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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Book Study Part 4: Whole Brain Teaching For Challenging Kids

Here we are on week 4 of our Whole Brain Teaching Book Study.   This week we are talking about chapters 11-14 which certainly cover a lot of big ideas.  I enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on last week's post.  It is not to late to join in!  If you want to catch up, just grab a copy of the book and pick up where we are or go back and comment on past posts.  Here is the posting schedule.

Chapter 11: Scoreboard (Level 1)

     This chapter is all about using the scoreboard in the classroom.  What first might seem like a deceptively simple idea seems to really work with kids of all ages.  I have worked with a teacher who has been doing a simple version of scoreboard for years and it is amazing how hard kids will work for a few minutes of recess or a quick in class game.  I myself have pulled out a simple scoreboard when dealing with challenging classes or on challenging days when kids are having a hard time remaining focused.  

     I love all the recommendations in the chapter for the different ways to vary scoreboard.  I have never done this every day because it seems to get boring pretty fast but with all these variations, I think it could work for the full school year.  

Chapter 12: Mirror, Hands and Eyes

     I think it is super important to make sure kids are listening when you are saying something that is very important.  I have used the phrase "hands in your lap and eyes on me" over and over again in the classroom.  It has been a great way to get focused attention.  I ask for it then wait until I have it before moving on.  This is very much like hands and eyes described in this section without the gesture.  I think adding the gesture will help make this even better.  

     I have not tried much described in the mirror section of this chapter but I find the brain research behind the idea fascinating.   The idea that getting kids to mirror you can actually rewrite their brain is some pretty powerful research.  I definitely think that learning more about how the brain works makes me a better teacher.   

    This chapter also presents the idea of industrial strength Whole Brain Teaching.  I can only imagine the difficulties some teachers face with students and am so happy to see that there is another level of this that is designed to specifically work for the most challenging students.  I am also happy to know that this resource is out there if I ever need it.  

Chapter 13: Daily Classroom Procedures

     As much as I enjoy spending so much time in other teacher's classrooms, it can completely drive me crazy sometimes.  I see the good, the bad and the in-between when it comes to classroom management and the amount of time wasted on classroom procedures.  My biggest pet peeve is wasting time sharpening pencils.  I buy a few huge boxes of pencils to begin the year dig out my lovely pencil sharpener and spend an hour sharpening pencils to start off the school year.  I give pencils to kids who need them all the time and also let them trade for a pre-sharpened one.  I have even convinced kids that it is a huge honor to be able to touch my pencil sharpener and excellent behavior combined with getting work done will sometimes allow a few lucky students to earn the privilege of sharpening pencils for me.  I can absolutely not stand wasted minutes for all these little procedures and wish all teachers would read this chapter and gain some new ideas! 

Chapter 14: Scoreboard Levels

     This chapter provides a brief overview of the seven levels of scoreboard.  I am excited to read more about these! 

Have you tried using scoreboard in your classroom?  What classroom procedures drive you crazy?  Please respond in the comments below!  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fun and Free Computer Games: Fraction Feud

I love teaching fractions!  I know they are a subject many struggle with in elementary school and beyond but there is just something about them that make them super fun to teach.  Over the years, I have read some great books and learned a lot from my colleagues and students about making fraction instruction effective.

One of my goals for last year was to find more computer and iPad based games to add to my collection of practice materials for fractions.  Today I want to share with you one of the games my students and I really enjoyed for practicing comparing fractions.

Fraction Feud

This game is from NCTM''s Calculation Nation.  If you haven't checked out this website you really should!  Don't be put off by the "log in now" to play page you will see.  You can quickly and easily create a log in for free.  If you don't want to go to the trouble of creating a log in, just click on guest pass and you will be ready to play.  

Once you have clicked guest pass or logged in and are on the games homepage, click on Fraction Feud and you are ready to play.  

This game is all about comparing fractions.  You are trying to beat the computer (or another player) by creating either the smallest or largest fraction.  You can only use the numbers left on your side so there is some strategy involved as well as thinking about how to make bigger or smaller fractions than your opponent.  

Sometimes kids will not understand why they won or lost.  There is a button to click on for an explanation about why you won or loss a round.  It will bring up a fraction chart which will show the fractions of you and your opponent.  

