Sunday, November 9, 2014

Made it Monday - November

 First, thanks to Tara at Fourth Grade Frolics for her Made It Monday Linkup!
Full disclosure.  I hate bulletin boards.  There, I said it.  I know that's blasphemous in a Link up with super creative, crafty types like yourself.  But, please, before you judge me, let me explain.

When I first started teaching I had an amazing fourth grade teaching mentor by the name of Nancy.  At the beginning of each month she would diligently pull out these cute, already prepared bulletin boards that she had created and neatly filed away to use.  Usually these were taken from ideas in Mailbox magazine and were most often used to display exceptional student work.  With all of the other things I felt I needed to do in my first year teaching, I dreaded having to change my bulletin boards at the end of every month.  It became a chore.  On top of that, not only were they not as nice as the ones by my mentor, but I felt like they weren't worth the time and effort that it took to put them together.  Too often, they were just for decoration, and it was frustrating to me that students barely even noticed when they were changed.

All that being said, I understand that teachers today now use bulletin boards for more than just window dressing.  The best bulletin boards are student-centered, interactive, and purposeful.  Still, sometimes I just can't shake that old feeling when there's a bulletin board that I need to put up.  So while its not my specialty, per se, I still think I've come up with a few decent bulletin board ideas.  Here are a few I've made in the past:

This is our "team" bulletin board right outside of my door.  Since the bulletin board is in the hallway and there's usually a table in front of it, it is not very useful for much other than as an eye catching display.

We are a team of three classes, hence the three columns of names in the middle.  I teach with Mary Dressel at 4th Works who teaches Language Arts and Mary Beth who teaches Social Studies and Science. 

My son designed our web logo himself in the game of Minecraft

We call ourselves Team Mindcrafters, playing off of the immensely popular game video game, Minecraft.  I got the idea for the team name and for the bulletin board from my son who is a real Minecraft Whiz.  He showed me this site where you can make Minecraft foldables of all kinds. So, before school started we folded and taped all of the blocks and characters. 

A little clear tape and a pin was used to put the block on the board
Then, Mary and I pinned them up on the board using some tape.  Voila!  A three dimensional bulletin board.  The only problem with this board is its almost impossible for the kids to resist touching it!
A google search helped us find a couple Minecraft fonts to use.

Mary, Mary Beth and I created characters to resemble each of us.
Mary Beth, who loves jewelry, even added a few tiny gems to her character. :)

Another simple beginning of the year bulletin board that the students seemed to like is my movie-themed board.  Included is a popcorn container overflowing with packing peanuts, a "clapboard" from Party City, tickets from Office Depot, a printed class list ("Starring actors"), pictures from previous fourth grade activities, and finally "reviews."

This is the movie marquee that I made, but you could make create your own here.  or do a google image search and modify your own!

Class Dojo has its own free "decoration pack"
of images that can be printed and used for bulletin boards
This is a bulletin board that I used to introduce Class Dojo at the start of the year.  I modified the idea from someone else on Pinterest.  I wanted the dojo to stand out a bit so I rolled black construction paper to give it a 3D effect and pinned and stapled it into place. 

I did a screen grab of the student's names and avatars for inside the dojo
My original intent was to use this board to list incentives that students could earn after collecting certain numbers of points.  As a building, we went with a whole school incentive system that has worked out pretty well.  Students can use "Generals Dollars" (We are the Anthony Wayne Generals) to buy trinkety items or special privileges like bringing a stuffed animal to school or wearing slippers for the day.  We were kind of surprised, for example, that a lot of our fourth graders really wanted to be an honorary Battleball referee.  Battleball is our end of the week reward for responsibility and good behavior.  Its basically class vs. class dodgeball and the kids REALLY look forward to it each week.  The kids enjoyed putting on a black and white striped jersey, blowing the whistle to start the games, and helping watch for people being knocked out of the game.

