Still Building Better Answers in Math

26 April 2014
We are LOVING the color coding while building better answers in our class.  Seriously.  If you have been reading my blog, you know I use this strategy a lot ... and I've sung its praises often here.  I've been building better answers with color coding in reading for over two years, but I've just recently started to color code our math answers, as well.

I actually wrote about color coding our math responses earlier this year (you can see it HERE), but after creating my "Building Better Responses" resources for Math and Reading, I made a few changes to how we code the math.

This is what my TACK wall looks like now.  (You can read more about our TACK wall for math HERE).  We just started a new unit in math (probability), so I've taken down all our learning goals for our last unit, and am just starting again with our new learning goals.  The goals under Communication are now revised, based on our new way of color coding our answers.

If it was earlier in the year, I would have added the goals under communication slowly, but since we are nearing crunch time with testing, I decided to post all the goals and dive right in.  We do spend time discussing each goal and write about the goal in our math notebooks.  This helps the students see the value of each goal.

And you know what - they are getting it!  Each time we work on a problem (even when I don't remind them to) markers and highlighters are popping out all over the room, and they are truly analyzing their answers to make them better.  

My Building Better Math Responses  resource contains everything you need to get started with your students.  There is a color coded success criteria goal chart (in both blackboard print and white background), "Good Mathematician" notes and answer sheets for each goal, posters and bookmarks, assessment checklists and rubrics (self, peer, and teacher), and some worksheets to get students started (group, partner, and independent).  You can click HERE to take a peek at the resource - it is really working wonders in my classroom.  
You can also take a peek at my Building Better Reading Responses by clicking HERE.  I am loving how the two are working together.

Happy Saturday!  Hope you are enjoying the weekend!


Earth Day Ideas for the Classroom

18 April 2014

Earth Day is coming up on Tuesday, and we always devote our whole day to it in the classroom.  Yes, we do believe that every day is Earth Day, and we're big on recyling and conserving energy in the classroom, but on April 22nd, we tend to go a bit bigger with our thoughts and actions.

Here are some ideas I've done in the classroom with my kiddos:

Integrating Art and Language into Earth Day
-  Earth Day Report Card - click on the link to try this freebie out.  Students complete a "green" report card for either their home, classroom, or school (all three versions are included).

- Recyled Earth Art Project - These are projects were a big hit!  I gave each student a piece of paper with the outline of the Earth on it.  They then used recycled magazines to fill in all the white space with the appropriate colours (green for the land, blue for the water, and a darker black, grey, or black for the outside area.  So simple, and so effective.

We put both of these ideas together on our Earth Day bulletin board.

Runde's Room - I am the Earth
I've recently updated this Recycled Art Idea to integrate Poetry Month, as well.  This "I am the Earth" activity has your students creating a collage of the Earth with recycled magazines or colored paper, and writing an "I Am" poem, from the point of view of the Earth.  My students' poems always contain the most beautiful phrases after we've spent some time discussing our impact on the Earth and the actions we can take.

Integrate Math into Earth Day

- Take the current math concept you are studying in class, and turn it into a problem-solving activity with an Earth Day Twist.  For this problem, we were studying perimeter and area.  Students completed their activity on half sheets of recycled chart paper, complete with diagrams.

Integrate Math and Phys Ed into Earth Day
- We usually get out for a yard clean-up on Earth Day (however, I doubt this one will be happening this year with all the snow we STILL have).  Last year we did a Yard Clean-Up Relay Race.  So much fun!  I divided the class into teams.  Each team had a garbage bag and a whiteboard.  As each person came in with their garbage to tag the next team member, the team also had to keep track of every piece they collected with tally marks on a white board.  The team that collected the most garbage won, but really, the whole school won with a clean yard.  We then used the data we collected on our white boards to complete a graphing activity.  We were amazed by the amount of garbage we were able to collect ... and requested a few more garbage cans be placed in the yard in hopes of reducing the amount of garbage.

Integrate Drama into Earth Day
- Have a little fun on Earth Day with this brand new Earth Day Drama Circle.  Students will love sharing ideas and information about Earth Day with this activity.

Integrate Technology into Earth Day
- We've been making infographics for Earth Day this year.  We're using a great site - to create our infographics, and the students are LOVING it!  What a great way to integrate technology, research skills, and media all into one.  Another site you can use to make a graphic collage is
I took some screenshots of some of the infographics my students are currently working on.

Integrate Language, Oral Speaking, and Leadership Skills into Earth Day
- This year my students have also written Earth Day announcements they plan to read over the P.A. system during morning announcements for the next two weeks.  Some of their announcements were research based about Earth Day, and some were activity based for the events we would be taking on in the school (I let the students choose their own topics for their announcements).  Because the students have an authentic audience, they took extra care with their writing, and their announcements turned out great!  We discussed using hooks to start our writing, and satisfying conclusion to end our announcements.

