If teaching fifth and sixth graders has taught me anything, it’s that fractions and decimals can be ABSTRACT and TRICKY… and that kids have to be developmentally ready to perform operations on them. The good news is- the standards aren’t encouraging us to get kids to add, subtract, multiply and divide 5/32 and 16/71! We make equivalent fractions as a strategy, we multiply and divide to resize, or scale– so there’s more purpose behind the work than there was once upon a time! An activity that never gets old- and grows number sense- is comparing numbers. As a result, we compare fractions and decimals in a variety of ways in the upper elementary classroom. My favorite- is the clothesline. This is super easy to DIY and to differentiate on the fly.
Index Cards, Markers, String/ Yarn for a clothesline
To prepare: fold index cards in half so that they can “hang” on your clothesline. Write a fraction, decimal or percent on each card. String your clothesline across the board or wall and attach with magnets or tape (or tie to something).
Pass 6-8 cards out to students. Tell them they will take turns coming up and placing their card where they think it belongs on the clothesline. In the end, cards should hang from least to greatest. When a student hangs a card, they need to explain to the group why they placed it where they did. This is a great opportunity for communicating our math thinking. It’s also a learning opportunity for everyone listening!
The first cards are awkward to place because the clothesline is empty! Code the first and last cards in the range green, and invite those students first. Then the board is “set up” for play. It’s also an opportunity to differentiate. Strategically hand out those green cards! Maybe you have a student who needs a confidence boost?
Set norms around discussion. What do you want students to do if they disagree with a placement? This is where the most growth and learning happens! As students’ number sense develops, the distance between hanging cards will become more important! They will want to “slide” cards over. How should they communicate that they’d like to do this? I usually try to hold “sliding” off until the end- but when it’s a major slide- they can’t contain themselves:)
Some cards will be equivalent. I usually have kids stack them. If you have a magnet board you could put them above and below the clothesline.
Partnerships build communication skills and confidence. Sometimes I send 2-3 kids up together with one card. And other times I pass cards out and have students chat with a neighbor about their card before we start building the clothesline. This helps decrease anxiety and pressure some students might feel and gives students one more opportunity to talk math!
Color coding is great for differentiation! So color code the cards for yourself so that when you pass them out- you give kids a green, blue or red card on purpose.
0-1 is a boring range!!! So is -1-1. Kids are always looking at symmetrical number lines. That’s not real life. Mix it up! Try 3-4 or -0.50-2.
Reflection. Even if this activity lasts 10 minutes, your kids’ brains will be working overtime. Capture it somehow. A math journal, an exit slip… Post a cellphone picture of the clothesline in your Google Classroom and have students comment. Do something:) There are some reflection sheets here too!
You know that buzz of collaboration and learning that you hope for everyday? It happens when we play this game. Every. Single. Time. If you like Boggle, you’ll love this game. Word Wrangle is a fun classroom word game inspired by my love of Boggle and also my love of quiet. Once upon a time, I bought SIX Boggle games for my first year teaching sixth grade. I let my students open the shrink wrap (for effect- because this was going to be so awesome)… and then I heard it. The sound of 25 solid letter cubes banging around in a hard plastic echo chamber, multiplied by six. After that, the Boggle games went away.
Why I Love This Game
This is absolutely my favorite game to play with my class. I make it a point to teach this game early in the year as we are learning procedures and routines. As a result, this is an amazing back up plan, sub activity and party game in my classroom. We start by playing as a whole group until students understand how to play. After that, I group students in so many different ways! I often think about their spelling success as I group them. The game is more fun when kids play against others with similar skills. When this kind of grouping is done- every board is challenging to every student! I never see my strongest students work as hard as they do when they are Wrangling Words against other students who are just as strong in reading and spelling. Likewise, students who often give up on challenging tasks, expecting they won’t have the skills to succeed- LOVE this game. I group them thoughtfully, so that they are playing against others with a similar skillset- and they are always begging for one more round. Lastly, every year I am surprised to find some struggling learners who excel at this game. So, mix up those groupings often, and you will learn so much about your kiddos!
I print out my game boards on different colors of card stock. When my class plays in small groups, every group plays with the same game board. at the same time I do this so that after each group has determined a winner, we can share out some of the winning words from each group. As they share, players’ eyes dart around their card searching for each word. I hear lots of “oh man” and “how did I miss that?” Every minute of this game is a learning experience. Usually, I place two game boards at each group so that in a group of 4-6, no one is looking at an upside down card. I do not give students their own game boards because I think managing the materials and sharing is an important part of this game. I set a 3 minute timer for students to hunt for words. When the timer goes off, we switch gears and start the the share out and cross out part of the process.
You finally have your own classroom!!! No more shuffling around on a cart, lugging your whole life with you every period of the day… no more “borrowing” other teachers’ classrooms and hoping you left them as neat as you found them.
Now, you’re ready to make this new space work for you. One of the biggest challenges to classroom set up is that projector screen. It’s no one’s fault. It was hung uniformly, matching all of the other classrooms… probably with an antique overhead projector and transparencies in mind. More importantly though, moving it is not topping anyone’s to do list… there are much bigger fish to fry- from a property services standpoint. But, in your world- a thoughtfully place projector screen could make ALL the difference. It did for me! When I added this DIY projector screen to my classroom, things changed- and FAST! No more distractions for kids working on the class warm up. The problem wasn’t just that occasionally a classmate would block someone’s view while walking to their seat- it was that staring at the warm up on the screen in the front of the room at the start of class, provided an unintentional “social check in” for my easily distracted kids.
