Friday, January 25, 2013

Freebie Friday

I have a couple of Freebies I'm offering this week. Both are games that focus on First Grade Math CCSS. They are part of a larger practice kit, but work great on their own.

Short and sweet.  Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lesson Learned

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT put stickers on your iPad cover.

You may think you will never grow tired of that handle bar mustache decal. You might though. And then it will take half a bottle of Goo Gone and a paring knife to get it off.

It's open season on laptop covers, though. Stickers come right off of those.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Equal does not mean "Give me an answer"

I hate the teachers who taught me math sometimes. Ok, hate is a little strong. But it makes me mad. I grew up thinking that the equal sign meant someone expected me to give an answer. A solution. I am convinced they are the reason I started failing math as soon as I started algebra in middle school.

Absolutely convinced. How can you give an answer if there are numbers and letters and who-knows-what-else on both sides of the equal sign? How can you add, subtract, multiply or divide if there is no empty space in which to plop your sum/product/quotient/difference?

You know how long it took me to get what the equal sign really means? I was 33. Really. 33. I had to take remedial algebra to get into the college of education. Finally I got it, after having an instructor who really understood the demise of mathematics for so many. She explained that the equal sign meant "both sides are equal." Like, how simple. Really? It's just like a pan balance or a scale? Both sides have to "weigh" the same or they aren't equal. Bingo.

I'm making it my mission as a teacher to make sure my students understand this deeply before they leave me in the spring. = doesn't mean "I want an answer". = means "how can you make each side weigh the same?"

It's brilliant. It's one of the Big Ideas that topple the house of cards when it isn't understood.

I created a couple of activities that nail this concept. It's just a few smallish practice activities, but they are Valentine themed just in time for February 14th. Check 'em out.

My primary and intermediate hearts were arguing whether to make these for little ones or big ones. I appeased them both and created addition and multiplication sets. Each are $2, a wee price for an activity that can easily fit into a 30 minute block of time. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Zero in on the problem and reteach, support and practice

It is toe and mind-numbingly cold here today. I had planned on staying in bed in my PJs all day working on school stuff, but my dad called and wanted to meet me and the chicklits for lunch. How can a girl say "no" to her dad? I certainly can't.

We bundled up and headed to Famous Dave's. We weren't even in the car for 3 minutes and I realized my toes were numb. Did you know that you can tell how cold it is by how fast the freeze seeps into your clothes? When it's -6F, that's about 3 minutes sitting in a car. Outside it's about 15 seconds.

After stuffing ourselves on cornbread and bbq sauce we had to head out for karate and movie


Was I complaining about the cold? I'm apologize to you, freezy arctic air. I do love you so.

Anyhooooo, the short version of that whole story is that I spent most of MLK day (and the day before, and apparently tomorrow as well) in bed working working working. No finer place to work as far as I'm concerned.

I've thinking about the CCSS lately and how we can help our kiddos target in on specific areas, especially for math. I thought I'd start looking at the problem in a very small scope; I started with first grade, operations and algebraic thinking, the first standard. If you know that you have a student that isn't secure on this standard, or maybe your entire class needs a little extra practice and support with it, then this is the practice kit for you.

Wondering how you might know if the kidlets are struggling with this standard? You can use this assessment to find out. It was specifically designed for this purpose.

I'm hoping to add the other first grade standards to this category of products in the very near future. Keep your eyes peeled for updates. (What does that mean anyway - eyes peeled? Does it remind you of peeled grapes? Or is just me?)

There are 3 sets of different 5-page practice pages. Each uses a different strategy for adding and subtracting. 

Included is the game Counting Up Hearts, perfect for laser-beaming the counting up strategy. You can also download just the game here for free!

Happy laser-beaming!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Big Ideas - non-fiction learning

So I got a big idea this year. It's actually a big idea about Big Ideas. You know, the fundamental concepts, the enduring understandings, the BIG PICTURE. I'm all about the Big Picture. It may not seem like it should be a lightning bolt moment, but I realized that if kids don't have these Big Ideas then they grow up lacking some of the fundamental understandings they need to have and can be left with holes in their schema. We all know what happens if you try to build a house on a foundation that isn't solid; at the worst the house can fall down. 

Our curriculum calls for a lot of reading of expository texts in social studies. I'll be honest, I can't hardly stand it. I know how hard it is for me to read an article or chapter and feel engaged. Most of the time I remember the information for a little while and then it quietly slips from my memory and goes to live where all lost learning goes. When I have to assign my kids a reading I'm racking  my brain on how I can help them store their info using the very small amount of time we have for SS (about 20 minutes - on a good day). 

