday and so on) and use as a sample poster are included in the product. 




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Daily Math Tasks Rotation Chart


This year I'm going to try out a rotation chart I designed and made.  I'm really proud of it, but time will tell how well it works!

Last year my fourth graders had a hard time with doing their Every Day Counts tasks consistently.  I tried putting cards on their desks to let them know it was their turn to complete a task, but they'd tell me they:



1.  Lost the card
2.  Forgot
3.  Didn't know they were supposed to do it because they thought someone else put it on their desk

Mmhmm.  So I decided to post them.  The trouble is, I dreaded the idea of moving every kids' clothespin every single day after school.  I know this works for some teachers; I just wasn't feeling it.  No, I wanted something that I could just slide and everyone's name would move down.  Hence the Daily Math Tasks Rotation Chart was born!  Here's how I did it:

1.  To create this chart, I started with standard 8 1/2 by 11 aqua paper, but turned it to landscape. 

2.  I stuck the title at the top, of course.

3.  Then, all still in landscape, I created a table with 2 columns.  On the right I typed up the tasks I wanted.  I'm not sure if you can see that I left between a quarter and a half inch of space between each row.  Then on the left I typed up the kid's names (I changed half of them for this post for student privacy) with the same amount of space. I left some blank spaces for when (not if, it's always when) I get new students.  I made an extra column of blank rows for tasks so that I can add tasks as the year progresses.  I also made a second column of kids' names (not shown) because I'm guessing I'll need them in order to "loop" the names.  Otherwise if I move the strip down, when the kid on top is doing the second task, there will be no one above him to do the multiples task!

4.  I cut out each column separately.  The tasks got glued to the right and then I laminated it.  I laminated the kids' names separately.

5.  Next I cut the slits.  I used a ruler and a box cutter to make sure I was following the guidelines on the task list.  I was careful to leave those vertical borders while still making the slits wide enough for the names strip to fit through.   

I'm really happy with the look and construction of this chart. There are just 2 things that I need to think about:

1.  What happens when a kid is absent?  My plan will be to take the first name that appears below the blue, write them on a post it, and stick it over the absentee kids' name.  Or I could have an early finisher volunteer to do it (Update:  One of my students suggested that I create another job called "Substitute" and that person fills in if anyone is out that day.  Apparently another teacher in the building uses that job for her job chart.  Love it!  Thanks Mrs. L...I'm guessing that was all you, haha). 

2.  Is it going to be possible to loop the names back behind the chart while it's hanging up?  That was actually my plan all along, but now I'm wondering how it will lay flat.  Oops.  I might need to reconsider that plan and just hang a poster under the chart to hide the names.  That would probably be the most sensible solution and let me focus on other things!  (Update:  I having it hanging in a corner so that the names section has space and it's even closer to the calendar itself.  Like it was meant to be!)

I think it's got some potential for this year.  Plus it looks nice with the rest of my Every Day Counts wall!  I did update this wall (it was one of my Summer Projects).  Some of my other upgrades include:

  1. I'm hoping the Depositor is easier to see but still reach now that it's above the calendar.
  2. The containers for money lay flat and coordinate so nicely with my colors!
  3. Fractions labels are typed and ready (but hard to see when laminated, grrr).
  4. There is a spot and organization system in place for the monthly geometry words!  That polka dot poster board (made from wrapping paper mounted on poster board and laminated) will house all the words as we generate and discuss our list.  At the end of the month the September poster will be hung above the closets for the remainder of the year. 
  5. The only thing I have left to add (now that we're halfway through September) is I realized we sort of need to create a "pattern" section as well.  After the kids noticed alternating colors for September we don't really need to talk about it every. single. day.  Maybe once the pattern is posted they'll get the idea that they don't need to bring it up every time, haha. 

Any thoughts?  Has anyone tried a rotation poster that they can link in the comments below?



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

CARES Character Education Banner



Just a very quick post today (since I blogged once already this week already) about my Character Education system.

I use CARES for my Student of the Month program.  Each month our school focuses on one of these letters:
  • Cooperation
  • Assertion
  • Responsibility
  • Empathy
  • Self Control

At the start of each month we talk about what the word means and share examples of how we, or someone we know, has exhibited that behavior.  At the end of each week we debrief about who we have seen exhibiting this behavior.  And for anyone who is not exhibiting this behavior (or exhibiting behaviors to the contrary) I give them a checklist of specific ways they can improve for the following week.

In the past I had a small poster with the CARES acronym but this year I wanted to make it stand out more.  To make my character education banner, I recycled the design that I used for the table numbers and birthday pencils.  The fonts I used are all free fonts, and the blue backgrounds are simply paper plates!  I saved a lot of ink using the plates instead of printing out bunting, which I originally planned to do (I already had lots of plates from when I'd found them on sale). 

They really stand out despite being really high up, but they coordinate with the colors and dots in my room. 

How do you display your character development expectations?





Monday, September 9, 2013

Organizing Our Classroom Library


Setting up your classroom library is one of those tasks most elementary teachers do over the summer.  They come in on one of their vacation days and sweat it out for a few hours in order to get books into baskets with cute tags to label them so that when the children arrive, it's all set up ready for browsing.

On the other hand, I have my students sort our library!

