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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Making Learning Contagious During Retirement

This past Spring our beloved Kindergarten teacher retired.  It was a sad time for those of us who worked closely with her and watched her nurture the scientist and explorer in every child who was lucky enough to walk through her classroom door.  She and her husband spent her final teaching year planning a trip across the country.  Her goal: to leave before school resumed in the Fall and travel to all the places she spent years exploring and teaching about from her classroom.

Pat and her husband, Scott, left town at the end of August and are sharing their travels with us via their blog VanNice Travels.  Pat is continuing to nurture the scientist and explorer in all of us through her blog.  The children in my class this year spent last year studying the Mississippi River with Pat and encouraged her to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi on her journey.  The day she posted that she had made it there the kids went berserk.  They were beside themselves with happiness for her, knowing how much it meant for her to visit the birthplace of this mighty river.

My little ones are learning how to post comments to Pat's blog, are staying in touch with a much loved teacher and are being inspired everyday to continue the learning journey they were set upon when they walked through her classroom door.  She is still teaching.  Still encouraging all of us to love learning.  Thank you Pat!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Preventing the Summer Slide

Last summer I  attempted to use my classroom blog to continue our learning community digitally over the summer break.  It was quite a bit of work and I think most of my students and their families forgot about our blog as the freedom of summer took hold (It was a bit difficult for me to remember at times too!).  As I sat down to outline what our student led conferences would look like this year it occurred to me I could create a mentormob playlist with several of the websites we have used this year and have students share this with their parents at the end of their conference.  At the moment my plan is to embed the playlist for families on our last classroom blog post of the school year so it will be easy for them (and their children) to find.  The first four steps on the playlist are paid subscriptions and require a username and password.  I have included 8 other websites on the playlist that I think will be fun and engaging for second graders.

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

How do you plan to help your students keep from slipping over the summer?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Tech Support for Research Projects

In my second grade classroom we are knee deep in a unit on Space.  This week we have been researching the 8 planets in our Solar System.  Research has been a breeze for this project thanks to the recently discovered MentorMob website I found via the Kleinspiraton blog.  With MentorMob you can forget about spending oodles of class time looking for content suitable for your wee ones.  MentorMob allows you to create playlists with videos and websites that you have researched and are confident contains appropriate content.  You can embed your playlist right into your Blog, Edmodo or Wiki page and direct your students to head there.  Here is the playlist my second graders are using at the moment. This playlist was created by another teacher and made available to all MentorMob users which is something I love about the website.  You can create your own playlists to individualize instruction across the curriculum as well.

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

If teaching your students how to search for information is one of the areas you want to focus on during a research project then you might want to give the kid safe search engine a look.  My first grade son and my second grade students use it with ease and all the content we have come across has been safe and appropriate for children.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Communicating With Families About the Common Core

Last Thursday I attended the Digging Deeper into the Common Core State Standards conference in Pendleton, Oregon.  As I reviewed my notes and reflected upon the information I was given last week it occurred to me that one of the biggest shifts for our schools will need to be in the way we communicate with families about the Common Core and the new expectations that have been placed upon our students.

One of the "Big Ideas" at the conference I attended was that students need to be able to articulate whether or not they have mastered the learning target(s) (standards) we are working on in the classroom.

Each week I send home information to parents that informs them about what we will be working on the following week.  The document looks like this:

I have been thinking that I can continue to use this format but replace the "concepts" with the actual learning targets that my students will be working toward that week. It is a work in progress but here is how I see the form changing:

This is just one way I can see of improving communication with parents regarding the Common Core Standards.  In what ways are you planning to share information and improve communication with your students families?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Number Pieces App

Yesterday I was introduced to a new math app put out by The Math Learning Center. The app is called Number Pieces. The number pieces are base ten pieces which we use all the time in second grade to help reinforce place value concepts and computational skills. If you use the Bridges to Mathematics curriculum you are probably familiar with the game Race you to One Hundred and Back. Today my students played this game using the Number Pieces app. They loved it and thought it was much better than using actual base ten pieces. They liked using this app for the game because they felt it was easier to keep track of their pieces when they traded a ten strip for ones. There are two versions of the app and both are free at this time. The only difference I have found so far is that one version includes a ruler. You can change the colors of the pieces and write in the page as well.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Letter Writing Self-Evaluations

This month my second graders have begun to write weekly letters home to their families.  The letters make perfect writing samples and offer parents a chance to see what their children are learning each week.  It also gives them a look at their child's writing development.  However, It occurred to me after reading this weeks letters that my students parents might just be wondering if I am teaching their children anything at all!

