Blogs I Love Math Literature Freebies About Home

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Book Study Part 9: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

We are finishing up our book study on Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids today!  We will be taking a look at what is offered in the Bonus Chapters.  If you are just joining us, feel free to use the links below to start at the beginning.  I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on Whole Brain Teaching even if you are finding this months after the initial posts!

Chapter 30: Designing your Whole Brain Teaching Model Classroom

This chapter contains a lot of information!  I find it very interesting and fairly unique that you can get your classroom WBT certified by doing it for a year and submitting some documentation.  I think this is a great way to keep track of who is using the system and makes it pretty powerful if you want to visit a classroom using this model locally than they can point you in the right direction.  

As is discussed in this chapter, my own school struggles to teach writing more than any other subject despite a strong focus on it for the last few years and much professional development, our kids seem to lack writing skills more than anything else.  The ideas presented in this chapter that get kids thinking out loud and presenting evidence seem like they could help our school improve our writing program.  

Homework is something I have thought a lot about the last few years and really like how it is presented in this chapter.  The idea of doing some reading and a few quick things to work on fluency really appeals to me.  It always seems to be the kids who need the practice the most are the ones who do not do homework.  My solution has been to just assign kids reading for homework and a tiny bit of math to work on fluency.  For the kids who I know never EVER get their homework done, I have included time in the school week for them to spend 10 minutes or so with another adult, peer or older student doing some extra work on fluency.

Chapter 31: The Five Step Lesson Template

This chapter contains many ideas for getting started and structuring your lessons.  This is something I will have to revisit when I commit to using these ideas in the classroom.

Chapter 32: 11 Day Writing Lesson Plan

This chapter outlines in great details some ideas about teaching writing.  Because my school seems to struggle more with teaching writing than with anything else (including management!) this has some great ideas I can share with my colleagues.  After 3 years of intensely working on teaching writing, we have not seen the results we would like and are looking to try out new ideas.  

Wrapping it all up

My final impression of Whole Brain Teaching is certainly a positive one.  I love the student engagement and commitment to improvement.  Because I have the fortune of working in a school where management isn't a huge issue at this point, it is not critical for me to get started with these ideas right away.  We also have a school and district wide policy for what types of management systems we use although there is some leeway.  Whole Brain Teaching is definitely something I will be discussing with colleagues and thinking about using in the future. 

Where are you on your journey to Whole Brain Teaching?  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fun and Free Computer Games: Dirt Bike Tug Team- Comparing Fractions

Are you working on comparing fractions with your students?  I have written in the past about different strategies for comparing fractions.  Today I want to share with you a fun and free computer game for kids who are working on fluency with comparing fractions.  I most often use this in grades 5 and up.  It is best for kids who already have a lot of strategies for comparing fractions and are working on being fluent with this skill.  My students like this game because it can be played against each other or in teams.  You can also play by yourself and challenge the computer.                                                                                                                             

Take a look!

Home screen.  Up to 8 players can play against each other at once.  

After choosing a name you can select a public game or create your own public or private game.  Creating a private game is a great way to allow kids in the same class to play against each other.  
This is what it looks like when one person plays against the computer.  Questions come up and you have to use the <, >,  = symbols. 

Two players against the computer.  I can only see my own inequalities but the other player on my team is also answering questions.  

When a team wins, you can see the game results.  It will also show which questions you missed.  This is a great way to see how your students are doing.  Have them leave the screen up until you can check in or teach them to take a screen shot and save it or email it to you.
Head on over to Arcademic Skill Builders to check out this game!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fly on the Math Teacher's Wall: Place Value

 Today I am joining some great math teacher bloggers to bring you a new series of blog hops: Fly on the Math Teacher's Wall.  These blog posts will be all about SQUASHING teacher, student and parent misconceptions.  They will give you a look inside math teachers classrooms and help you find new ideas and understandings across the grade levels.  Today we are talking about place value.  

