Sunday, February 27, 2011

Making Math Relevant


This afternoon, I bought some Girl Scout cookies at the local grocery store (yum!).  I was so impressed, because the cookie moms were making the girls figure out the change themselves using mental math!  They apologized for it taking a few extra minutes and I assured them that I definitely didn't mind!  Wow, I wish that more parents would do that.
One of the biggest challenges in teaching math is making it relevant to real life.  Sometimes, that connection is the only way to help children learn it.  You can give them a hundred worksheets, but until they see a way to really use it, they just won't get it.
I have tried lots of things over the years to help with this.  I love using Exemplars, because they get kids thinking and they often use great real-world situations.  Frequently, I would write my own exemplar-type problems to try and make them more interesting.
I'd also try to bring in examples from things that happened in my own life.  For example, if I got shorted on change at McDonald's I'd come in the next day and tell the kids about it.  I'd have them come up with ways to solve the problem.  They always got a kick out of this.
I'd try to think of as many ways as possible to look for math in our everyday experiences.  I'll never forget one day when we were at a chorus concert and one of my students leaned over to me and said "I know how many kids are in the chorus because I counted 10 in one row and there are 5 rows!"  I was grinning from ear to ear thinking about how they were translating their multiplication knowledge to a real experience.
Of course, getting parents involved is also a great idea!  I would always try to give parents suggestions of how they could get their kids thinking about math at home.  Here are some great websites to help you:

Even simple suggestions can help!  I used to create a list for parents of suggestions for ways to use math at home.  For example, when you're out have your child count the change in your pocket.  Or, give them a receipt at a restaurant or store and have them figure out what the change should be.  Or, maybe help them figure out how much carpet to buy for a room or how long the new fence in the yard should be.  Of course, cooking is always a great way to use math!  I always encouraged parents to have their kids help them in the kitchen.  I'm already starting to do this with my two-year-old.
Anything that parents can do with kids to show them how math integrates into real life is such a help!  Making those connections is critical to understanding math concepts and ideas.  And, besides, who wants to do 20 math problems on a worksheet anyway?  And, WHEN do you do that in real life?

A Little Sunday Afternoon Inspiration

Sometimes, we all need to remember why we do what we do...

Check out this great video!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sick Days...Part 2

Of course, it isn't only teachers that get sick.  Sometimes in the winter I wondered if a day would ever come when ALL of my students were present!  It was always overwhelming for me to keep up with the kids who were absent.  I'd start out the day pretty well, setting their work aside, but then by mid-day it seems things always fell by the wayside.  If their parents called and came to pick up their work I'd get it together.  But, then there was the matter of getting that work back from them when they returned!
I definitely don't have a great system, and I'd love for you to comment if you do.  But, I did know one teacher who seemed to have a pretty good handle on it.  She put the kids in charge!  If someone was absent, she'd assign another student to collect that person's work for the day.  The helper would have a folder, and a sheet with each subject listed.  They would be responsible for writing down what was done in each subject, and collecting any worksheets or handouts in the folder.  Genius!  Kids love to be in charge of other kids, and they would remind the teacher throughout the day to allow for an extra sheet for the absent kid.  Then, the teacher can collect the folder at the end of the day and have something to hand the absent student when he or she returns.
The problem, of course, can come with tests and quizzes.  I always tried to set aside a test or quiz for absent students when I was passing them out.  But, it was always a challenge to remember to find time to give those students the test or quiz when they returned.  You hate to take their recess or lunch time, but sometimes that is the only "extra" time in the day.  If I was really on the ball, I'd have the kids do the make-up work in the mornings when they came in.  You could even ask their parents if they could drop the child off a little early one morning to get caught up.  Or, they might be willing to let them stay late in the afternoon.
This was definitely something I struggled with, and it seemed like the kids who were absent frequently were also the ones who weren't very on the ball with completing make up work!  I'd love to hear any suggestions or ideas that you all have for this ongoing problem.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sick Days...Part 1


