Math Rotations, STEAM, Student Choice

Math-Or-Treat (Embracing Halloween on a Wednesday)

This year, Halloween falls on Wednesday. I decided to embrace it. I always teach math in the morning so I thought I would try out this Math-or-Treat idea that I had been seeing on Pinterest a lot lately based on I Heart Teaching Elementary‘s blog.

I downloaded her bag templates and purchased cheap treat bags at Walmart.  I also loaded up on things like Halloween pencils, erasers, plastic skeletons, to use as prizes because they will be getting enough candy tonight, right?!


Since I have seven tables in my room, I decided to have seven stations. I introduced the idea to my class about a week ago and asked them to apply to “run” one of the stations using a Google Form. I got about 15 applications so I had to choose students based on their responses to the math problems in the application and their response to the question about why they wanted the job. These students would get the answer keys and check their classmates’ work. They would also give out the prizes.

I created or downloaded seven Halloween math games and activities from TpT for each station. I chose skills we have already covered this year (place value, rounding, multiplication, and division). Here are a few that would work well:

Division Bingo
Multiplication Riddles
Rounding Scavenger Hunt
Multiplication & Division Sort
Coordinate Grid Holiday Graphing
Halloween Division
Halloween Rounding 
Halloween Word Problems
Spellbinding Division 

I created a quick smartboard with some Halloween pictures on it and let the kids pick where they wanted to go.  I only had a few rules:
1. They could choose any table they wanted (with a limit of 5 kids)
2. They could move tables at any time
3. It was up to them how many tables they visited (ie how many prizes they earned)
4. It was over after an hour and a half (we had to be somewhere at 9:30)

I continued with the holiday theme for the rest of the day. We made Halloween masks with our kindergarten buddies. We completed the Candy Corn Challenge (Freebie!) during social studies time, and worked on the Mystery Science lesson “What is the biggest spider in the world?” Finally, my class mom came to host some games, crafts, and snacks for our Halloween Party and we settled in to watch Its the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. You can teach in spite of it being Halloween, or you can embrace it. This year, we nailed it!

IB, IB Exhibition, Inquiry-Based, Student Choice, Student-Led Conferences

Student-Led Conferences during IB Exhibition

For the past two years, I’ve had students present their IB portfolios during our Exhibition time. This year, I included a full student-led conference to the portfolio reviews.

 

The students worked hard selecting the items for their portfolios, although some things– their summative assessments from each unit — were mandatory. They included a table of contents with each unit listed, things we had learned within the unit, and a self reflection/evaluation. We also included some data tracking sheets, and our Fall to Spring MAP scores.  I created this editable Google Doc which includes:

Portfolio Checklist
Day-of Checklist
Teacher & Self Reflection
Parent Goals
Student Goals

 

Students start these portfolios in kindergarten and add to them each year. It is really neat to see all of their work from the last five years. Since 4th grade is the end of PYP at my school, after Exhibition, the students get to take their portfolios home. They will get new ones next year for MYP.

 

In class, I created a Smart Notebook lesson that matches the Student-Led Conference Checklist. The students will practice with a friend today, and then walk through their portfolios with their parents tomorrow. We will watch this YouTube video before we practice. There are many other helpful videos about student-led conferences on YouTube.

Now, more about Exhibition. Students have been working hard to research a man-made system. From there, the researched communities or organizations that existed within that system. Then, they looked into problem that existed in that organization. Finally they took action in some way to help with this problem. (Find my other blogs about Exhibition below.) 

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I know parents might not know what to expect or what types of questions to answer. I created a few questions that they can pull out of a cup during Conferences and Exhibition if they get stuck. I also created this Agenda/What to Expect form for the parents and sent it out a few days prior. This year, it will be held on a half-day and the students dismiss at 11:00 am. I will update this post after tomorrow’s conferences!