 My second graders have been reading morning messages written in the "friendly letter" format for most of the school year and have written letters to their pen pals in Louisiana.  They have helped me edit our morning messages and kindly corrected my errors.  They write daily across the curriculum. We have had many conversations as a whole group and 1:1 about the format of a letter and appropriate use of conventions (capitals, punctuation, spelling). Yet,  when I set my students loose to write their letters this week they barely crafted more than 2-3 complete sentences, talked about what they ate for lunch, didn't start their sentences with capital letters or end them with punctuation.  One student didn't even sign his name with a capital letter. Ugh!!!!

Then it occurred to me.  It's time for a little self-evaluation!  I whipped up a Google Form with the areas I wanted students to focus their attention on and then met with each student individually.  Together we reviewed their letter as they answered each statement on the evaluation sheet.  We talked about what they did well and what they wanted to work on when they wrote their next letter.  My plan is to have students independently fill out the self-evaluation form each week.  My hope is that students will show me what they can really do when they invest a little more of themselves into their writing.

Here is the form I created :

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Teaching About Diagrams Through Art

Last week we were getting ready to do some color mixing and finish painting an art project.  As I stood in my classroom waiting for my second graders to return from music it occurred to me that I should spot check their ability to identify and use a diagram.  We have looked at lots of different diagrams in our reading and during science so I was sure this would take a split second and we would be knee deep in color mixing. Once all their cute, smiling faces were seated in front of me I popped the question: "Second Graders, while I was waiting for you to come back from music I started wondering what a diagram is.  Can anyone help me remember?"  Not a peep.  I waited...and waited...and waited while we all processed this question.  Silence.

"Well," I went on "I was wondering if this picture is a diagram?" and pointed to the color wheel that was up on our Promethean Board.  Silence.  This was so unusual!  These guys are talkers and I wasn't getting anything from them.  "What do you notice about this picture?"

"There's lots of different colors."
"There's circles."
"There's triangles"
"There are lines that connect colors."
"Some of those lines make big triangles."
"Some lines are solid or broken."
"I see words."

Yes! We were finally getting somewhere.  After making all those great observations I finally told them that this picture was indeed a diagram.  I explained that it was called a color wheel and discussed how it helps people understand how to mix and use color.

After our discussion we used the color wheel to help us learn about mixing primary colors into secondary colors.  We then painted the rest of our snowmen with the beautiful secondary colors we made.

After finishing our artwork we came back together to review what a diagram was.  Here is what my second graders could tell me about diagrams after using the color wheel.

We are in the process of making our anchor chart "pretty" and have decided that as we find new diagrams we will paste them to our chart to help us remember what a diagram is and how a diagram can help us create and learn.

How do you teach your students about diagrams?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Huge Success!

Our Wax Museum was a HUGE success!  Everyone remembered their speeches and had so much fun!  My second graders LOVED this project and rocked the house with their presentations during the museum! I used Angela Nickerson's Wax Museum Biographies: Bringing Life to History packet as a jumping off point for our informational writing unit.  Students chose a historical figure to research after doing a Biography Scavenger Hunt using PebbleGo.  From there they researched their famous persons childhood, fame, interesting facts and personal qualities.  We filled out facebook pages for our historical figures, compared and contrasted them to ourselves and answered our 4 guiding questions: What makes a person famous? How are famous people alike/different than myself? What kinds of personal qualities do famous people have? Why is it important to remember and understand people in history? 

To ensure students were ready to give their speeches they video taped each with their iPads the day before the museum presentation.  This was a BIG EYE OPENER for some of our researchers.   They talked with their partners about what they could do to make their presentations better and practiced, practiced, practiced! 

Their hard work and perseverance paid off!  

Ben Franklin and guests
Amelia Earhart

Babe Didrickson Zaharias

Muhammad Ali


Abe Lincoln and guests

George Washington

Jacqueline Kennedy

Theordore Roosevelt

Neil Armstrong


Ben Franklin and guests

Abe Lincoln

Albert Einstein

Celebrating our sweet success!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Math Problem Solving in Context: Part 2

Last week my second graders and I spent our math instructional time trying out a new system for working through math story problems with a partner (Math Problem Solving in Context: Part 1).  It was amazing!  There were definitely some challenges for all of us but, in the end we persevered.

