Monday, December 21, 2015

Intro to the Bar Model

I taught my best math lesson of the year last week. This was quite unexpected for three reasons. 1) Math has been my nemesis this year, (I'll refrain from explaining all the reasons why. It's complicated.) 2) I've never taught this lesson before. 3) Beyond a few pointers, I've never had the training to teach it. 

For several years I've heard heard bits and pieces about the bar model - how it teaches our youngest mathematicians to visualize problems and transitions them into the number line. I never felt like I had enough information to introduce the concept though. This Fall I got a few pointers which helped me develop this lesson, and it really did work. Phew.

I developed the above Google slide presentation which took my kids through the lesson. (Click on the graphic if you'd like to see it.) 

Other than the presentation, it was a simple lesson to plan for. My kids had access to red and blue cubes as well as blank paper. This is what one mathematician's final product looked like, although it probably won't mean much unless you check out the slides above.

I had the opportunity to share this lesson with a math guru from BSU a few days ago. He was very pleased with the components of the lesson and how I took my kids through the process of discovering the bar model. The only recommendation he made concerned the first row of cubes seen on the child's paper. Instead of labeling the individual cubes from 1 to 5, he suggested they be labeled each as 1s since they are units of 1, and I totally agreed. (I edited the slide presentation accordingly.)

Maybe this information will be helpful for someone out there who has been wanting to introduce the bar model to their little mathematicians as well. I'm also in the process of developing further lessons. I'd be happy to share those in the near future as well. Happy bar modeling!

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Thief of Joy

This has been the kind of year where nothing in my classroom feels typical. It seems like my 26 kids and I are in an alternate universe where skills and behavior don't fit the pattern my head and heart have come to expect after doing this job for 22 years. 

Of course, every year is different with ever-changing variables. I'm accustomed to this change each August when I'm dealt a new hand. In fact, I expect it. Yet I can still count on some tried and true typical skill-sets and behaviors...until this year. 

I've turned my schedule upside down and rearranged my whole day. 
I've searched out better practices.
I've read too many professional books. (Yes, I think there's such a thing.)
I've put a hold on some major pieces of my curriculum, because this crew is just not ready. (This kills me.)
I've spent countless hours racking my brain how to meet their needs better.
I've cried out for help.
I've blamed myself.
I've wept.

It's a difficult thing when typical meets reality, and they don't see eye to eye. It has a way of turning one's little world upside down. At least that's how it's felt for me. Yet I'm continually reminded of these words:

comparison is the thief of joy

I'll be the first to admit, and it's probably fairly obvious after reading the above 214 words, that though I put on a big smile for my kids, joy has been elusive this year. I know it's because I'm holding tightly to what should be, instead of what is. Though this is still a huge struggle, I'm feeling the beginnings of a shift. I believe some of my little people and their skills are preparing to take off soon, and everything in me cries out to leave typical behind and run like the wind with them. Towards joy.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Candles

This year I found myself a new Christmas gift for parents. It was very easy, not too awfully expensive (thanks to the Dollar Tree), and turned out so well. I think parents will love them for many years to come. 

I found the idea here.

Click on the graphic to find directions.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

A Reading Drought

I'm an avid reader, the kind who had a seriously difficult time going to bed last Friday night at 1:00 due to a book I couldn't put down, but sadly this school year has taken a toll on my reading plans. I've been in a bit of a reading drought. This post is catching everyone up, at least those who care, on what I've read since August. 

I liked this one. Historical fiction has become an enjoyable genre for me.

 I liked this historical fiction one too.

The technical jargon is way over my head, but the plot is great.

This book gave me some good ideas for how to be more open-ended with math problems.

This one gave me so much to think about. It's a must-read for elementary teachers.

Elementary math teachers need to read this book. It's both wise and practical.

This book is a sequel to one of my favorites of the year (Me Before You). I liked it okay, but it was nowhere near as amazing as the first. I still adore this author.

I enjoyed this one a lot. It was an enjoyable read.

This was a touching story.

