Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Parents Need to Know

Misconceptions are part of the mathematical package, but some misconceptions are due to well-meaning adults who teach their children shortcuts without first building a solid conceptual understanding.  I'm certainly not pointing my teachery finger.  I suppose it's safe to say that parents are teaching their children the same way they were taught.  What goes around comes around.  I feel like things are changing though for us math teachers.  At least they are for me.  With that change, comes a need for educating parents too.  They deserve to know that the way they learned math might look different than the way their children are learning it.  That's why I started a math wikispace a handful of years ago.  I wanted parents to see what kid strategies looked like, and that none of them involved algorithms or slick tricks.  This year I changed over to a class website, but I made sure to add a page exclusively for math problem solving.  If you're interested in checking out how I'm trying to let my parents in on how we do things, click on the graphic above.  You'll notice that I've already shared some math problems and kid strategies.  If you continue scrolling to the first post, you'll be able to read a short note I left for parents to prepare them for what they would be seeing.  They need to know.

P.S. So far our strategies are pretty basic.  Even at this time of year I typically have mathematicians who are using sophisticated strategies, but not this time around.  Regardless, parents will still be able to see how the kids' thinking develops throughout the year as kids figure out math in ways that make sense to them.  Not a single trick or algorithm will they find.  What a journey it should be for both kids and parents alike.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Happy Birthday Graph

There seem to be a plethora of ways to display and honor birthdays in the classroom.  Mine is pretty simple.  For years now, I've made it into a graph in my calendar area.  

I only tape the top of each picture down, so that when a child flips it up, they can see the birthday on the back.

It's not overly cute, but it is effective and pretty simple too.  I tend to be about simple.  :)

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Comments or Questions?

This quote seems so very appropriate for where I am right now in the way I'm trying to improve my math instruction.  In the past few years, I've made many changes to the way I teach math and especially to problem solving.  Mathematicians share their strategies, not only with neighbors, but with the whole group.  That kind of sharing obviously involves lots of talk.  The change I'm trying to make this year is removing most of myself from that talk.  

It used to be that a child would draw their strategy on the board, and then I would kind of take over, asking them questions and prompting them in certain ways while the class watched and hopefully listened.  It was a step in the right direction, but it was missing something - less of me and more of them.  Now the child who is sharing takes over from the beginning, shares whatever they want to say about their strategy, and says, "Comments or questions?"  It's been cool to watch what happens next.  Typically the class asks insightful questions and the child is forced to think about why they made the choices they made and then find a way to communicate those reasons to the class.  Even though I'm there to turn the conversation in ways I feel would be most beneficial, it's cool to hear them doing most of the talking.  I've a ways to go on this journey of learning how to improve my problem solving instruction, but hearing kids do more talking about how math makes sense to them makes me believe I'm on the right track.  Comments or questions?  

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ten Frame Teen Practice (freebie)

Last week I shared about using ten frames to help build an anchor chart for the teens.  (Look here.)  After creating the chart, we used these colored sets of cards to work on those numbers a little more.  The cards match the three sections of the chart perfectly.

There are all kinds of things that can be done with them, such as:

Put any set of cards in order.
Match up the same numbers from each set.
Play concentration with any two sets or all three for those who are up for it.

Click on the graphic for your own copies.

I'm sure there are a myriad of ways these cards could be used.  Please share!

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Monday, October 21, 2013

Calendar Make-Over

My calendar has taken on a new look this year, and even though I'm still getting the hang of it, I like where it's going.  

We're keeping track of days with ten frames.  I totally swiped the idea from Leslie at Kindergarten Works.  Take a look at her version here.  It's been a brilliant change for us.  Learning about ten frames has been so natural this way.  I've hardly had to teach the idea.  I also love the way they're beginning to understand the place value concept.  So many of them can already tell me what that 3 means in the 35.  They can describe the 3 complete ten frames as well as come up and show me.  They can do the same for the 5.  The ten frames provide such a great natural visual.  Thank you Leslie!

Instead of the typical monthly calendar that goes up at the beginning of the month and down at the end, I've got the whole year on the wall.  This idea came from Mardelle at Weeds in the Garden.  You need to read her post here.  It made me think about how to use the calendar in a more authentic way that matters to kids and their lives.  I admit, I'm still finding my way, which is why you need to read her thoughts on how she pulls it off.

So go see Leslie and Mardelle.  I'm guessing you'll find some inspiration too!

