Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fourth Grade MCAS Prep: ELA Composition and Reading Test

In Massachusetts, our standardized test is the MCAS.  And in fourth grade, we have 2 ELA MCAS tests we take in March.  One is for writing, and the other is for reading.  However, students need to be able to write on both of these tests, and the type of writing is very different.  We need to prepare students for both types of writing (narrative and expository).

The added challenge this year was the fact that we had a snow day that postponed our writing test.  Every district has to take the writing test on the same day in order to keep the test secure (there is a single writing prompt, so of course, it would not be acceptable for that question to be leaked)!  So when this date was changed, it meant that our district had to move one of our reading test dates, and give the writing test in between reading test days.

So although the students have been thoroughly prepared for both tests, they need to be flexible enough to go back and forth between writing tasks without a day of review in between.  My solution was to prepare them a few days before with a Venn diagram.

As you can see, we use the ANSWER method to for written responses to reading.  The ARMS and CUPS acronyms have been courtesy of Pinterest (those links will bring you to those fantastic anchor charts).  And DYB means to "Do Your Best!" 

Do you have any anchor charts that help your students distinguish between types of writing they've focused on this year?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Using What We Know about Fractions Equivalent to One Half

Fractions just started to get more interesting for my fourth grade class.  The kids started to get excited about the discoveries they were making.  What a complete 180 from the week before!  (Get it?  180 degrees?  One half?)

I started out today's lesson with a "warm up that is also a hint."  I wrote 2 and 9 on the board, and under that I wrote 7 and 8.  I asked which ones were far apart and which ones were close together.  I wanted them to be able to recognize a fraction like 1/20 has numbers that are far apart, so it is smaller than a half, and a number like 3/4 has numbers close together, so it's greater than a half. 

In the past when I asked my class, "What do you notice about the numbers in the fractions," they would struggle, looking for odds and evens and other coincidences that weren't actually moving their thinking in a direction that would help them with this concept.  With this warm up, they actually got the concept halfway through the lesson, and they OWNED it.  They felt like they were discovering this on their own.  Really powerful!  

This was even after I made a joke and asked, "Which numbers are close together, and which are far apart.  Not literally."

1                              2
3  9

They thought it was funny.

The next step, after identifying those fractions that were equal to a half, was to identify fractions that are greater and smaller than half.  I gave them another chance, and allowed students to get manipulatives to test out a few of the fractions on the page.  They did a better job with the materials this time, maybe because their product was an individual one instead of a group one.

So once again, I asked students to memorize two fractions, this time one that was greater than a half and a fraction that was less than a half, write them on a poster and randomly stick them on the poster.  Once again, I was able to rapidly sort them and once again, I asked them to figure out how I was able to do it.  And once again, they made some impressive observations that I was able to commemorate in an anchor chart. 

They each copied their favorite method, and went back to work on their papers with a new found strategy and way to explain how they know what they learned.

As promised, I posted the coloring page they started the day before for you to download for free for a limited time. 

Here are the finished results!

The kids had their quiz on fractions greater than, less than, and equal to a half, in preparation for moving on to, well, the rest of fractions, haha.  Luckily we still get to "limit" the fractions that our fourth graders are exposed to.  For example, 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and pretty much anything over 12ths are not in the CCSS. That takes a lot of the pressure off of focusing on the algorithm as the only tried and true method of finding an equivalent fraction.

I'm loving the more exploratory methods I'm "allowed" to focus on this year instead.  There will be plenty of time later to multiply the numerator and denominator by the same number.  Because for now, they seemed to deeply understand the concept of half, greater than half, and less than half; they all passed their quiz, woo!  Next week I might post the quiz as a freebie too, but it's also hand written.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Upper Elementary Collaborative Sale

I don't usually post on Saturdays; I've been sticking to Wednesdays for the past 3 months, but I couldn't let this opportunity pass you by!  The folks over at All Things Upper Elementary, a collaborative blog that I'm a member of, are having a "Spring Fever" sale March 17 & 18, Sunday, St. Patrick's Day through Monday!

Those of us who teach the older elementary school kids know what a crazy time of year this is.  Spring fever is eating the kids up, (why do so many "girl issues" crop up this time each year?) Daylight Savings has messed up our internal clocks, standardized test prep is taking/has taken its toll, and March is just a long month with only one day off in it!  We could all use a pick-me-up, so discounts on some fun teaching resources might just do the trick for your students, and subsequently, you too!

Along with my own Teachers Pay Teachers Store, here are the stores who are having 10% off for St. Patrick's Day:

  Jennifer Findley

Jennifer Smith Sloane

Denise Talbott 


Andrea Bentley

Heather LeBlanc

Mr. Hughes

Fourth Grade Studio

Jen Bengel

Melissa Mazur

Blair Turner

Here are a few items I'll be using once MCAS is over for my fourth graders:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

5 Fraction Stations, 1 Coloring Page, and Lots of Deep Discussions

After all the talk about 1/2, and making fractions that were equivalent, I wanted my fourth graders to do some fraction stations.  It was the Monday after February vacation, and I was really looking forward to trying this out!  I set up:
  • Fraction Circles
  • Fraction Bars
  • Fraction Strips
  • Pattern Blocks
  • and my Trading Fractions activity game, which I led with each group that rotated through. had the kids write down the fractions they found on an index card.  I let them know I was looking forward to posting their attempts on our classroom blog.  I also told them to write "one wrong fraction" which the kids who sat at their table next would need to find, and cross out.

Unfortunately, the stars did not align today.  I imagined this was going to be a fun, engaging activity, but the kids had other ideas.  They were not...shall we the mood for group work.  Even though they each had their own set and didn't have to share!  I just had to shut it down and redirect.  I gave them a fairly basic assignment for homework:  draw 3 fractions that are equivalent to 1/2.  Non-threatening and short, even if they weren't all going to master it yet.