I've read every book in this series and loved them. This one was a bit slow though.

I liked this one.

You have to read this one. I couldn't put it down and read it in less than 24 hours. It was my favorite from this list.

Here's to no more droughts. I like my books too much.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

The 3 Hs

The 3 Hs are part of every morning in room 18. As I greet kids at the door, they have a choice of whether they want to give me a...

High five

Most choose the hug, but sometimes there's a handshake or high five in the mix. (And there are usually a few kids who aren't really touchy feely, which I completely understand, so of course I don't force anything upon them.)

I've been doing this for so long that I don't even remember where I found the idea. All I know is that I can't take credit. :)

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Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Jane Movement

My teaching life is an overwhelming one this year. I'm spending way too many evening and weekend hours grappling with how to best teach my crew of 26. I just purchased my 5th professional read since school started in hopes of finding something that will help me reach them better. I'm definitely being stretched by this young bunch with a vast range of abilities and personalities. 

In those moments when I'm feeling defeated and like a failure, I can see Jane, with the most beautiful eyes a first grader could ever have, but more importantly, with the most beautiful heart, walking around the corner of the building in the morning holding high for all to see the sign for "character" on her hand. It doesn't matter to her that other kids are running, because she takes my words to heart. "Character is doing what's right even when no one is watching." 

My Jane started a movement that day. Many quickly picked up on it and now come around the corner in the mornings holding up their character signs. Others make the shape of a heart which they hold over their own hearts. That's because I tell them to listen to their hearts. "Your heart will never let you down."

Last week I heard a boy from the room next door saying my name while I was letting my kids in one morning. There he was, holding up the sign for character. I doubt if he even knew what it meant, but the movement was spreading so I hardly cared.

Thank you Jane for reminding me that I'm doing something well. 

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Sunday, November 1, 2015

Name Envelopes

As all elementary teachers know, names are powerful tools for literacy learning. With the help of Patricia Cunningham I invest several days at the beginning of the year to celebrate and investigate every name in the room. Check out those ideas here.

One year I figured out that I could do something more with those cut-up names than simply send them home.

I put the name into an envelope.
I tape the child's picture to the front so that it can flip up.
I write the child's name underneath the picture. 

The envelopes become part of word work, and kids of all abilities love to put the names together and then check to see if they're right. Once the envelopes become less thrilling, I send them home.

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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Good Morning

We've been in school 40-something days, and I've finally managed to train most of my 26 students to reply to my daily morning greeting. I always tell each one, "Good morning" when I see them at the door. One would think they would know what to say in return, but they don't until someone like myself teaches them. 

I've said these words many a time: 
"So tomorrow when I see you at the door, your goal will be to say 'Good morning' when I say it to you. Let's all practice." 

I love it when some of them arrive and beat me to the words. Of course, I make a big deal about that, because it's a contagious kind of thing that spurs others to follow suit.

At this point, if someone doesn't say it back to me, I say, "That's when you say..." and they'll remember the appropriate reply. 

I just think it's important for little people to practice social awareness and respect. They don't know what that looks like until someone teaches them, and oftentimes that someone is their teacher.  

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Teacher Tweets

I recently put myself in charge of a staff development idea inspired by Twitter. First I got permission from my principal. Then I set up this display in our teacher's lounge. For the past few weeks I've put up little snippets to stimulate reflection and conversation. I've encouraged teachers to respond and even respond to the responses of others. When the conversation dies down, a new thought goes up. I've got a handful of ideas to put on the boards, but I've also made sure everyone knows this area belongs to the whole staff. I'm planning to leave some blank spaces very soon in hopes others will display quotes they've discovered. Hopefully this is a new tradition that invites busy teachers to join important conversations, reflect on pedagogy, and tweak practices when necessary, even if it means on the go while rushing through the teacher's lounge. 