 

Exhibition I         Exhibition II        Exhibition III 

Digital Teaching Resources, Flexible Content, Student Choice, Uncategorized

Managing Book Clubs in a Digital Classroom

I have been focusing on student choice this year. This was easiest for me to start with in reading. I have six IB units that I teach each year and always match a novel up to each of the units. This year, I started giving the students a choice between two novels. I was shocked when I did an initial survey, that the groups were almost dead even. I did this again for my second novel, and then I got all crazy and let them choose from three novels. Again, the groups were about 1/3 of the class. I had to move one or two students but I made sure to give them their second choice if they did not get their first choice. (I attached a brief description of the novels in Google Classroom and then sent them a Google Form letting them tell me their preference.)

book club

We have been using the College of William and Mary’s GT book Patterns of Change to teach literature and language arts this year. I am using their literature web, and change matrix along with the normal plot maps, character traits, predictions, and connections (text-to-self, text-to-text, text-to-world) that most teachers would use when doing a novel study. My students have worked on these in smaller chunks all year, and I would not give this entire packet without working on each of these elements previously. (I am typing this blog in March, and only now do I feel like my students are ready.) You can find my digital resource for Book Clubs here. I share the slideshow with one member of each club, who in turn, shares the file with his/her group with editing rights.

Rules of Book Club:

  • Four students to a “club”.
  • Students choose their roles.
    (A coin flip may be used to settle disputes, but the results are final.)
  • Students create the schedule.
    (For our first book club, I assigned them five chapters of their novel a week, but I’ve seen other teachers give their students the end date of the entire novel and is up to the students to get it completed.)
  • Students are still responsible for their own comprehension questions.
  • Groups meet as often or as little as they want.
    (Some groups in my class like to read the novel together and then come up with predictions, theme, etc together (ie one chapter a day). Other groups preferred to do the reading at home, and come together during class for deeper discussions about the novel. I am okay with either set-up.)
  • Each member of the group is responsible for typing on their slides only.
    (The answers to the questions, though, should be discussed collaboratively.)
  • Students will assess their peers at the end of each week.

So far, this has gone well. The majority of groups got straight to work, and if they assigned themselves chapters to read at home, everyone came back prepared. Time management has been an issue for my class all year. I am hoping by chunking this (five chapters a week…ie one chapter a day), the students will stay on track. If it continues going well, I will use the clubs again with my last novel study (Civil War) in about a month. I also made these simple book marks so the kids could keep track of their “job” and take notes while reading.

Flexible Seating, Student Choice

Flexible Seating: Year 3

What a difference a year makes! My group last year adapted to flexible seating after maybe two weeks. They all used the furniture appropriately and I never had any issues. Fast forward a year, and it’s mid-November and I’m pulling my hair out. My new group is extremely inquisitive, yet they are struggling with all the choices. They literally push/steal each others seating when they get up to sharpen a pencil (true story), fall off stools daily, and are choosing seats next to their friends repeatedly… which drives me nuts. I refused to pull out the spooner boards and bike pedals for all of September and half of October, but realized maybe this group needs more movement.

While it has taken a while, I finally am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to set some parameters because the class is boy heavy (17 boys and 11 girls). Last year the rule was two boys and two girls at every table and they had to sit diagonally across from each other. This year I had to get creative: there must be at least one girl at every table, and no more than two girls. I even had to have students select their seats in the afternoon for the following day to cut down on fighting over seats. Students with good behavior got first choice.

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Some of you may have followed my journey with flexible seating. I first dabbled with varying tables. Then I added yoga balls (and hated it)! I went back to stools, and added stationary bike pedals, a standing table, and bean bag chairs. Finally, I added crate seats, spooner boards, and now IKEA Snille ($6) seating with lap desks. Here’s what is working well and what I will adjust for next year:

Standing Tables – This is a popular choice. It has taken a while to get the students to understand the expectations for this table. There is no spinning or ‘surfing’ across the room on the spooner boards. They are only for rocking back and forth. I have stools under the table in case the kids get tired of standing.

