Monday, November 24, 2014

Why I'm Glad Math is Different Now!

I have a confession to make: As a student I never liked math!

Math was never my favorite subject. Give me a good book to read and I was happy. Have me write equations...no thank you.

Then I became a teacher.

When I began teaching 11 years ago, conceptual math just becoming a hot topic. Which makes me laugh with all the talk about how much people hate Common Core because of the way it teaches math. The math we teach is NOT common core. Common Core is simply a list of standards that my students need to master as I teach math. It is so frustrating when parents and teachers bash this "common core math", but fail to realize it isn't common core, but the revolution of math. However, I digress!

Teaching conceptual based math has made me a better mathematician. I now "get it". Dare I even say I LIKE math. I like it because I now UNDERSTAND what I'm doing. I now know WHY!

This is a great video that addresses why math is different now.



Why is Math Different Now from raj shah on Vimeo.

My favorite part is when he points out that the naysayers who say that this "new" math is too confusing and they don't get it, are the evidence that the way math was taught didn't work. Otherwise they would understand the math being taught. The math hasn't changed. Math is still math. We are still adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. These people were taught, just like me, to memorize an algorithm because that's the way it's done. They never understood the WHY or HOW.

I don't want my students doing something blindly because "my teacher told me this is how I have to do it" or "I know a trick".  As a teacher, my number 1 goal is to get my students to THINK! I want them to read, solve equations, and write proficiently, but above all I want them to THINK! I want them to ask WHY and HOW. I want them to persevere and problem solve.

So despite all of those people who hate the way "math is taught today", I will continue to teach conceptual based math. I will persevere! I will do my best to make sure that all my students LIKE MATH because they UNDERSTAND math!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Teacher Report Card

At the end of the first marking period, I send home a teachers report card. Yes, it takes guts to send it home and have parents rate me and my work, but I do believe that in order to become better we must reflect on where changes need to be made. While sometimes it is easier to ignore what is staring you in the face, in order to be a life long learner we must be open to change.

I had my parents rate items a, b, c, f in areas of communication, interest in their child, classroom management, etc.  One of my goals has been to increase my parent communication by using Facebook and Twitter so I also surveyed to see which social media platforms they were using to keep up with what was happening in class.

While I received a lot of A's (comforting for this 4.0 student) I was excited to see parents leaving constructive feedback too. I learned that my grading seemed to be tough, they would like more information on some strategies I was teaching, and still more communication home.  Though the report card was anonymous, I took time to address what I thought was valid concerns. I created some videos to help parents understand what I was teaching, copied and explained rubrics I was using in more detail, and continuously try to stay on top of my communication. 

All in all, I found the teachers report card to be beneficial in helping me to be a better teacher. I had a couple colleagues question why in the world I would put something out there where people could potentially beat me up. Yes, I did need to have tough skin, but I tried to not take anything personal. There were a couple comments that I nodded and smiled and moved on, but there were others that helped me see the parents perspectives in ways I never considered.

Will I keep sending a report card home. Absolutely!

Oh and I also give send a student report card home as well for students to complete!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Eyes in my Classroom

My classroom door is always open and I welcome everybody who comes in to see all the learning that is occurring inside. I have nothing to hide. I work hard. My students work hard. We love to share the fruits of our labor!

I also feel that the more transparent I am, the more trusting my families are with their most prized possession...their child! 

At the beginning of the year, I send home a parent survey to see which communication methods will reach the majority. I then try to use a variety of communication tools in my room.

My favorite way of communicating is with my classroom facebook page. Last year was the first year I was able to use the page and I received so much positive feedback from my families. I use it to share tidbits of our learning, pictures, news, ways families can be involved at home, and anything that will connect home and school. This seems to be the best tool to allow parents to "see" into our classroom as 21 out of 24 of my parents are on Facebook. I like that Facebook also allows the two way communication as parents can comment and ask questions.

