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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Math Talk!

My class is a noisy one, not all of the time of course, but most of the time.  I have very chatty students who love to socialise, and I am endeavouring to use this to my advantage.  Learning is often a social pursuit, and as my students told me on Thursday, "Math is easier and more fun when you are working with a partner.

To this end, I have been explicitly teaching how we speak to one another about Math, how we question and comment to promote one anothers' learning.  We created a "Math Talk" Anchor chart, (which really comes from one of our Ministry's Inspire Monographs).

I've been teaching Math through problem-solving, hoping that for the most part, the students will be constructing their own learning.  I admit, this has been challenging, but we are making progress!  The first issue was that the students really didn't have much "stamina" for solving problems.  I got a lot of "I don't get it"s and "I need help"s.  I decided to do something that one of our Secondary Math coaches, Aldona, suggested.  I decided to teach the 4-part Problem Solving Model explicitly in parts.  First we just focused on the first part - Understanding the Problem.  I realised that this was mostly a reading comprehension issue.  So we talked about our Reading Strategies, and we realised that "Visualisation" can really help when trying to understand the problem.

Then we started to focus on choosing a strategy to solve the problem.  We are creating a class anchor chart for problem-solving strategies.  So far on our chart we have:
  • Guess and Check
  • Use smaller numbers
  • draw a picture or diagram
  • make a chart or table
  • use an equation
I decided to deal with the "stamina" issue by using "Parallel Tasks" (see Marian Small's Good Questions on my Favourite Resources page).  Parallel Tasks are essentially different problems that each focus on the same Math concept (or Big Idea), but they range in difficulty.  Those students with little stamina could do the simpler problem.  I also decided to use "Open Questions" (also from Marian Small).  Open questions are questions that have more than one solution, so students have multiple entry points into the problem and can work at the problem at their own level. 

This really helped.  The students are starting to improve on their ability to stick with a problem.  So then I wanted to work on their ability to have a "Math Conversation".  This turned out to be something I had to explicitly teach as well! We tried posting all of our work and using a "Gallery Walk".  You can read all about the Gallery Walk and other ways to promote communication in Math in the Capacity Building Series Monograph:

I armed the students with sticky notes and asked them to write comments on one another's work.  Their comments were mostly "Neat work" or "Great job!" or "You need to include words".  Not what I was looking for at all!  I realised I had to model how to write comments as well.  

Slowly but surely we are getting there.  Scroll down to see where we are at now. 
 I've been experimenting with how to add text to my photos.  I did these using "Paint".  However, I kept getting this white dotted line, some sort of glitch I think, and even when you click on the photos, they are too small to see my captions. Anyhow, if you know of another program or application I can use to add text to my photos, please leave a comment and let me know!  I can use all of the help I can get.

Here is an example of Parallel Tasks and an Open Question.  

After the Gallery Walk, we had a class discussion about the different solutions.  Students are beginning to see the connections between addition and multiplication, between t-charts and skip counting, and how the multiplication and division are simply inverse operations.

During the Gallery Walk, students could see that there were different strategies to solve the same problem.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Now Hiring!

My friend Lisa, a Grade Seven teacher, shared a terrific idea with me.  She posted a list of classroom jobs that her students could apply for.  A few years ago, I saw Rafe Esquith ("Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire") speak at Reading for the Love of It.  He does the same thing, he hires his students, pays them, and then charges them rent for their seats!  Talk about making learning authentic.  I decided that no money will exchange hands, that just sounds too complicated, even if you are using fake money.  But as soon as Lisa told me what she was doing, I knew that I had to do this with my class too.  So last week, I posted the Job Listings.  The students were so excited!  Here are some of the jobs that I listed (thank you Lisa for sharing!):
  • Office Assistant
  • Zoo Keeper
  • Technology Supervisor
  • Hospitality Committee
  • Gopher
  • Distributor
  • Library Technician
  • Desk/Chair Monitor
  • Sweeper
  • Green Team
Each job included a description of the job along with a list of necessary qualifications such as "Experience with technology, ability to trouble shoot and problem solve a must; willing to miss a few recesses, responsible and able to learn new tasks quickly".  

The students had to complete an application form, and one student suggested that I interview potential candidates, so I did.  Some students even handed in resum├ęs and reference letters!  They really wanted these jobs!  Each job is for a three month period, and then each candidate will be reviewed. 

I think these jobs will help the students focus on some of the Learning Skills.  And now I'm not working nearly as hard.  This is one of the best things I've ever done in my class. 

