Sunday, October 26, 2014

Whole Numbers Estimation: Real World Math Freebie

Math is a subject that I love to teach. I was a math nerd when I was in school. It just made sense to me and I could usually find the "right" answer. I also enjoyed problem solving and would push myself until I got it. There's just something about math that never makes me want to give up. As a teacher, I have always wanted to make math a "real-world" subject. I mean I always want to be able to answer "Why am I learning this?" when I'm teaching students. (My 4th and 5th graders rarely ask that question, maybe because most of them enjoy math, but aren't they lucky that I always want to make the real-world connection for them?) Now, I will admit, I spend way too much time stressing myself out about this, especially when it is an objective where I am the one saying "Why the heck do my kids need to know this?!?" And sometimes, I just have to move on with my life and just teach the concept at the highest level possible without addressing the "why we need to know this" question. 

Rounding and estimation are two topics that I now introduce with a "real-world" experience. This year, I wanted students to round larger numbers and estimate a total. I scoured the internet for good catalogs to use. Lego catalogs would be really cool if you had enough for the whole class. (I signed up for their mailing list, but plan to call and ask them to send me 25 of one catalog for future lessons). I asked parents for any suggestions--I really wanted the activity to be fun for the kids and for the catalog to contain things that they would enjoy shopping for, and I just didn't want to go the clip-art catalog route yet. FAO Schwartz was the perfect answer for my needs. 

For the lesson, students are guided through a number of "rounds" that have different constraints. In round one, we are just introducing rounding and estimation. Students: 1) have $1000 to spend and must buy three items, 2) have $1000 to spend and can buy as many items as they want, and 3) have $1500 to spend and can buy as many items as they want. They calculated the estimated amount and exact amount by hand and then checked it with a calculator. (These directions are all provided on the student handout in a chart format. After each part of round 1, I am sure to ask students to discuss the strategies they used for estimating. One of my students shared that they were looking for combinations of numbers--they chose an item that would round to 100 then they chose two items together that would round to 200 (like a $160 item and a $40 item). As I walked around and helped them fill out their charts, I asked how they were choosing their items. In the first rounds, of course, students are looking for things they want in the catalog, but by the end, they are challenged by the criteria to consider the costs more.  
My favorite part of the lesson (which spanned a few days) was when students were challenged in Round 2 to get as close to $1500 as possible with only 5 items. I did the challenge with them and many strategies came about that provided for interesting math discussions. For example, I was $4 away from $1500. I challenged them to see who could get closer than I did. Then, I started trying to figure out how I could get closer. Well, if one of my items cost $169 and I needed $4 more, then I needed to look for items that cost $173. I took my list of items and made added $4 to each one to see what exact cost I should be looking for. We loved this so much, it hit me that it would have been an AWESOME, engaging way to practice addition skills without students actually realizing it. 
Click here to get your free download of the FAO Schwartz Shopping Catalog and here for the student worksheets/guide I used for my lessons. 

In 5th grade, rounding decimals is huge, so I like to use a grocery store advertisement and follow a similar process as I did with the whole numbers estimation lesson. (You might want to go through the ad and change some of the prices to make the rounding task more challenging).  

Happy math teaching!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Will I Ever Feel Like I'm a Better Teacher?

(Or more accurately, "Will I ever feel like I have my $*** together?!?!") Do you ask yourself this question as much as I do?

This year is my TENTH year of teaching. I left the school where I started my teaching career 9 years ago and am now at a new school. I am teaching 4th grade, which I have done twice before, but our science and social studies standards are new. It's also the first time I have taught 4th grade Common Core standards, but I don't feel like that is too much of a leap from 5th grade. Still, I regularly feel like teaching kicks my butt.

I follow Gretchen at Always a Lesson. Gretchen writes a lot about improving teachers through coaching and ongoing support. This month, she posted an article entitled "No More 'Tell'; It's time to 'DO'!"  Gretchen wrote about the "Get It/Do It Gap." Basically, teachers get feedback, are told what to change (or often in my case--have ideas for what to change themselves), but rarely put that feedback or those ideas into action. And then, there's little to no follow up or accountability, so the gap gets wider and the practices that might improve our teaching or impact learning in our classroom are a distant memory. Wow, that's amazing. I'm in a gap. I think all teachers are...some of us may stay in that gap longer than others, but I think all of us can fall victim to the "Get It/Didn't Do It" cycle.

When I skimmed through Gretchen's article, I was immediately reminded of my handy-dandy planner I'm using this year. I usually just purchase a month-by-month planner but this year, I got one with monthly and weekly pages. I decided I wanted the weekly pages because I am T-e-R-r-I-b-L-e at "to do" lists. I use tons of sticky notes (guilty) to remind myself of things to get done and then lose them. Find them, realize I didn't do that thing (or I did) and throw the notes away. I wanted to get more efficient at using my planning time at school, with prioritizing my tasks, and have a place to jot down what I wanted to get done at home. The day-by-day pages work great because I can put something on my list, but write it down for a day in the future when it's more critical instead of having everything on my mind in one long list. When I get something done, I can highlight it off of my list.

Now, back to "the gap" and what it has to do with my planner. I have had a number of classroom "to-do's" on my list that just keep moving to the following week. I caught myself in this trap and finally told myself "get these dang things off of your list right now or stop writing them down!" The tasks that I keep pushing aside (or running out of time to complete) very well might be things that would improve my classroom instruction or students' understanding of what we are learning. Do you have this problem of not implementing the ideas you come up with? I started questioning how teachers are supposed to deal with this. I mean, we are WALKING IDEA FACTORIES! We have ideas all day long (and I love being a TPT seller, but this also just keeps the ideas coming--new things to create, new things to blog about, new ideas we see on pinterest, etc). These days, our ideas are ~endless~ as teachers...but how do we decide what should be the focus of our energies? One resounding question came to mind: what can I do right now that will impact student growth the most?

