Skill and Drill Without the Worksheets

30 January 2016
I just wanted to share a quick idea for skill and drill with you today.  Maybe it's something you already do, but if not, read on - my students LOVE this activity.

This activity, which we affectionately call "Speed-Dating Math" is the perfect activity for when your students need that extra drill practice, and you know you don't want to pull out the boring worksheets.  We're deep into our multiplication and division unit right now, and this is how we practice using the traditional algorithm.

Basically, set your students up in pairs so they are facing eachother - long rows of desks or tables work the best for this.  Our desks are currently set-up in a "U" formation, so this works well.  Each student needs a whiteboard.  Before I had individual whiteboards, we would use laminated paper or paper in page protectors - basically anything with a wipe-off surface.  Students draw a line down their whiteboards to divide the surface in half.

  • I write a question on the board and give them exactly one minute to solve it on one half of their whiteboards.  
  • After that I give them exactly one minute to discuss their answers with their partner (this is perfect for those students who need a little extra time to solve because they can work with their partner to finish solving the question).
  • Then, using the other half of the board, we solve it together on the whiteboard, with students writing down the actual solution we do together (this takes about one minute also)
  • And the last VERY IMPORTANT step - they get one minute to compare their solutions with the correct solution.  If there are any errors they need to circle the errors and identify where they went wrong.  They do this error analysis with their partners, talking through the errors.  

At the end of the four minutes, I call out "Speed Date Switch".  The one side of the line moves one seat to the left and the other side of the line moves one seat to the right.  With their new partners, we start the whole process again.  We can complete about 7 questions in a 30 minute session.  Each question takes 4 minutes in total - but it's the deep analysis and comparison that makes it so much more valuable than just a skill and drill worksheet.  

I also really love using this activity for quick fun reviews - this is my go-to format for doing reviews with our math cootie catchers, or reading response cootie catchers after our read alouds.

This activity is definitely a winner in my classroom - the students ask every single day if we're doing speed dating math ... which is so funny when passer-bys hear this from a class of ten year-olds.  ;)


Math Journal Sundays - Growth Mindset in Math

17 January 2016
With our impending division unit coming up next week, I have been hearing many utterances of fear and hopelessness popping up in the classroom.  "I can't divide" was heard one too many times for me last week.  Even though they actually CAN divide, and have been proving they CAN divide throughout our multiplication unit, I knew they needed a little reminder ... a reminder about growth mindset.

We did a lot of lesson on growth mindset at the beginning of the year, and we've been continuing to discuss it, but I wanted the students to have a tangible reminder of it ... in their math journals ... where they can flip to it whenever I (or they) think they need the reminder.

For this entry we didn't have a learning goal straight out of the curriculum - instead, we came up with more of a definition of what growth mindset looks like in the math classroom.  We discussed what we already knew about growth mindset - and some of the students were surprised that saying, "I'm already good at this ..." or something along those lines was an example of fixed mindset.  Many of them thought that only negative phrases showed fixed mindset.  We talked about how thinking you're already good at something may keep you from continuing to work harder at it and looking for ways to improve.  Light bulb moment.

For our journal entry, we made a foldable tool of a brain.  On the top flaps we left the fixed mindset side in black and white and colored the growth mindset side to make it more appealing - what we would want.  Under the top flaps we wrote phrases that correspond with each of the mindsets.  After we came up with a fixed mindset phrase, we talked about how we could turn it around to show growth mindset.  Again, we used black for the fixed mindset phrases and color for the growth mindset phrases.

We did a traditional "left-side of the page thinking" for this entry - talking about what we already knew, what we learned, proof, and reflection.  For the proof I had students go back through their math binders and portfolios to look for areas they need to keep working on - maybe they need to go back and work on something more, or look for areas they can improve, or where they could ask for help ... etc.  Going back through older work was a real eye opener for them - and many DID see how far they have already come - reinforcing that growth mindset that they will continue to learn things if they keep working at it.

If you're interested, you can take a peek at this lesson in my TpT store by clicking HERE or on any of the pictures in this blog post.


Adding Student Evidence to Learning Goals

12 January 2016
I've been using my Building Better Responses Goals and Resources for a few years now, and they are one of my absolute favorite resources to use in the classroom because they just work for my students.  And they prepare the students for testing better than anything else I have used.  But, something new I've been doing this year is adding a student evidence piece alongside the goal - proving the mastery of the goal.  I am loving how this small change has excited my students and motivated them to work even harder.  It's an awesome thing to see.

If you are new to my Building Better Responses resources, you can read a little more about them in blog posts I have HERE and HERE.  Basically, it's our system of scaffolding the learning goals needed to compose a well thought out response - to reading, writing, or math questions (I have resources for all 3).  Students use colors to code their work - showing exactly where they have included each learning goal in their answer - actively monitoring their thinking and analyzing and reflecting on their strengths and areas of need.

There are many ways to use the better response goals, but in my class, I teach them whole group - starting with the first goal and slowly adding to them - usually adding a new goal about every two or three weeks - this really allows for mastery at each step.  And each time my students show mastery of a goal, I add an evidence piece to the space on the board beside the goals.

 I post both my reading and math response goals on a small section of whiteboard, separated with some washi tape. (I finally found a use for washi tape!)  Each time we add a new goal, I model what a response should look like, and we talk about how we would color code the evidence in our answer.  The evidence piece always comes from student work - it is not a copy of an answer I've modelled - that doesn't show mastery of anything except the ability to copy from the board.  ;)

The first time I chose evidence pieces from the students - ones where they had really shown mastery of the goal, the students were very surprised ... and a little proud, too.

So, we kept it going.  We've recently added our fourth reading response goal and third math response goal, and I can't believe how well the evidence piece is working for my students' motivation.  Each time we do a response, my students work SO HARD to have their work chosen as the evidence piece, and they are so excited to share their work with me (and sometimes I add more than one evidence piece simply because it was too hard to choose ... and so more students have the opportunity to have their work shared - and all students will make it onto this board at some point through the year).  Most of the time their responses are written with resources from the Building Better Responses resource or my Stick-It-Together resources (the better responses and stick-it-together pair very well together), but really, any form of response would work well.

I am so proud of the work they've been doing - and I know when they see their work showcased like this, they're proud of themselves, too.