That night I changed my math (and science game) plans for the next day.  Some needed more practice finding equivalent fractions for 1/2, and some were ready for a challenge.  So I created a worksheet (I know, this is a dirty word in education nowadays) and a coloring one at that.

It was a SMASH HIT.

Although I love group work, and I believe that working cooperatively is a skill my students need to learn, sometimes it's too much for them to practice the social skills and the academic concept at the same time.  And when that's the case, it's not the best way for them to learn the academic concept.  I have so many strong personalities in my class this year that they butt heads a LOT.  As a result, they often crave a break from, well, each other. coloring page (it's a freebie in my store) allowed them to each hone in on their own paper, enjoy the relaxation that coloring brings, and go at their own pace.  I pulled those few kids who still needed manipulatives to work with me, and all but one weaned themselves off before they were done. 

See, I started out this lesson telling them to memorize ONE of their fractions.  They came to the rug, and I gave them each 2 Post It notes.  I told them, "I want you to write the fraction you memorized on one note.  Then, I want you to write a WRONG fraction on the other.  Try to trick me.  When you finish, stick them both up on the board in random spots, and I'll sort them out.'re quizzing ME this time."

So I did, it was easy enough to do this rapidly, even when I told a couple of my higher level thinkers "Go on, do just one more and make it REALLY difficult for me." 

I told them that once I finished (to finish I went through each fraction, telling the person who wrote it to call out yes or no as I pointed to theirs, to quickly verify that I got them all right) I was going to ask them to guess how I did it (we do "turn and talk with a partner" a lot in my room).  And the conversations that resulted were AWESOME.  At first I heard:

1.  She memorized them.
2.  No, she couldn't have memorized all those.   
3.  Maybe she is imagining what they look like.

Then I started to hear them "getting it."  They started talking about numbers being half of each other.  They started to talk about multiplying by 2 or dividing by two.  They were noticing there were a lot of even numbers.  They were using the word "double."  They were drawing fractions to show each other why fractions were "wrong" or "right."

It was truly a beautiful thing.

I commemorated their brilliance (and redemption, ha!) on an anchor chart.  I called on kids to explain why fractions are, or are not, equal to a half.  And just for today, on their coloring sheet, I told them, "Just color the fractions that equal a half green.  Don't worry about the other directions about less than and greater then being yellow and orange; we'll do that tomorrow."

Of course my higher level kids begged me to "let them" do it today, haha.  I "allowed" them to write "O" and "G" in pencil, so that if they decided tomorrow that they made a mistake it would be fixable.  But they were already getting it, so I knew I was ready to start really differentiating my fractions instruction tomorrow.  Already today I did so by telling them to just copy ONE of the 4 methods for determining if a fraction is equivalent to 1/2.  I think I like that method a lot better than having every kid write every thing.  I'm going to try to do more of this in the future!

Next week I'll show you another anchor chart we created that's all about relating fractions to the "benchmark" fraction of 1/2, and another sorting lesson that inspired more great student-led discussions.  This lesson was a turning point, but not an ending when it comes to my fractions unit!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Educents Group Deals for Teachers

I just found out about a new group-deal discount mailing list called Educents, and it's like Groupon and Living Social, but for teachers.  I LOVE Groupon; I've found so many great restaurants through them that I might have never tried otherwise, and saved at least $15 each time, so I figured why not give this a try too?!  I figure I can always cancel later if I don't like it.

I also got a $15 credit just for signing up today, so again, it sounds like a win-win. If you're thinking of signing up I think they're only giving $15 vouchers until the start of April.  They want to build a following before launching, I suppose.

The sign up process was just a matter of entering my Email address and first name, then clicking the verification link when they sent an Email, so it was certainly easy enough; no surveys or personal information asked.

If you sign up for Educents here it is a referral link for me; I'll get an extra $1 credit.  You'll get a referral code if you sign up too if you want to post on your own blog or Facebook.  What do you think?  Worth a try?    

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Report Cards Go Out This Week

...'Nuff said, right?

My goal is always to have them finished Tuesday evening, but that rarely ever happens.  They go home with students on Friday, so I usually end up finishing them Wednesday evening.  I'd never leave it to the actual last day because that's just asking for trouble!

So although I have a lot of topics I'm dying to share with you, including continuing my fractions posts, starting my poetry posts, and also a rare but exciting tech post, I want to save them until I have time to do them properly.  In the meantime, you could check out my post on theme over at All Things Upper Elementary (which I had typed up over February vacation).  Otherwise, this Wednesday I thought I'd share a quick story about student reports. 

A few years ago, on a Friday when progress reports were due to go home, I had a formal observation with my principal.  I worked very hard to manage my time and have them ready for Wednesday for my principal to check over.  The next day I got them back and stayed so late setting up for my lesson that the building was closing.  So I brought them home to put them into envelopes.  And when I got to work on Friday morning, I realized I left them home.

So my principal came in with her notepad to watch me teach the lesson, and I taught it with all the composure I could muster while sweating buckets.  The lesson went great; the kids were engaged, she was smiling, I was on point.  Then when she headed for the door to go, I decided "the lesson is officially over, so her judgement won't be clouded as she's observing," and said, "I need to tell you something..."

After admitting my mistake, I asked her if she preferred that I drive home on my lunch break to get them (but I might be 10 minutes late getting back, and would need some coverage in case) or hand them out Friday.  Luckily, although she was known as being a stickler, she and I also had a good rapport.  So although I got "the look" when I told her my blunder, she also gave me a look of respect that I was giving her an option in terms of how we go about solving the problem.  Principals always appreciate that!

Anyone else ever have a harmless/fixable "whoops" moment with reports?

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