Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ice Ice Baby

As promised, I have one of my ice breaker activities ready to share with you, but I also wanted to tell you about another one of my favorite beginning of the year activities.  I'm sorry to say that I don't have any pictures of it, because to be honest, before I started blogging I was awful about not taking pictures.  This year will be a whole new ball game, so I hope to have lots of pictures.

To do one of the activities, I buy a blank puzzle for each of my groups (I have students sitting in groups of 4).  I like to try to find about a 16 piece puzzle, so it offers some challenge but can be completed in a few minutes.  I also buy puzzles that can be colored on with a crayon or marker.  Before school starts, I secretly remove one piece from each puzzle and keep those pieces back.  Then whenever we do the activity, I give each group their puzzle pieces and ask students to put their puzzle together as quickly as possible.  It is so funny when they are almost finished with their puzzle and realize that they are missing  a piece.  I'll watch them look under their seats and on the floor or the piece, and then they start asking other groups if they have an extra piece.  I let them look for a couple of minutes, and then I bring them back together as a whole group.  I use this activity to illustrate the importance of participation in group work.  I discuss how we are all important pieces of the puzzle, and a group cannot be complete without the presence of each group member.  I usually make a chart of what a present group member looks like (listens, offers suggestions, stays on task, helps others, etc.)  After our discussion, I let students work as a group to color their puzzle.

In a different activity,  I print out the question cards on card stock and cut them out before school, and that is all the preparation necessary.  To do the activity, students should answer all of the questions, but they should not write their name on it.    When students have finished filling out their information, collect and shuffle the cards and redistribute them to the class.  Students should then try to determine whose card they have by asking their classmates questions from the card.  They are not allowed to ask "is this your card" or anything similar.  After everyone has discovered whose card they have, allow students to introduce each other to the class. 
Who Am I?

I've also posted this as a free item on my TpT Store, so if you feel like it, I'd love some feedback, so here is another link to the item.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Beginning of the Year Read Alouds

A recent question (thanks Brittany :)  got me to to start really thinking about my favorite read alouds for the beginning of the year.  I have to admit that I don't do a lot of beginning of the year activities, because of time constraints.  However, I do feel that it is important to give students some time to get to know one another and to develop a sense of community.  My very favorite book for the beginning of the year is First Day Jitters.  I'm always surprised that almost none of my third graders have ever heard the story before, and the ones who have still love it.  I also like to read Have You Filled a Bucket? on the first day of school and continue with bucket filler activities.  I almost always use picture books for my writing mini lessons, and at the very beginning of the year I like reading Pictures From My Vacation.  I usually send my upcoming students a post card during the summer that introduces myself, and in the post card I ask students to be sure to take a picture of themselves doing something interesting that they can bring to school.  We later use the book and their pictures for a writing activity and bulletin board display. 

My favorite chapter book for the beginning of the year is definitely Gooney Bird Greene.  It is perfect, because it has such an engaging character and is fairly simple for students to comprehend.  It also works perfectly with starting writer's workshop, because Gooney Bird ALWAYS has a story to tell.  This year I also plan on reading 7x9 Equals Trouble as soon as I finish Gooney Bird Greene to introduce multiplication.  After those two books I usually start reading the first book in different series to get my students hooked on new series.  I have to get to know my class before I choose the series though.  I also try to introduce my students to several well-known authors such as Kate Dicamillo or Louis Sachar.

Here is a little freebie that you may enjoy.
First Day Jitters Worksheet

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lesson Plans

One of my summer projects each year is to reorganize my lesson plans.  It took me several years, but I've finally found a system that works for me.  I doubt it's the most time efficient or visually appealing system, but it works for me. I keep everything in a 3-ring binder and have one 1 binder for each 9-weeks.
Then, I organize my binders into weeks.
At the front of each week, I have an overview of the week.  This is what I have for the first week.  Yes, we're starting back really late this year-it all has to do with budget cuts.  We have furlough days and a shortened calendar year with extra time added to each day.

You can click on any of the pictures for a free copy of the templates.
Then, for the majority of my lessons I have a template that I use that has all of the specifics (standards, materials, questions, differentiation, etc).
I also include anything that I print or handout, and any homework behind the lesson plan so that everything is kept there together.  This really helps me to stay organized from year to year-not that my lessons are ever the same.  I always make notes on my lessons as soon as I use them to remind myself of what I want to add, take away, or modify for the next year.  If I don't write it down, I won't remember by the time I start working on my lessons again.  Now, I've got to decide how to include my work station activities into my lesson plans.  What do you use, any suggestions?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Task Card Frenzy

As you can tell from previous posts, I have really gotten into the idea of math work stations this summer.  I have worked and worked on creating activities that would be fun yet rigorous enough for older students.  I didn't realize just how much I had made until I started printing, cutting out, laminating, and cutting again-wow!

This is my first year doing anything like this, so I'm starting from scratch.  It's been time consuming, but I know I'll be glad I did it now once school starts back. I've placed almost all of my activities in my TpT Store.  I just finished another set of cards that I want to give away to my wonderful blogging friends!  I got the idea from Debbie Diller in her Math Work Stations book, so I hope you'll find it useful.