Gretchen also talked about accountability partners. That got me thinking. Who do I really need to be accountable to? I am the one that feels the most guilt when I think I am not doing my best. I am the one I need to be accountable to...and my students and my promise to them to do the best that I can to help them grow.

So, you know how much I <3 my planner this year? I thought, what if that space I keep writing my to-do list in became my reflective space?!?!? And, what if I took ten minutes each afternoon to reflect on the day. I can think about my frustrations, successes, and begin to have a record of what I should keep doing and what I should change. I dare say, after 9 years of teaching experience, I feel pretty comfortable watching someone else's teaching and coming up with ways for them to improve. But how often do I turn that critical eye to myself in the same way? (Don't get me wrong, I'm reflective...the whole car ride to and from school for sure!) But sometimes it's so much easier to help someone else than to help myself! Maybe it's because I don't take the time to sit down and process in a way that moves me forward. I don't take the time to step away from all of the "noise" and follow my gut!

So, I've decided to start a reflection log. What is it that I know how to do that I can implement or change in order to create effective change in my instruction and student learning? My goal is to decrease the space between my "get it" moments and my "DO IT!" actions.

Here are some reflective questions that I may choose to journal about from time to time:
-Right now, what is the most crucial thing I can do to improve my students understanding of ____?
-What changes can I make in ________ to create the most improvement/make the biggest impact?
-When are the times that I really feel I am teaching well/students are really learning? How do I increase those times in that subject and other subject areas?

I also want to choose one main subject to focus my reflections on and move through a process for focused improvement in that area. For example, I'm not really happy with my writer's workshop or my writing instruction right now. It always gets sticky for me once it gets going, but what can I do to fix that?

In the end, I hope this opportunity to reflect makes me feel more empowered to control what happens in my classroom and the progress my students make. Being a happy teacher was a definite struggle last year and moving into a new environment has created amazing improvements in job-satisfaction for me, but teaching is still hard and frustrating a lot from time to time. To put in 9 years and not feel like I am ever going to get a "system" that works and allows me work-life balance definitely adds to my frustrations and disappointments with my chosen career. However, I know that I do a lot of things right. I think a reflection journal is a perfect shift as I move into a decade in this career. I hope I learn without a doubt 1) Keep doing ______ because this works and 2) Stop beating yourself up so much! and 3) Prioritize: What 's the most important task on my list that will benefit students most?

Gretchen also provides a great reflective process and list of questions at the end of her blog post. You should stop by and check it out. And, I'm sure you will get a peak into my reflections from time to time!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Mighty Writers Society~Writers Workshop as a Club!

What if writer's workshop became a classroom club? What are the characteristics of a club and how might it change your typical writers workshop? This year, I decided to create some excitement around writing with my writers workshop by calling it a "club." I began by discussing the idea with students and asking them to help me figure out some characteristics a club might have. Here's the list we generated:

-needs a name
-needs members
-needs places to meet
-needs a common purpose/goal
-needs an agenda/plan of what to talk about
-leader (many people can take on leadership roles)
-may need specific jobs to be filled (notetaker, etc)
-voting and choices
-planning-discussing and getting ideas
-has committees
-has parties and celebrations
-may have a contract to sign
-may have fees
-needs supplies related to the club's purpose
-may have special objects or tools

Next, we needed a club name. Students gave me ideas for names (I also had a list that I had brainstormed in case we got stuck) From this, came the "Mighty Writers Society." I have to say, I wasn't so sure about the "mighty" part, but I liked it more than "The Mama Llamas." And, now that I have been calling my students "Mighty Writers" for a few weeks, it really just sticks and means something. {Of course, the "society" part reminds me of Robin Williams and the Dead Poets' Society...Oh Captain, My Captain, how fitting for creating a love of writing and literacy!}

Now, how do you show that your club has been established? You create a logo of course! I gave students a week to turn in possible logos. and I got a good range of ideas. We again voted as a class and here's the logo we ended up with:
I love that this design won because it was the only hand-drawn logo. I loved the computer designed ones too, but I thought it sent a nice message that my kiddos preferred the hand-drawn over the computer-perfected images. I told the students who made computer images that we would need their skills later when we publish books and class projects.

I had already planned for us to cover our writer's notebooks with pictures and cover them with contact paper, but I was able to spin this as a way to make our "club tools" special. I had held off because I didn't want to say we were covering our writer's notebooks until the club was established. So, after establishing our club name and logo, we spent a morning covering our notebooks.

Once the club was set up, I thought, where do we go from here? And, how do I continue to give students ownership? (This will be a work in progress all year, of course!)Well, writers learn from other writers like artists learn from other artists. I launched my "reading like a writer" unit {reading like a writer is an inquiry based approach to writing which really puts the control in students hands}. You may have also heard about Reading Like a Writer as a "Mentor Text" unit.

As a club, we decided that having deadlines to push for is really motivating. So we set our first writing deadline for the end of the quarter. A few days later, I told students I was thinking that since we were writing picturebooks, maybe we could turn our celebration into 1st/2nd grade reading event and share our books with them. They are totally game! I am also messing around with and will probably have students publish a digital version of their much Mighty Writer's fun to be had!

How do you keep writers' workshop interesting in your classroom? Any ideas for how to make our "club" more clubby?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...