It didn’t matter if I moved their seats- it didn’t help them to “pay attention”… they were! But- every minute or so one of their besties walked right into their line of sight. That’s REALLY HARD for a middle schooler to ignore. For weeks I had joked with Distracted Danny that if he could pick where the screen went it would be better for everyone. Every couple of days he’d remind me, “you know, if you just move it up high and in the corner, we’ll all be able to see it better…” He was right. But I would never get anyone to hang a screen in the corner!
So, I tried a white sheet. I tried chart paper. I tried a regular sized piece of foam board… and finally this. An extra large piece of foam board from the Custom Framing department at Michael’s Crafts. I stuck some Command strip hooks on the back of it and used string to tie it to the ceiling tile spacers in my classroom. About $10 and 10 minutes to make a significant impact on student learning.
In my second grade classroom, I’ve recently identified a troubling gap in my students’ learning… Counting. I know how important counting is… and we have been counting all year. We count while we wait in line, we count backwards and forwards, by 2s, 3s, 5s, 10s and more. We start in the hundreds, we start in the teens… So, why (I’ve asked myself and anyone who will listen) am I observing students struggle to cross decades when counting in the midst of double digit addition and subtraction?!?! Here’s what I mean: We are working on adding multidigit numbers and I stumble upon a student who is heading toward the wrong answer. As I listen to her explain her thinking, I realize when she counts from 19 to 20, there is a question mark in her voice and she looks up at me for reassurance. From 38, 39 she heads to 60 with the same inflection and eye contact. The scariest part… she’s not the only one. I’ve realized this is a symptom of a few more serious issues, one of which is patterning in base ten… and conceptualizing the magnitude and difference of numbers.
So what are we doing about it? After consulting with some of my favorite math teachers… here’s the plan. First, I’ve been doing an activity we call Sound of a Number for a few minutes each day.The kids love it and they are exercising an important part of their math brain. For this activity, I hide behind a cardboard study carrel with a pile of base ten blocks. Students listen hard to attempt to identify the value of the blocks I drop. We start each lesson with a quick review. I drop of each of the pieces, unit, ten rod and hundred flat; a student identifies each by sound and explains some of the different ways each could be made. For example, we could make a hundred flat with ten ten rods or 100 unit cubes etc. This helps to deepen the concept of base ten.
The view from down here.
“It all falls on the classroom teacher, it always does” she reminded me. This was my mother. A retired elementary school teacher, who had made it the long haul. In the classroom for her entire career, advocating for kids, mentoring new teachers- reminding me when I express frustration in the system that, I shouldn’t be surprised because “other people just don’t get it. Everything is the responsibility of the classroom teacher.” In other words- s#!t rolls down hill. I’ve been hearing it for years. But, honestly I didn’t quite get it until recently.
I’ve spent most of my career as a middle school teacher. I guess I have that genetic mutation that appreciates the sass and limit-testing of the adolescent. Continue reading “Classroom Teacher: Reality Check”
What better way to develop an Environment of Respect and Rapport than by developing a 1:1 relationship with each student??Watch Rick connect with students about their reading during conferences. What does he do/ say that develops an environment of respect and rapport? What does Rick communicate to his students with his verbal and non-verbal language? I’ve seen similar successes with Experimental Design Conferences in a middle school science class as well as Think Tank conferences in a high school math class. In each instance, teachers demonstrated great respect for their students’ thinking by honoring scheduled time with everyone. How could you make something like this work in your context? What do you & your students stand to gain?
So, your school department actually has a manual for you and it’s full of printables… They were designed by educators and statisticians… and people that must know more about teaching this content than you do… so why aren’t you students engaged? Well, I am writing this post to make sure you don’t “throw out the baby with the bath water!” Before you throw away every workbook and ditto in your classroom… let’s put our heads together.
You are right, experts did design these materials, so there’s probably something that works in here…
Don’t reinvent the wheel- Re-purpose it instead!
Here’s a template for a cube (as well as other amazing ideas- amazing wiki). Why not put the best questions from your packet on the 6 sides of the cube and let students roll and discuss in pairs? Your goal (with the packet) was for students to think about the questions, right? Imagine all the ideas they’ll get from their partner when rolling the cube??!! Two heads are always better than one.
You could listen in on student conversations and assess their Speaking & Listening Skills or their content knowledge. Another idea is to assess student learning with an exit slip at the end of class. When you encourage students to have conversations, arm them with sentence stems and accountable talk to make it as productive as possible.
What will you re-purpose this week? Let us know in the comments & you may inspire someone else to take a similar risk!
PS… I’m looking to give away a TpT gift certificate to a lucky blog commenter this week! Spread the word- bring a friend!
Regardless of the subject, brain research tells us we need many rehearsals (+20…yikes!) for new learning to stick! Learners rehearse learning when they are actually engaged in it. And, just to be clear… a worksheet with 20 math problems does not equal 20 rehearsals…( awwww, maaaan!) So, let’s consider the value of a jigsaw!
In the video P21’s video library, the section titled “In Practice,” features sample lessons incorporating 21st Century Skills for any grade level/ content area. This is a video jackpot! I’d love to know what videos you found most valuable and to which you made connections. Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Carol Ann Tomlinson writes, “The idea of differentiating instruction to accommodate the different ways that students learn involves a hefty dose of common sense, as well as sturdy support in the theory and research of education (Tomlinson & Allan, 2000). It is an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms.”
The teacher in this video creates an opportunity for all students to be successful with a very challenging written assignment. Watch this 5 minutes video to see what he does to support all students. Any ideas or questions come to mind for your own teaching? Share in the comments!
In my upcoming posts, look for go-to strategies to ramp up already planned lessons and ways to re-purpose assignments, lessons and resources that need a 21st Century kick! Also during this challenge, a lucky teacher who supports readers by sharing his/her experience in the comments will receive a TpT gift certificate!!