So, two weeks ago I had a terrible stomach bug.  I was out of commission for three days, and my first thought was how glad I was that I am not teaching right now!  There is nothing worse than having to call in sick when you are a teacher.  It's bad enough to feel bad, and it's another thing to have to worry about what your kids are going to do when you're out!  There were so many times when I dragged my sick self into work just to avoid having to deal with sub plans and the aftermath of missing a day with my kids.
Equally annoying to me was when my students were out sick.  Somehow, I would always forget who was out and what they had or hadn't done.  Then, I'd have holes in my gradebook and have to go back weeks later and give Susie her make-up spelling test!  How annoying.  So, I am writing this post in two parts.  Part one will give you some tips on what to do when you are sick.  Part two will deal with some creative ideas for handling your students being sick.
The best way to handle your own sick days is with a little planning and preparation.  Because, even if you are the world's most awesome lesson-planner, inevitably you will come down with swine flu the Monday morning after leaving early on Friday afternoon with your desk an absolute disaster zone.  The plan?  Get out early on Friday so you can meet up with your girlfriends/husband/boyfriend/kids for a fun afternoon or even (gasp!) a weekend away.  You'll make up for it by getting up at 4:00 am on Monday and rolling into work super early to get organized for the week.  The problem?  You do wake up at 4:00 am on Monday but in no shape to roll anywhere!  What to do?  
Well, first of all, I always found it advantageous to have some other teacher on your grade level who has a pretty good idea of what's going on in your classroom.  You don't necessarily have to plan every detail of your day with this person.  But, you two should talk enough that if she gets there one morning and your room is still dark at 8:05 and the kids are coming at 8:10 she can whip something together for them to do for the day.  I used to work with a girl like this, and it was great.  If one of us was out, the other one could go in and help the sub piece the day together.  I knew where she kept her materials, and I knew basically what her class was up to each week.  So, if she were out I could pretty easily go into her room and rummage through her stuff and find something for her kids to do that day that was relevant.  Worst case scenario, I could copy a few things I was doing and they would work pretty well.  She could do the same for me.  This is extremely valuable!
Of course, there are times when your partner in crime is also out, or for some reason she can't find anything for your kids to do.  For these occasions, I had "emergency sub plans."  Sometime, during pre-planning week I would sit down and type out a plan for a day, any day.  I typically used pretty generic ideas that would work at any point in the year.  For math, I would find some review pages in the math book or online.  Or, I might have directions for an easy math game that would review important skills that we covered at the beginning of the year or they learned the year before.  For language arts, I would pick a story in the reading book that I knew we wouldn't get to and type out plans for working through the story.  I'd even copy worksheets to go with it.  I might come up with some type of writing activity that would work at any point.  I sometimes would have them write about where they thought I was or what they thought I was doing that day.  Or, I might pick a picture book to share and do a writing activity based on that.  For science and social studies, I would have some extra "Time for Kids" magazines from the year before.  I'd create lesson plans to go with the articles.  If you don't subscribe to "Time for Kids", you can usually go on their website and print out a few sample articles.  You could stick those in there and create your own nonfiction reading activity.  You could even have them do a simple science experiment and write it up.  As the year progressed, I might add some ideas to my emergency sub plans folder.  I always made sure it was easy to find and access so that if for some reason I didn't show up the sub could make it through at least one day.  I rarely ever had to use these plans, but it was so nice to know that they were there in case something happened and I just could not make it in.
Finally, I say to you, do not stress!  In the worst case scenario, you e-mail your co-workers at 8:00 am and tell them that you are near death and they will come through for you!  The sub and your kids will make it through the day.  And, you need to rest so you can handle the other 179!  :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I Spy a Great Idea!

I came across this blog post today, and thought it was genius!  Make your own "I Spy" mat!  When I taught third grade, my kids loved my "I Spy" books.  I was constantly getting new ones because the old ones would get worn out!
Here's what I love about making your can totally make them about LEARNING!  You could use objects that represent things you are studying.  Different geometric shapes, things to represent historical events, parts of speech, the possibilities are endless!  You could make sheets to go along with them, asking kids to look for all the cubes, or all the nouns, or all the things Albert Einstein would have used.  It's genius!  Where would you get all these objects to photograph?  I don't know about you, but at my school if I sent out an e-mail looking for ANYTHING I could find it within minutes.  Teachers are notorious collectors of randomness.  Ask around at your school for the things you want to include, and then borrow them to make your picture.  Or, if you're handy with a computer, find pictures of the items on Google Images and photoshop your own "picture" to print out.  Your kids will love it, and they won't even know that they're using their brains!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Valentine's Day Ideas

Ahhh, Valentine's Day.  Almost as much fun for the teacher as the day after Halloween!  I'm not sure why these holidays seem to just be all about SUGAR!  I was thinking the other day about how challenging Valentine's Day can be for the classroom teacher.  You want to let your kids have fun and enjoy the day, but it can be a real balancing act.  You do still have to teach that day.  But, all your students can do is think about those valentines!  I know that it's a grand tradition to let your kids make those cute Valentine bags or boxes and then exchange little cards and candies with each other.  Some teachers even go with the full out Valentine's party!
So, how can you make the day of love educational?  It is school, after all!  Well, I came up with some ideas....
How about integrating math and science into the valentine exchange?  Have your kids make some predictions about the type of valentines they will get.  They can make a list of what they think will be the most common colors, shapes, words, or characters.  They can predict how many cards will have candy.  They could even predict how many will be in envelopes vs. not.  Then, as they open them, they can collect data.  They can make a list of their cards by various categories.  They can then make a graph to present their data to the class.  You could even have them work in groups for that part.  For older kids, they could convert their raw numbers into percentages.  What a fun way to get them to pay more attention to the card exchange!
You could do some more graphing activities as well.  You could graph their favorite Valentine's day candy.  You could have them vote on what Valentine's day color they like or pink?
If you really want to get them into the educational side of Valentine's day, you could have them research the origin of the holiday.  There are tons of websites with information about who St. Valentine was, why we exchange valentines, etc.
You can also get into the crafty side of things.  Family Fun magazine has a great Valentine's Day section on their website with tons of fun crafts!  You could have the kids make valentine gifts for their family members, or even other school employees.  How about the custodians, parent volunteers, or principal?  Teach them that Valentine's day can be about showing their appreciation for anyone that is important in their life.
Valentine's day is a great theme for writer's workshop.  You could write Valentine's day poetry.  Look at some famous love poems for inspiration.  You could come up with some love-related similes and metaphors for their valentines.  Use the words on conversation hearts as story starters.
With a little thought and planning, it can be easy to make this day of candy and chaos into a fun day of learning!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Awesome book for writer's workshop!

My aunt was an English major in college, and she always picks out the best books for my kids!  She got my daughter an adorable picture book for Christmas.  She loves it, and I do too.  I can't help but think about how great it is for writer's workshop.  The book, Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy, is about a little girl who blows a bubble that swallows up her little brother.  The brother gets carried through town in the bubble, with his sister and mother chasing behind.  The best part?  The picture is written in rhyme.  It has a great rhythm, and the writer really experiments with unique and unusual words.  Every time I read it with my daughter, I think about how perfect it would be to inspire your students during writer's workshop.  It's perfect for encouraging your students to try some alliteration and rhythm in their writing.  I think it could also help motivate them to try using some unique words to grab their reader's attention.  Plus, it's a super fun read!