Saturday, April 21, 2018

Equivalent Fractions Lesson Fail (and Fix)

The week after vacation, as every teacher knows, is crunch time.  We know that the state math test is rapidly approaching and equivalent fractions lesson reviews are in order.  And we know that the pressure is ON.  As veteran teachers, the whole thing is old hat.

It's not old hat to our kids, however!
Usually my fourth graders tend to be well rested after a vacation (a benefit of teaching upper elementary kids; they don't forget about classroom expectations like the little ones).  But during Monday's equivalent fractions lesson, my kiddos were just not on their game.

The Equivalent Fractions Lesson Fail

First, I was all excited to do an equivalent fractions activity involving stations and manipulatives and exploring different shapes and amounts of pieces that can equal one whole.  I was going to lead a discussion on patterns we notice and post photos of all their ideas and it was going to be collaborative and hands on and foster real mathematical thinking.
That is not what occurred.  At all.
Similarly, my plan was to end the day with a fantastic board game I created that help kids practice how heating and cooling results in a solid, liquid, or gas.  I spent my vacation finding cute fonts for the game pieces, typing up directions, and looking forward to more thank yous like I got on 100s day for the fun activity that helped them practice a tricky concept until it was mastered.
Again...nope.  Most of the class was so off task that I called off the game.  I let the kids who had done focused work help me with some coloring/cutting prep, and left it for the next day.
It just confirms the fact that no matter how carefully you plan a lesson, no matter how fun you make it, and no matter how many classes it's worked for in the past, not every equivalent fractions lesson works for every group of children.  Otherwise there would be a single curriculum that everyone uses.
So here's how I turned a day 1 equivalent fractions lesson fail into a day 2 triumph!

Changing the Content Delivery for My Equivalent Fractions Lesson

The first problem was that the kids bicker, a lot.  Despite Morning Meeting and Responsive Classroom, and student generated rules and setting expectations for group work and reminders 5 minutes prior to starting, they still bicker.
The second problem was that despite modeling each station, posting the model and directions on the board, and answering questions/the same question 10 times, lots of kids just did not understand concept and/or, more likely, the directions.
So what I decided was to give them an extra day of break...from each other.  I love collaborative learning and I do lots of it.  Which is strange, because I'm an introvert.  Or maybe it's BECAUSE I'm an introvert, and it doesn't come naturally to me, so I want very much to impart the strategies I've learned in order to help other introverts in my class.  But when it's not working, there's no sense beating a dead horse.  When the concept is too hard AND they have to focus on collaborating well, it's too much for them to handle; one of those things has got to give, and today it was the collaboration.

The Equivalent Fractions Lesson Fix

So for Tuesday's equivalent fractions lesson reboot I came in with...a worksheet.  I know, I know, what a horrible teacher I am.  Antiquated methods and all that.  But you know what?  They did it.  They did focused work for the period, they noticed patterns during this revised equivalent fractions lesson, and they enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere that coloring patterns tends to evoke.

Once they finished the worksheet, I pulled out the manipulatives once again with a different, higher level skill to work on.  But by starting out with a coloring worksheet (you can get it free from my TPT store) with the exact same skill that didn't come to them when they were collaborating with a hands on activity, suddenly they could do it.
 Image credit:  www.mycutegraphics.com
I continued to rethink the cooperative work hiatus in the afternoon.  I didn't let them play the science game in their groups.  Instead I told them they were going to "play with me."  I chose only 4 kids to get a game board, and I got one too.  I situated them so that kids could look on with those that got to play.  And then we each took turns, drew cards, read them aloud, talked about our move, practiced the good sportsmanship I was modeling, and applauded the first person who got to the finish line.
I'd never tried a board game this way.
I liked it!
I'm absolutely using this strategy at the beginning of the year, and whenever a class has a case of the "bickers."  It really helped, and actually, the nearby kids weren't too bored.  They started saying "us," instead of "her" (the person near them playing).  They formed informal teams.  That created a much nicer atmosphere than having 5 separate groups with every man for himself, and bickering.

