Monday, December 29, 2014

Elementary School Reunion - Fisher School Alumni Reunion #2

Fisher School Reunion #2 (Dec. 2014)
Another year is just about on the books, but it wouldn't have been complete without our "2nd Fisher School Reunion."  (Read about the FIRST Fisher School Reunion here!) Gathering in the auditorium of the actual school, more than 60 former classmates and teachers joined in an evening of celebration of the 'wonder years'! 

The 'wonder years' could be described as the days between 1971 - 1981 when a group of talented, highly-motivated,  highly engaging, creative and caring teachers collaborated together which inevitably created long-lasting memories.

Visiting their Grade 6 Classroom
One of the highlights of the evening included a tour of the building.  What a sight it was to see as these long-ago students and teachers found their former classrooms.  Many more stories came spilling out as they lingered in the doorways or sat in the small classroom chairs chatting about events like how the walls between classrooms would be opened up so   review games like Jeopardy could be played or  reenactments of an Aztec Wedding could be witnessed! Each room brought back a flood of memories!

Pam was #1 Foul Shooter in Grade 6!

Pictures were being snapped as former students meandered into the gymnasium to reminisce.  Funny how the once expansive room seemed so tiny to these now adults! Of course the size of the gym didn't take away from the thoughts of those exciting long ago days of floor hockey, dodge ball or mother/daughter basketball games!

Songs from former grade 6 plays were sung by teachers and students alike.  The words seemed to be recalled seamlessly and effortlessly as this video well shows!  (Great job Steve - was that the original coonskin cap?) It was great fun to learn that all the main leads from the Wizard of Oz (not sure which year) were together in the same auditorium again! A couple of the teachers even sang duets with the now 45-55 year olds!


Of course another of the memorable highlights of the evening included the remembrance of former Principal, Richard Eldridge.  These teachers credit his leadership and trust for allowing them teach in unique ways. A video created by his son was shown on the big screen. In it were pictures of the beloved Mr. Eldridge (one wearing his signature holiday socks) as well as stories about the love he had for the school and its students.  There were many warm "ahs" as folks recognized the different school photos of Mr. Eldridge spanning his career at the school.

Suzanne Gillam (affectionately known as Miss Hopkins)
The evening rounded out with an "open mic" opportunity.  Humorous stories were recalled by teachers & students. While many spoke seriously to say 'thank you' to their former teachers by sharing a favorite memory.  Tearful accounts recalling the encouragement and interest that made an everlasting influence on their lives were shared by more than a few.  Even my quiet & shy sister spoke about the impact, rapport and support these teachers had with the parents in our community (including our own)!

One speaker to note was Sheila Monaghan, wife of our former 6th grade teacher, (Tom Monaghan - who started a Facebook page for Fisher students - read about it here).  She described the tremendous love that Tom, Suzanne (Hopkins) Gillam and the other teachers had for their students.  She mentioned how even during vacations, these teachers would collaborate to create lessons, plays and other opportunities for the upcoming year or how they would all come together to help a student in need.  Sheila said that while "the students' lives were enriched by the teachers, likewise, these teachers' lives were enriched by all of their students."

There is no doubt that all involved have fond memories and strong bonds.  We will forever be linked to those 'wonder years' and these wonderful people who made Fisher School a special place to grow up! Thank you to all those teachers that were able to attend and to those who are remembered in our hearts!

A special thanks to Ron Spicer for organizing this year's reunion & to Tom Monaghan for keeping reuniting so many through our Facebook Page and to all those who attended to make it such an amazing event!  


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Attending to Precision & Second Chances

Every now and then we all need a second chance!  Wait til you see the difference another chance made!

We recently finished a Unit on Place Value in Math.  While students are exposed to Place Value in earlier grades, they make a giant leap in fourth grade.  They need to be able to read, write, compare, order and round numbers to the nearest 100,000.  This is the first time students are working regularly with such large numbers. 

One of the most difficult concepts (CCSS 4.NBT.1; 4.NBT.2) asks students to "recognize that in a multi-digit whole number, a digit in one place represents ten times what it represents in the place to its right."  To examine this concept, I worked with students in small groups using Base Ten Blocks. Using the place value blocks, students could clearly see the relationship.  Students worked very hard to understand this concept. 

Before the actual test day there were Quick Checks along the way including a Review Day.  When I corrected the tests I was SHOCKED at the results.  I couldn't understand how the majority of students scored between 63-76!

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The numbers incorrect certainly didn't match the formative assessments that were done throughout the unit.   My colleagues shared how they gave the tests back to their students to correct only those answers that were incorrect - no reteaching - just a second chance and suggested I do the same.  So I passed back the test and asked students to correct their answers and write the new answers in colored pencil.  EVERY student did better.  The results below show the drastic difference.

The students were thrilled to have the second chance and were pleased with the results as well.  While I love the idea of letting students review their work, somewhere in the back of my mind I hear my dad saying "Measure twice, Cut once!".   The Common Core Mathematical Practice #6 states that students attend to precision:

But how do we instill the "measure twice, cut once" habit the first time around?  Is it through more practice?  Is it through showing the difference between "try #1" and "try #2"?   Would love to learn how you teach 'Attending to Precision?'

