Graphics by

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!