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Herman? Sandy? What's in a Name?

I love the Grade Six Ontario Science Curriclum.  The first unit we are studying is Biodiversity.  The kids are really loving this unit.  It helps that I ordered 20 preserved specimens in jars from our Board's Resource Centre!  There is nothing like a preserved snake or fetal pig in a jar to spike a child's interest in Science!

But I wanted the students to study some living creatures as well.  So we got a couple of pets - Hermit Crabs!  Hermit crabs make great pets because they are so inexpensive and easy to take care of.  They will eat anything, (kids can even feed them bits of their lunches - but I haven't told my students that!)
They are actually social animals, so it is better to purchase more than one, (so they don't get lonely).   They can get quite active, and the children really enjoy watching them.

The fun thing about hermit crabs is that they will "move into" a different shell when they grow or when the mood strikes them.  The children can actually decorate shells, leave them in the tank, and wait to see if the crab will choose their shell.

I have a small portable case that I use on holidays when one student gets to take them home to "pet-sit".  In June, one child is the lucky winner and gets to take them home to keep.

The only issue we have now is that we don't know what to name them!  And it doesn't help that we can't tell which is male and which is female, but it sure is a more interesting arthropod than your old fasioned garden spider!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

New Books!

I just finished putting in my first Scholastic Order of the year.  After 2 years of working as a Literacy/Numeracy Coach, this truly is a momentus occasion.  Once of my most favourite things to do is order new books for the classroom!

My colleague, Amy, shared a great idea with me.  She suggested that I start a "Scholastic Wishlist".  The kids thought this was a great idea, so they listed all of the books that they would like to get from Scholastic, but couldn't afford.  Using my coupons, (over the years I've managed quite a collection), I was able to order more than half of the books on their list.  I can't wait to see their faces when their orders come in!  I love ordering from Scholastic because their selection is so good, their books are affordable, they are so easy to deal with, and their "Free Picks" and Coupons are awesome!  They really help you to build up your classroom library quickly!

I love placing my orders through their Clubs Online.  It is so easy and convenient.  And no, I don't work for Scholastic, but I do love their website.  They have great teaching resources on there as well.

Book CoverSeveral of my boys claimed that they are not readers and don't like reading.  In June, in anticipation of my move back into the classroom, I ordered a series of books called Orca Currents.  These novels are high-interest low-vocab books.  I find that they really appeal to boys.  They are short, so kids who have not yet developed reading stamina can get through them quickly, and although they are written at a lower reading level (Grade 2, 3 and 4  levels) they deal with contemporary issues that would interest 11, 12, and 13 year olds.  They are also written by well-known and well-loved authors like Eric Walters.  Not only that, but the covers are great.  We made a list of how we choose books, and we decided that YES, WE DO JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVERS!  My boys are LOVING them!

As you may have guessed, my classroom library is now fully operational.  The students organized it all themselves, as planned, so they know where any book can be found. 

Today I started conferencing with individual students about their reading.  I started with the students who had low scores on our benchmark reading assessment.  Even though we have had several lessons on how to choose an appropriate book I find that at least half of my students don't seem to realize when a book is just way too difficult for them.  It's no wonder they don't like reading!  I mean, would you like skating if every pair of skates you ever wore were too big! 

For our Reading Conference, I always ask the students to "Bring me a book you read well".  Then I ask them to say why they chose the book, what it is about, and whether it is easy, hard, or just right for them.  Then I do an "over-the-shoulder miscue analysis" as they read a page aloud.  Then we usually have a discussion about their strenghts, and set some goals for what they need to work on. With my low readers, I usually then take them to the class library to help them select a new book.  They really need to be explicitly taught how to find a book that they can read and enjoy!  They are always amazed to find out that wow, they really can enjoy reading if the book is a good fit!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Can You Spell "Prestidigitation"?

Day 7, and I'm still loving my class.  Today we started watching  Akeelah and the Bee.  The kids are LOVING it!  If you are not familiar with it, it is an excellent movie for Grade Six, Seven and Eight students. Akeelah lives in a poor neighbourhood in California, and her principal forces her to take part in a Spelling Bee to help their school get some positive press.  Akeelah ends up learning all about Latin and Greek roots for words, prefixes, suffixes, and how you can spell any word if you just know it's origin and meaning.  But she also learns that there are different types of poor and to appreciate her own unique gifts.  It is a really moving story.