Lowered seating – My crate seats are hugely popular. For about $100 I made eight seats. The only complaint is the kids would like some back support like a pillow.

Lap Desks – These have held up for a few years and I’m happy with them. The kids love them too because of the cup holder, etc. These have not held up as well and I will not be purchasing them again.

Foam Squares – These are so simple, yet so effective. While I did “steal” a giant rug from an empty classroom, these foam squares are used when kids have to work on the floor. Students love these and I got them for free on a mom-swap website but are similar to these.

Stationary Bikes – I think these are the most effective for wiggly students. The kids are calm from the waist up, but are peddling away underneath. The only problem is that most are broken after only two years of daily use. I’ll be ordering these again but maybe a different brand for more durability.

What’s working well in your room? Anything you absolutely hate?

Back-To-School, First Day, Flexible Seating, Inquiry-Based, Student Choice, Uncategorized

Reflections from Day 1, Year 8

I was very excited to start school this year. I have a new teaching partner, a new class theme, and 28 newly minted fourth graders. I wanted my first day of school to look different than previous years. I wanted to build excitement and focus on fostering individual relationships with the kids. While I have always greeted my students at the door every morning, I made an effort last year to have the biggest smile and greet each kid by name, and a positive comment. Even on my most exhausting mornings, by the time the ninth or tenth kid came in my room, I really was happier and that rubbed off on the kids (and me!). Fake it until you make it. 

While I have flexible seating, I chose to put name tags on the seats today. I have several students who are new to the school and I didn’t want them to feel isolated or left out. The first day in a new classroom is overwhelming as it is, so I wanted there to be as little distractions as possible.  It really does pain me for the first, maybe month, of school as students run down the hall to pick the “best” seat first or grab a table with only their besties. They just aren’t ready to handle that much freedom and choice after four years of assigned seating habits. I clinch my teeth, let them sort it out, intervene when necessary, and wait for it to pass. Around mid-September they start to realize they will get to sit in all their favorite places, and the novelty wears off.

I had a packet on each desk with some coloring pages, crossword puzzles, etc so there was something there to do when they finally settled on a seat. There were directions (dry erase markers on plastic picture frames…genius!) at each table and colored pencils available as well. The packet had one blue page with some personal questions about how they learn best and what they hope to get out of fourth grade. This was on colored paper and I collected it at the end of the day. (It also did double-duty as I modeled how I collect all my papers for the year…calling them in reverse alphabetical order).

I went over my expectations for flexible seating next. I described how I want the students to select a seat for the hour/day/subject and I have a student model how each seat would look when used appropriately  (and what it would look like when used inappropriately). Finally the students signed their “Flexible Seating Contract” and went to foreign language class. I like to follow my schedule as closely as possible even the first week of school. During my math period, we set up our math notebooks, during science, the same. It is my belief that students thrive with structure and routine. When they know what is expected of them (every morning after the bell rings, we do math…therefore they anticipate and have math notebooks ready) the easier it is for them and me.


In between setting up notebooks for each subject area, (this takes a while…gluing in an index page, writing our table of contents, numbering every page), I put some posters on each table. Each had a question or sentence starter. I got many of the ideas from the blog Making Good Humans which was posted on the Making the PYP Happen Facebook page. Even if you don’t teach at an IB school, this page is worth the “follow”. My questions were as follows, and students responded with markers:

What stops you from learning?
What helps you learn best?
What does it mean to be an inquirer?
What was the most fun day you had all summer?
Last year I….
This year I’m going to…
The answer is “Mrs. Biggs”. What could the question be?

The students rotated from table to table, adding their response until they had visited all six tables. This also was important because it showed the students we move around a lot in my class and it gave each student a chance to try each seat, even if just for a minute. Some of the responses were silly (Last year I… was in 3rd grade) but we discussed those and modeled new ones, which were much better (Last year I struggled in math; Last year I loved science because we did hands-on experiments), etc.