My students seem to have the most fun with this game when they are playing against another student in the class.  That is why I created log in information for this website for each student.  Now they can compete against each other which always makes things interesting.  Also, there are many other amazing games on this website so go check it out, play as a guest and see if your students would benefit from these games!

I will be sharing other games from Calculation Nation in the coming weeks so make sure you head over and like my Facebook page which will keep you up to date on all the fun and free computer games and apps I use with my students in K-6 math!

You might also be interested in:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Book Study Part 3: Whole Brain Teaching For Challenging Kids

Here we are on week 3 of our Whole Brain Teaching Book Study.   This week we are talking about chapters 8-10 which are all about Teach-Okay.  I enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on last week's post.  It is not to late to join in!  If you want to catch up, just grab a copy of the book and pick up where we are or go back and comment on past posts.  Here is the posting schedule.

Chapters 8-10 Teach Okay

     My first thoughts as I read the first few pages of chapter 8 were not very positive.  It seemed like a routine for teachers who teach in a skill and drill method which goes against my ideas about teaching constructively.  I am glad I kept reading.  As I read, I saw that Teach-Okay is much more than I gave it credit for.

     I have come to see Teach-Okay as a great tool for engaging students, holding them accountable and providing more fun in the classroom.  I can see myself using Teach-Okay over and over again especially when giving directions.  I have always tried giving clear directions and then having a student repeat them back to me but the idea of ALL my students repeating the directions back to another student had not occurred to me.

    They author mentions in chapter 8 that Whole Brain Teaching methods prefer students working in pairs over groups of 3 or 4.  I think this is HUGE to student learning.  As a student myself and a teacher who has worked with kids of all ages, I find the majority of the time pairs are the way to go.  When I work in groups of 3 or 4, it always seems like someone is doing all the work and someone else is just along for the ride.  I almost always use pairs in the classroom and really feel that everyone gets a lot of learning out of a lesson when working in pairs.

     I have been using think-pair-share in my classes for several years now and it has had amazing results.  I think Teach-Okay is the next step along the way for me and my students.  I love how pairing up and teaching someone or summarizes provides opportunities for kids to practice speaking and thinking clearly and having the chance to articulate their answers in a non threatening environment.  If I had more opportunities like this as an elementary school student I think some of my painful shyness would have vanished much earlier.

   While students are doing think-pair-share or Teach-Okay the teacher has a great opportunity to just listen and do some formative assessment.  Who is talking?  What are they saying?  Do students have the big ideas?  I find that listening to kids talk in pairs is one of the best ways I can monitor my teaching and my students' understanding.  With some practice, I am now able to hear several conversations simultaneously and use it as an opportunity to see if all, some or none of my students are understanding the big ideas.  This helps me better adjust the tempo and emphasis of my lessons and allows me to see who needs more work with the big ideas.

    I am loving the ideas presented in this book and can't wait to read more!  Have you tried using Teach-Okay in your classroom?  Tell us more!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday Math Literature Volume 59

Today I want to share with you a new teacher resource that I purchased this summer and will be using with students this fall.  I feel like a huge part of my responsibility as a parent and a teacher is to make sure when I am talking about math, I am talking about the real world applications for learning this.  One area where I feel like schools in general and myself in particular need to do better at is helping kids be financially savvy.  I know when I got out of high school and went to college, I had no idea how to handle finances, pay bills or deal with not having enough money.  This is not what I want for my students.  I know our curriculum is already packed and there is not currently a way for us to offer a personal finance class in every high school so I have been looking for ways to talk more with kids about finances during my regular math classes.  I was very excited to see this book and have read most of it already.  

Here is what I like about this book so far:
- It is aimed at preK-2 which is a grade level I feel like I spend little to no time on financial topics with.

- There are some great discussions about spending, saving and sharing money.  Three things that kids this age can understand and that will help form a strong foundation for later in life.

- Great children's literature serves as a springboard for many of the lessons. 

- Everything you need is included.  There are letters that can go home with kids after the lessons, formative assessment ideas and tips for differentiating lessons. 

Be on the look out the next few weeks for a detailed Monday Math Literature post about a lesson from this book!