I use Twitter for both myself and my class. After surveying my class last year I found only two of my 22 parents were on Twitter. I decided not to use it as a communication tool, but the exciting part was after our class began using Twitter then a few parents began using it to follow us. This year 5 out of my 24 parents are on Twitter so I still don't think I will use it to disseminate information to parents, but more for my own learning. I do connect our class Twitter to our class facebook page so parents can choose to follow us on Twitter or check out what their child is saying on Facebook.

Each week, I also send home the Tuttle Times with a celebration section, calendar of events, a note from me, and then information about what was taught during the week and where our learning would be going the following week. By sending home this paper, I know that EVERY parent will receive classroom information. While it is only a one way communication tool, it at least provides connection between home and school.

Of course email and phone calls are utilized too!

What is your favorite form of parent communication?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tracking Silent Reading Time

This year it seems like I have a class of reluctant readers. Being the reader that I am, this makes me sad so I'm determined to turn it around by the end of the year. The first thing I need to tackle though is getting them to read.

During our first week of school, I noticed many students choosing inappropriate books for their reading level and then flipping through the books, skipping pages, reading a page and going to my library to switch the book (then spending all their reading time there), and doing anything to pretty much avoid reading.

By the end of the week, we had completed a reading assessment so I had a pretty good idea of a reading range for each student. My library books are AR colored coded from a previous school where I taught that used AR, so I assigned a color to each student. They were then told to pick a chapter book that they were going to read from beginning to end. Friday, we were definitely progressing as they all had a book in their reading level and had stopped running to the classroom library every two minutes.

This week my goal is to hold them accountable for reading. I created a reading log where students can track their book, pages read, and note if they finished it or not. I also added a place for my initials to hold me accountable for checking in on them!

My first thought was to have them complete a reading response page where they respond to reading, but as reluctant readers I worry that may turn them off of reading more if they feel they need to respond in writing to everything they read. I'm going to keep this idea in the back of my head and perhaps incorporate some way in the future.

My next step is looking for reading incentives for my class. I like these brag tags and the way Confessions of a Homeschool used them. I was thinking perhaps I could have different prizes (stickers, pencils, certificates, candy) based on the number of books read, but then I have a range of reading levels in my classroom so one could be reading Harry Potter that is going to take much longer than another reading Junie B. Jones. I know many track minutes, but every student would be reading pretty much the same minutes in the classroom as we all have silent reading time at the same time. Another idea was to perhaps "catch them reading" and they receive something then. Things to ponder!

Do you have independent reading time in your classroom? If so, do you have students track their reading? Do you use a reading incentive program?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Classroom Theme

I have a confession to make.
I'm one of those teachers.
The one who picks a theme and then goes all out decorating the room to follow the theme.

This year I decided on the theme of "Knowledge is Power" and went with superheroes. I had a blast finding different ideas on Pinterest and TeachersPayTeachers. After spending about two weeks, here and there, I'm pretty much finished. There are a couple little things I want to add, but I was proud of how it looked for Open House. 






Now it is ready to be filled with 25 superheroes this week!

Do you do a theme in your classroom? If so, what did you choose for this year?

Graphing Birthdays ~ Back to School Math Activity

While I like getting to know my students and believe that building classroom community must begin on day one, there are only so many icebreaker activities one can do. I like to jump right in to the curriculum, but in a meaningful way.

Our math pacing begins with a data unit so I kick off the unit by using students birthdays to collect, organize, graph, and analyze data.

I always purchase the Teacher Created Resource Birthday Graph and we complete the graph together. I put labels on each cake piece with the student's name and date. I then call a month and everybody with that month comes up front and we put the dates in numerical order. We build the cakes beginning with the first birthday and go up until the last of the month and then add our candle at the top!



Once our poster graph is complete, we observe the data and begin organizing it into a data column, then graph the data, and then use our data to answer questions about birthdays in our class. I created a SMARTBoard .notebook file for the lesson. The students have a copy of the data table, graph, and questions on a printable that they complete.




You can purchase the SMARTboard which includes the printable student packet at my Teacher Pay Teachers Store.

Happy Graphing!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

GOAL!

