Saturday, January 24, 2015

Saturday Sayings: It Still Matters

A few of you noticed that Saturday Sayings disappeared for a while.  Thank you for noticing by the way.  It wasn't easy putting the breaks on 149 consecutive Saturday posts.  In fact, it was disappointing, but I felt possibly we all needed a break from my weekly opinions.  When I woke up this morning wishing I had something to post, I decided maybe today is the day.  Be forewarned.  My opinions are making a comeback.

Yesterday was National Handwriting Day.  I happen to have a natural inclination for handwriting that prompts people to ask, "Is that typed?" so celebrating handwriting is right up my alley.  When I posted about this special day on Facebook, one person responded with, "If only it was celebrated in schools!" I can't speak for anyone else, but I celebrate it in my room every day.

Having said that, talk of handwriting is rarely a focus of mine during writing workshop unless we're specifically focusing on readability, it's becoming an issue with a certain student, or we're publishing.  Otherwise, my writing workshop is focused on clear thinking of ideas and details.  Yet I believe their handwriting during writing workshop is greatly affected by making handwriting a priority at other times of the day.  Besides some short, simple letter formation lessons at the beginning of the year, I also believe handwriting can be taught and practiced authentically.  So it's no surprise that the stack of handwriting workbooks in my room has yet to be touched.

There have been moments in my career when I've felt a tinge of guilt for retaining my fervor for handwriting in my classroom, but then I read Routman's words and feel validated.  She speaks of the writing confidence, stamina, and fluency that comes with formal handwriting instruction.  I'll add to that the readability and respect it shows for the audience which speaks, "I have something worthwhile to say, and I want you to be able to read it."  

One of my goals as a teacher of writing is to convey to my students the power of their written words and the effect they leave on an audience.  It matters not whether the writing is a small moment, persuasive letter, poem, procedural piece, an all-about book, or a love note.  If the audience can't read it, the point is moot.  Handwriting still matters.

P.S.  Here's proof that kids can learn to use great handwriting without a workbook.  Handwriting can be authentic and integrated. 

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Discovering Efficiency

We use the word "efficient" in math a lot.  I want my mathematicians to know that math isn't about shortcuts, but it is about efficiency.  Setting them up to discover efficient strategies is what I'm striving for.  I could simply show them, but if they take responsibility for the learning, we're all better off in the end.

One day I handed out addition boards (see below) and counters.  I told them to put counters on their board but one of the parts had to be zero.  The other part was up to them (within reason - they were encouraged to keep the number small and different than their neighbors).  They left their addition boards on their desks and traveled around, collecting as many equations on their whiteboard as they could.  In other words, they wrote the equations they saw on other addition boards.  5+0=5, 0+7=7, 0+9=9, and so on.

(Imagine one part with 0 counters and the other part with a small amount of counters.)

After about five minutes of collecting equations, they brought their whiteboards to our living room.  They saw the chart below, although at the time it was blank except for the +0 at the top.  I asked volunteers for equations from their whiteboards.  I then wrote on the chart.  Then I asked them to discuss in partners what they noticed.  A few people shared with the group as we acknowledged their thoughts.  It only took a few comments to get to the person who noticed a strategy for adding zero.  I got out my highlighter, drew some arrows, and wrote down the person's strategy.

Imagine the above lesson repeated for +1 the following day.

When it came to +2, we didn't get out addition boards and counters.  We looked at our +0 and +1 charts.  "How can +0 and +1 help you know +2?"  We made some discoveries and then practiced using an efficient +2 strategy with their foreheads.  Each child had a +2 equation on their head.  They walked around and collected as many equations as they could.

Given the opportunity, they can make discoveries about efficient strategies.  They just need the right conditions.  

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Classroom Book Strategy

Here I am back with more to say about classroom books.  I can't seem to leave the topic alone for very long.  This week I tried a new classroom book strategy.  I worked with small groups to write the text together.  Each child was able to contribute, because they took turns writing words.  I was able to focus on several skills:

segmenting sounds
clapping syllables
spelling patterns 
snap words (a.k.a. sight words)

I've a feeling this book will be a popular one among the bunch for a while.

Gotta love classroom books!

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Sunday, January 4, 2015


I'm back to work tomorrow, and although I do love my class, I'll miss spending my days on the couch, under a blanket, with a book.  Just in case someone is looking for a good read, here are the books I devoured in December.  

This is a mixture of Christian, historical fiction, and romance.  It was okay.