Now this may seem like a no-brainer, but it was a small a-HA moment for me. In fact, I might actually have jumped up and yelled "A-HA!" during snack time. We needed to read a chapter about the archaic people of Wisconsin. I didn't have the kids read the chapter individually, which I knew would result in 2 students remembering the information due to their freakishly awesome memory skills while the rest of the Fab Fours stared at the ceiling, pretended to read (even though their book was upside down) or rolled around on the carpet not even caring if they got caught. Instead, I had them read one paragraph and then discuss what they thought the BIG IDEA was in it. This takes a lot of practice. I'm just sayin'. Most of the time they pick a supporting sentence, but this actually spurs great conversation on why it isn't the Big Idea. 

The Fab Fours worked in their table groups and it became a bit of a competition which table could come up with the Big Idea first. 

You can almost hear the gears turning... dude is actually trying to persuade them to use his idea (which was correct, btw). Look at the critical thinking going down!

These two were always the first to have their hands shoot up. It made me do a little happy dance when none of the kids were looking. 

This Fab Four was our recorder. It freed me up to do what I needed to do: teach. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Transition Words in Intermediate Writing

Are you getting a grip on the CCSS in writing yet? I'm working on it. It's good timing for me, actually, because nearly all of my writing instruction is new. It's a whole lot different than writing in first grade, for sure.

Our district has been looking closely at our writing map in comparison to the  CCSS. One area we discovered that wasn't being covered enough was using transtion / transitional words and phrases in writing. Because there isn't really anything in place for shared lessons yet, I worked closely with our instructional coach to teach this needed writing skill to the Fab Fours. After piecing together a series of lessons I went back and wrote up a UBD (Understanding By Design, also known as Backwards Design) unit based on what worked with our lessons and what needed deeper instruction or practice. I'm happy with how it turned out; I think it really covers what the Fab Fours need to know to implement transition words into their own writing.  Here's the unit plan description:

All teachers are in the process of shifting instruction to meet the Common Core State Standards. One of the greatest areas in need of aligning is writing - in particular writing for grades 3-6.

Fortunately for teachers, the CCSS gives us a clear and precise path of what our learners need before they move on from our grade level. When I examined our writing map during our fourth grade team development, one strand we all realized needed defining and more implicit instruction is the use of transitional words and phrases. I developed this lesson kit to meet the needs of my fourth graders this year. This five lesson writing was created using UBD (understanding by design) after teaching it to my students and tweaking it better meet the needs of all intermediate writers.

The Transition Words - Intermediate Writing Lessons unit contains five lessons that will take you from the introduction of transition words and phrases through to independent work.

In this kit you will be equipped with:
PDF document containing the five lesson unit
     *  Understand By Design enduring understandings, essential questions, student outcomes, and evidence of learning

     *  Five complete lesson plans that used gradual release (taking the students from full dependence through independence)

     *  Powerpoint presentation lessons that can be used to introduce each lesson (Powerpoint is not needed to run these, there are instructions included on how to use them by downloading a free Microsoft Powerpoint player)

     *  A full material list for each lesson

     *  Learning Target (learning objective) posters for each lesson

     *  Sample anchor charts to help you create them for your classroom

     *  Rubric for tracking progress during each phase of the unit

     *  Custom written short stories to use with "thinking together" and "independent work" phases of the lessons

     *  Assessment instructions and materials

     * Common Core State Standards (writing) for fourth, fifth and sixth grade that this writing unit meets.

For a full preview of Lesson One and the UBD criteria, download the free preview file. It includes Powerpoint lesson one.

Here are some images and a sample of a Powerpoint lesson:


The timing in the PowerPoint lesson sample is a little off, because it is meant to be advanced by the user as the speed they need to cover the material. This is just running on an auto-advance for the video sample:

If you'd like to check it out further, head on over to  my TPT store. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Multiplication Fact Fluency - Making it Fun

If there's one thing most of my Fab Fours need, it's fluency in their multiplication facts. Our grade level uses a program called Rocket Math. It basically 10 minutes of math fact practice and testing. I like it because it's a daily part of our routine and it happens every day. I dislike it because it is based on timed assessments, and it is an obvious point of stress for some kids. And really, where is the research on "how fast is fluent?" Come on, people, I need some case studies before I totally buy into the "fluency = a fact < 3 seconds".