I got my idea for this bulletin board from another site, but put it together for a different purpose.  I developed this after I was having trouble keeping the students using apps related to skill areas we were working on.  For example, we might be working on factors and multiples, and I might find a student playing Stack the States. 
The board with some of the Place Value
apps I used to start the year

I used to give students a list of accepatble games to play, but I found that by posting the image, students had less difficulty finding the app. 

I started by finding an image of an iPad that would work to print.  It needed to be blank and high resolution so it didn't look grainy when it printed. 

Then I sent the image online to my local Office Max to print it poster sized.  Unfortunately, I had to send it to print in black and white because I'm cheap and the color cost over $20.  The black and white was only $3.38.  When I got to Office Max though, I discovered that they accidentally printed it in color.  Bonus! 
The board being put up in my Math enrichment area.
For the app icons, I did a google image search for them or if I couldn't find them there I did a screen capture of the apps in iTunes.

The icon for one of my favorite
Math games - Factor Samurai
I use this bulletin board to remind students of the choices of apps that can be used during Math time.  This prevents any confusion about what apps can be explored and helps focus students on skills that we are currently studying.  Its worked great so far!

Thank you! 
Since you made it all the way to the end of my blog, how about a little treat for your effort?  Here is one of my products on Teachers Pay Teachers that I'll make free for a few days.  Its fun and challenging for your students, and its a different style of task card than you are used to.  I hope you like it.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How much does the sequence of topics matter in Math?

I've always thought that place value concepts separated students who really "got" math and those that didn't.  Unlike learning algorithms for multiplication or long division which can just be memorized, place value really tests a child's basic understandings about the meanings of numbers.  And while I haven't used one in about 8 years, in every Math textbook our school district has ever purchased, place value was Chapter one in the book.  This always made sense to me since place value is such a foundational concept for understanding Math.

However, the new Pearson Envision Common Core edition has flipped the script on sequence of instruction a little bit.  

It lists the first 4 topics in 4th Grade Envision Math as:
  • Topic 1: Multiplication and Division: Meanings and Facts
  • Topic 2:  Generate and Analyze Patterns
  • Topic 3:  Place Value
  • Topic 4:  Addition and Subtraction of Whole Numbers 
  • Topic 5: Number Sense: Multiplying by 1-Digit Numbers

The sequence of topics made me scratch my head a little bit.  An explanation of the choice for this sequence is probably buried in the documentation somewhere, but couldn't find it easily.  So, I'm left to wonder why they decided to place multiplication concepts ahead of addition and why place value has suddenly be moved to third.
Where my books are stored for
occasional use

As I confessed earlier, I never use the Math textbook. This is no slam on Envision, as I think its easily the best math series we have purchased as a district.  I do use some of the worksheets and center activities from time to time and will use the online tools on occasion. But other than that, the student books remains on my shelf.  Knowing the cost of the book, I feel really guilty about that. But I believe that the textbook is not a tremendously effective instructional tool.  When I started teaching, the Math manual was very useful to me to help plan my Math lessons from day to day.  It was common to assign questions to be completed on loose-leaf paper from the book.  But after having four Math series and buying and creating so much of my own math "stuff" over 20 years of teaching, I really don't need it anymore.

And though I use the textbook as a general guide, I rarely follow the sequence of the topics/chapters in a Math series anyways.  Other than a few exceptions, the sequence of the topics is not as important as the sequence of your daily lessons in my opinion.  For example, I used to teach a unit on graphing (topic 17  in the book) right after addition and subtraction (second).  Why? I taught it there for a couple reasons.  First, it tied in well to a lot of the graphing that we did to show results of Science experiments.  And second, it gave my students more time to gain mastery of their basic multiplication facts that they needed to learn before we started to multiply greater numbers.

All this being said, you could probably ask ten Math teachers and get ten different opinions on the best sequence of instruction.  So, if you'd ask me: does the sequence of instruction matter?  I'd answer, if it does matter, it's not much.  What matters most is building upon the student's current understanding each day and making connections between new and old concepts a little bit at a time.