How do you talk to kids about money or finances?  Please respond in the comments below!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

You Oughta Know About: Yummy Math

If you teach kids in grades 3-8, you should know about YUMMY MATH!  I first discovered this amazing website last fall and was immediately hooked.  It is a great place to access real world math problems that will engage your students and show them how important math is.  

Yummy Math is a collection of problems written by teachers on a huge range of topics including sports, holidays, cooking, art, shopping and more.  "We’ve created Yummy Math to provide teachers with an easy way to bring real-life into their math classrooms. It is our belief that when math is explored in contexts that are familiar and of interest to students, students will be more engaged to do math, reason, think critically, question and communicate.  Our activities are written to correspond with the NCTM Process Standards and the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice."

I have used these problems multiple times in whole class situations and have had some great engagement.  When I have the opportunity to work with small groups of students who are really excited about math, these problems have been a lifesaver.  There are many problems that kids can solve in small groups or pairs during guided math time and they are a great way to help differentiate your instruction.  

All problems are provided in a PDF format for FREE!  For a small membership fee which is currently $17.95 per year you get access to answer keys and editable word documents so you can change the problems to suit your students.  

Here are a few of my favorite Yummy Math problems that my students solved last school year.

We played with ratios and proportions trying to figure out how much dye it takes to turn the Chicago river green for the St. Patrick's Day Parade.  

My students learned a lot about light bulbs and energy conservation with this investigation.  I originally did it with my fifth graders but had so much success, I repeated it with sixth and fourth graders as well. 

My sixth graders got a lesson in economics with this cell phone investigation problem.  In my area many kids seem to be getting cell phones before starting seventh grade so this investigation really made my kids aware of how much different wireless options cost.  It also lead them to explore other options online and ultimately led me to the decision to switch my plan to Republic Wireless.

My students of all ages enjoyed doing parts and pieces of this problem!  A Santa made entirely of 12 packs of soda!  The ultimate problem for counting, estimating and multiplicative reasoning!
This is just a small sample of the many wonderful problems offered by Yummy Math.  Be sure to check it out! 

Also check out all the other great ideas in the You Oughta Know Blog Hop!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Study Part 2: Whole Brain Teaching For Challenging Kids

Welcome to the second installation of our new book study on Whole Brain Teaching For Challenging Kids.   I enjoyed reading everyone's thoughts on last week's post.  It is not to late to join in!  If you want to catch up, just grab a copy of the book and pick up where we are or go back and comment on past posts.  Here is the posting schedule.

Chapter 4: Charting Progress

    Mrs. Maestra sounds like a genius!  I love the idea of a teacher working on her own management by giving herself a grade!  What a fantastic idea.  By focusing on her own behavior she can chart her progress and evaluate how she is doing separate from how the kids are doing.  Ultimately good management starts with managing one's own behavior before tackling that of students.  Her idea of ranking her students by behavior and making it her goal to move them forward one category is also very interesting. Is there anyone who has tried either of these ideas in their own classroom that can tell us more?

Chapter 5: Brain Science

     I am fascinated with brain science but have not yet seemed to get much of what I read about it into long term memory.  I think it is all the terminology and the fact that I am usually just reading it.  The exercise at the beginning of the chapter where you use your hands to represent the brain really helped me visualize the different parts of the brain and how they work together to control emotions and learning.  

     I think the downfall of many teachers' management systems is habituation.  "Habituation occurs when an individual's response to a stimulus decreases after repeated stimulation." I find that teachers will be very excited about a new management system, will introduce it to kids, the kids will do well for a few days or weeks and then it stops working.   As kids get used to something, the response is not the same.  That is why I am very curious to learn more about the different levels of scoreboard.  I can't wait to see how this will help combat habituation. 

Chapter 6: Class-Yes

Easy, fast and effective.  Love!

Chapter 7: Five Powerful Classroom Rules

In my school district, we use responsive classroom and one of the elements of responsive classroom is to have kids come up with the rules.  As well as this can work, I also think it becomes less and less effective as kids get older.  By sixth grade, they have already participated in writing the classroom rules 6 other times and frankly are usually tired of it.  Especially because the rules always turn out to be so similar.   

