Working on Automaticity of Math Facts

Nowadays we know that learning the times tables is not the be all and end all when it comes to math.  On the other hand, here we are nearing the end of Chapter 2 of Math in Focus.  My fourth graders been working on estimating to add, subtract, multiply (3 by 1 digit numbers) and divide (long division).  Yes, I allow students to use their facts charts so that they are able to implement the procedures they are learning.  But soon will come a point (such as in Chapter 3) when the computation steps will require too much attention to divert to a chart.  The bottom line is I'm still responsible for helping my students learn their facts with greater automaticity.

So how does one find the balance between the higher level thinking that goes with the rigorous Common Core State Standards and good old math fact memorization?  Part of the solution is of course homework.  Now, for the past couple years since we adopted Math in Focus I've given targeted worksheets to only the students who needed it, created incentives and monthly quizzes, checked those sheets daily and guess what?  There were no significant gains in math fact automaticity. 

I needed to make a change.  The math sheets were clearly not working out.  So I decided to make the practice itself more motivating than a worksheet.  I thought back to Gardner's Multiple Intelligences and the menus I created for some of my old units of study with younger students and thought, "there must be something out there that has choices for math fact practice."  And that's when I came upon Larkspur School's website. were just the types of activities I was thinking!  These are fun ways to practice math facts that can be done with simple resources or even no resources at all.  Since my school has a wide range of SES, I need to appeal to both ends of the spectrum in that regard.  With a little bit of tweaking I adapted this list to create a "menu" of options.  The result is students can choose games online or with physical materials.  They can study alone or with someone else.  They can choose a physical, musical, or visual means of studying.  And yes, if they would like a worksheet, that is an option too. 

I also found some free triangle flash cards and traditional flash cards to print and let students borrow a single set at a time (such as the nines facts or the 6s).  Each week they have the option of signing out a set of cards to study. 

The result?  It's too soon in the year to tell.  However I can say that the kids seem much more motivated to make their choices each week!  I had one student ask, "You mean I can choose to play (multiplication) video games every week?"  I told him, "If that's how you want to study, it's fine with me."  The look on his face was priceless!  Not to mention their excitement the day I surprised them by taking them to the gym to show them how to "dribble multiples."  Compare that to students who would not bother bring in their worksheets for the majority of the time in past years.  What a difference.  :)

If you'd like to check out my Math Facts Choice Menu, I have it available for download if you just click the link.  Also, I'd love to hear how you help your students develop automaticity with their math facts! 
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Flash Freebie to Celebrate the Fall Season

Just a quick flash freebie today, for a limited time only!

Although Halloween can often get our students crazy, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I love it anyway!  I love dressing up, I love pumpkin flavored everything, I love Reece's Peanut Butter cups (to me, those are the THE quintessential Halloween Candy) but the part I love most about fall is the fall colors. wouldn't know it to look at my blog or classroom, but those colors (my classroom color scheme takes its cues from the existing furniture) but reds, oranges and browns are the colors I use for my home.

And although I don't like getting up in the morning to a chill in the air, driving to work with the sun hitting the brilliant New England foliage is always a treat.

To celebrate fall, I'm offering my Fall Leaves Bulletin Board set for FREE for today only a good price?  It's perfect for back to school (it includes coordinating letters that spell "Welcome") or of course the leaves can be used alone for a fall tree.

Also, come check out the giveaway going on at "my other blog," a collaboration of a group of upper elementary teachers at All Things Upper Elementary.  This time around we are giving away gift certificates to Teachers Pay Teachers, and there will be multiple winners!  Good luck!

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Estimating to a Given Place Value with Money

In another post, I wrote about how my students who were great at estimating problems such as 39,253 or 32,025 to the nearest ten thousand did fine, but really struggled when it came to rounding those same numbers to the nearest hundred or ten.  Estimating on a number line was new to them, so I gave them an activity that got them moving around the room and sticking numbers onto number lines until they got more comfortable with this tool that has a lot of potential to help us estimate. 

I wanted more of a hook, however.  Number lines are a great tool to help us visualize, but when it comes to real world estimating I think most of us think first and foremost about money.  Kids think about it too.  Just this week we have the book fair and kids ask, "Do I have enough to buy this book?"  And I answer, like any teacher would, with a question.  "Do you need to add $9.99 plus $5.99, or can we make those numbers easier to add in our head?"  Soon the kids are estimating to answer their own questions.