Today I want to talk about decimals.  I feel like teachers have gotten pretty good at using manipulatives with young students first learning about place value.  However, I think there is a huge misconception that older kids learning decimals don't need as much hands on practice with models to develop their understanding.  I would like to SQUASH that misconception and share with you 6 different models for learning decimals.   Moving between these models will give your students the hands on experience they need while helping them to see how decimals are used in the world around us.  

Base 10 Blocks

This is by far the most popular way for teachers to introduce decimals.  I use these myself when working on decimals with kids.  In fourth grade, when I first introduce decimals, I make a big production of using the document camera to "zoom in" on one of the units.  I tell kids I am getting really really close.  While doing this the camera goes out of focus a big and I trade the unit (1)  for the mat (100).  I tell them that when you get really close to the unit, you can see it is really broken into 100 pieces.  Of course they know right away that I traded pieces because it is usually very obvious.  However, this is where we reestablish that the mat which in the past has been worth 100 is now worth just one.  This means the strip which was formerly 10 is now worth a tenth and so on.  It takes kids a few tries to adjust to this way of thinking but they eventually do.  If you are looking to extend this or don't have a class set of base 10 blocks handy, I would recommend checking out this applet on the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives.  (You need Java for it to run)


This is often the most useful connection for students between decimals and real life.  By the time kids learn about decimals, they have often had some real life experiences with money and have a much better understanding of decimals when they are in a money context or written to the thousandths place.  If you ask a fourth grader who is just starting out with decimals if 1.8 or 1.09 is larger, they may or may not be able to answer it correctly.  If you ask them which is more money $1.80 or $1.09 they will probably think that is an easy question.  Connecting tenths and hundredths to dimes and pennies is one of the best ways to build on students prior understanding and help them construct new knowledge.  I like to make the connection between money and base 10 blocks explicit with these money value pieces from the Math Learning Center. 

Meter Stick(s)

An model that is often overlooked in math classes for teaching decimals and other kinds of numbers is number lines.  I find teachers are spending more time modeling number lines in the lower grades now but it is still often something that is missing from decimal units.  Number lines are a great way to help kids think about ordering and comparing numbers.  They also make a great conversation starter to talk with kids about the density of numbers.  Asking questions such as "how many numbers are between 1.2 and 1.3" get at the idea that the numbers are infinite.  A meter stick is perfect for this kind of activity because it is already split into hundredths.  You can read more about how I use meter sticks for decimal number lines here.  

Exploring the idea of density of decimals on a meter stick number line

100 Bead String 

I use 100 bead strings for a huge variety of activities around counting, place value, decimals and percents.  They are easy to make and cost under $1 each so I make sure I always have plenty on hand.  They make a great number line because like the meter stick they are already broken into hundredths.  They also switch color every ten beads so the tenths are also easy to see.  There are no numbers written on the model to start with so it is a little bit different than the meter stick.   Read more about how I use the 100 bead string for decimals here.  

Decimal Arrow Cards

I love arrow cards for teaching place value and find them to be a vital tool to use in K-3 to work on numbers up to 10,000.  If kids are already familiar with arrow cards from younger grades, these are a super easy way to extend their understanding to the right of the decimal point.  If your kids haven't used them in previous grades it will only take you part of a class period to get them familiar with them on the whole number side and you will be ready to use them with decimals in no time.  You can grab a free set of printable arrow cards here and the decimal version is available here.  To read more about how I use arrow cards with kids, check out this post

Digit Blocks

I first heard of Digi Blocks last fall and was very intrigued by the implications for place value.  I received a small collection of them from a colleague and have used them a great deal with intervention kids.  I recently watched a colleague at another school use decimal digi blocks and was super impressed with how well the kids understood place value.  They are one of the more expensive manipulatives but have actual pieces for tenths and hundredths.  You can read more about my first impression of digi blocks or head over to their website to learn more.

When your kids are ready to move on from direct modeling, I highly recommend number talks.  This book is full of ready to go number talks for decimals.

You know I love math picture books, my favorites for teaching decimals are Fractions, Decimals and Percents by David Alder and  Little Numbers by Edward Packard


One of my favorite decimal activities are these fall themed decimal task cards!