So what do you think?  Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments below.

This is a personal blog, so it should be assumed that I could preface everything I say with the phrase "in my opinion."  Feel free to agree or disagree (respectfully) if you like in the comments section.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Math is Fundamental - Currently November

Hello teacher friends out there,

First, thanks to Farley at Oh Boy 4th Grade for the Link Up.

I've been listening to the new U2 album a lot this week.  
It got a lot of attention in the news because U2 did something really unique with their album release and for some reason this received a lot of public backlash.  They gave it to people for free.  That's right, if you have an iTunes account, then you can download it from the cloud for free.  So why did people react negatively to this? Honestly, I'm really not sure but there's lots of opinions about it out there.   So, I'm a fan of U2, but I haven't really bought one of their entire albums since Rattle and Hum.  Partly, I'm just not as into their newer music.  This new album though, Songs of Innocence, really harkens back to the older U2 stuff that I loved.  If you have an iTunes account, look in your cloud for it, download it, and give it a listen.

I'm loving Kahoots.  
Never heard of it?  Then check it out, please.  First, I must give credit to Kate from EduKate and Inspire for mentioning it to me as we passed in the copy room one day.  I checked it out that night, and I think I'll be using it a lot in the future.  What is it?  Well, have you ever played those trivia games that they have at BW3's and other places.  Well, it kind of works like that except you can design your own questions (images and even video can be included) and have your students play for points on any internet connected device.  I've attached a link to one of my public Kahoots that I made just to test it out and to review multiplication concepts.  My students LOVE it.

I'm thinking about projects for our technology club.  
I want the focus of the club to be about creation and collaboration and not consumption.  Ideas I've had so far: movie editing in iMovie, creating music using Garageband, blog writing, programming, and Minecraft.
Kids playing our "Mummy wrap" game as part of our party games

I'm wanting a calmer week than last week.  
Just on Thursday, we dissected owl pellets, had 5 rotations of party games, had our afternoon Halloween/Fall party which was followed by four hours of parent teacher conferences in the evening.  Whew!  That day alone was exhausting.

I did have fun with my 4th grade team creating "Minute to Win It" style videos for our game rotation activities.  Here's the one we made for game Candy Corn Catch.

Add to that a spirit activity each day to go along with Red Ribbon Week including crazy hat and sock day, twins day, inside out and backwards day.  Let's just say the kids were a little amped up by the end of the week.

Finally, Friday was capped off with professional development including 3 hours of active shooter training.  If you're not familiar active shooter is training for how to prevent/react to/prepare for a Columbine or Sandy Hook school shooting type event.  From the retellings of the incidents to the all too real reenactments of the situations including shooting real sounding guns and shouting outside our doors, it was a disturbing and solemn way to end our week.  Saying the week as a whole was stressful is an understatement.

Needing to rake the leaves.
Leaves everywhere!  Come on wind!  Can't you just blow those leaves into the neighbor's yard?

Great book!  Get it here.

Reading John "Flash" Flaherty by my uncle, Jim Pransky.
As I mentioned before in an earlier post, I apparently have a very literary family.  My uncle just sent me a few copies of his new book about John "Flash" Flaherty.  I'm only in the third chapter, but so far its a great story about a baseball player who wasn't a Derek Jeter-type superstar, but one who came from humble beginnings and worked his way up to the Major Leagues and even played in the World Series for the Yankees.  Today he's a well known commentator for the New York Yankees.  My uncle, who's a professional baseball scout, actually coached him in college at George Washington University.

Some freebies.

Well, that's it for this week folks.  I hope your November is full of fun for you and your students.  As a thank you for reading my blog I have added two new free products that I just put on Teachers Pay Teachers.  I'm going to keep them free for about a week.  I hope you can find them useful.

Click here to download

Click here to download

- Shane