Practicing what I preach: "We all learn from our mistakes" means I'll continue to give my students their "Second Chance!"    


Sunday, November 9, 2014

ChatterPix in the Elementary Classroom

At the 2014 MassCUE conference held at Gillette Stadium in October, I attended a session presented by +Greg Kulowiec  on "Advanced iPad Video Creation." He immediately caught my attention by talking about "app smashing" (the idea of mixing apps to create content!).

Well, one of the apps Greg shared is called ChatterPix, which is an app that "can make anything talk"! ChatterPix is so easy to use, just take a picture, draw a line to create a mouth, decorate the picture & add your voice! Share it through email or upload it to Youtube. It's quick and fun!  (Of course there is one catch:  You only have 30 seconds!)  (There is an app called ChatterPix Kids but the drawback is the inability to 'share' the creation.)

Something I especially liked about this app is that students can create content (across the curriculum) which can be shared globally via Social Media but doesn't necessarily contain their image.

In ELA this week the skill we were practicing was around 'Main Idea and Details'.  Students read various text and completed graphic organizers by identifying the main idea and three supporting details.  Students could then create a ChatterPix to share that information.

There are so many ways to use this app.  Students could:
  • share a poem
  • tell or retell a story
  • tell a story from a different point of view
  • solve a math problem
  • share a science hypothesis
  • highlight important information about a state
The possibilities are diverse and endless!

My next challenge will be to "app smash".  Greg shared how students can create content on ChatterPix then upload it to iMovie - thus using more than one app.  I'd like to collect all related student work in one place and have students create an iMovie using their "ChatterPix" creations.

What are some other ways we can incorporate this into the classroom?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Use of Thinking Blocks to Help Solve Math Problems

More and more we are asking students to solve complex math problems.  Along the way we do a lot to help them become successful.  We incorporate the use of many tools during the math classroom.

One of the tools we are using this year in the classroom is called, Thinking Blocks".  This website (there is even a 'free' app for the thinking blocks) poses problems around different types of models.  As a warm up before the regular math lesson this week we practiced solving addition and subtraction word problems using the "part whole model with two parts" and the "part whole model with 3 parts".

As a group we watch a quick 3 minute tutorial, practice several problems and then break off with a partner.  Using chrome books, students access the Thinking Blocks website and begin solving each new problem by first checking for understanding and then manipulating the blocks.  Working with a partner also gets the students used to 'talking' about math problems.  It's great listening in on conversations as students help one another understand why something is working or something isn't! The Thinking Blocks site also provides "feedback" when students are solving incorrectly.  It guides them so they are successful.

These Thinking Blocks help students identify the known and unknown quantities. Using these models students will gain confidence in solving problems while developing strong reasoning skills. They are also a great tool for students to use to 'discuss' math and explain their thinking. They also are a great way to incorporate many of the Standards of Mathematical Practices as students are learning to reason and make sense of the problems and persevere in solving them while using concrete models and appropriate tools. 

Eventually, students will be solving problems by creating these types of models on their own.  But for now, it's a great tool help attain understanding.

What types of models are you using with your students to help them solve problems?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Giant Traveling Map

Talk about seeing the world up close! This past week our school had the opportunity to get their hands AND their feet on the Giant National Geographic Map.  Quickly taking off their shoes, my students rushed over to explore the mammoth "Map of North America".  Squeals of delight could be heard as the students found various states and features.  On the day of our first visit we just so happened to have skyped @weswils5 's class in Alberta, Canada.  It was so fun to watch the students crowd around the province on the map! A stronger, 'bigger' connection was certainly made.

I had no idea such a thing exsisted! The map which measures 26' by 35' was brought to my attention by a parent last year. It was rented for two weeks through the generous donation from our Parent Advisory Council. All the classes in our school were able to visit the map at least twice during the two week rental period.

The first time we visited the map we played a "Simon Says" type game to familiarize ourselves with the map. "Simon Says find a state that begins with an M" or "Simon says put your left foot in the Atlantic Ocean". These type of statements had the students visiting different areas of the map.  The next activity was based around using the "Cardinal Directions". Using the compass rose, we found locations on the map while stepping North, South, East and West.  Student gained a better understanding and appreciation of directions after this activity. It's wasn't as easy as one would think.  Another activity involved finding particular states. Each child was given a card with a state name & had to find that state as quickly as possible. It sure was a lot of fun exploring the states in such a manner.

Every day the students asked if we were going to visit the 'giant' map.  They not only loved the size of it, but they loved exploring the different features.  Each time, someone learned something new! It makes me think that we need to be incorporating more activities like this in our classrooms.


National Geographic Traveling Map: 6 Different Giant Floor Maps for Students to Explore

National Geographic: Exploring Maps and Models of the Earth

Teaching with Maps: NEA site that has students learning about Longitude & Latitude; Reading a topographic map & more

Google Earth Lessons & Ideas

Map Skills and Higher Order Thinking

Maps are fascinating on many different levels. Some folks may argue that 'reading a map' is not longer relevant due to technological advances and GPS systems.  Others say that reading maps lead to 'global learning'.  Witnessing the allure and attraction of these enormous maps makes me realize that students LOVE learning about places using visuals. If you get the chance - you should rent one!

In what ways do you incorporate MAPS in your teaching? How are maps applicable to our everyday life?