Head over to Beyond Traditional Math to see what she has to say about teaching place value!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Monday Math Literature: Pumpkin Math

Monday Math Literature is happening on Thursday this week but what can I say.... it has been a crazy week.  I wanted to share this book and lesson with you today because it is very seasonal and great fun to do in the fall.  Check out this fun book!

This story is about a group of kids who are asked by their teacher to figure out how many seeds are in 3 different pumpkins.  They talk about the size of the pumpkins, estimating and counting ideas.  Some kids count by 2's some by 5's and some group the seeds into piles of 10.  There is also some great information in this story about how to estimate how many seeds a pumpkin has just by looking at the outside.  

I love this lesson because it combines my love of math literature with counting and estimating routines.  I began this lesson by presenting my students with 2 pumpkins. I did this lesson with second graders but it would work with other kids K-3 with some small adaptations.  One was a very small Jack be Little pumpkin and the other was a larger pie pumpkin.  I asked them to estimate which one had more seeds.  Everyone was convinced that the larger pumpkin would have a lot more seeds.   We made some estimates but they were really all over the place ranging from 17-1000.   

Next we cut the pumpkins in half and adjusted our estimates based on what we saw.  The estimates for the smaller pumpkin ranged from 80-200 and the estimates for the larger pumpkin ranged from 101-320.  

The inside of the larger pumpkin

Inside of the smaller pumpkin
Kids worked in small groups and got all the seeds separated from the other guts.  When I do this lesson again, I will be sure to have more pumpkins because despite this being a smaller group of students, there were to many kids working on each pumpkin.  I would recommend no more than 4-5 kids per pumpkin for optimum working conditions.  Kids continued to adjust and refine their estimates as they put the seeds all in one place.  It was obvious to all students that there were more seeds in the large pumpkin than the smaller one.   

After a quick rinse of the seeds, the groups counted them mostly grouping into 10's.  We came to the conclusion that the small pumpkin had 134 seeds and the large one had 285.  We spent some time comparing these numbers and wiring them in different ways.  We finished up the lesson by reading the book.  It was interesting for kids to compare their own experience with counting the seeds to the experience of the kids in the book.  

This was a fun fall lesson and definitely one I will be doing in the future!  There are a lot of grade levels that I could apply this lesson with.  

My K-2 kids will be following up this lesson with some work with pumpkin 10 frames.

How do you use pumpkins in the classroom?  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Study Part 8: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

We are finishing up the main chapters this week and next week will be wrapping up our book study on Whole Brain Teaching.  If you are checking out this book study for the first time, 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.  Click on any of the links below to see past posts!

Chapter 27: Whole Brain Teaching Review

I have absorbed so much information over the past 6 weeks about Whole Brain Teaching that I was very happy to review this chapter and think about how all the pieces work together.  I am someone who has to read everything I can about a subject and let things absorb before going back and reading again before I am ready to try it out.  I have definitely got some good ideas from this book and have been talking with colleagues in real life as well as on my Facebook page and blog about how to bring Whole Brain Teaching ideas into my classroom.  It is not something I am ready to do this year but I will be thinking about using some of these ideas in the classroom next year.

Chapter 28: Whole Brain Teaching and Learning Research

This chapter has some great points about the benefits of WBT.  I really like how they connected Whole Brain Teaching to being part direct instruction and part cooperative learning.  I have had a lot of professional development in these two areas and appreciate the connection between the two.  They both have their advantages and WBT seems to swing from using direct instruction to using cooperative learning.

For the first time, I saw the word constructivisim  used in this chapter.  Since this is at the heart of my teaching style, it was nice to read about how Whole Brain Teaching is linked to students constructing their own knowledge and being in the zone of proximal development.  I still do have some reservations about how much lecturing can be involved in Whole Brain Teaching because I tend to do much less lecturing than other teachers.  I have to think more about how the WBT strategies can be used in a a more student driven environment.  I have watched several videos of Whole Brain Teaching being used in math class and they seem to be based on lecture.  I guess what I am still struggling with most is what does student individual practice and extended small group time look like with Whole Brain Teaching?  How about guided math time?

