My Favorite No

24 March 2016
My Favorite No is my favorite YES in my math class.  I seriously LOVE this.  I fell in love with this idea when I first saw it just over two years ago (you can read a previous blog post HERE).  I started in the classroom then, and it has stayed a favorite.

The first 10-15 minutes of my math block is always reserved for some sort of review or spiral activity.  This year, from September to December we dove into Number Talks, from January to March Break we did Math Meetings (4th Grade Frolics has a great post about it HERE), and from now until the end of the year we'll be switching between Math Meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and My Favorite No on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Perfection.

If My Favorite No is new to you, you have to start out by watching THIS VIDEO (then come right back here so I can share more with you).  ;)

My Favorite No is the perfect companion to all the Growth Mindset teaching I've been doing in the classroom this year - teaching that the best learning opportunities come from making mistakes.  This is EXACTLY the message I want my students to take away from all of this.

My Favorite No for Problem-Solving in Math

OK ... so here's how it goes.  I pose a problem.  In the past I've done more skill (knowledge) based questions, but this year I'm focusing on word problems because my data is showing my students need this.  I write the problem on a small cue card and project it for the students to see.

My Favorite No for Problem-Solving in Math
We then go through and mark the question together using CUBES.  (You can read more about CUBES in a blog post I have HERE).

Then, my students get 5 minutes to independently solve the problem (I set a timer and everything because they love the timer).  They are also writing on the small cue cards (I'll post a link to the cue cards I bought at the bottom of the page. I buy them in bulk, but any method you choose will work fine).

When they are finished, before they hand their cards in, they have to do a traffic light comprehension dot in the corner (green for no problems, yellow for a little difficulty, and red for a lot of difficulty).  I have a poster hanging in my class explaining the Traffic Light Comprehension Dots (I had it made at Vistaprint) - but you can grab a free copy of the pdf I made HERE.  We use traffic light comprehension dots on everything!
My Favorite No for Problem-Solving in Math

My Favorite No for Problem-Solving in MathThe students also color code their answers according to our Math Response Learning Goals.  These learning goals are EVERYTHING in my classroom.  They are seriously one of my most favorite resources.  They are from my Building Better Math Responses resource and they have truly made our responses better.  You can take a peek at them HERE.
Students don't write their names on the front of the card before they hand it in, instead, I just have them initial the back - that way, if their card is chosen as "My Favorite No" it still has a little anonymity to it.  When they hand the cards in, I quickly sort them into 3 piles - 1) correct, 2) correct strategy but a small error somewhere, and 3) incorrect.  

My Favorite No for Problem-Solving in MathI then sort through the "correct strategy but a small error somewhere" pile and choose "My Favorite No".  This particular card will have a lot of wonderful thinking shown, but contains a small error or misconception somewhere that probably more than a few students in the class are making.  I put this card up under the projector for all to see (remember, it's anonymous) and talk about all the wonderful things I love about the answer given.  I then give students one to two minutes to do some error analysis with their partner or elbow buddy.  After this time, together we fix up the problem and (hopefully) clear up any misconceptions.
My Favorite No for Problem-Solving in Math

My Favorite No for Problem-Solving in MathSo ... what do I do with the cards when we're done?  Well, remember the three piles I sort the cards into?  I record this data into my grade book with easy colored dots - green for correct, yellow for correct strategy but small error, and red for incorrect.  I write the math concept for the word problem at the top of the page so I can go back and see where we need to do a little extra review.  These circles will also make it very easy to see which students need a little extra help with some small group sessions during math stations.  We've done two of these activities this week, so this is what my grade book looks like so far.  (See all those yellows and reds ... we've got some work to do during this last term ... but we're up for it).

My Favorite No for Problem-Solving in MathI put a little sticker in the corner of the correct cards, and then I file all the cards in little library card pockets for each student.  When the pockets get too full, we simply clip the cards together and file them in our portfolios, and start filling them again.  The students crowd around me as I'm putting the cards in the pockets to see if they got a sticker on their work - it's kind of fun.  :) 
Now, if you're thinking this will embarrass the students, it won't.  I promise.  In all the time I've done this in my class, I've never ever ever had a student upset by it.  There is a solid rule in my room that we don't say whose card is My Favorite No, and their names aren't on the cards.  But ... even so, often the student who was chosen is really excited they had the chosen card, and will want people to know (even though I still don't let them say anything in the classroom).  When you teach your students how important mistakes are to the learning process, they are not embarrassed by their mistakes, they look forward to growing from them.  And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

(affiliate link)

Drama Circles

19 March 2016
Are you looking for a fun, cooperative learning activity that builds confidence in your students AND helps with following directions AND oral fluency practice?  A Drama Circle just may be the answer!

Drama Circles aren't just for drama classes - they are great for any class, at any time.  My class loves them so much they don't even realize they working on so many academic skills at the same time.

Drama Circles Set the Tone
I like to start using drama circles right from the very beginning of the school year as it can really help set the tone for a successful year.

