Friday Art Feature - Catching Snowflakes

31 January 2013
Yes, I do realize it's only Thursday (even though it FEELS like Friday), but we have a PD day tomorrow, so we did a fun art activity today.  Most of my students ended up with a snow day yesterday - buses were cancelled because of the weather, and when you're in a rural area like I am, very few students actually make it to school (I only had 8 students).  So, our art today made everyone feel like it was a snow day!

I saw this fabulous idea on Artisan Des Arts last night (actually, I saw LOTS of fabulous art ideas ... can't wait to try more out).  I knew it would be quick and easy, and my students would have success with it.  Best of all, it didn't require any extra materials (just paper and pastels), so we were set!

The original version of this had a hand-drawn snowflake on the tongue, but my students wanted to make a paper snowflake for it.  Either way, they turned out SUPER CUTE!!!

LOVE them! 

Happy Thursday!  (I almost typed Friday - tomorrow's going to be a loooooooong day!)



Grammar Talk Tuesdays: Nouns and Grammar Bootcamp!

29 January 2013
That's IT!  It was time for some drastic measures in my class ... and so, Grammar Bootcamp was born!  In a recent conversation with my class, I expressed my frustration about their frequent forgetfulness regarding ending punctuation and capital letters.  It's not like they don't KNOW they need them, they are sometimes just ... well, lazy.  We talked about what we could do about it, and at their suggestion, we decided upon rewriting the "offending" sentence 10 times (before you think I'm too mean, or super old school, I want to again stress that this was their suggestion, and I would never "catch" one of my struggling writers without giving him or her a lot of assistance first).  I couldn't believe how pumped they were over this - they even asked if they could create posters to help them remember.  Well ... OKAY!  I decided to turn the poster-making into a contest - I told them we'd do a secret ballot vote when they were finished, and I'd turn the poster with the most votes into a real poster (LOVE me some Vistaprint!).

We finished our posters today and I put them up so we could vote.  I used my magnetic numbers to keep the anonymous aspect to it (I have my magnetic numbers available as a free download on google docs HERE.  Just print them out on magnetic paper and cut out).  We voted today as a class, but we're going to ask the rest of the students in the lunch room to help us out and vote tomorrow (the posters are up in the lunchroom right now). 

Some of the front-runners so far:

I can't wait to share our completed bulletin board with you!

We also added a second entry to our grammar journals over the week.  We looked at the different types of nouns, so we made a 6-flap shutterfold for them.  We had the names on the outside of the flaps, and the definitions and examples on the inside.  Quick and easy.

The left-side of the page has the definition of the concept, the learning goal in student-friendly language, the proof (just a quick worksheet about nouns) and the reflection (sorry I forgot to get pictures of the completed journals this week - for the reflection I asked them to write about what new information they learned, or what surprised them.

That's about it - we're moving on to pronouns next - should be an easy one as we've discussed it a lot in writing - especially when writing from 1st or 3rd person point of view.

Happy Tuesday!



Math Journal Sundays - Metric Conversions

27 January 2013
I don't know why, but I LOVE teaching concepts when there's a great little mnemonic device to go with it.  This week we've been studying metric conversions, so I turned to my good friend, "King Henry" to lend us a hand.

I really liked the staircase idea I did for the math journals last year (you can read more about how I teach metric conversions HERE and see our journal entry for last year HERE), so I really had to think to come up with a different idea for our journals this year.  And then inspiration hit ... we LOVED the Pop-Up Bar Graphs we made, so we made a Pop-Up Staircase to help us remember the metric prefixes - it also works as a great manipulative to get students "walking" through the steps.

For this interactive tool, you have to fold a piece of paper in half (we also trimmed a little bit off the side so it fit better in our notebooks).  With the paper folded in half, draw two 12cm parallel lines down the page.  Divide this into 6 sections (2 cm each).  Do the same on the other side.  Cut down the 12cm lines (NOT all the way to the bottom of the page) and when you open the paper, you have 2 slits down the page (24cm long).  Fold the paper back and forth (accordion style) along each of the sections you made ... and watch the magic staircase appear!  We labelled each step with the metric prefix - and we wrote the mnemonic device on the side of each step to help the students remember - King Henry Doesn't Usually (units) Drink Chocolate Milk.