SO..... I created two other ways for them to practice multiplication facts, hoping that they would take some tension away from my students who blank, stall, freak out or panic when they have to come up with facts under the pressure of time.

I like the flip cards because students can use them on their own or with a partner. They also need movement and manipulation to make them work, so they engage those kiddos who need that action to really get learning to stick in their memory. So far it's been a success. 

The other project I created came from the same need of multiplication fact practice, but I wanted an activity that incorporates more movement and game-play. I decided to redesign the Cootie Catcher to fit the need. The Fab Fours grab these and play with a partner a few times a week. 

I I wanted to make it easier on teachers, so I created a "how to play" video to go with it. By the way, zebra is one of my favorite Scrappin' Doodles!

So far the kids have loved the activities, and I love how engaged they are. You know what they say about all work and no play.... and there is no way I want any dull boys and girls in my classroom. 

You can pick these up at my TPT store. Go here for the flip cards and here for the Cootie Catchers.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Character Traits with Evidence to Back Up Thinking

Teaching language arts to the Fab Fours is an adventure. I'm Alice in the rabbit hole. I had a few years there where I felt like the academic reading I did for teaching reading and writing was putting a finer edge on my instruction. Now I'm back to reading for survival. Each guided reading session is the paradox of walking an unfamiliar path in a very familiar forest.

Yep, it's an adventure. Who doesn't love an adventure?!

A group of my students are reading Loser, one of my all time favorite books by Jerry Spinelli. You know how sometimes you present a great book to your students, one that you hold so dear to your heart, and then hold your breath as you wait for them to (hopefully) feel the same way? It's a vulnerable wait. My heart was lifted when the three kids told me they loved it. I wanted them to understand Zinkoff, feel his joy and understand the tension the book makes us feel. Success.

We've been digging deep into story elements this week. It was the perfect time to delve into Zinkoff's character, and that is exactly what we did.

You must know first that I have to meet with guided reading groups during lunch and second recess several times a week. Raise your hand if you, too, have to creatively find ways to meet with all your groups often enough to matter. This session, which I lovingly titled "The Book Worm Recess Club" (tacky and overachieving, to be sure, in order to make the Fab Fours buy into giving up their precious free time), only lasts for 15 minutes.

Not much time.

We started by thinking, on our own, of words that could be used to describe Zinkoff. Each kid had their own color marker and space to jot down their words, which we define as "character traits".

We used big chart paper because how fun is it to use big chart paper!! I was really impressed with a) two words that popped up in all of their lists, which tells me they really get Zinkoff, and b) the few words they each had that were unique. They each identified with different characteristics of Zinkoff. BINGO! 

It used to be enough to spout of a list of character traits and call it good. Now we have to be able to explain our thinking and back it up with evidence. The kiddos had to find a sentence or two that reinforced one trait they wrote down. I loved how long they searched for the right evidence. Part of the time used was because this is a really new type of thinking they we are asking our readers to do. Part of the time used was because they wanted to find just the right sentence to back up their thinking. 

They each wrote down their sentence under their chosen trait. We quickly talked about each one, with the owner of the thinking doing the talking. We kept the chart paper and they will share their thinking with the whole class next week during our mini-lesson on characters.

The whole thing took less than 15 minutes. I love it when that happens. The session went so well I'm going to repeat it with each of my groups this next week.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Very Best Ideas in Bloggerland

Here's the run down of my favorite finds recently:

If you have never checked out the Currentlys each month at Oh Boy Fourth Grade, you've been missing out. It's a one-stop shop to pop in and see what everyone (and I do mean everyone) has been up to. It's like the hottest spot in Bloggerland when it pops up every month. It is the place to see and be seen. 

Christina Bainbridge is creating fonts! Lucky, lucky font-a-holics... I can't wait to snatch these up.

Um, HELLO. Have you seen that Teachers Pay Teachers has an iPhone app?? I couldn't get it on my phone fast enough. It was worth the's FAB. I know, I know, it's not from "bloggerland". I couldn't resist. So many of us teacher-blogger use it an a vehicle to find the very best resources for our classrooms as well as sharing our own tools.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

This is exactly how I feel.

That is my dog. And that is my classroom.

I know today will be awesome once we're rolling, but right now all I want to do is crawl back into bed.

I didn't get as much done over break as I wanted to. In fact, I really didn't do much work at all. I did go in yesterday, because my desk looked like this, and that is no way to start the week.

Good luck to everyone this week! Here's to rest and relaxation improving our teaching.