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?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

First Day of School for the 25th Time

We all know the first day of school is special no matter what! But this first day was extra special - for the teacher!

Each year before our students return to school, the teachers and staff from our district gather one morning for a "Welcome Back" meeting.  Here, we learn about new initiatives, professional development opportunities as well as what transpired during the summer in the area of research & development.

Besides catching up with fellow educators we haven't seen for a while, my favorite parts of the meeting include recognizing the New staff (who are asked to stand and be welcomed) and celebrating those educators who have been servicing students for 25 years.

This year was a little more exciting than others as this year is MY twenty-fifth year of teaching (as well as about 6 other colleagues!) During the summer I received a letter from the Superintendent of Schools asking if I preferred to be recognized privately or at the meeting.  Anyone who knows me, knows how I feel about teachers being recognized publicly - I'm ALL OVER IT! (Apparently my colleagues were all over it too, as they decided to receive their recognition at the meeting as well!)

(In a field where one's efforts can often lead to feelings of under-appreciation, it's nice to have the opportunity to be validated, especially in front of one's peers.  For newcomers who are starting out their journey in this profession, it's important to see the longevity of their new colleagues, which shows loyalty and dedication.)

Walking down the auditorium isle as my name was called, tears in my eyes, I felt incredible pride at the thought of serving the community (where I grew up!) for the last 25 years!  As I heard the applause and the hooting & hollering (not generally allowed at assemblies in our school) I couldn't help but hope that everyone in that room would one day have the chance to be making that same walk toward the superintendent to receive their 'pin' for 'dedicated service'. 

The celebration has continued (probably because I don't want to let one single moment go by without sharing my excitement with others).  I carry my pin with me and whip it out to show ANYONE who is interested in seeing the recognition one receives after 25 years!  Beyond the pin, I hope people feel the passion, enthusiasm and love I have for being an elementary school teacher after all these years!  After all, it's the BEST profession in the world!

I'll leave you with one last thought.  Saw this Tweet on Twitter at the start of school. Tina sure has it right....

Here are some resources that pertain to the topic of recognizing teachers publicly...

The Power of Positive Employee Recognition
Awards, Competitions & Grants for Teachers
Teachers are Heroes - Inforgraphic

(Slate Clipart:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Elementary Science Resources - Part 2

In part 1 of my series "Elementary Science Resources - Part 1," I mentioned a site that I hope to use this from Mystery Science.  While that alone should be enough, I have found some other notable resources.  Here they are in no particular order.

The Norwood Science Center:  This comprehensive resource for K-5 teachers was created by Mr. Haffey & Mrs. Lockwood, two elementary science teachers. The site includes Lesson Plans with Vocabulary, Powerpoints and Videos. Topics include: Animals, Plants, Geology, Weather, Energy the Solar System and more which are broken down by grade level. Be sure to check out this free site with Creative Commons license!

Singing Songs of Science: I first stumbled upon J.P. Taylor's site when looking for information about the Scientific Method.  His catchy song, Scientific Method Blues,  got my kids learning and moving!  He's got tons of them.  They do cost money but worth checking it out! Listen to the Scientific Method Blues and you'll be singing right along too!

Science Kids: Fun Science & Technology for Kids: While this is geared towards kids with experiments, games, facts and quizzes there are simple lessons and science fair projects for teachers.  The site also has videos and images according to different topics.

Topics in Science Kids

The Ultimate Science Weekly Five This Teachers Pay Teachers resource is something a colleague just shared with me.  Geared towards 3rd and 4th grade, this resource organizes the unit using 5 stations.

Stations in each unit:
Station 1- Read and Comprehend (short reading passage with paraphrasing graphic organizer and sentence stems for students to complete)
Station 2- Explore! (hands-on activity to create a model and diagram)
Station 3- Organize It! (using a graphic organizer or diagram to help students organize concepts in a visual way)
Station 4- Center Activity (activity to explore concept more in depth)
Station 5- Vocabulary (cut and paste matching of concept terms and definitions and a Vocabulary Four Square for one important term)

While you can pay for the Bundle of 17 Units, you can also purchase the units you need individually.  

Are there science resources you use that would be helpful to elementary teachers? Do you see yourself using any/all of these resources? Would love your feedback!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Elementary Science Resources - Part 1

My Students' Favorite Experiment: Making it Rain
"Science is a Verb!" That has been my motto for many of the 25 years of my teaching career.  Although, I will admit that recently it feels like more of a noun!  Students need practices that involve hands-on activities which will take learning to new heights.  In an effort to revert back to VERB status, I'm looking for some new science resources.

One new resource (to be launched in September) which I hope to utilize is called: Mystery Science. (See what grabbed my attention below:) The premise of this site is "open and go" (videos and lessons) making it very user friendly.  To start, the focus will be on 3rd and 4th grade (but adaptations could be made for older/younger learners with lessons to be created for 2nd - 6th graders soon).

The first four units are:
  • Spaceship Earth (Night Sky, Sun, & Seasons)
  • Plant Superpowers (Life Cycles, Adaptations, & Plants in Human Life)
  • Animals in Society (Life Cycles, Heredity, & Social Behavior)
  • Powering Machines (Simple Machines, Forces, & Energy)
Seven to ten lessons are included in each unit.  The key portion of each lesson can be completed in 45 minutes and there are extras (written response questions, non-reading selections & other activities) to extend those lessons. The lessons include guiding questions, videos and experiments (which list simple materials).

This site seems like it could be a great answer for those of us who need to be re-energized or those who don't have science resources readily available to them or those looking for resources to compliment the Next Generation Science Standards.  I'm so looking forward to trying it.

This is sure to be a great site that will inspire and motivate students and get them to really LOVE science!  Can't wait to try it out with my students!

Read the Press Release here and make sure you sign up to receive the units.  Don't hesitate to contact MysteryScience here if you have further questions...they respond very quickly!