Sometimes you just know:  It's time for plan B!

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I originally posted this on All Things Upper Elementary.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Happy Square Day's Eve!

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.  However 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.

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 wished my fourth graders a "Happy Square Day."

"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."

"Because it happens FIVE times every month!"

(...)

Hey, some of them saw the humor.  The ones that didn't, well, their curiosity 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 recalled.

"That's right.  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!

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?"

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?"  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.

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 Square Day, and they know that on the day before Square Day their weirdo teacher is going to be giddy with anticipation.

How do you keep square numbers fresh for students?  Will you try Square's Day tomorrow on 4/16, or next week on 4/25?

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Morning Meeting Greeting: What's the News?

At my school we do Morning Meeting.

Although most teachers were already pros at it by the time our current principal came along, it was new to me!  I felt like a fish out of water because it was such a stark contrast to Lorainne Monroe's "Do Now," teacher-directed, "leave your baggage at the door and do what the teacher says without a word" philosophy of my previous school.  My teaching style tends to fall somewhere in the middle of this wide spectrum!

By the end of the second year, I felt invested in Morning Meeting.  My principal had modeled how to run a meeting sitting in a circle in our rug area, having a fun greeting, share time, an activity, and making announcements.  I researched lots of activities to do for the "game" portion and greetings, and this year I've done a pretty good job of mixing things up.  Since every group of kids has a different dynamic, my fourth graders this year have different favorite "go to" activities this year from last year, and by far our favorite greeting has been, "What's the News?"

I have a very chatty class this year.  Even my most attentive listeners love the opportunity to talk, talk and talk some more.  So hearing their news is always interesting.  It always sparks great conversation.  And it always means that Morning Meeting runs the risk of lasting a half hour.

I know, I have the option of limiting the number of students who share.  I'm just always afraid of missing really important news.  I'd hate to listen to a kid talk about, "yesterday I got to go to the mall" while that other kid who isn't chosen that day gets no opportunity to voice, "my baby cousin was born," or "my dad was in a car accident."  Besides, everyone needs to be greeted.  And I know, I could have them partner up to greet each other at the same time...but it doesn't work.  They all stop to listen to each other and then feel bad when they run out of time listening to each other.  So once I started this tradition of sharing our news, it was hard to get out of it!

Then I thought about another strength of my class.  They enjoy technology (and as you can guess by the fact that I have several blogs, so do I).  Our classroom blog is for them as opposed to their parents (you can see the benefits of Edmodo vs. Weebly in this post).  I realized not only is technology a huge hook for them this year, but what I really needed was to borrow from a well known website that is geared towards quick updates.  Something that would allow students to all be heard, but only for a moment.

Hence the birth of our Twitter Board!

I'd seen another teacher create a Twitter bulletin board outside the classroom for the beginning of the year with sentence strips, so I thought about how I could make the board more visible in my classroom.  I inherited a pocket chart when I started teaching at my current school, and it's always been under utilized.  So I laminated some sentence strips to put in the pockets.  Each strip has a student's name on it, that way they can each write only one "Tweet" per day, as soon as they come in in the morning.

It is a work in progress teaching them how to put their news under the last person's news, and how to start fresh on a new day, covering yesterday's news but not anyone's news for today (there are fewer pockets than kids, so we have to accept there will be "overlap," but so far there hasn't been a day when more than 10 kids have news to tweet).

Overall it's been a big hit!  For one thing, when I told the kids that, "Although I love hearing all your news each day, I feel like we're sitting in the circle for too long each morning," they emphatically agreed!  Since introducing this system, I usually get at least 6 kids who want to Tweet, so all I need to do for our "share time" is to run through the Tweets myself.  Between this and my Morning Meeting Shares sign up system, I feel like I've finally gotten a pretty good handle on managing this routine!  The kids are as glad as I am that Morning Meeting moves along at a quicker pace without squashing anyone's news.

Do you have any sort of "share time" in your class?