Math Rocks

Math Rocks Long Term Professional Development

Each year I determine a focus for the upcoming year for personal development. This year it will be math. Why math and why Math Rocks (a district year long program)? One reason is I wish to increase exploration and discussion in my classroom during math time. Growing up in a traditional classroom, this doesn’t come naturally to me. Although I try to purposefully include these factors within my lessons, I know that learning from experts and peers will be a valuable experience!

Today was our first day. Wow, I’ve gained so much already. We joined Twitter for professional use; I added a separate account to keep my personal interactions separate from work. Should you be interested, feel free to check me out at @acheelove2learn. We received two websites which I look forward to trying in the classroom:

Estimation 180

Which One Doesn’t Belong?

These two tools should provide an excellent way to get the students to think and talk about their thinking.

What am I hoping to gain from this program? I hope to develop new strategies through peer collaboration, stretch my thinking about how numbers work in order to provide deeper learning within my room, and gain new perspectives. This will be an exciting year as I learn so my students can learn. I’m looking forward to learning more how to use number talks that yields strong growth in concept comprehension.

One assignment given is to suggest one way my classroom is distinctively mine. My answer is the continuous celebration of each student as an individual we build in our room. Celebrations are posted on the board for effort, compassion, risk-taking, and persistence. Students give cheers to one another or write notes of specific praise/encouragement as we help one another be our best. I believe my students truly feel this in our classroom. It is a safe, of zone of encouragement. Certainly that is my daily goal, but students seem happy within our room.

Get Them to Read

Achee_Reading2014 (2)

Teaching 3rd grade, I feel there are two main goals: solidify number sense and read, read, read. The math can feel a little frustrating if number sense hasn’t been gained as the curriculum moves along. I bring in games, review, small groups, more games, and more review. I still feel some frustration with wishing I could just focus on number sense for the small fries who desperately need to focus on the basics. However, I work as hard as I can to reach and teach.

Motivating students to read is my candy. I use several avenues. If students have an interest, I find matching books in multiple genres. They learn quickly that they can write a desired book, author, or topic on a post-it and I will try to fulfill that request.

Read Across America

I use “Read Across America,” an idea inspired by my team when I was student teaching, with my personal twist. The original plan gave the students prizes when a Reading Log page was completed, plus showed a graph of how many pages each student finishes. Every 4 pages, a state was colored on a United States map. There was a competition between the classes to see who could color the most states within the year. No one is competing with my class, which means it needed an additional driving force. When a student has 4 stars on the graph, he or she colors in any state. Then I purchase a matching state book for our classroom library, plus a book set within this state, hopefully with a focus on that student’s interests. These two books receive a dedication sticker to the student and reside in his/her personal book box before going into the library. My goal here is to leave a strong impression that reading truly does take you places – always a Seuss fan!

Bluebonnet Book Club

My favorite program right now is the Bluebonnet Nominee Club. Each year in Texas, 3rd through 5th graders at registered institutions, receive an opportunity to read (or hear read aloud) a minimum of 5 of the 20 Bluebonnet Nominee books in order to vote for the personal favorite in January. After reading each book, they must complete a form which proves the book was read. The Texas Bluebonnet Award is presented to the author of the winning book.

In my school, the librarian presented the 20 nominees to classes. She has a graph within the library for each class. My students were excited about the books which gave me an idea. I offered for each student in my class to choose their top 3 books they wished to read, then write me a letter explaining why I should buy their top chosen book to add to our classroom library. I promised to buy 5, but ended up purchasing 9 of the 20 books. I created a “Bluebonnet Book Club” with images of each book where students received their names above each book read with a summary submission form completed. Between the school library and mine, most of my students have a Bluebonnet book in their book box at all times. Many ask for a new one, once a form has been submitted.

I love the enthusiasm and interest this program is bringing to my room. Students are enjoying sharing their opinions of each book read. I’ve just bought 5 more Bluebonnet books to keep the interest fresh.


We also have a pair of vultures nesting on top of our school roof. The students have taken a huge interest in vultures. I’ve bought Vulture View and two other books about vultures to present to the students once Bluebonnet enthusiasm wanes. One of the books is by Sandra Markle, a favorite author of mine. I’ve made several Animoto Book Trailers which are assessible on this blog, but haven’t needed to use them yet. I need to build my collection of videos for the spring.

If you’re not moving or sleeping, consider reading. Pick up a book :).