Draw a Story Problem

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Math Workshop

Since my first year teaching I've loved teaching through reading workshop and writing workshop, but I never saw a way to transfer that method of teaching to math.  However, I wasn't too worried about it, because my students appeared to be learning and my test scores looked good.

Fast forward three years later and my state (Georgia) has just adopted new math standards that were much more rigorous and had a much greater emphasis on conceptual understanding and multiple representations of math.  Then, bring in a new district initiative for all teachers to implement math workshop and an "expert" in math workshop.  At first I resisted the change, I was happy with the way things were and really didn't believe that the workshop approach would work.  However, I soon began see the light.  Yes, my students were good at basic skills and what I now call naked math (computation without any context), but was I teaching problem solving, conceptual understanding, and application of skills?  Did I teach my students to think, talk, and write about math?  Could they show their reasoning with multiple representations?  Did math math lessons have a real world application?  The answer to all of the above was-no.  I knew I had to make the change.  Fast forward 5 more years-I'm now a huge fan of math workshop and wouldn't want to teach any other way.  I admit that it was a difficult process with a lot of trial and error for me, but I finally feel confident in this form of instruction.

My math workshop follows a similar format to reading and writing workshop, with a few changes here and there.

Mini-lesson-My mini lessons are usually about 10 minutes long, and I do a variety of activities during this time.  I might review previous skills or introduce new skills and vocabulary.  Some days I'll read a picture book that relates to the concept we're studying or we might play a quick whole group game such as 'I Have Who Has'.  I'm slowly creating and finding Smartboard lessons for this time as well (I just got one in January).  I also use this time to model, model, model my expectations for routines, behavior, and quality of work.

Work Time-This is when students actually do the math through a variety of math tasks, and I personally believe that the tasks are the heart of math workshop.  Good workshop tasks require students to problem solve and apply what they have learned.  They also require students to think outside the box and to use multiple representations and accountable talk.  I like to have all of my students work on the same basic task, but I differentate the task for my different ability levels.  For example if we are doing a place value sort, I may have the majority of my students working through the ten-thousands place, but one group may only have cards through the hundreds place, and another group may have cards through the hundred-thousands place.  As I mentioned in previous posts I am going to try to incorporate work stations 2 days a week this year.  I want to make the change to add a little more spice and variety to my day.

My favorite way to group students for math workshop is to group my very highest students together for their own group, which is not always a popular practice. I found that they did not relate well with my other students and made much larger gains when working with students with a similar ability, and it made it much easier to differentiate.  I then have mixed ability groups for the remaining students, and I was surprised to find that new leaders emerge in those groups.  During work time students can work with groups, partners, or individually, and the I monitor the class, work with small groups, or meet with individual students. 

Closing-This is the time for students to share what they learned, struggled with, or would like to learn more about.  They should share HOW they completed their task and allow other students to ask questions and make comments.  It is important to focus on the process rather than only if the student got the answer right (which of course is important too).  I have learned that I have to have some questions prepared in advance for this time, because the questions asked should promote a deeper thinking and understanding of the concept.  It is also important that I clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions during this time.

It you're planning to starting math workshop, the best piece of advice I have is to focus hard on routines and procedures at the beginning of the year.  It will fall apart if students do not have a firm understanding of their expectations (I've made the mistake).  I have to revisit those routines multiple times throughout the year, but it makes a huge difference.  I have a First Days of Math Workshop guide in my TpT store if you're interested.  It has 10 days worth of detailed mini lessons that teach procedures, which is exactly what I use for my first 10 days (I do actual math lesson too).
First Days of Math Workshop
I'd love to hear about how you teach math and any advice you can give!  I feel like there is always room for growth and improvement, which is one of the reasons I love all of my blogger friends!  I would have never even considered something like work stations or many other new things without your input.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Classroom Jobs

I always find it interesting to read about other teachers' classroom management and organization strategies, so I hope to share a few of mine over the next couple of weeks.  I want to take some pictures of different things to share, so hopefully I'll be allowed back inside my school soon.  Right now our floors are drying, so no one is allowed inside.  (It feels like it is taking forever, but I'm sure it will look great.) 

I did find an older picture of what I use for my classroom jobs, so I thought I'd share about that first.  I copied the idea from my completely wonderful supervising teacher when I was a student teacher 8 years ago.  Instead of having classroom jobs, she had a boy and girl "helping hand" of the day.  The two helpers were responsible for all of the classroom jobs (line leader, door holder, running errands, etc.)  I just write each students' name on a cutout of a hand and hand the hands on the wall and flip the hands each day.  It is such a super easy system, and it works out so that students get to be a helper about once every other week.  I used this when I student taught in 1st grade and in my own 4th grade and then 3rd grade classes, and it worked great for each grade. I need to make a cute sign for the hands, and I'll share as soon as I decide what I want it to look like.