I introduced the Math Buddy Chat system to students on Monday.  We worked with our math buddies to figure out the number of family members that would be attending our upcoming Wax Museum.  Step 1 (independently read the problem, identify important words and numbers and underline the question) went smoothly for each group.  Step 2 (Talk with your math buddy and make a  plan to solve the problem and decide how you will show your work) really through them for a loop.  They all wanted to start solving the problem right away.  I helped them through this step by removing all writing utensils and they reluctantly discussed their plans.

This was a challenging problem because students had 14 numbers to deal with.  Students used a variety of strategies to solve this problem and some chose math tools such as 100's charts, base 10 pieces and unifix cubes to do their figuring. When students finished step 3 (solve the problem on your own, double check your answer) they moved on to step 4 (check your answer with your buddy, if you got a different answer look to see what you did differently and rework the problem if necessary).

After the math buddies discussed step 4 the entire group took a look at each pair of students work and discussed which strategies they used to help them solve the problem.  We began to notice that each group used more than one strategy to solve the problem.  This entire lesson took one hour and twenty minutes.

The following day we used the Math Buddy Chat system again to figure out another problem that was important to us.  We wanted to know how many packages of cookies we would need to purchase if each guest that came to our museum were to have two cookies each.  Students had to figure out how many total cookies we would need and then figure out how many packages we would need if 10 cookies came in each package.  This was a doozy and every single student (struggling to excelling) worked diligently until it was time for lunch!

The second lesson is where I imagined the input/output tables coming into play.  After we looked at discussed each groups strategies I showed them how we could put the information into a table and then we named it.  It was a brief, but powerful introduction.

Things I would do differently next time:

1. Introduce the Math Buddy Chat system with a simpler problem.  Although my students persevered I think it would have been better if they had learned the system with an easier problem first.

2. When students are asked to do step 2, discuss the problem and come up with a plan, make sure they cannot write anything down.  This planning part seemed to be difficult for them to grasp and every single one wanted to skip the discussion piece.

3. Have both partners explain what their plan is before they get started (just until we get the hang of this partnership thing).

And that is it.  I learned a lot about my students understanding of place value during these lessons.  I saw clear evidence that a student I thought had full understanding of place value still held some misconceptions and a student I thought did not really understand place value actually did!

Do you use a similar system for problem solving or have one that you think works well with second graders?  If so I would love to hear about it!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Scribble Press iPad App

Scribble Press is a great iPad app that my students have been using recently to publish personal narratives.  Before we ever attempted to publish with this app my second graders freely explored the app for approximately 3 weeks.  They became experts and their expertise made our publishing workshop a breeze! Here are two of the stories students from our class published.

When I purchased the app it was free.  It now has a fee of $2.99, but Scribble Press has released a new FREE APP that is even easier to use for K-2 students.  It is called Scribble My Story. Scribble My Story has a recording feature and is easier to navigate when creating additional pages.

Try them out.  You won't be disappointed!

Math Problem Solving in Context: Part 1

I am getting ready to teach my second graders about input/output tables.  Yes, in second grade! This is a new standard for us.  A standard I have not taught before.  I have been racking my brain all weekend trying to figure out how to teach this concept in a way that relates to the lives of my second graders.  

While reading the Teaching Addition and Subtraction Using Contextual Problems section in John A. Van de Walle & LouAnn H. Lovin's book Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics Grades K-3 I had an AHA! moment.  I LOVE those!  The authors tell us that in the United States we don't tend to go deep enough with math problem solving. That we have a tendency to have students solve a lot of problems in a single class period and the focus of most lessons is to get answers right (pg. 71). They suggest however,  that if we want our students to construct a rich understanding of subtraction and addition (or any other operation/concept you might be teaching) we should focus more attention on having students solve one or two problems and then give more time to classroom discussions on the "how" and the "why" rather than simply looking to see if the answer is right. This sounds A LOT, I MEAN EXACTLY, like what the new Common Core State Standards are asking us to do.

After digesting this section of text and thinking about what we are doing in the classroom right now I realized that we had the perfect context for some contextual story problems using addition, patterning and input/output tables.