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

National Learn a Word Day (freebie)

For a few years now I've been making an attempt (sometimes feeble) at "celebrating" national unknown holidays throughout the year. This coming Friday is National Learn a Word Day, and I'm asking my first graders to get involved. I was inspired by Miss Trayers at Not Just Child's Play in posts like this one. I like how she gets kids physically engaged in the learning and celebration of new vocabulary. 

Click on the graphic if you're interested in having your own copy.

I sent this sheet home with everyone yesterday. I filled out their name and gave each child a word. At first I thought about having the kids, with parent help, come up with a word, but I'm not sure of the results I'd get. Maybe that will come at another time. On top of drawing their word, I'm really hoping some of them take on the challenge of dressing up as their word, bringing an object that helps us understand their word better, or acting out their word. I'm hoping this goes well, not only so I can share the results here on my blog, but also so I can look for other ways to extend this kind of thinking and learning about vocabulary all throughout the year.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Today and Every Day (Freebie)

I've known for a long time that conferring, though a powerful tool, doesn't automatically guarantee the writer will take what's given and consistently put it to use. I finally developed a tool that I hope will increase those odds ever so slightly. 

Since Lucy Calkins has taught me to say, "Today and every day..." to my writers when I'm leaving them with a strategy, I decided to name this tool the Today and Every Day Bookmark. 

When I confer with a writer, I draw the teaching point on their bookmark. (Drawing ensures access even after I leave them. Fluent readers obviously don't necessarily need pictures.) I made the bookmark nice and long so that I can add additional teaching points when the writer is ready to move on. By the way, the bookmark lives in the child's writing folder so it's always available during writing workshop time. It's also printed on cardstock for extra durability. Here are a few examples and a copy at the bottom just for you.  

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Triumph Changes Everything

This week a few teacher friends observed one of my writing workshop sessions. When I met with them later in the week, they commented on a specific conferring moment I had with one of my writers. They talked about what a great writer he was. Little did they know he has been my most reluctant writer and thinker of the year. They were completely surprised and never would have guessed that writing workshop typically induces his pout-pout face, helplessness, and very little output. That is, until very recently when he started believing me when I say, "You can do this."

Honestly, it hasn't been a pain-free process. From my observations, formative assessments, and conversations with his kindergarten teacher, I knew he had all the tools to pull this off. He simply had a can't-do or don't-want-to-do problem blocking his way. In some respects, that can be more frustrating than the child who is a can-doer but doesn't have enough tools in their toolbox yet. 

When he repeatedly acted like there was nothing on the planet he could ever write about, I reminded him that writers write about things they like to do and moments that happen to them and left him to it. When he dragged his feet about not knowing what to say about his pictures, I reminded him that writers look at their pictures for details and left him with the assumption that he'd figure it out. When he acted like there was no possible way he could spell the words, I reminded him, "If you can say it, you can write it," and off I went. I consistently refused to pamper or do the work for him (it was obvious that's what he really wanted from me) but instead repeatedly said, "You can do this." 

The point is that now he looks nothing like the writer I saw just a few weeks ago, so much so that observers in my room think he's one of my best writers. He finally believes me. I can't wait to tell him, "Remember those two teachers who visited last week? They were so impressed with what a great writer you are." Triumph changes everything. 

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Words Are Not For Hurting

Words are not for hurting. Some first graders need a bit of help with this concept. 

Think. (Oh how difficult this can be.) Are the words I'm thinking going to hurt? 

If so, then swallow those words.

If those words accidentally (or otherwise) come out, make it right.

That's where this chart comes in handy, because first graders (and many adults) don't know how to make it right. "Sorry" is not a one-way ticket to get out of trouble.

Charts like this don't automatically fix issues, but they sure provide a helpful scaffold that can be referred to all throughout the year (Hopefully they'll catch on sooner though, right?).

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Comparing Names (Freebie)

Keep it real. Keep it relevant. 

That's one of my math mottos this year. I'm not sure how well I'm doing on that, but it's a most worthy goal to keep in mind.  

Names are always real and relevant for first graders, so I invented a way for my kids to compare numbers using symbols with teen frames and their names. Click on the graphic below for your own copy.

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