My May Slant Box Has Arrived!

I have never participated in the SLANT box exchange before, although I've checked in with Jameson's blog regularly to see what the themes were.  I knew one day a theme would call out to me, and this May was the one!  Our mission was to learn what we could about our partner and then include a monogrammed item in their package.  Who could pass on personalized teacher loot?

The other general rules were the same in terms of the spending limit and including at least one hand made item.  The sign up process was pretty easy (although the waiting is hard, haha).  I was paired with two other bloggers who are coincidentally both first grade teachers.  I was assigned to send a box to Andrea over at Teaching Little Smarties, and Stacey over at Monkeying Around in First was assigned to send a box to me.

I will write more about Andrea in another post because the the time of writing, I don't know if she has received her box yet and I don't want to ruin her surprise.  So for now, I wanted to share my experience with Stacey. 

Once the Google form was complete with our partners' contact information I went over to her blog to get to know her better.  I am SO JEALOUS; her blog is so beautiful!  I was already excited to get her for a partner because she clearly has good taste.  We even have similar color schemes, so I knew she would "get" what I like.  Her hobby is also art, like me. Along with checking out each other's blogs, we Emailed back and forth several times over the course of the month to get to know each other better.  I took a look at her TPT store and saw that she has some great clip art; I love her Happy Birthday freebie.

Then last night I had a feeling that my SLANT box might arrive today.  And sure enough; I got my package to open!  As I was pulling out the tissue paper I thought, "Wow, she even got me coordinating packaging for my blog," haha!  It's the little things.  :) 

Amazing!  Most of these things I really would/have purchased for myself!  Stacey, you did good!

I love the lime green spots on the card.  because it coordinates with my blog, which coordinates with my classroom colors.  Those note cards are too special for note writing; I'm definitely saving them for a bulletin board next year.  I've actually used lime green envelopes like those in the past for a bulletin board.
  • Look at the handmade T for Thomas!  Not only does it have the colors I love, but those are not haphazard polka dots, people.  Look at the symmetry of it!  
  • The notebook will be put to good use (I am just about to use up the last pages of my current one for staff meetings).  
  • The Flair pens, well, I've only just recently become a convert from my old Pentel EnerGel pens.  Last year I swore by those but this year since trying out the Flairs I've been using them a lot more often than the EnerGels.  So again, this is something I buy for myself and use regularly! 
  • The drawing pad and high quality pencil were specially there because Stacey asked me what I like to use for my artwork and I told her "just pencil."  I've bought that brand of sketchpad too, so again, this was perfect for me.
  • It might be hard to tell, but the ink pad that goes with the T stamp is turquoise.  Also perfect.
  • And finally, the Lindt bar.  Now, Stacey had asked me what my favorite chocolate was, and told her milk chocolate.  But what I didn't tell her was that I used to work at Lindt chocolate, and it's my favorite brand!  Good guess!
For my first SLANT box experience, you've set the bar awfully high, Stacey!  If I never do another one it's because I want to quit while I'm ahead, haha.  :)  Seriously though, thank you so much for the time and thought you put into this.  I hope you got one you love just as much from your partner.

Readers, if you've never done the SLANT box exchange but you're interested, Jameson's blog is Lessons With Coffee.  Just click on the "SLANT BOX" tab for the rules and information about it. 

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Applying Math Skills Before State Testing

It is that time of year again!  State (math) testing took priority over blogging and creating.  Now that it's over, I wanted to share how I prepared my fourth graders.

One thing that I did NOT do this year was a countdown.  I used to do one for the month before the test.  I've seen some teachers do really FUN countdowns.  However, I decided that maybe counting down just adds to the kids' stress.  I'm not saying I didn't mention that MCAS was coming.  I certainly made sure they knew the day before (they don't get homework that day and they know they get to bring gum to chew).  But there was no written countdown in my room.

Instead, the Friday before the test my grade level partner and I held our annual MCAS Review Centers, in which we combine our classes!  The last time we got our classes together was for the 100s day competition and my class did NOT enjoy it (because they lost, aww).  On the other hand, this time around they knew the goal was to work together.  While they were working in their own classroom, they were the "experts," expected to teach the kids in the other class how to play the games.  They took this responsibility very seriously. 

Nervous boy: "But what if we forget how to play?"
Clever girl:  "Read the directions." 
Supportive boy:  "Yeah, Mrs. Thomas writes the directions on everything."