Currently my second graders are working on a biography research project and are planning to construct a wax museum of historical figures in our gym on Thursday.  We have invited our families and they have returned RSVP's with the number of guests who plan to attend.  We are also planning to serve our guests cookies and punch to celebrate afterwards.  

My plan is to give students the numbers of family guests who plan to attend. I will ask them to work with a partner to figure out how many guests will be attending using the Math Buddy Chat system developed by Laura Candler.  After students solve the problem we will look at the different strategies students used and compare our answers.

On Tuesday I will ask students to help me figure out how many cookies we will need to have if we are planning to have enough cookies for each guest to have two cookies each.  This is where the idea for the input/output table came into play for me.  I will pose the problem to students and have them come up with a plan for solving the problem with their partners.  Afterwards we will analyze the problem solving strategies students used. I will guide students towards understanding how they could put this information into a table format to help them see the information more easily.  We will then name this strategy (make a table) and the type of table that we created (which of course will be the input/output table).

As I am typing this I am thinking of how we can continue problem solving within this context throughout the week.  For example, how many packages of cookies would we need to purchase if 10 cookies came in each package?  How much would this cost if each package cost $1.50?  Etc.

I am excited to try this with my students and see how this goes as an introduction to input/output tables.  I will post the results soon!  

Biography Math Problem Solving

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's the little things...

like returning to an iPad workshop after a long lunch with colleagues (who you rarely get to chat with) and finding mini chocolate bars scattered across your group table,  meeting new teachers who willingly share their creative ideas, someone you admire professionally paying you a compliment about the work you have done.  All of those "little" things got me thinking today and have inspired me to stop neglecting this blog!  Those "little" things reminded me that writing helps me reflect, remember and understand where I have been and where I am going.   It is that "big idea" or purpose of writing (reflecting, remembering, understanding) that I try to share with the handful of second graders I am lucky enough to teach each year.

In my classroom we have a Writer's Workshop.  I have been inspired by Lucy Caulkins, Regie Routman, Katie Wood Ray and Ralph Fletcher.  Recently I picked up a copy of Ralph Fletcher's book Boy Writer's: Reclaiming their voices.  10 of my 14 students are boys and for a while now I have had this underlying feeling that they were somehow different from the girl writers I work with.  I have also felt like I have shut down my male students enthusiasm for writing at times because I wouldn't honor a topic choice they had made (to violent, included weapons, a comic book with detailed drawings where they were just yelling "Agh!" page after page).  It happened just this month actually and I felt HORRIBLE about it.  I started wondering why it was that I can't get Theo to write about anything other than Mine Craft?  Does Phillip really need to spend two days of writer's workshop drawing & labeling various swords from a library book?  And what exactly is Black Ops?  It sounds so violent.  Should I really be letting Richard write a story about how he "sniped" his buddy at recess when they were playing "Black Ops?"  Should Timmy really end his personal narrative about hiking up at the lake with "Then my dad and I hiked back to the car because I had to take a poo."  In light of the recent tragedy at Sandyhook many of us may be thinking: ABSOLUTELY NOT! NO VIOLENCE! NO WEAPONS! VULGAR LITTLE FELLA! NO! NO! NO!

Well, Ralph Fletcher makes some really valid points in his book about allowing our boys to write about these topics.  Honoring their stories about the video games they love, the rough games they play, their "boy" world (which is not always violent or uncouth) and teaching them how to take those loves and write more deeply about them.  By the way, the little one who wrote about the end of his hike is one of my most dedicated writers.  He listens closely when I am teaching, he attempts the strategies taught during the mini lessons.  That was how his story really ended. I suggested he not end it that way. "But, that is how is how it really ended." he said, staring up at me with his big, serious, blue eyes. 

In Boy Writer's Ralph Fletcher says in regard to writing, "It is a life skill, a lifeline we throw out at the darkest, as well as the most triumphant, moments of our lives."  I want the writer's in my classroom (boys and girls) to understand that writing is a tool to help them reflect, remember and understand themselves.  That it is a tool they can use in their darkest hour or most triumphant moment their entire lives.  A tool they can use when they are inspired by the "little" things in life.

So how exactly will I teach my boy writer's to understand that writing is more than just a school subject you ask?  I will study them and give them opportunities to write about their interests.  I will discuss with them whether or not the weapons, blood, vomit or poo is enhancing their message or taking away from it?  I will give them lots of opportunities to talk.  I will listen. And I will continue to write myself.