Singapore Model Drawing for Grades 1-6

After spending the past two summers as a full time student, I thought I would enjoy the extra free time with my children.  Of course I do, spending wonderful moments with family and friends, but I find a little too much free time on my hands.  During that time, I’ve worked on future bulletin boards, extension games, reading strategies, organizational papers such as transportation home in Excel or creating “Absent Folders”, plus independent professional development through my readings.  I really do not like being idle.  Because of this, I searched Google for online courses to claim some of my time productively.  I found Singapore Math Model Drawing for Grades 1-6.  I’m pretty excited.  This sounds like a really useful class to provide another tool students can use.  Any visual I can provide that gives children access to the relational nature of math will be beneficial in the second step of cocrete:pictorial (or concrete repesentational, but that’s a mouthful): abstract.  With word problems, it’s the organization of the material which can often be difficult.  I think if I can provide a consistent method which can be used throughout various types of word problems such as the bar method, then perhaps it will ease some of the organizational issues.  Both districts in which I worked sometimes used a similar concept of Singapore, using the example of a tape diagram.  It’s a 6 week class which begins in a couple of weeks; I’ll post again at the end of the course.  In the meantime, I’ll enjoy family trips to Schlitterbahn, card games, trail walks, and continued professional preparation.  Today, I’ll seal the stool I painted ages ago and begin another one.  Next summer, I need to teach summer school or begin my graduate classes.

Inquiry Journal

A year ago, I began reading Why are School Buses Always Yellow? Teaching for Inquiry Pre-K-5 because I have an interest in student led inquiry/project based learning.  This summer, I’m working through it more closely.  I have to tell you several years ago, I thought I was being original when I came up with the idea of a Wonder Wall.  What a shock when I saw this concept being used in nearby districts – at least I was in line with current research.

Now I’ve learned someone has already beaten me to the idea of an Inquiry Journal as well.  Again, I’ll take it as validation.  Here are my thoughts.  The wonder wall is great; let’s get the mind juices pondering.  However, I don’t want it to end with a brief discussion.  Where can the students take their ideas?  Also, what about the random questions that occur during a Read Aloud or watching a video in science?  Enter the Inquiry Journal (or Wonder Journal for younger students).  I plan to give my students a composition book to encourage development of questions and ideas, with some time given to searching out answers – a place just for independent questions and answers – not just questions that coordinate with current lessons.  Using natural curiosity, I plan to extend/supplement  lessons with student led questions to teach students how to determine whether sources are valid and determine a plan to problem solve.  The idea isn’t a formal lesson, but rather naturally searching answers to satisfy personal curiosity.  Time is carved out during writing, a few minutes of computer time during one of the guided reading blocks or actual computer time, perhaps when assignments are complete for early finishers.  The details are specific to the classroom/school environment.  Many inquiries will be the result of class discussion in line with objectives being taught merging assignments with interest, but I hope to encourage students to take those mini-lessons, such as observing as a writer, into their personal thoughts.  That’s our goal, right, that students realize the relevance of the classroom, applying gained knowledge to life?

Without the journal, I’ve used this idea successfully with one student.  A group of TAG students presented their independent studies to the class.  A student not in TAG, interested in a specific topic, asked if I would give him time to research and present.  Each day, during one of the Guided Reading blocks, I gave him approximately 10 minutes with a computer.  He researched, then created a Power Point on his topic.  One afternoon, before recess, he presented his discoveries to the class.  It was time well used – reading, researching, writing, using computer skills, and finally presenting in front of an audience – all student initiated.  Giving students a journal to record wonderings and ideas, then small chunks of time for investigation can only add to this process.  I’ve begun my own Inquiry Journal as a model, adding tabs to organize my ideas (PD, Classroom Management, Math, Reading, Writing, Science, Social Studies, STEM, Organization, PBL/Inquiry).

