Sunday, June 28, 2015

It Makes Sense!

It Makes Sense!: Using the Hundreds Chart to Build Number Sense by Melissa Conklin and Stephanie Sheffield is another of my favorite math reads this summer. It will make an immediate impact on my classroom practices come August.

I've regrettably known for some time that I've never used my hundreds pocket chart to its fullest potential. This book clearly describes numerous engaging and easy ways the chart can be used to teach the many facets of number sense. I appreciate how the ideas can be incorporated into whole group, small group, and independent practice routines all throughout the year. The book also describes how the activities can be modified to meet various levels of need, which is obviously important for all our mathematicians.

As I was reading this book, I couldn't help but continually think about how much my kids will benefit from using the pocket chart the way this book describes. I'm prepared to be impressed by their improved number sense!

I would definitely recommend this book for all K-2 classrooms. 

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Looks Can Be Deceiving

Regie Routman never shies away from challenging my practices. She leads me to a place of reflection. She challenges me to look more deeply at why I do what I do and to consider whether my practices result in student learning. That's exactly how I feel after encountering this quote of hers. 

When I contemplate Routman's thought, a particular first-grade face comes to mind. I can see her sitting at my feet in our class' living room looking very much like an appropriate learner with her hands to herself and her eyes on me. She's also the one who expressed concern to her mom about a math concept she wasn't grasping. I'm relieved that her mom directed that information my way, because I dropped the ball and didn't have a handle on this little one's level of understanding. 

From day one I consistently work on establishing a classroom of appropriate behaviors. I teach my kids the importance of eye contact. Yet those two things do not automatically result in comprehension. I believe they are important but not a guarantee. And honestly, being well behaved and using eye contact won't be of much use if the students aren't learning. Looks can be deceiving and, as Routman so wisely reminds me, cannot be the signal for successful comprehension. 

As I get closer to another year in the classroom, I'm thinking, "How am I going to do a better job of consistently knowing what my kids know?"

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Monday, June 22, 2015

Number Talks

I'm taking a long, hard look at math this summer by doing my own personal PD. I've already worked my way through several books and bought myself a cheap notepad to keep track of take-aways for when I'm back in the teaching groove. It's one thing to read great professional books and another thing to put new ideas into practice. I'm hoping my notepad helps me do just that.

Number Talks by Sherry Parrish has been my favorite math read so far this summer. It's so good that I've already pushed it off onto one of the 5th grade teachers at my school, and there's a line of others behind her who want to read it as well.

A number talk is a 5 to 15 minute daily opportunity for students to use and describe mental math strategies. First several answers are accepted and recorded. Then students are asked to defend their work by describing how they computed the problem. The teacher records their thinking in a way that mirrors the child's process but most likely expands their understanding of how math can look. This process is repeated a number of times with other strategies, so all students get to hear and see several perspectives. 

The goal is to increase the students' abilities to compute with accuracy, flexibility, and fluency. Number talks excite me, especially when I think of what would happen if every classroom in a school embraced this practice. These daily conversations across the grade levels would be priceless.

I would highly recommend this book for all classrooms K-5. An added bonus is that it comes with a DVD, which I found to be very helpful. It wasn't the cheapest book, but I saved some money by finding a used copy. It's money well spent though!

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Empowered


Last week I met up with a real life math problem. I don't recall the context, but without a calculator, paper, or pencil, I needed the answer to 14 x 3. I split the 14 in half since I already knew 7 x 3 = 21. Then of course I doubled the 21 to get the answer 42.

It might sound silly, but I was so proud of myself. Being a past valedictorian, one wouldn't think a celebration would be in order for such a simple problem, but when it comes to math, it was my studious nature and study habits that led me to As, not my superior understanding. I was taught mathematical rules and procedures, and I obviously used them well enough that my grades made it look as though I knew what I was doing. For sure I would not have even considered solving 14 x 3 like I explained above. Now over twenty years later, I'm finally seeing math through the lens of number sense instead of a lens of rules and procedures.

If I could sit down with parents (and some teachers) who are distraught about the current state of math instruction, I'd want to share the above quote with them. Teaching algorithms straight up without the prerequisite understanding of number sense debilitates our mathematicians. Computation then equals the following of rules, rather than the understanding of numbers, and I can say this from personal experience. I am a product of that style of "learning" math.

The authors of Young Mathematicians at Work shared a problem similar to this one: 999 + 1341. If my younger self had seen this problem, I would have immediately stacked the numbers vertically and put an algorithm to work. Now when I look at this problem, I actually see the numbers and as a result, I also see the ridiculousness of trying to borrow and carry. Instead, it's empowering to transform those numbers into 1000 + 1340 and know the answer in an accurate, flexible, and fluent way. That is exactly how I want today's young mathematicians to feel.

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Monday, June 15, 2015


This last year I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. I appreciated the read and thought Burgess made some great points about engagement. I don't believe my job is to entertain my students, but I do believe in engaging them. 

I want to take Burgess into my classroom with me, so I created a document for my lesson plan binder. I included his pirate acronym and some of my favorite quotes from the book. Please grab a copy by clicking on the graphic and then read his book if you haven't already.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Sayings: Engaged or On-Task?

I have a friend who works in a position where she has random opportunities to make very brief entries into classrooms. She gets at-a-glance chances to see various teachers and students at work. Recently she was telling me about a teacher whose students always seem to be busy working, never helter-skelter when she drops in. She used the word "engaged." I brought up the question, "Are they engaged or are they on-task?" There is a big difference.

Of course, I can't ask that question about another teacher without also asking myself the same thing. Simply because my students are occupied and rarely wasting a minute does not mean they are engaged in what they're doing. They could just be going through the motions, and if that's the case, I'm wasting their time.

I believe engagement happens when students find purpose and meaning in tasks. If the work is authentic and founded on the interests of their own world, they are more likely to put their hearts into it. Engagement is also more likely to occur when tasks are not too easy or too hard. Both extremes are off-putting and difficult to embrace. 

At a glance, I might easily assume that my students are engaged, when it's possible, if I look more deeply at what they're doing, they might just be on-task. Day after day and lesson after lesson, I want to consistently challenge myself to dissect what I'm asking of my students. Will this engage them or will it keep them on-task?  The latter just isn't good enough.

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Saturday Sayings: A Whole-School Priority

I've seen the writing standards beyond my own grade level's, but admittedly I haven't studied them with much intent. Recently, I read some enlightening points from Calkins about what the standards require of my writers not too many years after they leave my room. It solidified this passionate stance I have about the vertical alignment process and why the whole school has to be on board when it comes to writing instruction.

Calkins makes the point that K-4 writing standards build easily upon one another and really don't stretch the writers too much. That doesn't mean we K-4 teachers are off the hook. When our writers hit 5th grade, it all changes. The standards between grades 5 and 8 are astonishingly steep. There is no feasible way the writers who step into that 5th grade classroom will be able to meet expectations unless each previous grade level does its job and does it well, starting in kindergarten. 

I believe that long before Common Core arrived, there's been a great need for writing to be a whole-school priority. Pockets of quality writing instruction interspersed throughout a school or district have never been sufficient. I'm thankful the Common Core has propelled writing instruction to the top of the list for many districts and schools, not simply for individual teachers. Writing deserves this new-found attention.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Crack Me Up

The first response is too sweet.
The second bums me out a bit.
The third and fourth crack me up, 
practically making up for the second one. :)

I borrowed this idea from Miss Trayers at Not Just Child's Play: Challenging Young Minds. She has many a great idea to share!

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