## Playdoh Math

Everyone knows that kids LOVE when they get to create something, mold something, touch something, etc. I decided to spend more time “diving” into the concept of fractions. What is a fraction? Can the students draw it? Can they represent the value/meaning in a different way, other then simply writing the numbers (which is essentially a symbol to communicate a certain amount/value)?

I keep 3 miniature cans of playdoh in each tub of supplies at every group. When they work with the playdoh, they always work with their strategically assigned shoulder parters. (I haven’t spent the money yet to have each kid have their own playdoh.) In this first lesson, I simply wanted them to show me 1/4. I explained that inside each playdoh can was one whole “unit” of playdoh. I wanted them to show me 1/4 of that whole. Some of the kids got it right away and took that whole amount of playdoh, flattened it into a workable shape i.e. square, rectangle, circle, and divided it equally into four parts. Awesome!

Some other students did not do it correctly at first, which I LOVE because it creates a perfect teaching opportunity for me and lends itself to an authentic discussion. One strategy I witnessed was students that ripped some playdoh off the “whole” and then divided that chunk into 4 parts. What I had to explain to them was that they just divided a part of a whole into fourths (basically ripped off 1/2 the playdoh, and then divided that 1/2 into 1/4 which was not accurate). Another strategy I saw was students did not divide the whole into equal parts, which is a crucial concept to master about fractions.

The second playdoh math lesson was a little different. I wanted the students to be able to show me in pictures (playdoh molds) what an equation represented. I thought this would be super easy because I began with an addition sentence: 7 + 3 = 10. The directions were to show me this equation, this value using your playdoh. I didn’t want them to use any numbers (symbols). Only a few students laid out 7 units of playdoh and 3 other units of playdoh on their desk to show 10 units in all.

The other students did some things that I found so interesting! As you can see from the picture, this group laid out the units of playdoh, but then molded an addition and equal sign and added the 10 units also. When I asked the students to count the units or pieces of playdoh on their desks, they counted the 7 + 3 + 10 for a total of 20. They realized their error.

This last picture shows a struggle that MANY of my students had! I walked over and couldn’t help, but laugh. I told these students that they weren’t showing me what this addition sentence meant in pictures. They simply just molded the symbols, or numbers! The students asked me repeatedly if they could just mold the numbers because they couldn’t see it any other way. I had to prompt multiple times to finally get them to orally explain the sentence using a story as an example, and then they figured out how to “show” what the addition sentence meant.

It was very eye opening for me and, I can’t lie, really fun!

## Teaching Narrative with Crazy Pictures

Prior to beginning our writing unit on narrative text, I like to get the creative juices flowing!

My students use a composition book for their year long journal. Mini-writing prompts, debates of the week, and any other informal writing is done in their journal. The purpose of the journal and the activities I choose are to get the students comfortable with writing. I’m not grading for spelling and/or grammar. I have found that when the students are worried about spelling, they won’t make the attempt to spell a challenging word. They’ll opt to write “sad” instead of “depressed”.

The idea is the more they write (more meaning frequently, not the amount required for a writing task), the less they dread it. BUT, as a teacher, it is our job to make it relevant, new, and exciting for them. They cannot just respond to “google-like-journal-prompt-lists” all year long. Gotta keep it interesting.

The “Funny Pic Prompt” (that’s what I call it in my lesson plans) is an activity that the kids LOVE! When I tell them I have a picture for them to glue in their journals, I immediately hear the hushed “Yes!” from the group. I find interesting pictures on the computer by typing things like “funny animals”, “awkward family photos”, and “scary animal encounters”. The chosen image is then copied and pasted onto a word doc to be printed in color. Tip: Don’t make pictures too large. I try to fit 6-10 on a page so I’m not wasting ink.

After pictures are glued in, I set my timer for 10 minutes. Students are NOT allowed to stop writing for 10 minutes! I like to give them timed task to practice time management skills. Once the timer beeps, the students do a round robin share of their stories. During this time, students are NOT reading what they wrote verbatim. That would take forever. They must sum up their story in one summary statements (another skill we practice in class).

I cannot explain how this one weekly activity has greatly improved my students’ attitudes towards writing. They don’t even realize that I’m prepping their minds for the upcoming narrative unit.