What a GREAT addition to our Math Journals!  For the proof section of our journals, I asked the students to solve 3 different metric conversions - one going up the staircase, one going down the staircase, and one of their own choice.  For the reflection section, we used my newest set of question fans:  Math Reflection Fans.  I chose a question from the "Understand" section, and put it under the document camera to project it for the class.  Students had to write about the new information they learned and give an example of it.

And there you have it!  Now, some of my students did have a little trouble with this foldable because it was a little complicated, but I was able to pair up those students with a student who had already finished it. 

I've been using the metric staircase for YEARS to help my students with metric conversions, so I would love some new ideas ... how do you teach metric conversions to your class?? 

Happy Sunday!!!



Math Reflections

26 January 2013
One of my most common questions about my Interactive Math Journal has to do with the reflection section.  I have included a page of suggestions in my math journal resource for reflections - but because a lot of these suggestions are for creative, higher-order thinking skills, a few teachers have contacted me, telling me that some of their students struggle with the reflections.

In all honesty, I have been blessed with a pretty creative class the last two years - probably 80% of my students have no difficulty coming up with a reflection for the left side of their pages.  And because we always share our reflections (either by doing a pair-share, or by inviting students to come up and show their work under the document camera), the students are exposed to a lot of different ideas each week.  That being said, I do have a few that struggle coming up with an idea - or when they do come up with an idea, it's not a true reflection of the work done in class - perhaps they've done a great little comic, but it just mentions the concept - doesn't really show or explain it.

For this reason, I've created a new product that I hope can help your students with their reflections in math class, Math Reflection Fans.  This isn't just for math journals, though, it's also for discussions during math class, for reflection after problem-solving activities, for diagnostic assessments, or for summative assessments.  I've based the reflection questions on the 6 levels in Bloom's revised taxonomy:  Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, and Create.  There are over 100 different questions and prompts included - at least 15 different questions for each level.  I've also included a checklist page for each of the different levels - the students can use it to keep track of what questions they've answered, or the teacher can use to keep track of questions asked.  If you wish, you can click on the picture or the title link to preview the product.

We also do a lot of problem-solving and three-part math activities, so I'm excited to use these fans during these activities, as well.  

I use my question fans ALL the time in the classroom - I usually choose one or two and put them under the document camera to project for the students.  For this reason, I like to keep them close by.  I hang them from the handles on my filing cabinet (which is right behind my desk).  My document camera is on the table right beside my filing cabinet.  I find this so handy - I don't have to search through my books or binders to find a great question, and I don't have to waste paper typing one up and then photocopying and cutting for the students.  Easy Peasy!!!

Be sure to check back in tomorrow - I've got a great math journal idea for metric conversion, and we used my math reflection fans for our reflection - here's a sneak peak ...

Happy Saturday!



Grammar Talk Tuesdays - Nouns

22 January 2013
Proper grammar and conventions ... need I say more?

I have dozens of grammar books - you know the worksheets I'm talking about - the ones that the students race through, often perfectly, then receiving excellent scores on the quizzes that accompany them.  Sounds good ... right?  Well, something's wrong with that picture because even though in isolation my students seem like they've mastered the concepts, they just aren't carrying this knowledge through to their own writing.  I can sit with them one-on-one in writing conferences, point out where they have made a mistake, and usually they can correct the mistake right away.  So then, WHY aren't they writing correctly the first time???

Something had to change in my program.  In our planning meetings at the beginning of the year, we had already decided that writing would be our school improvement focus.  However, at a recent meeting we decided to sharpen our focus to conventions in writing - something that seemed to be lacking in our students' writing across all the grades.