Chapter 29: Additional Research

I love numbers, statistics and percentages so I was excited to see some numbers on Whole Brain Teaching especially the percentage of educators who give it high ratings.  I think the biggest power in WBT is that students are more engaged.  This is the biggest issue I see in classrooms today.  Students are not engaged in the lesson, interested or paying attention.  No matter what great teaching you do, you can't be a great teacher unless your students are engaged.

What are your feelings about the research behind Whole Brain Teaching?  What is your favorite Whole Brain Teaching strategy?  Please respond in the comments below.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fun and Free Computer Games: Halloween Math

This week I found a new game for working on fluency with kids.  Halloween Math is a great game for grades 2-6.  It is an excellent way to work on fact fluency in a game based setting.  This game will not help your students develop strategies but is a great way for them to practice strategies they have already developed on their way to becoming more fluent.  If you have a diverse range of students in your room, this game is great to help you differentiate because it looks like everyone is playing the same game but you can choose which operation each student is working on.   

Once you choose which operation you want to work on, a fact will appear at the top of the screen.  Several pumpkins will begin falling from the sky.  You use the arrow keys to move the ghost at the bottom of the screen and try to catch the pumpkin with the correct answer.   If you catch the wrong answer, you get to try again.  Watch out for the bat!  If the bat "gets" you, you lose a life and get bounced back to the left of the screen.

Head over to Smarty Games to check game out!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Study Part 7: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

We are really getting into the big ideas of Whole Brain Teaching.  If you are checking out this book study for the first time, 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 23: WBT and Critical Thinking

This chapter focuses on critical thinking which can also be thought of as creative thinking.  It introduces some gestures that can be used in the classroom during teach sessions that engage kid's  brains and help them think creatively.  This chapter left me feeling like I really needed to see this in action so I went searching for a video of WBT critical thinking and I found this gem:

This looks like a great way to get kids thinking critically! 

Chapter 24: Brain Toys

I had a difficult time imaginaing all of these with the short describtion given of each.  I again went to find a video and found this one of students working on equivalent fractions.  Several of the brain toys are illustrated in this video as well as some other WBT ideas.

Chapter 25: Smart Cards

These seem like a very simple and straightforward way to use formative assessment in the classroom!  
Chapter 26: Leadership Training and The Self Managing Class

To be a great teacher, you have to have your student's attention.  I love the ideas in this chapter about turning some of the routines and ideas over to leaders in the classroom and having a student led environment.  I think this has always been my ultimate goal.  A class led by students with a teacher there to guide the way.

Next week we will be finishing up this book and the week after we will be wrapping things up!

Have you seen any interesting videos on Whole Brain Teaching?  Please respond in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Got Dice? Keep them Contained and Quiet!

I use dice all the time with my students and sometimes they drive me absolutely crazy!  Despite calmly showing students and setting expectations for how we will use dice in the classroom, some kids can't seem to keep them in their hands.  There are also those days (usually Thursday afternoons!) where I have a headache or would just like things to be a little quieter.  I have been thinking for a few years how it would be nice to have something to keep the dice contained and quiet.  This summer when I had a pile of fresh vegetables from my garden, I started buying hummus to dip them in.  That is when inspiration struck.  Hummus containers would make the perfect dice rolling helper.  They are clear, they stack and I had a pile of them sitting in my recycling bin.  So I stacked them together and forgot about them for a few weeks.                                                                                                                 When I finally dug them out again, it only took me a few minutes to turn them into dice rolling machines.  This project is quick and easy and would even be something older students could help make.  It would be useful to anyone who uses dice in the classroom.  
- Hummus containers
- Scissors

Place the bottom of the hummus container on a piece of craft felt

Trace around with a marker.  Cut just inside the line. 

Use a few dots of glue from a glue gun to attach the felt to the bottom of the hummus container
You are set to go!  When they are not in use, they stack in a nice, small pile.  

Check out some of the ways I use dice in the classroom

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Math Literature: Identifying Coins

Several weeks ago, I shared with you that I had recently purchased this book and was anxious to use the ideas in it with students.