This year we had 3 rotations, targeted to fit the kids' strengths and weaknesses.  I wanted to make sure my advanced kids got to try something they hadn't before, my lower kids got to teach something they were comfortable with, and of course everyone had a chance to work on something they needed extra practice with.  I think we got the balance just right.  

We did a quick and easy to prepare equivalent fraction memory/matching game.  Just prepare 6 matches on index cards cut in half, and you're good to go!

Of course we went back to the Long Division with Money task cards (here you can read my original post on the Long Division with Money Task cards).  By this point the kids were intrinsically motivated to do their best separating the bills into equal amounts as directed on the cards, so I could skip the recording sheets.  They were the teachers, after all, helping the kids in the other class, so this was all the accountability we needed today!  If you want a closer look at this product, here is where you can download the preview file for my Long Division with Money task cards.

To boost the confidence of my math phobic students, I pulled out the Spin and Roll Subtraction wheels.  They were able to firm up their skills with this review and feel a sense of accomplishment the week before the big test.  Because MCAS has lots of question types, so no sense losing points on what should be an easier computation skill.

Along with the review games, I used my friend Jen's product from Beyond Traditional Math.  Her blog is always full of great math ideas!  I discovered her Open Ended Problems that are real world problems that my fourth graders could really relate to.  I put the problems in sheet protectors and gave my early finishers their choice to work on.  Some of the favorites:
I love that the first thing S. wanted to do on her Museum Trip after paying for admission was to go buy a burger, haha. 

At the start of the year, this student loved reading best.  Now as he is planning his Perfect School Day it looks like he's happy to double the math time compared to reading and spend a full hour on it early in the day, woo hoo! 

Other favorites were the Candy Craze marketing scheme and the Cookie Problem baking schedule.  These problems helped kids remember why we REALLY need math.  It's not just about passing a test, and it's not always about finding just one right answer.  Math is also about learning to make good decisions involving time and money. 

How did you keep your students calm in the face of THE TEST this year?

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Using Tools to Draw Parallel and Perpendicular Lines

My fourth graders had very few problems identifying parallel lines at the start of our unit (Math in Focus, Chapter 9).  Many of them could tell the difference between perpendicular lines and those that intersect at varying angles.  However, when it came to drawing parallel and perpendicular lines using a ruler and a drawing triangle, they became surprisingly frustrated.

I wonder if part of the issue is lack of fine motor control.  Although kids nowadays type better and have good hand eye coordination when it comes to mice and touch screen devices, I wonder how much they manipulate objects compared to when my generation was young.  How many build legos or play in a sandbox?  With standardized tests becoming more and more of a focus in schools, how much time to they spend cutting with scissors, gluing and more to the point, how often do they use a rulers to draw straight lines?  Many of my students are still working on this skill!

So although they understood the idea of precision (our previous unit was all about using protractors to measure angles) they did not have a good grasp (literally) of how to hold a ruler and rotate a drawing triangle so that the edge aligns with the ruler.  

We practiced perpendicular lines with overhead sheets.  All 4 teams competed to have the straightest perpendicular line coming off of the 8 lines I drew.  As a result, their perpendicular lines looked much better.  So we dove into parallel lines the day before vacation. mistake.

So feeling the need to revisit parallel lines, and with ample time on my hands, over vacation I created a new activity.  I developed a series of pages that have a drawing triangle (affiliate link) and ruler drawn in various positions.  The directions remind students to trace the red line (against the ruler) first, and then place the triangle on the blue line(s) to trace after.

However, instead of laminating these task card style, I tried a different format.  I gave each partnership a marker and a sheet protector.  I demonstrated how to slide a paper in, position the tools to trace the lines, and then go to another spot to get a new paper repeat the tracing from a new angle.  The order of pages did not matter! 

Once all the pages had been traced, the layers would combine to make a picture.  The sheet protectors worked even better than transparency sheets because they can't slide around.  Every page lined up perfectly once in the pocket.

The kids really enjoyed this activity!  By working with a partner, they checked each other for accuracy. 

In the end, it was clear who had the gist of using the tools and who needs additional support and practice holding tools securely for accurate drawing.  It was a fun first day back after a week off.

Although identifying parallel and perpendicular is nothing new to me, using these tools was added into our curriculum only a couple years ago.  That's why I designed this project using drawing tools. you have any tips for teaching how to use a drawing triangle to create parallel lines in math?  If so, what grade do you teach?

I'm linking up with Meg over at The Teacher Studio for Love that Lesson, because the kids had a blast creating these houses using drawing tools!
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