At the start of each school year, I always have my students set their goals for the year. I try to have them create at least two goals - one academic and one personal.  We record them and then put them away to review at the end of each marking period and finally at the end of the year. We track and reflect on our progress at the end of each marking period adjusting them as needed or writing new ones if our old ones have been met.

I always join in with goal writing and share my goals as well. This year, I thought I'd use this blog as a way to record my goals and hold me accountable towards striving to meet them. 

So here are my goals for the 14-15 school year:

1) Blog!! - I began blogging personally (melsboxofchocolates.com) when my son began Kindergarten...he's now beginning 8th grade (gulp!). I enjoy writing and sharing my story, but I slowly stopped blogging. I would like to share my passion with teaching though and will write/share more here about my journey as an educator!

2) Math Centers - I enjoy using reading centers in my classroom and last year attempted to get my toes wet with math centers. I definitely was not consistent and seemed to change my format every week. This year, I will jump in again, staying consistent!

3) Explore GAFE! Technology in my classroom is a passion! I like to share my love with technology with my students (and their families). Last year we blogged and tweeted and this year I would like to add even more technology. I participate in #satchat (blog coming soon) and the latest topic was Google Classroom. I want to explore this and see how to begin with my 3rd graders!

4) Writing - Incorporating writing into all subject areas with meaningful assignments!

5) Finally, a personal goal! To keep balance with my responsibilities as teacher and wife/mom. Last year, I feel that I threw myself into my teaching to the extent that I let down my family. This year, I will strive to find that balance and instead of working every weekend, stop to enjoy my husband and kiddos instead. Yes, I want to be the best teacher I can be, but I also need to be the best wife and mom.

So there are my 5 goals for the school year.  I will be tracking my progress and reflecting throughout the year.

What about you? Do you set goals in your classroom? For your students? For yourself?


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Black History Month QR Code Scavenger Hunt

I may be slightly hooked on QR Codes. I find them so friendly to use in the classroom! I like how they eliminate the wasted time of typing URL's and put the focus on actually using the content. I've been intrigued with the idea of a QR Code Scavenger Hunt so I decided to try it out as an activity for Digital Learning Day. With February being Black History Month I decided to focus the hunt on learning what Black history Month is and how it came to be as well as highlight some important African Americans.

I searched the web for appropriate videos and content about Black History Month and famous African Americans for my elementary students. Then I created a QR code using qrstuff.com to take them directly to the information. I created a doc that included a title or name of the famous American, a picture, and an essential question that the students needed to answer after they viewed or read the information. I found that the EQ really helped set a purpose for the task and kept the students focused on the task. After students visited the website then they responded with a tweet or completed an online quiz at socrative.com. The culminating activity had students write a blog sharing what they learned  about Black History Month and how it originated.  I also had them express their opinion about celebrating Black History Month on their individual blogs.



Here are some pix of the students at work completing the hunt. When the lesson ended they asked when we were doing our next hunt! Lesson success!



You can purchase this Scavenger Hunt at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store for $2.

When Do You Plan?

Planning is critical in teaching. In order for a lesson to be successful it must be well thought out.  But, well thought out lessons take time. Lots of time. As an elementary teacher I plan lessons for reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and RtI. That's 6 separate lessons each day and that is not accounting for my differentiated lessons where I have at least three separate lessons in reading and math in order to meet all my students needs.

In the perfect world all my planning would be done during the planning time allotted during my day. However, I obviously don't live in the perfect world because I never seem to have time to plan during this time. I'm busy emailing parents, copying papers, grading work, or organizing materials for the next lessons. IF I'm lucky I can sneak in a bathroom break.

So Saturday is usually my planning day, when I don't have a gymnastics or swim meet for my own kiddos, then it's Sunday if I do. I usually start first thing in the morning and easily put in 4-5 hours getting planned for the following week. It seems like it has been this way forever.

But, I'm curious how other teachers get it done.
  1. Do you actually plan during your "planning time" at school? If so, how do you manage all the other "stuff"? 
  2. If you don't do it during "planning time", when DO you plan?
  3. How far in advance do you plan? One week? A month? Day-by-day?

Inquiring minds want to know!