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?







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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."  

Score!
 
This article was reposted from All Things Upper Elementary.




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

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