Integrate Language, Art, and FUN into Earth Day
- For our last Earth Day project this year, we plan to complete an Earth Day Craftivity I made.  This will be the final piece to our bulletin board display - alongside our announcements and infographics.  I can't wait to pull it all together!!!

You can see this Earth Day craftivity by clicking HERE.

I hope you enjoyed all these Earth Day ideas for your classroom!!!  How do you recognize the day in your classroom?


Building Better Reading Responses

08 April 2014
Earlier this week I wrote a blog post about Building Better Answers in Math.  As I said in that post, the strategies I have been using to build better answers in math were inspired by how we've been building better reading responses all year long.

All year we've been "Building Better Reading Responses."  The system that has really worked for my students when building better reading responses is very visual.  We've been colour coding our reader responses according to the success criteria we've slowly built together over the course of the year (I only add a new goal every three or four weeks - allowing for student mastery of the previous goal before we move on).  These criteria are posted on a bulletin board, so the students can easily refer to it when writing their responses.

With this method, students can easily see what they've included, and just as easily identify what they have not included in their answers.  I am a huge advocate of students accountability and reflection, and this method makes it so easy for students to reflect on their answers, identifying their strengths and areas for improvement.  We also do a lot of work with peer and small group assessment.

Each time we add a new goal to our success criteria, we write about it in our reading response journals (just a simple 3-hole notebook).  We write about our learning goal, why good readers include the goal in their responses, and then students complete a personal reflection based on the goal.  From that point forward, students are to colour code evidence of the goal added (as well as previous goals) in their reading responses.

One of my favourite activities we've done with our reading responses this year is a reflection of how our answers have grown over the year.  I asked students to choose a reading response they wrote at the beginning of the year and colour code it according to our criteria.  They then chose a current reading response they had written, and compared it to their earlier response.  They were amazed when they reflected on the growth they had made ... and so was I.  :)  We did this activity at the half-way point of the year, and I plan to do it again at the end of the year.

I've shared a lot of our activities on my facebook page this year, and have had quite a few requests to turn this system into a resource to share.  So, I was happy to oblige.  :)  Building Better Reading Responses is based on this system I use in my classroom, and will work with any reading material used in your class - fiction, informative text, or poetry.  It includes a list of colour coded reading response goals / success criteria - you can use this as a clip chart for tracking individual goals, or as a whole group cumulative list of success criteria (how I use it in the classroom).  The resource also contains success criteria checklists for students, peers, and the teacher, as well as a more formal rubric.  There is a poster to help students remember the goals, as well as student bookmarks with the goals on them.  I have included scaffolded sheets for the students' reading response notebooks - "good reader" notes with the learning goals and explanations, as well as reading response worksheets that have the success criteria listed on them (scaffolded so they only include goals covered in class at the time).  I have also included some different reading response sheets and activities for individual, partner, and small group work.  You can see a full preview of the resource by clicking HERE.  I've included a peek below.

Happy Tuesday!!!


Building Better Answers in Math

05 April 2014
Have you seen this?  Explain how you found your answer ... math.  Some of my students' explanations in math have sounded like this lately.  I've been getting, "I double-checked my answer", "I checked my work and chose the correct operation", and even, "I used a calculator".  Ugh.

And then I had an idea.  My students can write pretty fabulous reader response answers, so I decided to start teaching communicating in math the same way I do communicating in reading.  

So this ...

Soon led to this ...
We've been using our colour-coded success criteria in reading all year.  We've been building it slowly, adding a new criteria every few weeks - only after the students have mastered the previous ones.  My students can identify each criteria in their own work, work together to identify the criteria in their peer's work, and set goals for improvement based on their answers.  We write each criteria in a different colour - and that's the colour students use when coding their own answers.  It's a pretty beautiful system.  :)
A couple of weeks ago I started using the TACK board (Thinking, Application, Communication, and Knowledge/Understanding) for our learning goals and success criteria in math.  You can read a little more about it HERE.  (I also included a link to download the letters and headers I made).  This is what our TACK board looks like after three weeks in.  All our lesson learning goals are posted under "K", and a new goal with each new concept we learn.  The "T" will build our success criteria for planning for problem-solving, "A" will build our success criteria for problem-solving strategies, and the "C" will build our success criteria for communicating in math.  Just like our reading board, I will slowly add success criteria under the "T", "A", and "C" - adding only after we've mastered the content.  The sticky notes under the "C" column are math vocabulary words the students should be including in their answers.  Students can add a new sticky note each time we introduce a new term.

When I started the board, I wasn't planning on colour-coding our math explanations, so I made the colour of our success criteria under each match the heading.  About a week later though, I decided to start colour coding so I added a coloured dot to each of the criteria under the "C" for our coding.  The students use the colour of the dot to show where they have used the criteria in answering their questions.  And it's working.  :)  

It's still a work in progress, and will continue to be until the end of the year, but I'm excited about the progress we're making, and I can't wait to see what they'll be able to accomplish by the end of the year.  

Happy Saturday!