But back to the issue at hand:  how to understand estimating to a specific place value.  What I did was I paired up half the class who were really struggling with this concept.  I told them each I was going to give them about $35,421.  That got their attention.  I told them also that I'm really sorry, but I might just run out of money, so although they'll all get about that much, they won't all get exactly that much, and is that okay?  They agreed they could live with that.

So for the first pair, I told them I had run out of ones.  I could give them 3 ten thousand dollar bills, and 5 thousand dollar bills, and 4 hundreds.  I could even give them some tens, but no ones.  So for one student, I gave them all that and 2 tens, and the other student got all of the above but only 1 ten.  We talked about who had closer to the original amount and how we found the difference was to subtract.

For the next pair, I told them that not only did I run out of ones, I also ran out of tens.  I could give them 3 ten thousand dollar bills, and 5 thousand dollar bills, and even some hundreds. But I could not give them any ones or tens.  So I gave one student 4 hundreds and the other student 5 hundreds.

I did the same thing again, running out of hundreds and finally running out of thousands, the whole time talking about the difference, how much more of a difference it was between those kids who had only ten thousand dollar bills vs those who were only missing the ones (it can work out in your favor either way, they learned!)

All the while they were comparing numbers before and after and visualizing exactly what an estimated amount looks like.  

How do you help your fourth graders round to a given place value?
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Blog Action Day: Human Rights, For Every Child

Apparently today was Blog Action Day, where thousands of different bloggers from all over the world post about the same theme.  I felt inspired to write a post about this year’s theme, which is human rights.  After all, I'm guessing it's a topic that teachers care about, even if this post ends up with a slightly less "teachery" flavor to it than my usual posts.

I learned about this day from one of my favorite webcomic artists over at Zen Pencils.  If you've never heard of it, have a look.  Gavin Than illustrates inspirational quotes in narrative format.  There's an awesome cartoon here about teaching (What Teachers Make), and one here about reading.  Well, on October 16 (technically yesterday, since he's in New Zealand and the 16th has already passed for him) he posted this comic about human rights.  And I thought, "That's just like the book I use with my class!"

You see at my school, we are all expected to create classroom rules with the children at the beginning of the year.  We also teach about the Constitution on September 17, as required by federal law.  It's a natural progression to lead from classroom rules in our fourth grade classroom into the idea of a document that outlines the law of the land, but I like to take it one step further.  I also teach about the Bill of Rights because I feel it's even more uplifting than the Constitution alone.  So in order to lead into the Bill of Rights, every year after we create classroom rules, I also talk to my students about their rights in our classroom (getting up for a tissue without raising their hand, having time each day to talk to me about problems or questions, and so on).  And to get them thinking about the difference between a right and those things they'd like to do but are really privileges I always read For Every Child. I said, it reminds me a lot of the comic.  Both are written by UNICEF, so there is a lot of overlap between the rights of children and human rights in general.  Some other rights have to do with the right to a name, an adult to care for them, and protection from harm.  Each double page spread is illustrated by a different artist, making every page feel like a nice surprise as you're reading.  It's one of those books that has very few words, and will spark a lot of discussion.

I recommend it for a read aloud because one of the illustrations might not be suitable for every young audience (I put a sticker over the part of an image I thought was questionable).  Plus although there are very few words, they are so poignant that some of the rights would be confusing or lost on children who just breeze through it (for example, "Every one of us shall have a name and a land of our own").  The ideas in the book need to be digested slowly, questioned, and discussed with an adult.  However it's a great way to illustrate for children how lucky they are to be growing up in a democratic society that honors and protects children's rights.  During my Classroom Rules and Rights mini-unit (available for purchase) this book is a great bridge between what students need to do and what they are owed.

Do you have a favorite read aloud that you use to empower your students?

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Surprise Sale and a Giveaway!

Have you heard?  Teachers Pay Teachers is throwing a flash sale!  This was not planned; it's to celebrate hitting 100,000 likes on their Facebook page.

To help them celebrate, I'm having a sale of my own from now until 10/14.  I'm matching their 10% with an additional 15% off my entire store.  Check it out, stock up, and have a great Columbus Day weekend!