Organizing my Room

Without knowing my classroom layout (or grade for that matter), I’ve been spending a couple of hours each morning while my children are asleep organizing for a classroom, creating Power Point Procedure Slides and binders such as Parent Communication Logs (or just browsing ideas on Pinterest with coffee). While working in the second and third grade rooms this year, I wanted an all-in-one system where I can account for all students in one glance. While in Hobby Lobby one day for a daughter’s school project, I saw a dry erase calendar for sale and envisioned it by my door – a student tracker. Few revisions were made though I did scrap the words on the buttons – they couldn’t be read from across the room and weren’t necessary. At the top are a row of green and red magnetic push pins to show attendance on the roster number each morning. Additionally, there are dry erase tabs to write student names in sharpie for substitutes and for the beginning of the year while matching names to numbers. Plus, kids love to see their names – it’s more personal. When students leave the room, they simply put the appropriate button in their square. I downloaded an Avery Template into Microsoft Word, then found clipart images that represented various school locations.  I bought the wooden circles from an online craftstore, along with epoxy bottlecap dots to cover the labels with a finished polish.  Each color/symbol represents a specific location except for yellow = resource/extension. I don’t feel these need to be distinguished; I know whether a student is receiving TAG support or intervention. I prefer the positive symbolism of the light bulb. Each student is leaving to receive support to reach a personal best. Blue = water fountain and Black = restroom. Only 1 boy and girl may leave at a time. Silver = nurse. I have two buttons in case a buddy needs to walk with a student to the nurse for any reason. Green = library and Purple = Office/Other. Because the board is dry erase, I can also write or have a student write short notes within the squares if necessary.  Student being picked up at 1:15?  Write the time in his/her square.  Also, in a fire drill, I can grab the board for quick reference.  I can’t wait to try this out!

Classroom Management Calendar

Beyond the Content

Content is important.  Everyone should have access to a broad range of understanding our world in order to interact successfully, make intelligent decisions, and enjoy life more fully.  When I look at content I try to keep this in mind.  Consider persuasive writing – vital to understand for any child who wants to swindle, I mean receive as an investment into personal education, the need for the new Lego Movie lego set.  Fast forward several years, when the same child now needs to buy life insurance for his/her family.  On the receiving end of persuasion, this same person needs to be able to evaluate which persuasive strategies the agent is employing, then sort through the extra information, to determine what best meets the needs of the family.  Watching commercials or listening to a politician requires the same skill.  When I taught persuasive writing in a third grade classroom, first we looked at the character in the mentor text, I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff, to decide which techniques he was using to persuade Mom to let him has his friend’s iguana.  Then the students discussed favorite commercials, talked about the purpose of the commercial and what tools were used to get the buyer to purchase the product.  Of course, all of this was written on a handy dandy anchor chart, some by me and some by the students – shared writing!  Finally we looked at an OREO graphic organizer to begin our prewrite to persuade people to protect the earth.  The next day we viewed “The Great Kapok Tree” on youtube (the book is by Lynn Cherry).  The students compared persuasive techniques from the day before, went through their organizer to see if they wanted to make changes/additions, then began their first draft.  By the way, when discussing persuasive techniques, the students were highly engaged, taking turns respectfully at a higher level than usual which earned a gumball for positive communication skills towards a class reward.  It was a great feeling!!

Why Bring this up now?  Beyond the Math Classroom

One, summer is a great time for reflection.  I hate sitting idle, but also because I’m reviewing math concepts which may be used towards multiple grades.  Today, I looked at a couple of math books on fractions wanting to create relevance for the students in future years.  Math is so much more than computation.  It’s considering patterns, relationships, and promoting problem solving which is needed daily.  As far as relevance, I think for younger students, I will lean towards cooking and sharing food which is something all kids can understand.  With older students, I can really delve into shopping with real ads so the relations between fractions, decimals, and percents can be explored.  Recently, I purchased hamburger patty squares for concrete investigations into equivalent fractions, fractions to decimals, fractions to percents.  At a math conference last year, I saw this used with colored pencils – fascinating.  I plan to use a strip model more than circles because it is much easier to draw on paper without error for assessment purposes.

Note to consider:  One review center I want to keep in mind when exploring fractions will be creating pictures out of pattern blocks, then creating fractions out of the different shapes (using correct terminology).  For older students, I can change this to individually created flags which we can express in fractions, decimals, and percents.   Also, I want to use a paper balance for students to investigate comparison of fractions.  Return to page 259 of Elementary and Middle School Mathematics.  This can be done with discretely colored unifix cubes first, then expressed in a math journal or on a math balance sheet I can create.