It’s the perfect segue to writing a short story.

Click below for the pictures to use in class.  Have fun!

## Matter Flipbooks

We just wrapped up a unit of study on the three states of matter. As their final assessment, my students had to create these matter flipbooks. I gave the students the headings (Solid, Liquid, and Gas), a white sheet of paper (we make flipbooks alot), and some fruit loops. *I must note that I am not a fan of having the students use any food item as art, but these fruit loops were stale and three years old. I was going to throw these away.

Anyway, the instructions were as follows:

Assemble the fruit loops as particles of that particular state of matter. The idea was to see if they would glue the solid particles closely packed together, the liquid particles should be a little more spread out and so on. Under the front flap, they were to write the properties of each state of matter–all of them. And finally, the students had to find pictures of a solid, liquid, and a gas in magazines to cut out and glue in the appropriate spot.

All in all, I’d say the kids had a good time and for the most part seemed to understand the basic concepts of the three states of matter.

Success.

Warning:  I’ve done this project for the past couple of years and never encountered a problem with ants, except for this year.  This is why some students ended up simply drawing the particles with markers..the ants were on the attack! Be careful.

## We love MLK!

Happy Black History Month Everyone!

This post is to share the wonderful and easy project my students do for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I found this awesome post while searching Pinterest (Follow me!) one day.

My only tip is to make a sample prior to the lesson. Sometimes I think I can model an art project for the first time in front of the class, but not this one.   This one has a couple of tricky areas so be sure to complete it first so you’ll better be able to help your students. They need to follow these directions exactly. I think the end products are so cool, even the ones that were done “wrong”.

The other project is the “I Have a Dream” picture project. I basically run off copies of three thought bubbles. One bubble says…”For my school”, the other says…”For my community”, and the last bubble says…”For my world”. After we have a discussion and brainstorm some quality ideas, the students write their dreams on a piece of paper. Once I look that over and proofread it, they get permission to write on the thought bubbles (final draft). A couple days before we complete and assemble this project, I take a picture of each student holding a MLK picture looking up to the sky. I know! It’s so cheesy, but they turn out hilarious. I think the kids secretly like when I do these cheesy photo projects, at least that’s what I tell myself.

Once the pictures are developed, the students assemble them quickly and “Voila!”, an awesome project is complete.

Finally, my students all memorized a portion of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech. I was a little nervous with the complexity of the speech, but my students killed it! Truly a job well done for all of them–so impressed. After all the students finished, we watched the actual footage from The March on Washington. The kids were so into it, and saying the words right along with Dr. King!

Awesome.

## My New and Improved Library

Thanks to a wonderful teacher friend, my library arrangement has been significantly enhanced!

Anyone that knows me, knows that I am a little “crazy” about my class library.  I think “crazy” in a good way meaning I’m always trying to get more books for the kids, add little displays, rugs, chairs, etc.  I just want to lure the students in there and, let’s be honest, it has to look nice.  Books need to be updated constantly which is why I’m a major pusher of the Scholastic Book Orders.  I love this company’s deals!  For every student that orders online, the class gets \$3 to spend on books!  What?!  One order I got over \$60 in free books!  If you are not already using Scholastic, I suggest you get on it.

Back to the original point, my lovely friend gave me some new shelves and displays that actually spin (ooooooh!).  The library is looking sweet!

How do you build your class library?

Upcoming….just had a project funded on Donorschoose.org–8 kindles are being shipped to add to our library.  Details to come.

## Stained Glass Art!

When I was teaching first grade, a very amazing teacher introduced me to this craft and I’ve done it every year since.  The results are always the same.  The artwork looks great and the kids LOVE doing it, regardless of their age.  We usually do this during the holiday season, so that is why the pictures you will see are Christmas-y.  You could run copies of any stained glass design to fit your needs.  I just like my Christmas pics.

Ideally, I try to pair this assignment with an informational text article explaining stained glass windows, i.e. the history of it, the technique, most renowned pieces, etc.  I also have a short poem titled “Stained Glass” that the students memorize for an oral presentation.  Now, notice I said ideally….this year, I simply ran out of time.  I ended up completing this activity during our holiday party.  It actually worked out well, but it was purely for the fun of it–no text needed.