I like to show this movie to my students, and then I introduce them to the "Vocabulary Game".  During the week, they have to jot down any word that they think I won't know the definition of that they come across in their reading.  Every child is responsible to bring in one word, and share it with their table group.  I write each word on chart paper. Each group selects a word that they think will stump me (five groups = five words).  They tell me the word, and the sentence in which they found it.  I write the word and the sentence on chart paper, and I proceed to model how using context clues, the root, and affixes, I can determine the meaning of the word.  If they stump me with a word, the class gets five points.  If any child forgets to bring in a word I cheer that they forgot their homework because I then get one point (I can only get points if they don't bring in their word!).  Once there is a DIFFERENCE of 100 points between my score and theirs (usually that takes until April), they earn something (I usually grant them a Yahtzee Tournament).  

When we have finished the game, I circle the words that I think they can use to "enhance" their writing.  (This year I'm going to call them "Razzle Dazzle Words" -thanks Terri!)

I believe that an enriched vocabulary empowers us.  The children love this activity because all of the words come from them.  They are words they are interested in.  

Two picture books that tie in well with this activity are "The Boy Who Loved Words" and "Miss Allanius Vocabulary Disaster".  Check them out on my Bookshelf.  

So, on another note, while I am still loving my class, I'm starting to feel overwhelmed by the paper work.  I forgot how much paper work there is in September!  I find it especially difficult being in a new school, because a lot of the paper work was given to the teachers in June, and everyone keeps referring to these "packages" that I don't have.  I don't even know what all of these packages are!  We have a three page checklist to hand in to our principal by the 30th; I've still got quite a few things on that list to check off and it is making me nervous!  This weekend I will be marking Diagnostic Assessments, writing up Emergency Supply Teacher Plans, and contacting the parents of my students - all on the checklist!  I wish the Public knew how much of the weekend teachers need to devote to their work.  

Monday, 10 September 2012

My Feet Hurt!

Well, the first week went smoothly and according to plan!  Yay!   I feel very lucky; my kids are adorable and very keen.

I gave them each a whiteboard and they are loving those.  (My friend and virtual teaching partner, Terri, gave me the idea of buying a sheet of whiteboard at Home Depot and cutting into into small individual boards.  The price was just over a dollar board!)  I am using them for formative assessment (as suggested in Dylan William's Embedded Formative Assessment,which Terri suggested I read) all day, but especially during Math.  I will frequently ask them a quick question that they have to solve on their boards, then hold up.  They will look at what others have put, sometimes change their minds, sometimes start defending their answers.  It has led to some great classroom discussions, but also quickly tells me who knows what.  I find that it has helped give the quiet ones a "voice".

I'm also using a "random name generator".  It is a free app called "Stick Pick".  I pass the IPad onto a student, and they click on "Stick Pick" which randomly names one of the students in the class.  I'm using this during class discussions.  The students are only putting up their hands to ask questions, not to answer them.  This way we get to hear from everyone.  We are only four days in and I think every single one of them is now comfortable saying "Well, I don't really know, but if I had to guess...."  The first few times I got a lot of "I don't know"s, but I used Debbie Diller's line "I know you don't know, but if you did know, what would it be?"  It's like magic.  I've also increased my wait time, (that is the hardest part), AND waiting AFTER the child has responded.  If I don't say anything after they comment or answer, they start feeling the need to elaborate.  Another of Dylan William's ideas that I am finding works wonders.

My classroom library still isn't opened yet, but it's almost ready.  I've been introducing about 100 books a day.   I am down to my last bin (out of 8).  The kids are practically salivating over the books, "Can I just keep this one in my desk", "Can I place a hold on this one", "Can I borrow a book to show my mother".   It is hilarious!  They even went to the librarian at recess and asked her if she would let them take some books out because they NEED to READ!  The funniest part is that I surveyed them on the first day of school and all but 5 said they don't like to read!

So all is going splendidly well.  On Wednesday I will start my formal diagnostic assessments.  In our Board we do a Reading Comprehension assessment and a Writing assessment.  I also like to use the PRIME Math Assessment Tool for Number Sense. 

Once the class library is officially opened, and each of the students has selected an appropriate text, I will begin building their independent reading stamina.  I use the Two Sisters' methods (from Daily 5).  Each day we will read for longer and longer periods of time.  Then, once they can read independently for 20 minutes, I will begin my Reading Conferences, meeting with 3 to 4 students per day to assess their reading and help them set reading goals. 

Yes, it is wonderful to be back! But man, do my feet hurt!!!!