I spent days thinking about HOW I was going to engage the students in their grammar lessons - really get them to take ownership in their own writing.  And then it hit me - they love the hands-on aspect of their Interactive Math Journals, and are constantly referring to their journals during math classes, so why not try something like this for their grammar lessons.  And so, the Grammar Journal was born.

We started our journals last week.  A typical math journal entry takes us a whole math class and we usually complete one per week.  I didn't want this to be the format for our grammar journals.  Instead, I want them working with their journals for about 15 minutes a day - during the Word Work block of time as part of our Daily 5 schedule.  So, a typical journal entry could take us a few days to complete - which is perfectly OK with me as they will be going back to the same topic for consecutive days, hopefully increasing the retention of the topic.

I decided to start with parts of speech.  We've already studied them quickly this year, so I thought it would be a good confidence builder.  The first entry was a HIT!  We made Noun Wheels - so much fun.  For this entry, students had two different circles - one divided into eighths for the bottom wheel, and one with one piece cut out for the top wheel.  Students had to come up with eight different nouns (at least 2 syllable nouns for my grade 5 students, and three syllables for my grade 6 students).  They also had to write the definition for noun on the top of the wheel.  They glued the bottom circle to the right side of the page, and attached the top circle with a brass fastener to create the wheel.  Just like our math journals, we also added our learning goal to the top of the page (in the curriculum language).

We complete the left-side of the page a little differently from our math journals.  At the top of the page they will write the definition of the concept studied in their own words.  Just under that, they rewrote the learning goal in their own words.  For the proof section, I had a small comprehension check ready for them.  They completed it quickly (the key to these journals) and then we took it up just as quickly.  For their reflection I gave them two options:  1)  write 3 different sentences, with each sentence containing at least 2 nouns, or 2) create a noun alphabet - one noun for each letter of the alphabet.

I think these are going to be a hit - they were excited to start our second entry today (I'll share with you next Tuesday).  This could be a very good thing - I don't think I've ever seen my students excited to work in their grammar books before.  This will be a big project for us for the rest of the year, but I'm looking forward to it!

Happy Tuesday!



Multiplication is Cool! (Or so my students told me!)

16 January 2013
In my books, it's a pretty stellar day when your kids talk about the cool multiplication lesson they did ALL day - even at the end of the day walking out of school.

A few of my kiddos are still really struggling with multiplication - stemming from the fact that they have yet to memorize their math facts.  They understand the algorithm ... it's just the knowledge of the facts that are holding them back ... and I'm doing everything I can to help them get there (wish I could go home with a few of them to make sure they are practising at home, too).  Anyhow ... I digress ... sigh ...

I stumbled across a neat picture on pinterest this weekend.  It wasn't linked back to a blog that I can credit - just a website full of random pictures.  I was intrigued, though, and knew right away it was something I was going to try with my students.

This is it ... don't worry - it's not as confusing as it first looks.  I colour coded the example so you can see what we did.  You start with vertical lines - the three green lines on top represent the 3 tens in 32, the two red lines below show the two ones.  Then you do horizontal lines - two brown lines for the 2 tens in 25, and 5 blue lines for the 5 ones.

Going diagonally, you group where the lines intersect.  The group in the top left, then the middle groups, then the bottom right - since there are three groups of intersecting lines, there are three place value columns.  Count all the intersections in each group - in this case, there were 6 in the hundreds, 19 in the tens, and 10 in the ones.  We recorded the numbers in a place value chart.  After regrouping the place value columns, our answer showed 800 - the same answer we got when doing the standard algorithm.


I then asked students to pair up and create their own 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication question.  They had to solve it with the standard algorithm and the "plaid" picture.  They loved it!  And I LOVED the math talk that was happening.

Do you see those green dots in the corner of the pages?  I asked my students to code their papers with a traffic light comprehension dot - guess they were feeling pretty successful today - we were ALL green!  GO GREEN!  