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Immovable, Strong, and Steady

This is the first and most likely the last time I'll do something like share a scripture for my Saturday Saying, but it seemed like the only thing I could really pull off today.  After a rough start to the year and an even tougher last few weeks, this morning it's hard to imagine that I have any wisdom worth sharing with other teachers.  After 19 years of feeling like I'm doing okay, year number 20 makes me feel rather under-qualified for the job.  It probably sounds rather melodramatic, but it's where I'm at.  I should probably apologize for the times when my blog has given the impression that all things Miss McMorrow are in a constant state of greatness. That is far from the truth, especially right now.  So if you are up against challenges in your classroom that make you want nothing more than to crawl into bed as soon as you possibly can, I know how you feel.  

I woke up this morning to the verse above.  "...stand firm.  Let nothing move you."  I've allowed challenges in my room to move me to a completely uncomfortable and foreign place, a place where I wonder if I can really pull this off.  The Living Bible says, "...since future victory is sure, be strong and steady."  I'm unsure of what that victory in my situation will look like, but I want to claim that promise as mine.  Simply remaining immovable, strong, and steady would be a victory right now, but I'm praying for even bigger victories.  If you needed this verse too, I'm claiming this promise for you as well.  Your labor is not in vain.

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ten Frame Teens

I have fully embraced the power of ten frames in my room.  Van de Walle is right.  He says young mathematicians recognize 10 in a ten frame much more easily than 10 cubes linked together to make a long train or the 10 in a base ten rod.  When they see that train, they still want to count each and every one of its cubes.  When they see a full ten frame, they're convinced it's 10.  No counting needed.  I've also enjoyed using ten frames to teach teens.  We recently made this chart together.  

By the way, the full ten frames are blue.  The extra ten frames are green for distinction purposes.  When the ten frames were completed and glued, I asked, "What do you notice?"  They noticed all kinds of things, and eventually their comments led us to the point of adding all the numbers to the chart as well.  

I found the inspiration for the chart below on Pinterest.  Unfortunately, the link didn't lead me to its owner, but it's a great tool regardless.  I simply chose to modify it by using the ten frame model, since it's one that we're embracing completely and understand well.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Feel or Don't Feel?

I have a certain way of introducing the idea of vowels and consonants.  I'm fairly certain it's not research based, but it works for me, and my kids seem to get it.  

I start out with this chart, minus everything below the pictures.

We gradually add letters to each side, depending on whether we can feel them or not.  In other words, if anything moves or touches in our mouths, we can feel them.  (The only one that is tricky is R.)  Once all the letters are on the chart, I ask them what they notice.  Someone typically figures out that the letters we can't feel are called vowels.  That's when I label each side.  

This chart certainly doesn't make or break my readers, but when we then start talking about vowels and consonants in more depth, they have something to link those words too.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Sayings: Are You Right?

Isn't this so true?  A few years ago I heard a math teacher tell about the day she asked a mathematician about his solution, and he immediately began erasing it.  This young man, and many other children, have been trained by adults to believe they must be wrong if they are ever questioned.  I wonder if some children have no real clue as to whether they are correct or not.  No questions = I'm right.  Questions = I'm wrong.  What a disservice to our young thinkers.  We need to ask more questions.

I love how this thought translates into other subject areas as well.  Several years ago during my Reading Recovery training, I learned how important it is to question readers, especially when they're right.  The question, "Are you right?" makes them analyze their attempts, their thinking, and their strategies, and for many of them, "yes" is an uncomfortable answer to give.  Further asking, "How do you know?" takes the process another important step.  It trains them to know when their attempts are right and why they're right, hopefully increasing the odds of more good strategy work in the future.  After a while, this uncomfortable interaction becomes something they can do with more ease, and the validation of knowing they're right and why, builds confidence so that the next time an adult questions their work, they won't be tempted to break out the eraser.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Who's This?

To a young learner, an object is an object no matter which way you move it or look at it.  Turn a bowl upside down and it's still a bowl.  Obviously this isn't the case with letters and numerals.  To help my first graders catch on to this new concept, I use one of my smaller kiddos to help me demonstrate the idea several times during the first weeks of school while we're learning correct letter and numeral formation.  My kids love it every single time.  

Me:  Who's this?
Kids:  Michael

Me:  Who's this?
Kids:  Michael

Me:  Who's this?
Kids:  Michael
(I usually turn him one more time and ask the question again before this last step.)