## Our Holiday Party!

Even though January is coming to an end, I still feel the need to share our awesome holiday party.  The kids had such a blast and I’m always looking for new activities/crafts/games for the students.

Some teachers at my school do an ornament exchange or cookie exchange, but gor the past couple of years, I have conducted a Holiday Book Exchange.  A letter goes home asking parents for permission to bring one, wrapped book to participate.  Of course, I always have extra wrapped books for the students who are unable to bring one.  It’s important that no on misses out.  And, I must admit, I have some wonderful parents each year.   It never fails that students that are able to bring a wrapped book bring extras for those who cannot.  It’s a beautiful thing.

As far as the actual exchange activity, I put all the books in the center of my circle of students.  My students (34) all pick a number out of a hat to determine what order they will select books.  This is the fun part!  We run this with the same rules as the always-entertaining-White Elephant.  For me, this is a classic Christmas.  *Helpful Hint:  The first year I did this, I allowed a book to be stolen three times.  This made the game last forever, and for me, it was too long. So my rule is a book can only be stolen twice and it’s “dead”–meaning belongs to the person that stole it for a second time.

What kinds of activities do you have for your class parties??

## Writing Rubrics, finally!

I don’t know about anybody else, but it took me FOREVER to create a writing rubric that worked for me.  My district uses a particular writing program called “Step Up to Writing” which is really helpful, but I was not satisfied with the rubrics.  I was more drawn to rubrics that assessed each of the six traits of writing separately.  I feel that this is a more effective way to assess writing, so that the students can become aware of their strengths and weaknesses.  In the past, when their writing was given just one letter grade, the students simply based that one grade on whether they were a “good” writer or not.  But we, as teachers, know that students can have wonderful ideas, but poor conventions.  Or a student might demonstrate perfect spelling, grammar, organization, etc., but lack substantive ideas.  You get the picture.

This rubric has helped me give better and more effective feedback to the students.  Now, they are able to choose one area to grow and feel proud of the areas in which they excel.  I am loving the results!

The rubric packet is on sale right now!  Hope you like it!

## Thank you, Rafe Esquith.

Code of Ethics Levels

I’ve been meaning to write about this man, his book, and the things I learned from it for a while now.   There is so much in this book that it would be impossible to cover in one post.  I will focus now on his interpretation of Kohlberg’s Levels of Moral Development.  As I read the following explanation of these levels, I was dying to start implementing this in my classroom, and who am I kidding, my life with my own son.  The following is a copy of his article from http://www.superconscious.com:

Rafe Esquith on Moral Development

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from TEACH LIKE YOUR HAIR’S ON FIRE: THE METHODS AND MADNESS INSIDE ROOM 56 by Rafe Esquith.

With experience, patience, and lessons learned from failure, you can create a classroom based on trust. The students know you to be fair. You’re dependable. The kids know that with you around, they’re safe and they’re going to learn something. A classroom based on trust and devoid of fear is a fantastic place for kids to learn.

But a foundation of trust is not an end result. It is not even a middle ground; it is only a good first step. We’ve all seen this time and time again: Students do a terrific job with a fine teacher, but one day the teacher calls in sick or has to attend a meeting. A substitute takes over, and the classroom that had previously functioned so well turns into a scene from Animal House.

A classroom based on trust and devoid of fear is a fantastic place for kids to learn. But a foundation of trust is not an end result. It is not even a middle ground; it is only a good first step.

Over the years, I have tried many different ways to develop a classroom culture in which students behaved well for all the right reasons. Most teaching victories come as a result of years of difficult and painful labor – there are very few “educational eurekas,” where the light bulb blazes over your head and you know where to go. But one glorious evening it happened to me.

I had been planning lessons around my favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and was reading a study guide that analyzed the novel’s characters in relation to Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development. The Six Levels were simple, easy to understand, and, most important, perfectly applicable to teaching young people exactly what I wanted them to learn. I quickly incorporated the Six Levels into my class, and today they are the glue that holds it together. Trust is always the foundation, but the Six Levels are the building blocks that help my kids grow as both students and people.