And not only is there a sale going on; one of my blogging buddies is hosting a giveaway!

If you haven't seen Heather LeBlanc's blog or TPT store, it's called 2 Brainy Apples and she has lots of great literacy resources for upper elementary.  I especially love her posts about Close Reads because I've been researching and starting to implement this system in my own class this year.

So if you want an opportunity to win a bunch of great products, including my Fraction of a Set Task Cards go check out her blog!  Good luck.  :)
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Constitution Day Anchor Chart: Branches of Government

I just wanted to quickly share an anchor chart I made and used with my class on Constitution Day, September 17.  
It was a big hit, and I hope it helps your class next year!


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New Classroom Organizational Tricks: What is Working After 1 Month

September tends to be all about getting to know my new fourth graders and establishing routines.  Now that it's already October, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on all those new, "It seemed like a good idea at the time" tricks that I was excited to pilot at the beginning of the year.  Happily most of them are working out well!

1.  The Parking Lot:  I was thinking of incorporating a Blurt Chart/Parking Lot combo here.  However, my class this year does NOT have a blurting problem!  I feel like there is only one student in my class this year who is having trouble staying quiet, (not so much blurting out as talking to other kids at inappropriate times) and because he also has trouble fitting in, having a public chart like this would make matters worse for him instead of better.  Instead I use it as a collection of "that reminds me" anecdotes or "I know you're teaching me how to multiply right now but I was just wondering..." type questions.  Then, at the end of the day if we have a spare minute or two I can read them off.

I like it!  I just need to change the top headings; the kids on the left do NOT appreciate being on a poster that says "Off Task!"  I told them I didn't really think about it as separate; it's just split so the doors can open, but they make a fair point.  Any ideas on what to put at the top (other than stretching out the lettering for Parking Lot)?

2.  The Mailbox:  This is working VERY well!  I used to have bins on my desk, and when I had notices to hand out I'd stick them on top.  I don't like to hand out notices until the moment they go into folders, and I don't like taking time out of instruction more than once per day to dig out folders and put papers away.  So now that each student has a folder, when kids are working independently, myself or a child who has finished early can put papers into the file folders, which are distributed at the end of the day by group.

Papers addressed to each child go into their own folder, and notices that are for everyone can be placed 4 at a time into the "group hanging folder" to be distributed at the group.  It is working well!  The kids love the "You've Got Mail" flag that I simply taped to a ruler (and flip upside down when there is no mail).

3.  The Student Work Hallway Display:  I'll be honest, this is not a new idea, it's just a good one. 

I ask the kids their favorite color on the first day of school, hang contruction paper with 2 paper clips out in the hall, and I have a quick, attractive way to hang and replace student work. 

No more peeling tape off the back of projects when I want to give them back. 

And the color give the papers a nice backdrop.  A neat desk looks like this!  This one is for my kiddos.  I saw a great idea on Pinterest (from Angela Watson from The Cornerstone) about a diagram of the inside of a neat student's desk.  I thought since models are a great way to teach, and organization is a skill kids need to learn, this would be perfect!  I created this to post on our classroom blog.  I WISH I could project the image, but instead I use checklists for individual students who need the extra help. 

5.  The To Do List, file folder style: 

I saw the "Print, Copy, Prep" Sticky Note in a file folder idea on Pinterest and knew I had to try it.  I actually changed up the categories a bit so that they work better for the way I think.  For example, I don't usually list what I need to copy; I just put them in a specific letter tray on my desk.  Also, I like having my tasks separated by where they need to be done.

Therefore my categories are:
*Create on computer (since I don't have a computer at my desk at school)
*Copy/laminate (since the machines are both in the same room)
*Prep at school
*Shop: for anything I need to go out and purchase
*Office/consult (for when I need to speak to a colleague ASAP)
*Common planning (for when I have ideas to share or questions to ask during our scheduled meeting times)

I love that I can put those important papers from the office into one folder to deal with in time, and I can even throw the folder into my bag in the evening if I need to.  It's keeping my desk neat for maybe the first time!  And if you're wondering about the folder, it was very reasonably priced at Target over the summer.

Do you have any organizational tips to share?
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