First Day of School: Neat but not Organized
I do go in over the summer to make my library look very neat (just not organized).  I actually just replaced some of my baskets this year to make the library look neater.  I also have lots of book bin labels ready made at the start of the year.  So some years I might use the "C.S. Lewis" label but other years I might use the "Chronicles of Narnia" label and the author label stays filed away for another year.  But if a couple new labels need making based on their ideas once they get started I do it!

We talk about 4 ways to organize:  Series, Author, Genre, and Topic.  They come to fourth grade knowing a LOT about genres so all I do is a quick refresher on using text features like pictures, clues in the title, and skimming the back cover. 

Next I put a basket of books at each group with a packet of small Post It Notes.The kids go through the basket and make piles on their desks with the labels, and I go around taking piles and laying them on the shelf out of their way.  When a group is almost finished I drop another basket off at their desk.

After the first day (30 minutes of sorting)
In order to ensure a higher success rate I do tend to make sure that there are some "like" books in each basket.  For example, I might have 7 A to Z Mysteries, 5 Beverly Cleary books, and 8 nonfiction in a basket along with a few "other."  After all, when they are packed up, like books are near each other anyway, so it's not much extra work just to check and make a few adjustments.

If we can't get it all finished in one day (I do this activity at the end of the day) I leave one basket at each group so they have something to browse through during their "I'm Done, Now What" time the next day.  The remaining unsorted baskets go back on the shelf with a red card inside, so they know at a glance what's left.
After the second day

I usually make a few changes once they go home in order to have the right amount of baskets and space, but it really helps the kids become familiar with what I have available to read and where to find it from the very start.  It gets kids interacting with the baskets instead of approaching them with a sense of not being sure where to start.

Taking the role of facilitator instead of provider when it comes to organizing the library also helps those kids who get stuck in a "reading rut" and visit the same old book basket again and again, hoping that another book from their favorites series will magically appear.  And for a handful of kids, it gets them excited to find a new, different book.  They'll ask me, "I know this is a fantasy book, but instead of putting it in the basket am I allowed to keep it?"  What better way to get kids reading than to make them beg for it?  ;)   So even though our district adopted a basal program a few years ago, I still make time at the beginning of the year to let them be the ones to organize the books they'll be choosing to read.





Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Classroom Brag Post



Ready or not, the kids are coming!  As my assistant principal said, "Whatever's not finished, there's always Tuesday."  So with that in mind, I prioritized and the room is as read as it's going to be for the first day of school.  The rest can hang out on the old to do list for a little while longer.  So here's the tour!




1.  Behavior Management Visual:  This has enjoyed an upgrade from last year.  I've used this stoplight for over a decade, and in spite of the cute clip charts I've seen on Pinterest, I couldn't bring myself to pitch it and start over.  Plus my fourth graders really like the little "gingerbread men" that are Velcroed to the felt circles.  So I made a few improvements that I think have brought it up to speed with modern charts!  First, the labels are right on it so that it's clear we're aiming for green and not red.

It also has a further explanation that is more attractive right beside it (instead of on oak tag).  And finally, it has 5 steps instead of 3, so that kids who get a warning move their name before they move it for the consequence.  Hopefully that will create more accountability than, "Did I already give you a warning?"  And finally, my last minute idea was to write positive and negative numbers to show that there are two levels to the positive and negative sections.  Math concept reinforcement bonus!

2.  Group table signs:  My grade level partner had signs (colors) for his groups and it helped me when I had to watch his class during transition times.  I thought it was about time I was kind to my substitutes and do this!




For each of these I bent a paper plate inside out to staple it to the back of a second paper plate (this way there is not blank, white back side).  I printed off the word "Group" in a free font from daFont, and made the number graphics myself.  Then I cut a beaded necklace in half, hole punched the paper plate and stuck the bead through.  I lucked out; it was a tight enough squeeze that I'm confident it will stay on.  Finally I opened a paper clip 45 degrees, put the first bead on the other end through, and then closed it up again, bending it into a 45 degree angle the other way.  That angled paper clip then slides right under the ceiling tile easily.


3.  The Student Paperwork Area didn't need much; just a couple new signs.  The mailbox is new though!  I got inspiration for it on Pinterest and found these folders for a reasonable price at Target.  I'm hoping it will help get notices distributed more efficiently (I can just stick them into folders while the kids are taking a test or working independently.  That way they aren't disrupted from what they're doing to put things away at a bad time).


4.  Administration provided some character education posters for us, so I put them on my door.

I also updated the quote I've had up for over a decade, "A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but a person with a certain set of attitudes."  Now it has a picture of a boy who looks elated despite/because he's standing out in a downpour.

I already blogged about my updated borders on my doors and job chart bulletin board, filing cabinet, bookshelves, and math manipulatives shelf.  Loving how they look! 

 
So that's pretty much what the kids saw on their first day.  The rest of the room is intentionally a blank slate!  I like to add content with my class so that they take ownership of it.  That's why you won't see any anchor charts in this post.  Together over the next week we will be creating classroom rules, organizing our library, building word walls with strong vocabulary choices, exploring math concepts and so on.
White space but not for long!
View from the door
If you like this look, you can get my lime green and teal decor here.  Next time I'll show you how my math wall turned out (it's that little bit tucked in the bottom left corner), since that could take up a whole post on its own!







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