I teach my students the Six Levels on the first day of class. I do not expect the kids to actually apply them to their own behavior immediately. Unlike simplistic approaches that tell us, “If you follow these twenty-seven rules, you too can have a successful child,” the Six Levels take a lifetime of effort. They are a beautiful road map, and I am constantly amazed at how well my students respond to them.

Level I: I Don’t Want to Get in Trouble

Most students are trained from the minute they enter school to be Level I thinkers. Practically all of their behavior is based on the fact that they want to avoid trouble. “Quiet down!” they frantically tell one another. “The teacher’s coming!” They do homework to stay out of trouble. They walk in a line to keep the teacher happy. They listen in class to stay in the good graces of the instructor. And we teachers and parents reinforce this constantly by promising them trouble if they don’t toe the line.

But is this good teaching? Level I thinking is based on fear. Eventually, we want our children to behave well not because they fear punishment, but because they believe it is right.

Level I thinking is based on fear. Eventually, we want our children to behave well not because they fear punishment, but because they believe it is right.

Level II: I Want a Reward

Eventually children begin to make decisions for reasons other than avoiding trouble. But teachers are especially guilty of reinforcing what in our class is identified as Level II thinking. We learned that if children are rewarded for good behavior, they are more likely to repeat behavior we deem acceptable. There is, of course, truth in this. Whether the reward is candy, toys, or more time for sports, a dangling carrot can be a powerful inducement for good behavior

I have visited middle school classrooms in which teachers use Level II thinking to encourage their students to finish homework. One history teacher I met pits his classes against each other in a competition to see which of them can complete the most homework. The winning class gets a prize at the end of the year. Apparently this teacher had forgotten that a knowledge of history is supposed to be the prize. When I spoke to the class that did the most homework, I learned that they were terrific at completing assignments and turning them in, but their understanding of history was shockingly limited.

Level III: I Want to Please Somebody

As they grow up, kids learn to do things to please people: “Look, Mommy, is this good?” They do the same thing with teachers, chiefly with the charismatic or popular ones. They sit up straight and behave the way we hope they’ll behave. But they do it for the wrong reasons.

When kids want to please you, it gives your ego a jolt. It’s nice to have students show you what you think of as respect, to have them jump when you say jump. But we can still do better. This is a point on which I simultaneously tease and challenge my students. Do you brush your teeth for me? Do you tie your shoes for me? Do you see how silly that sounds? And yet many children still spend their days trying to please their teachers.

I still think we can do better.

When kids want to please you, it gives your ego a jolt. It’s nice to have students show you what you think of as respect, to have them jump when you say jump. But we can still do better.

Level IV thinking is very popular these days. With so many young people behaving badly, most teachers are trained to lay down the law on the first day of class. After all, it is essential that kids know the rules. The better teachers take the time to explain the “why” of certain rules, and many creative teachers get their students involved in the creation of class standards. The theory is that kids who are involved in generating classroom rules will be more invested in following them. There is truth in this.

I have no problem with rules. Obviously, children need to learn about boundaries and behavioral expectations. But if we want our children to receive a meaningful education, do we really want them to do things because Rule 27 says they should?

I met a teacher who had an interesting way of teaching his kids to say “thank you.” One of his rules was that if the teacher gave you something – a calculator or a baseball or a candy bar – you had three seconds to acknowledge his kindness by saying “Thank you.” If you didn’t do this, the gift was immediately taken back.

And it worked. The kids said it constantly. The only problem was that they had no real appreciation for the gifts they received. They were merely following a rule. Also, the “lesson” did not carry over into other areas of the kids’ lives. One night I took those same children to see a play, and they were no more or less gracious than the other children in the theater.

Level V: I Am Considerate of Other People

Level V is rarefied air for both children and adults. If we can help kids achieve a state of empathy for the people around them, we’ve accomplished a lot.

After many years of trying to get this idea across to my students, I finally found success by introducing them to Atticus Finch and To Kill a Mockingbird. At one point in the novel, Atticus gives his daughter, Scout, a piece of advice that perfectly illustrates Level V thinking: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.” Many of my students took this advice to heart and before long the idea began to snowball. During these years, I received extraordinary thank-you notes from my substitute teachers. They were amazed that my students were able to modulate their voices throughout the day. When one sub asked the class why they spoke in whispers, the kids told him they did not want to disturb the kids in the next room. Announcements were made by grateful pilots on airplanes that the Hobart Shakespeareans were on board, and planeloads of people applauded their quiet demeanor and extraordinary manners. I was happy and very proud to be their teacher.