Me:  Who's this?
Kids:  Michael
(Their favorite part!)

Then of course we talk about how this isn't the case with letters and numerals.  Turn them around, and they're not who they used to be.  Like I said, the kids love it and it makes a great point.

P.S.  I don't typically wear shorts and knee pads to school.  It was alphabet dress-up day, and my letter was V.  Look here if you'd like to know more about it.

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Monday, October 7, 2013


I suppose most everyone has seen the peacemakers and peacebreakers chart that's all over Pinterest.  It's been a wonderful addition to my classroom the past few years, which makes me very grateful to its creator.  Anyway, this year I decided to make a simple classroom book out of the idea.  I want everyone in my class to see themselves as a peacemaker, even when sometimes they aren't.  We all have those moments.  My hope is that there would be power in seeing those words in black and white written about their own little selves.  "Hey, look here.  It says that I'm a peacemaker."  

See?  So very simple but so very powerful.

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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Saturday Sayings: I Can

I'm aware that this topic is not a new one to Saturday Sayings, but I can't get very far from the reality that I'm an essential piece of the puzzle when it comes to the success of my students.  Yes, there are other influential factors involved which means the burden is not totally on my shoulders.  I can't control other factors though.  I can only control the quality of my instruction, which brings me back once again to my role as a learner - the most important one, according to Graves.  

Learning targets and I Can statements are new to my school this year.  In fact, I officially heard about them for the first time a few weeks ago.  Learning how to write learning targets for my kids got me thinking about my own learning targets concerning things I'm trying to improve upon this year. 

  • I can build math tasks around children's literature.
  • I can use and teach the calendar in a more authentic way.
  • I can allow and expect students to lead math discussions.
  • I can position my students to let out their greatness.
  • I can develop better systems for organizing conferring notes, assessments, and goals.
  • I can improve the communication skills between students.
  • I can use technology in authentic ways.
  • I can continually seek ways to make phonics instruction more authentic.
  • I can add whimsy to my classroom.
  • I can use technology to build character.
  • I can make charts with my students that are easy to understand and become tools that they refer to often.
  • I can seek deeper conversations and deeper thinking with my students.
I believe that's the abbreviated list.  If I think too much longer about it, I'm sure I could add more.  More isn't always better, so I'll be content to simply tackle these learning targets for now.  What I Can statements are on your list?

(Sometimes it helps to write them down.)  

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Smarter Teacher, Smarter Charts

Have you read Smarter Charts yet?  It was one of my favorite summer reads.  (Look here if you're interested.)  I feel light-years away from really having a handle on charts, but I think my charts and I are getting a little smarter at least.  I thought I'd share a few that I've created so far this year.

Talking Tips:  I see this chart growing or at least inspiring a chart about how to listen and what kinds of things partners say to each other when they listen well.

When You're Done You've Just Begun:  I can thank Lucy Calkins for this idea.  I've been making a chart for this concept for years.  This one is just a whole lot easier to understand.

And look, it became a table chart too.  I just took a picture and now each table of desks has one.

3 Ways to Read a Book:  This idea comes from The Sisters and Daily 5.  Again, this one is so much more simplistic than the version I used to make.

More or Less: This math chart could have started with pictures instead of numbers and then eventually grew by adding numbers.  It could also be interactive by having kids change out the numbers.

Math Journals: I think in the future I'd give this one a better title, but I do like how it breaks down the steps for how we prepare our math journals.  I also have been thinking about adding a step for partner talk.  Without creating chart pollution, I can see how creating a separate chart for how to talk with a math partner could be useful too.

Smarter teacher + smarter charts hopefully = smarter kids.   

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tolerance is...

Although for years I've been talking to first graders about how it's okay to be different, partly thanks to Todd Parr (see here), I've never used the word "tolerance" in my room until this year.  I'm not sure if my attempt was extraordinary by any means though.  How would you define the word for first graders?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Here's my definition:

Tolerance is being kind even when someone is different.

My lesson started with a story about my experience at the gym one evening when I saw someone who looked very different than me.  I specifically talked about what I could have done or said but didn't.  Out of the story, came the chart below.  I asked the kids what differences they've seen in people and what peacemakers and peacebreakers do about those differences.

It's not a perfect chart by any means and will surely be more developed next year, but I hope it was a step in the right direction.  

These books have been staples of mine for years as well.  They teach about differences and tolerance better than I ever could. :)

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