I gave this 4 out of 5 stars.  I enjoyed the characters and their story.

Here's my favorite of the month.  It was hard to put down.

This is my second favorite.  It's wartime historical fiction set in a French town that I've actually visited.  

This one is not my cup of tea.

This is an enjoyable YA fast read.

A local author and teacher wrote this.  I liked it.

This short book is based on a true story.  It's an interesting story but the author didn't thoroughly capture me.  

Here's a historical fiction that I really enjoyed.  

I found this to be entertaining with a touch of dark.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Math Talk Videos

I made the choice to ignore a Common Core Math jab that appeared up on my Facebook feed this week, but I found myself thinking, "Oh no.  Here's another parent who thinks unkindly about the direction math is heading these days."  I believe it's a problem that teachers have a responsibility to address.  How can we help chip away at the pervasive negativity concerning math instruction?  I recently shared my thoughts and game plan for what I'm doing about it, and because I believe it's an important dilemma to tackle, I'm sharing the post again here for those who haven't read it yet.

If you saw that previous post, you'll know that I have a weekly habit of sharing kid math strategies with parents so they have a clearer picture of how their children are thinking about math.  All year I've been wanting to take it to a new level though.  My cousin David, who is the IT boss in the Boise district, gave me a great idea at the beginning of the year.  He talked about how cool it would be if parents could watch videos of kids explaining their thinking.  I was all over the idea.  It just took me half the year to figure out how to share personal videos on my weebly class website without it costing me a $40 upgrade.  I love what I'm able to do for my parents now.

After I've asked a mathematician to draw their solution to a problem on the board, they're given the opportunity to teach the rest of the class.  (Read this if you'd like more specifics.)  Now that I have a way to share videos with parents, I videotape math talks and share them on my class website, along with pictures of the strategies and my explanations, as I always have. 

Click on the photo to watch some recent math talk videos.

The more parents are invited into our classrooms to see and hear for themselves what math is doing for their children, the better they'll understand that the changes we're making are for the best. 

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Sayings: The Three Ps

That day Allie began rubbing her hands together in anticipation of our contextual math problem truly warmed my heart, partly because I did not grow up with an appreciation for story problems.  I did them out of obedience and nothing more.  Even though I earned good math grades, I rarely felt particularly successful with them either.  They were pretty much hard and not a bit on the fun side.  On the whole, it's safe to say I was not in possession of the three Ps Buschman refers to.  

Not all my kids rub their hands together like Allie, but neither are they grumbling and rolling their eyes, although it's always possible some do the math out of obedience like I did.  Regardless, I believe that most of my mathematicians have a different perspective of contextual problems than I.  In fact, I would describe them as fearless, which certainly goes hand and hand with the three Ps.  

What contributes to this fearless attitude that was so foreign to me all those years ago?  Reflecting on how math instruction has changed within my room over the past five or six years, the following factors are worth pointing out.  Problem solving does not take place in isolation.  Neither does problem solving equal one right way or require the use of a mysterious rule that must be memorized and followed.  "Solve it in a way that makes sense to you."  Differing paths to a solution are not only encouraged but highlighted and strategically used to the benefit of everyone.  With these things in place, I believe there are fewer reasons to be intimidated like I was. 

While I sense their fearlessness, I also want to be more aware of how I can intentionally instill patience, perseverance, and a positive attitude into my math instruction.  Those are skills that can be taught, and I need to look for ways to highlight and teach what each one looks and feels like when it comes to math problems.  If I do, Allie should be rubbing those hands together long after she leaves my classroom.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Just Right Problems

I hope Tara from The Math Maniac doesn't mind that I'm piggybacking one of her recent posts about problem solving.   
She recently said, "If you don't see a range of strategies, these problems might be too hard or too easy for your students."  What an excellent reminder for those times when most everyone in the room solves a problem the same way.  I agree that there should be a range, although I'll admit I don't always see it.  Today I did, which says something about the problem I gave them.

8 reindeer pull Santa's sleigh.  Each reindeer has 2 antlers.  How many antlers are there altogether?

While the kids were solving the problem in their journals, I purposefully sought out a range of solutions and sent those particular mathematicians to the board to reproduce their strategies.  When it was time for our four math teachers to share, I purposefully chose the order they would share.  Look at them below and you'll see the progression.

The kids delivered today.  Isn't it amazing how much better they deliver when I have my act together?  The problems we choose are key.

By the way, Tara is a great resource for all things elementary math.  Go check her out.

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