But . . . you guessed it. I still think we can do better. I know we can do better because I’ve seen it happen.

Level VI: I Have a Personal Code of Behavior and I Follow It

The Level VI thinker is someone who knows himself. He does not base his actions on fear, or desire to please someone, or even on rules. He has his own rules.

Level VI behavior is the most difficult to attain and just as difficult to reach. This is because a personal code of behavior resides within the soul of an individual. It also includes a healthy dose of humility. This combination makes it almost impossible to model; by definition, Level VI behavior cannot be taught by saying, “Look at what I’m doing. This is how you should behave.”

A personal code of behavior resides within the soul of an individual. It also includes a healthy dose of humility. This combination makes it almost impossible to model; by definition, Level VI behavior cannot be taught by saying, “Look at what I’m doing. This is how you should behave.”

I teach my students about level VI in several ways. Since I cannot discuss my own personal codes, I try to help the kids identify them in others. There are any number of outstanding books and films in which the Level VI individual exists. It’s fun for parents and teachers to find this type of thinker – they’re all over the place once you begin looking.

If you are skeptical about trying to get kids to this level of thinking, I don’t blame you. Any teacher who is sincere and ambitious about what he does opens himself up to colossal failures and heartbreaking disappointments. But that’s what I do. It’s what all good teachers and parents do. We ask a lot of our kids and do the best we can.

A few years ago, I missed a day of school in order to speak to a group of teachers in another state. I told my class in advance and did not discuss consequences if they behaved poorly for the substitute. I did not promise any rewards if they behaved well. I told them I’d miss them and would see them the day after my talk.

When I returned, I found a note from the substitute to the effect that my students were wonderful. About an hour later, there was a knock at the door of my classroom, and a short woman came in, holding hands with her six-year-old son. Something had happened to her little boy, a first grader, the day before. Walking home from school, he had been beaten up and robbed of his backpack. While this was happening, other students, as is so often the case, only watched or continued on their way home. But a little girl who was walking by had picked him off the sidewalk, taken him to a fountain, cleaned him up and walked him home to make sure he arrived safely. The boy’s mother was going around trying to find the girl who had helped her son, to thank her.

I asked my class if anyone knew about this. Nobody knew anything. They left and continued their search. Most of the kids were speculating on which school bully had perpetrated the crime, but Brenda kept working on her math. I noticed this because Brenda hated math.

I stared at her as she hunched over her math problems in the back of the room. And for one oh-so-brief moment she looked up, unaware that I was watching her. She looked up because she had a secret and wanted to know if anyone knew it. I didn’t until our eyes met for a split second. Her eyes narrowed and she gave me a serious shake of her head that told me to mind my own business.

It was Brenda. She had helped the little boy, but her plan for anonymity had been foiled by the mother and my brief glance. The rest of the day was a blur. Brenda had reached Level VI and no one would ever know. She and I have remained very close over the years, but we have never discussed that day.

I don’t think we can do any better than this.

My only regret is that I did not read this book sooner and that I was not able to teach these “levels” at the beginning of the year.  Will that really matter?  Who knows, but there’s no better time to start then now.

*I made the signs shown in the picture below to serve as a reminder for me to constantly evaluate our decisions, the students and my own.  I’m even going to use them to analyze characters in the literature we read.  I can’t wait!

## Kid President, I Love You!

Okay, okay… I know I’m supposed to be planning right now, but I just watched another one of this kid’s videos and I cannot help, but share. If you haven’t seen his videos, do yourself a favor and find him on youtube.com.   My personal favorite was one shared by our principal at a staff meeting.  It’s a “Pep Talk from Me to You”.  I immediately shared it with my students, and they journaled and discussed it.  He leaves you with such a positive, uplifting feeling.  It’s totally contagious!

Anyway, as I was “planning” I came across this: Pep Talk for Teachers and Students.  You must watch.  Even though he is so entertaining and cute, his message is strong and beyond his years.

Let us all reflect more often:  What are we teaching the world?  I, too, hope it’s to be awesome.

Thanks again, Kid President.