Fictional Holidays: Square Day's Eve

Happy Square Day's Eve, Readers!  Do you celebrate this (or other) fictional holidays with your class?  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.  But I like to make it fun with fictional holidays.  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.

Fictional Holidays Make Calendar Time Way More Fun

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 got the idea of fictional holidays and wished my fourth graders a "Happy Square Day."

"What's Square Day?"  They asked.

"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."

"Why?"  They asked excitedly.

"Because it happens FIVE times every month!"


Hey, some of them saw the humor.  The ones that didn't, well, their curiosity about this fictional holiday 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 extrapolated.

"You do use the number twice, so it's like a special sort of doubles fact.  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!  Definitely my favorite of the fictional holidays.

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?"

Let the Kids Show YOU when these Fictional Holidays Fall

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?"  (The fictional holidays, not actual Boxing Day).  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.  The kids love it when it's their turn in our Calendar Rotation to color in the boxes.  Coloring at their desk is a fun break from sitting with the whole group while we complete the rest of the routine.

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 these fictional holidays, Square Days, and they know that on the day before each Square Day their weirdo teacher is going to be giddy with anticipation. 
Do you use fictional holidays in Calendar Math?

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How I Run Literacy Centers with Journeys

A while back I wrote about how I set up my Literacy Centers.  My school has been using Journeys for a few years now, and I'm more familiar with common core this year than I was at the beginning of last year, so I felt ready to really delve in.  You can see how I set up my literacy center rotation topics and schedule here.

Organizing Upper Elementary Literacy Centers

Today I thought I'd share how I organize my materials.  Let's face it; the best instructional activities will not engage students if the organization behind them doesn't work!  And if it's too complicated for us to manage, we're not going to want to use it either.  There was some trial and error when it came to different locations in the room and moving desks, which the kids HATED.  Who knew how nervous they would get about other people sitting at their desk!  

Literacy Center Materials

So I scrapped that first idea and instead created a file folder system.  It worked for my math games, so I shouldn't be surprised that it turned out to be the best solution for my literacy activities.  They know where to access the folders, how to distribute materials, and they can stay at their own desk.  There is only one activity in the course of the week that requires a single group to move to a separate spot in the room, and fortunately I have the space to accommodate that.

Literacy Centers OrganizationI keep the bin with 3 file folders right in the middle of my leveled readers.  My literacy centers rotations are right above this set of bins as well, so everything is within reach.  Other than "read with the teacher," each of the other stations has its own file folder of activities.

Literacy Centers: Topics

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Mentor-Sentences-Fourth-Grade-Bundle-1136024Inside each file folder I can "preload" the activities for the week.  The Mentor Sentences page has 3 different activities in one, so it keeps them occupied in the "Editing" station for 3 days, and I load the spelling in on the final day.  The Vocabulary pages look different enough from one day to the next, so the kids don't mix up which one to do first, second and so on.  I clip the "not yet" pages to the folder as a gentle reminder, and their current pages are loose in the folder for them to take.  And finally, the Independent Reading Response folder has 3 separate envelopes.  These are clearly labeled for each Close Read slip they need to do, in order.  The kids know they need to tape the first into their notebook and complete it before they take the second.  This is the most time consuming center, so often they come back to it when they finish a different literacy center early.  
https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Mentor-Sentences-for-Revising-and-Editing-Fifth-Grade-Bundle-2131695Considering that this is my first year running literacy centers since moving to fourth grade (and since Common Core began) I think they are going pretty well!  I plan to offer my Close Reads in my TPT store this summer, so if you are thinking about trying stations next year, stay tuned!

[Edit:  I've started to post my Mentor Sentences products in my TPT store.  There are a few freebies in the section I've linked to if you want to give them a try!]
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Make Educational Videos for Elementary Students

Have you tried Educreations yet?  If you want to make or show educational videos for elementary students, look it up!
At the beginning of last year I started a classroom blog that was tailored more to my fourth graders than to their parents.  I posted photos of anchor charts as well as educational online games to keep them coming back to it on a weekly basis.  Then, later in the year, when the PTO bought all the teachers at my school iPads, I was determined to put mine to good use.  I wanted an app that was going to enhance my instruction in a new way, and that's when I found Educreations. 

Make Educational Videos for Elementary Students

Educreations is like recording yourself teaching a whole class lesson on a white board, except your audience won't see you.  They'll hear your voice and see what you draw.  You can also embed pictures into your presentation, and on the iPad you can add text (typed) instead of writing words. 
It takes a little bit of practice to find the possibilities and limitations to the program.  For example, I love that it lets me pause my recording so I can collect my thoughts after each slide.  However I don't love that if I make a mistake in the recording I can't go back and redo it!  There have been a few updates to Educreations, such as the addition of an eraser tool (because users begged for it) and you can now use Educreations on your computer as well!  I love a product that is regularly updated based on user feedback.  It's rare when a product is FREE.  That's right, it's a free app to help you make educational videos for elementary students.  
So how has this changed my teaching?  Well, although I'm not sure my district would approve of going the flipped classroom route (hard to do when not every child has internet access at home) it really has helped my kids learn some tricky, multistep processes in the following ways:
  1. Kids love anything novel.  Sitting in front of the computer (no, I don't have a projector either) for 4 minutes to watch a video is more interesting than the other 179 math lessons at the rug listening to me.  Suddenly no one needs to go get a drink of water!
  2. If a child needs reteaching, all they need to do is go back over to the computer with a small group of students and rewatch it.  Obviously I am available to answer questions, however sometimes, as one boy told me this week, "I just want to watch it a bunch of times until it REALLY sinks in!"
  3. Two words:  Sub Plans!
  4. Two words:  Homework help.
  5. If a student is absent of course they can watch it at home and learn without spreading their germs around!
If you're not sure you're up to creating videos, keep the following in mind:
  1. Don't feel you have to make a video on EVERYTHING.  I started out with the idea of 2 math procedures that I really wanted kids to see in action because historically their written notes just weren't enough.  This year I added another video for a third concept.
  2. You don't have to make videos for your class to benefit from Educreations.  The site is searchable, which means there are TONS of free educational videos for elementary students available.  You can show them in class or link up on your classroom website.  Once you start finding great videos you'll get a good sense of what you really want in a video, and then you can rethink the idea of creating your own.

Find Educational Videos for Elementary Students

To get you started, here is a video I created to help my fourth graders multiply 2 digit numbers by 2 digit numbers. 

It's a nice lead in to some hands on practice in class (this is a paid for product).  By keeping the direct instruction short, sweet, and engaging, we can get into the practicing quicker, which I love.  The work you put in creating or researching videos will make your job during class time much easier; you can focus more on the kids' learning than the subject matter itself.

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