I love the idea of laying down the rules with the class and all the fun rehearsing that can go into these rules.  I was also excited to read about having the class vote the rules in because this seems to help with the buy in and ownership without seeming like a labor intensive task that kids have already done repeatedly in the past. 

What are your thoughts on this week's chapters?  If you are already using whole brain teaching, what can you tell us about how the classroom rules work for you?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Playing with 10 frames

Happy weekend everyone!  Hope back to school time is going well for all of you.  I wanted to take the time to share with you a fun idea that is great for this time of year in Kindergarten and first grade. I have written several times about the importance of 10 frames but this is a fun way to get kids lots of practice with the structure of 10 frames in a fun and engaging way.

All you need is some table space and a roll of painting tape.  The roll I used is Scotch 2 inch tape.  Thinner tape would work just as well if not better!  I have had this roll for various projects at home and school for at least 5 years.  The reason for using painting tape is that it will not peal the finish of your surface or leave a sticky mess behind.  

I like to get this set up and let the kids play with it before addressing it as a whole group.  I put the cars or animals or other themed thing nearby and let them try it out.  It is a great way to tie in a classroom theme if you have one.  Once they have had some experience with playing with the 10 frame, I like to bring them together and talk about how we can use 10 frames for numbers and math.  There are many things you can do with 10 frames to improve early numeracy, you can check a bunch of them out here!  

You might also be interested in checking out how I made this magnetic 10 frame!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fun and Free Math Computer Games: Alien Angles

I use many computer games with my grades 4-6 students.  I have shown you a few factoring games, games for practicing basic facts, and games from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.  There are many other games I use with this age group and today I want to tell you about one of my favorite games to use during our geometry unit.

Alien angles is a game from math playground that is quick to play but gives kids some great experience with angles.  I want kids to have a good sense of the reasonableness of their answer when measuring angles and this game really helps develop this idea.  

Students are given a target angle and try to set that angle without the aid of a protractor.  When I introduce this game on the SMART board or projector, we talk about benchmark angles such as 0, 45. 90, 135 and 180 and how they can help us estimate other angles.  
Students are given an angle to make
When you launch the game you will be given an angle to make.  Click on the small blue circle in the bottom right hand corner to set the angle.  When you click check it, a protractor will appear along with the actual angle.

If you are within 5 degrees, you rescue the alien and get a point.  A full game consists of 10 rounds like this.  I find that kids (and adults!) usually do quite poorly the first time they play this game but usually start figuring it out as the first game ends.  It is fun and motivating though and most kids want to play again right away.  It really helps kids think about the math behind angle measuring rather than just doing it.  

Have you tried Alien Angles with your class?  What are you favorite computer games for geometry concepts? 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Math in the Ferris Wheel

Today I am linking up with 

A monthly REAL WORLD math blog link-up hosted by

I see math wherever I go and I like when my students experience the same thing.  I want them to see math all around them.  Now that I have finally found a smart phone with good coverage and a decent camera, my students will be seeing more and more pictures that I snap of math in my life.  I am hoping this will lead to them seeing more math in their world and maybe even taking a picture of it to show me!

Several weeks ago, I was at the fair as it started to get dark.  The lights on the Ferris Wheel were on and it got me thinking about all kinds of math ideas.  I shared this photo with some sixth graders and asked them, "Where is the math?"  

Here are some of the responses I got
- How many cars are on it?
- How many people can ride it at one time?
- How long do you get to ride on it?
- I see a lot of acute angles.
- You an see that sixth-twelfths is equal to one half by looking at it. 
- How many lights are on it?  You can count how many on one arm and multiply.
- How much does it cost to ride it?
- How much (money) will the owner make during the fair?

This was a quick 3 minute exercise and it really helped get kids thinking about math at the fair!  What do you think your students will say if you ask them to see the math in this picture?

Book Study Part 1: Whole Brain Teaching For Challenging Kids

Welcome to our first day of a NEW book study on Whole Brain Teaching For Challenging Kids

I always take it as a good sign when I am only a few pages into a book and already nodding my head along in agreement.  I have very much enjoyed reading the first few chapters of this book and already the wheels are turning about how to improve my own classroom management.  