Interviewing and Waiting

So what is an educator to do while waiting to land a dream job to share the joy of learning, while teaching life skills?  This eager beaver prepares for a future classroom in my spare time.  Sure, I give time to my family, but often my mind drifts to procedures, game extensions, formative assessment tools, or simply classroom decorating while an impatient family member prods,  “Earth to Mom again.”  Recently, we watched The Lego Movie.  I couldn’t help pulling out a pad to take notes about different scenes and characters.  Seriously, this move is awesome (if you’ve seen the movie, you know I had to use this adjective).  It will appeal to any elementary, plus older, age groups.  Later, I created a game board which now is in my “to be laminated” pile, then bought 10 Lego Movie mini-figures as game pieces.  They came in 3 different Lego sets which I’ll place in my Rainy Day Activity box.  If I use it for math, I can incorporate characters and scenarios into my word problems.  I can also use it as a general Reader Response board, Character Analysis, or Content review which will still be more engaging with Lego figures.  Depending on how long it takes to obtain a position, I might create a Positive Behavior management system using the Lego Board enlarged, similar to the Homework-opoly board that is floating around.  I’m also preparing an interactive bulletin board for formative assessment with posterboard T-charts/Venn Diagrams, etc.  I’m reading Science Formative Assessment by Page Keeley which I will adjust to serve all subjects.  However, if I know what grade I will have, then I will concentrate on content extension games to use during flex group periods.  As far as the interviews, is anyone a fan though I certainly understand and support the process of finding a mutual fit?  So I will smile, walk in, share my thoughts…and until then, prepare.  There’s always plenty to do so the time will pass quickly.  Oh, and with summer, I can enjoy more time for socializing also.  Here’s a picture of my board – the white squares will have questions, problems, or board action directives if I use pre-made problems.  The action figures (not pictured) will move along the spaces – I will probably alternate “move forward _ space(s)” and using die according to the games I make because I plan to use this board for multiple games/subjects.  Much to do and enjoy – cheers!

Lego game

Open House Trailer “Success in School”

I wondered, “If trailers work for kids, why not for adults?”  Along these lines, I created an animoto trailer on how to help students succeed in school.  I’ll have handouts/PowerPoint as well.  I found a great reading data sheet on Makayla Schenkelberg’s blog, “Stuff Students Say and Other Classroom Treasures.”  I made it into a jpeg for the video after I downloaded her free pdf on TeachersNotebook.  Here’s my first parent video:

A River Ran Wild

Currently I am serving as a long term substitute in a 3rd grade classroom at an International Baccalaureate school.  If you are not familiar with IB schools, it’s basically an integrated, inquiry approach to learning which looks at global/environmental relationships, changes, and interactive impact. Last week, we began a new unit “Sharing Our Planet” where the focus will rely on inquiry into changing adaptations of organisms to survive and thrive, how human processes impact nature and environment, and how the need for resources influences one’s actions.  The initial idea was to introduce the 3 lines of inquiry (previously mentioned) with pictures and allow for whole class discussion, followed with individual questions to begin the unit, but I thought of a book I used during student teaching and knew I had to use it again.

A River Ran Wild:An Environmental History is a beautiful story with complex, rich illustrations which tie into how a river in the northeast changed over time as humans thirst for greater industry grew without thought to the impact they were making.  It’s told in a beautiful narrative format, sharing the true story of the Nashua River.  The reader can listen/read the story of the words, yet also see the story unfold with the pictures, specifically the framework of pictures surrounding the text, similar to Jan Brett.  When I saw the opening lesson planned during a team meeting, I immediately envisioned the environmental focus of this book – a perfect avenue to provide a concrete frame of reference for a diverse group of children.  I made foldables with 3 tabs, each a separate line of inquiry.  Every once in awhile, I stopped reading the book to let the students interact with the story and each other, then journal in their foldable.  To discuss adaptations, I printed color copies of two of the animals mentioned in the story for one of the lines of inquiry.  The activity was a success with the students which means real connections were made.  I had shared my idea with my colleagues via email.  It was exciting when 2 teachers used the book.  I love the thrill of collaboration.  (I have one classmate from Texas State where we would just volley – going back and forth with ideas.  Love it.)

As a bonus, we will read The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rainforest later in the unit.  Same author!  Isn’t that fantastic?!  I’d love to tie this into an author study, but my assignment ends this coming week and the students are currently researching to publish an animal expository book – hands down, their favorite activity of the past 3 months.  We should have time for discussion to compare the styles and format of both books.  It’s my hope one of my students will discover the coincidence rather than I provide the information so a student can have a moment to shine and an “impromptu discussion”  begins which will miraculously occur when there’s a window of time for the discussion.

I love when an idea works in the classroom – the satisfaction when students experience the joy of learning.