     If you have never heard of this book, it is full of great ideas for getting kids to think about money and finances.  My goal with K-2 students is to make sure they know where money comes from and how it is used.  The best part about this book is that all the lessons incorporate literature!  

     Today I want to share with you a lesson from this book that is great for identifying coins.  It is lesson 1.2 in the book entitled Beginning to Identify Coins.  It could be used with kids from pre-k up to grade 2.  I choose to do this lesson with first graders.

     This lesson could be done with any of the coins but I decided to focus on the quarter because this particular group of students already has good ideas and information about the other coins but always seems to be mixing up the nickel and the quarter.  I also think kids find the quarter challenging because there are so many different pictures on the back of it now with the 50 state quarters and the introduction of the National Park Quarters there are so many different things that kids might see on a quarter that it makes the job of teaching money harder.

I began the lesson with the kids on the rug in a circle.  We started by passing around a cookie sheet with coins on top and having everyone find and take a quarter.  Some kids needed to look at other kid's quarter to figure out what they were looking for and a few kids took a nickel and had to switch but it all worked out in the end.  I then had kids take a good luck at their quarter and tell their neighbor one thing they noticed about the quarter.  Then everyone returned to their desks where I had placed crayons, quarter sheets of scrap paper and tape dispensers.  I found that a small piece of tape rolled into a circle and placed under the coin goes a long way towards holding the coin in place. If your student desks are not as smooth or if you are doing this on the carpet, you could skip this step.

Next kids got to work rubbing with their crayons.  When I had put crayons out, I used our "rubbing crayons" which are older crayons missing their wrappers.  When we use these crayons, we most often use them horizontally so that is how kids started.  As you can see, this did not work well and only gave them an outline of the rim.  By holding the crayon vertically, they had much better luck.  The more gentle a student moved the crayon over the quarter, the better the rubbing seemed to come out.  Also darker colors seemed to show up better than lighter ones but when I took pictures of the rubbings, the lighter ones looked better.  Kids love doing crayon rubbings and figured out what worked best rather quickly.  As kids finished rubbing each side of the quarter, I let them come trade their quarter for another one and they were very excited to see different quarters.  After about 10 minutes, I had everyone bring their rubbings and the quarter they currently had back to the rug.  There they talked with a partner about their rubbings, shared what they learned and compared quarters.  I then pulled them all back together and we made a quick anchor chart about what we noticed and discovered about quarters.
My new favorite way to make anchor charts is by using power point and a handwriting font by Teacher Gems.  This gives me the homemade look without my terrible handwriting and poor spelling.  I can project it on the smartboard or projector depending on what classroom I am in.  I can save it for later, share it with other teachers or students and print it and put it on the wall if I want to.  

I used the math literature at the end of the lesson this time by reading Quarters to the class.  I like this book because it has big pictures and easy to read text.  It tells a bit about features of the quarter and goes into some details about the state quarters.  It is a level 7 book so many first graders can read this on their own.  After reading this book, we revisited and added to our anchor chart with the new information we learned about quarters.  This book was added to the students' shelf where they pick their own books for book boxes and such.  I love this series of books and purchased them several years ago from Scholastic but they look like they are currently out of print.  Your best chance to get this book right now would be to look for a used copy online.

To follow up our learning about quarters and to provide students with more practice with the other coins, I put together a quick math center for students to work on independently over the following weeks.  In it I included a dish of coins, crayons, quarter sheets of paper and this microscope.  The students have been having a great time studying the coins by making coin rubbings and looking at them under the microscope.  I like this microscope for this kind of activity because it make the coins bigger but not so big that you can't see the whole coin at once.  It also has been dropped on the floor repeatedly and has not broken!  It gives you a similar magnification as a magnifying glass but is easier for little kids to use and the kids think they are really cool using a microscope.  

We had a great time doing this lesson and can't wait to try out more ideas from this book!  

What are your favorite ways to practice coin identification?  Please respond in the comments below!

Head over to The Teacher Studio for more Loved That lesson posts!

Check out these other ideas for teaching money!