I find the origins of Whole Brain Teaching to be fascinating and I particularly like the fact that the author shares his struggles and his process for improving his teaching.  I think all teachers have been in a place before where they felt their classroom management was not adequate and this teacher does a good job of acknowledging that.
The broad application of these ideas also appeals greatly to me.  I have always taught in fairly rural areas and in elementary schools but these ideas do seem to be universal.  Even my most challenging class to manage was a walk in the park compared to some situations I know teachers have been in.  If all kids are always constantly learning either positive or negative behaviors, I am all for a system that emphasizes the positives.  In my experience, when kids are engaged and entertained their behavior is excellent.  

Seven Common Teaching Mistakes

Of the seven common teaching mistakes listed in Chapter 3, numbers 1 and 3 resonated with me the most.  "When we lost our temper with difficult kids and yell at them, we don't fix our teaching problem we make it worse."  Over and over again I hear from students that I have known for years that their least favorite teachers are those who tend to yell a lot.  This is especially true of substitute teachers.  These teachers do not know the kids well and lack a strong foundation relationship.  One incident of yelling by a substitute seems to turn kids off to that substitute for the rest of the year.  Teachers who routinely yell at kids are also greatly disliked in my school and kids often seem to be plotting against them.  

Teaching mistake number 3 is about making sure you stay organized.  "Disorganized teachers breed chaotic classrooms.  If you have mutinous students, a good way to make your problem worse is by shooting from the hip.  The less class structure you have, the less structured your classes will be."  I love this point and have seen it played out in my own school.  As a teacher who spends a lot of time in other teachers' classrooms, I get to see all kinds of management styles and how kids react to them.  The biggest difference between the teachers who I would say are good at management and the teachers who are great at it is the structure in their classroom.  The very best teachers I have seen and try to emulate are 100% consistent in their structure.  They are on top of what their class is doing at all times.  They have their lessons ready and have planned things to stay within a structure.  No matter what the situation, they always have a plan.  

I am looking forward to reading what others thought about these chapters!  Which of the seven common mistakes do you find in your school?  If you are already implementing some whole brain teaching strategies, how is it going?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Monday Math Literature Volume 58

One of the first things I made sure first graders can do when we get back to school is count to 120.  It is a huge standard in Kindergarten and after a long summer, I always get a few kiddos who come back not counting to 120 fluently.  I like to spend some time in the first weeks of first grade reviewing the numbers to 100 and introducing some counting and estimating ideas that we will build on later.  

I knew I wanted to connect literature to this lesson and I got this fantastic book last year that is full of flaps to lift.  I originally bought it for my nephew's birthday because he loves lift flap books but once I got it, I knew I needed one for my classroom too.

This book is FULL of flaps to lift.  There are actually 100!   It is super fun for kids to read and a great way to review counting to 100.  Each flap is numbered so there is also practice with symbolic notation built right in.  You can get a good look at this book here! This fall, I decided to tie this book together into a lesson using this picture.

Which picture shows 100?
I had a bunch of colored paper clips laying around from my magnetic addition strips project and decided to use them in a lesson of 100.  I took 4 different pictures of 100 paper clips arranged in various ways and put them together into one image.  If you want to do this lesson with you class, you can grab this image from Google drive as a pdf or as a png.

After reading the book, I showed this image on the projector for about 10 seconds and then covered it and asked kids to think about which picture shows 100 paper clips.  I then let them see for another 15 seconds or so and once again covered it.  Next kids were asked to turn and talk with a neighbor about which picture they thought showed 100 and why they chose it.  Next we shared as a class.  About 80% of the kids selected picture #2 and the rest chose picture #3.  This did not surprise me at all because 100 seems like a lot to a young child and photos 1 and 2 are more spread out and therefore look like more.  

When I told the kids that all the pictures show 100, they did not believe me.  I had to actually get 100 paperclips out and prove it to them!  I had already put the paperclips back into a larger container so I had to have the kids help me count out 100 again but it actually worked out well because it gave them one more chance to practice their counting.

We wrapped the lesson up with a little movement and counting with this video 

You might also be interested in checking out some other videos I use to practice counting.  

Want to see more ways to use math literature in the classroom?  Check out the Math Literature tab at the top of this blog!

How have you used literature in math class?

Head over to Mrs. Jump's class for more great literature to use in your classroom.