Some of my other first day go-to activities involve index cards. On one, I have the students write 3-5 questions down that they may have. It could be a question about my personal life, our classroom, or the year as a whole. Throughout the day, I read a few and answer them during transitions or if we have a few minutes to spare. This is a safe way to let students anonymously ask me anything. I obviously only read and answer the appropriate ones. On the second index cards, we play “Two Truths and a Lie”. I ask the students to write down two true things about themselves and one lie. I always read mine first and see if the kids can spot the lie. I also pull a few index cards throughout the day and have the class guess. By the end of the day, they are begging to me read a few more. I know this game gets old in the upper grades, but fourth graders have always loved it.
This has been a longer-than-expected post, but I had such a wonderful first day. I’m really looking forward to this year. What are some of your favorite first-day activities?

Flexible Seating, Personalized Learning, Student Choice

Back-to-School & Student Choice

I am five days away from heading back to school. Five days. I’m not sure where summer went, but this one flew by. Maybe it was the constant playdates and pool time with my toddlers, or my brother’s wedding, or the IB training in Austin, Texas, but either way, I’ve been doing some reflection and trying to figure out how to give my students more choice this year. Here are three ways I will include choice in my class this year:

Flexible Seating:
My class has had flexible seating for two years now. I did a small blurb on my seating choices in a previous blog post “Top 5 Reasons I Use Technology in my Classroom” (see #2). Previously, it looked like this: My students may sit/stand wherever they like as long as they are on task. I have seats with stationary bikes, standing tables with spooner boardsHokki stools, and bean bag chairs. I noticed that once a student picked a seat for the day, they sat there and wouldn’t move. I wanted there to be more movement between subjects and throughout the day. This year, I am removing two large desks (each desk seats two students) and I am making crate seats. Four will be placed in a semi-circle in the front of the room, and four along the back wall for a “couch/bench” like seating area. Below you can see how large the tables are and I’m looking forward to the extra space this will open up. I found lap desks at Hobby Lobby and students can bring them to the crate seats or to the floor. I would like to offer some incentive for picking more than one seat in a day.

 

Morning Work:
I stumbled upon this blog about “Rethinking Morning Work.”  I love the idea of morning work choice! My daughter’s preschool teacher offers this for four-year-olds, why wouldn’t it work for fourth graders? Every day when she walks in, her teacher has set up a few tables with arts/crafts, small toys, Play-Doh, etc. She can choose which to engage with after she hangs up her book bag. I’m interested in this Suspend Game and Legos for a collaboration station. Since we are 1:1 ipads, we could have a technology station, a game station (hello task cards and sudoko!), and an artistic expression station focusing on an artist or genre each week or month. I am hoping to have this fleshed out soon but would not start it on the first two days of school. (Our district starts school on Thursday, we have class Friday, then three days off for the weekend and the solar eclipse.)

Choice Boards & Novel Selection:
I have used choice boards for many topics, but especially math. I give students a “Must Do/May Do” list where they have certain things that are mandatory to complete and others are optional. I would like to be more creative with academic choice this year, for example, offering my students more than one summative assessment for each IB unit. I do many station-rotation models in my classroom, but I would like to offer maybe six stations, where only four or five need be visited.  I usually select two or three novels for each IB unit based on the topics covered. I always group the students by ability, but would like to offer the students a choice in which novel to read (as long as I have sort-of evenly numbered groups). I’m thinking I will read the jacket covers of the books out loud and have students record on a note card their first choice. I want the decision to be independent of their friend’s choices. It is always hard at the beginning of the year, since these students don’t know my routines and procedures. They also don’t have experience being given so much choice in a classroom. Hopefully, I’ll have them whipped into shape in no time!

A very special thanks to the blogs who I’ve borrowed/stolen from today. And my dad, who I begged to help me make these crate seats!

 

Inside the Trenches
The Apple Tree Room
The Science Penguin