  • Students need to actively listen to each other to keep the activity going.
  • They must wait their turn, and give their attention to one student.
  • They need to cooperate with their classmates and build on the previous action.
  • They need to follow the directions given to them.
  • They will learn to be open to new experiences.
  • They will share a fun activity that has them learning to be comfortable with acting, performing, and reading aloud in front of their classmates.
How They Work
Students assemble in a circle, facing each other.  The teacher hands out the cards in a random order (there are 40 cards in most of the drama circles, so some students will have one card and some students will have two).  From there, the activity is similar to the "I have ... who has?" game because students need to listen to their classmates to know when it is their turn to act out the instructions on their card.  Students are encouraged to use large, over-the-top actions and reactions because it not only adds to the fun, but it also makes it easier for the other students to follow along.

Tips to Make Drama Circles Even More Successful
Sometimes you get that class that just LOVES to perform - this class won't need any help with drama circles.  They they will beg you to do them ... every single day.  But sometimes you have a class that is a little quieter, or a little more shy, or just lacking in the confidence needed to perform ... but having done drama circles from the very beginning of my teaching career, I have a few suggestions.
  • Number the cards on the back (the majority of the drama circles I have made are numbered, but some of my very earliest ones are not).  That way, if the circle breaks down, you know which number needs to go next.
  • Scan the cards as you are handing them out - give cards with a little more talking and actions to some of the more confident students in your class who love performing - you know who they are.  ;)  
  • Some teachers highlight the speaking parts on the cards - I have used a bold font for the speaking parts on my newer drama circles.
  • After handing out the cards, allow students a minute or two to read over their cards.  They can check with the teacher or person beside them if they have any questions about some of the words, or brainstorm ways to perform the actions on the card - it helps build excitement this way.
  • If time permits, let them repeat the circle if it doesn't go perfectly smoothly at first - I have found this is THE KEY to performing drama circles with a class that is a little more subdued - the second time is always better.  Let students switch cards with others in the circle - they will often see a card that they really want to perform - and will have already planned their actions and responses.
  • Have fun and let loose.
  • If you have the space and the weather is cooperative, take the circles outside!
  • And lastly ... but most importantly ... get in there and participate with your students!  Make memories with them.  :)
Fairy Tale Drama Circle
Are you convinced yet?  I've got a fun FREE Fairy Tale Drama Circle you can download and try with your class right away.  Just click HERE or on the picture to the right to grab a copy.  You can check out ALL my drama circles by clicking HERE.

We've had so much fun with the drama circles in my classroom, I've made some sets of Math Circles which follow the same format.  They are SO.MUCH.FUN when reviewing a concept right before a test - anything that gets them up and moving while learning is always a HIT in my class.  Click HERE to see all my math circles.


Building Perimeter and Area

12 March 2016
Perimeter and Area
Recently I had seen some great ideas about teaching fractions with those fun little plastic building blocks I'm sure you've all stepped on in the middle of the night.  Right away I knew I wanted to introduce fractions to my students with them, so I got online and ordered myself a standard box of them (most of you probably have more than enough lying underfoot in your house).  I was so excited when they came in, even though fractions are still a few weeks away for us.  And then, while teaching perimeter and area early this week, I thought - WHY am I not using the building blocks for this, too - how perfect would it be?

And perfect it was.  My class NEEDS that hands-on exploration - every class really does, but I've found that this one needs it just a little bit more.  They were so excited to learn the concepts this way - and couldn't believe they were getting to use "toys" in math.  Doesn't get much better than that.  So, "Building Block Math" was born.  

We started out with a minilesson through a Minds-On Task.  I just projected the Minds-On page under the document camera for students to see.  We went through how to find perimeter and area with the building blocks (counting each raised circle as one unit), and I reminded my students about the formulas (perimeter and area of rectangles aren't new concepts for my 4th and 5th grade students, but digging deeper into comparing perimeter and area is).  I then let the students work in pairs to complete the task and challenge task on the page.  As each pair finished, they could come up and place their blocks right on the page so their work was projected for all to see (they LOVE this).  (Note - We covered the perimeter resource first before we moved onto area).

Perimeter and Area

Perimeter and Area

Perimeter and AreaFollowing the minds-on task, students were allowed to continue working with their partner (but you could easily do this as a math center or station, or an independent task) to complete the 12 task cards for each concept.  The task cards have the students building the different rectangles (or irregular polygons - there are 2 cards for this) with the required perimeter or area using all the blocks shown on each card (the color of the block doesn't matter, just the size).  This was so fun because it was such a brain challenge - requiring students to put the pieces together like a puzzle so that they could get the correct answer.  Each resource has a recording sheet for the students to draw their answers on, as well as an answer sheet.  The answer sheet could be used at the math station for students to self-check their answers, or students can hand in their completed recording sheets for a formative assessment for you.

Perimeter and Area
Perimeter and Area
Perimeter and AreaWe've just finished up both perimeter and area resources, and next week (after our Spring Break - yay!) we'll dive into Comparing Perimeter and Area.  This resource really gets students thinking as they are asked to build all rectangles with a certain perimeter and different areas, or all rectangles with a certain area and different perimeters - and then compare the "shapes" of the rectangles.  
I only bought one standard box of these building blocks for the students - and there are more than enough pieces in the box for all the students in the class to work with (I'll include an affiliate link to the box I got below).  For super easy prep, I just put the whole box in a central location in the classroom.  Students grabbed a handful before they started working, and if they needed more or different pieces, they just got up to get some more.  You could bag up some of the pieces for each pair to use before hand, but this was quicker and easier, and got the students up and moving a little more, instead of just sitting at their seats (again, something my class needs a little more of this year).  

If you're interested, you can check out these resources through the links below.