One of my pairs got so into it that they wanted to stay in at recess to keep exploring - they tried numbers with decimals and some 3-digit by 3-digit.  They didn't quite figure out the decimal numbers, but they worked away at the 3-digit multiplication and solved it!    Talk about perseverance and initiative!
For homework tonight, I asked the students to "teach" their parents or an older sibling about this strategy.  I can't wait to hear the stories they'll share tomorrow!

Happy Wednesday!



Starting The City of Ember

15 January 2013
I love fresh beginnings ... especially the fresh beginning of a brand new class novel.  Our start back to school this month meant the start of a new novel for us - The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.  Knowing I wanted to do this novel with the class at some point this year, I bought the 4-book series this summer.

We're four chapters in right now, and my students are LOVING it!  I bought two different guides from TPT for our novel study.  You can see them HERE and HERE.  I really like having the huge variety of activities to choose from - and it's so easy to differentiate for my students.

We've also been using my Story Elements Question Fans for discussion questions after our daily oral reading.  I have been blown away by the depth of our conversations.  The students are really into this book and it shows - I can't believe the intricate details they have remembered ... and the way they are challenging and building on other students' answers is amazing!

We've been focusing a lot on setting at the beginning of the novel.  I ask them questions from the setting pack in the fans, then we've been filling in our map, discussing significant places after each chapter.  We're building towards this fabulous idea of a 3D Mural I saw on Jen Maschari's blog.  You've got to click HERE to see the picture - trust me!  I showed my students this pic and they are SO excited to create this mural - they've already requested certain jobs and parts within the mural.  Later this week I will group them into 3 groups (above Ember, Ember, and below Ember) and they will begin writing down setting details and deciding on their roles.  I don't think I can hold them off much longer.  I already prepped a bulletin board for this project - I think I'm as excited as my students!  ;)

What are you currently reading in class?

Happy Tuesday!  (oh my goodness - is it really only Tuesday???) 



The Potato Chip Champ

14 January 2013
I am SO excited to be today's stop in Maria Dismondy's Virtual Blog Tour.  Let me tell you why ...

Earlier in the summer, one of my dear blogging friends, Kim from Joy in 6th Grade, sent me a copy of Maria's Pink Tiara Cookies for Three and a set of adorable tiara cookie cutters.  She thought my three little princesses would enjoy the book - and boy, did they ever! We spent many a weekend afternoon reading and talking about the lessons in the book and making cookies.  We also visited the library to read Maria's other books:  The Juice Box Bully and Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun.

About a month later, I received an email from Maria asking if I would like to create a reader's guide for her newest book, The Potato Chip Champ.  Oh my goodness - I was so excited - and so were my girls - they thought I was famous! ;)

The Potato Chip Champ is an excellent book for all ages that teaches children about kindness, compassion, and empathy.  We watch as the main character's thoughts and feelings change throughout the book, and cheer as he realizes true friendship by the end of the book.  These are lessons that my own class, and my own children, need reminded about - and what a perfect way to to have that discussion - through the lessons in the book.

When I was writing my reader's guide for Maria, I tried to keep these character education issues in mind.  The reader's guide contains over 40 pages of activities that span the curriculum, character education ... and more.  There are activities for reading, writing, math, science, social studies, cooperative learning, etc.  The guide was created with grades 3 - 5 in mind, but it can easily adapted to fit younger and older grades.  Now, I know you will want to share this experience with your own students, but just in case ... leaving a copy of the book and reader's guide would make a PERFECT sub day activity, too.

You can read more about Maria Dismondy's The Potato Chip Champ and other books on her website by clicking HERE.

You can download the free reader's guide for The Potato Chip Champ by clicking HERE.

Oh - and I saved the best for last ... Maria is offerring one of my readers an autographed copy of her book!!!  Enter below ...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On a more personal note, today is my baby's 5th birthday!!!  I can't believe how time flies!  Last night, on the eve of her birthday, she wanted to read The Potato Chip Champ as her bedtime story.  What a little sweetheart.

Don't forget to check out The Potato Chip Champ on Amazon, then head over to Maria's website to download your free copy of the Reader's Guide.

Happy Monday!