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Monday, February 6, 2017

Revolutionary Portraits


I wrote this post for another blog last year. But I just did this art project with my fifth graders this year and they came out so amazing that I thought I would share my post here at The Research Based Classroom too.

I'm sure your day is just as packed as mine is. There's so much to teach and so little time to teach. That's why anything that can be integrated just makes sense. I have to admit that integrating has actually been a little more difficult for me this year. Maybe integration in education is a higher level planning skill. Right now I am so focused on what I have to teach, that I'm not spending enough time on how I can teach it. But I was forced into thinking about this a little more this past week. Our district visual arts specialist was coming around to observe an integrated art lesson. As a grade level team we had already come up with some ideas for integrating the arts into our curriculum, but none of those ideas fit into what I'm teaching right now. So I started trying to find something that would. I'm pretty much on the road to rebellion in social studies and I just bought this really great book. I have been really excited about this book and it hit me while I thumbing through it the other day that we could do something with portraits and quotes from the Revolutionary War figures we were learning about.

Click on the book cover to go to Amazon.

Once I had decided on portraits for the art lesson, I went looking for some tutorials on drawing portraits. I was thinking that some face proportion help was what I needed, But then I found this portrait lesson on Deep Space Sparkle. I loved the way her student's Modigliani inspired portraits came out. So I decided to try oil pastel portraits of Revolutionary War heroes and heroines. I created a PowerPoint to help us get started. On the first page I put a handful of Modigliani portraits that we looked at together and started creating a list of characteristics of his work. Then we picked a hero or heroine from the Revolutionary War to draw. Everyone had a picture of the person they chose and we went to work. We drew with black oil pastels on black construction paper. After we finished coloring in everything, we went back and traced over all of the black lines once again to make everything stand out. I absolutely love how these came out.


Right now the pictures are all hanging in the hallway and my students have made name tags for each one. My next stop on this road to rebellion will be adding short biographies telling about the extraordinary things each of these heroes and heroines did during the war and maybe we will even add some quotes among the artwork. 

2017 Update: This year I had my students pick anyone they wanted to draw. I created a list of about 30 people from the revolution that they could choose from, but I didn't limit it to just them.  Then everyone was required to email a picture of their person to me. I put the pictures into a PowerPoint so that my students would have access to the pictures while they were drawing. You could also print out the pictures if you don't have a class set of devices. I also assigned them to research their person. They looked for information about their person before the Revolutionary War, during the war, and after the war. They then used their research to write a paragraph, which is hanging by their portrait. I liked this better than last year because it gave us a chance to learn about more people.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Part Two: An Inquiry Based Journalism Unit

Today I am sharing part two of my journalism post from last year, where you can see the final products that my students created and hear what I will be changing for this year, as well as what I absolutely loved.  This is an inquiry based journalism unit that integrated our state reports in social studies with our writing workshop. You can read my first post that explains the assignment here.
A fifth grade statement on the importance of gun control.
You could have a boring day or you could go to these interactive sites!
Arizona is probably best in the spring.

This author pretended it was back in the 1800's, just after the Civil War, so that she could argue for racial equality.
What? You can't view a moose from an airplane? And you can shoot a bear legally, but it's against the law to wake one up for a photograph. These are hard to believe.
I love that this Alaska newspaper was titled "The Last Frontier." The breaking news is from WW2.

I love all of the symbols of California that she used in her masthead.
"Donald Trump, love him or hate him....." Great voice. There were a lot of political editorials written.
This student is obsessed with WW2 and even though his state was North Carolina, he found a way to write an editorial about support for WW2.

This student's middle name is Gehrig and he was so excited to write an obituary for someone that he shared a name with.

What will I do differently next year?

First, I did really great with setting deadlines for rough drafts and revisions on the first five articles everyone did. But when we got to the four student choice articles, I didn't set deadlines and I really wish I had. Many students waited until the last minute and then either tried to throw 4 different articles at me on the last day or just put their articles in the final product without a rough draft or revision. I think the choice articles would have been a lot more thoughtful and complete if I had set dates.
Second, I also didn't spend as much time with the inquiry part on the choice articles and you can tell by the quality of their work. Next year I will continue pulling up mentor texts and letting the students work together to discover what a good article in that particular genre looks like.
Third, I need to enlist the help of others. I don't have enough devices for everyone to work on their research at the same time. So next year I am planning to ask the computer teacher to help them with their research during their computer time. I may need to have them do some more research at home too.
Lastly, I want to tighten up the amount of time we spend on the unit. I didn't know how long we would need and that probably led to me moving a little slower than I needed to.

What did I love?

I love, love, love the inquiry based approach to writing. I loved the opportunity to learn from mentors who write on a daily basis as a career. It was good for my students to see that there are different types of authors. Not all authors write books. I loved that it fostered an awareness of what was happening in the world today and still gave us a chance to talk about topics of historical significance. But mostly I loved that we were able to learn about so many different types of genres and we could use all that we already know about persuasive writing, narrative writing, and informational writing to create really great pieces.

Happy writing from my fifth grade to yours!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Journalism: An Inquiry Based Writing Unit


I originally wrote this post last March for another blog, I thought I would share it here on The Research Based Classroom since I am getting ready to start this writing unit for the second time. One of the things I really love about teaching fifth grade is the opportunity to really integrate curriculum. I'm not sure if state reports are the norm in fifth grade everywhere, but at my school they sure are. So when I headed to fifth grade for the first time this year, I was already trying to think about how I wanted to do this a little differently. Last year our school book club read Study Driven by Katie Wood Ray and I knew that I wanted to turn my class state reports into more of an inquiry-based journalism unit. 

Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend it. But you don't have to take my word for it....here is another recommendation. (Did that just sound Reading Rainbow-ish?) 

Back to the state report....think inquiry-based, study driven, real world writing models and mentor texts. Sounds like the components to a great writing workshop unit to me.


I started by gathering a collection of newspapers. I had no idea how much they would cost or how hard it would be to find them. I tried the grocery store...no. I tried a gas station....nope, not there either. I tried a truck stop....still no luck. Finally a Seven Eleven had them and they were $1.50 a piece! I had to run back to the car for a credit card, because I thought $7 could buy me 6 more papers. Who knew? 

After I had one paper for every 2 students, I allotted one writing period for them to go through the newspapers and make a list of the different types of writing they found. The came up with a fairly comprehensive list. 

The next day I gave each pair of writers a type of writing and the task of finding examples to determine what they could about how to write the assigned type of article. The students created small posters with the characteristics of each type of writing.






Once we had spent a couple of days discovering what newspaper writing looked and sounded like, we picked states and went over the requirements for their state newspapers. 

You can download my requirements by clicking on the picture.
You are almost caught up with us now. We took a look at several types of travel articles that I found for the state of Rhode Island. One talked about a single destination and the other was the top 10 destinations in the state. We read each of them together and used them to discover how to write a travel article. Then for homework my students went home to look up the possible destinations in their assigned state. Oh, how I wish for more technology at times like this. But when you don't have enough devices, you have to send it home sometimes. As my students came back to school the next day, they started writing their travel articles. About half are writing about a single destination and the others are writing an article about several possible places to visit in their state. I can't wait to see how they turn out.

Next up....obituaries. I'm not completely sure how this entire unit is going to look or how the finished products will turn out, but stay tuned and we'll find out together. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Task Problem Tuesday

I am excited to announce my new feature, Task Problem Tuesday. If you're like me, I'm always scrambling for a new task. It doesn't matter what mathematical topic I'm teaching, I'm always trying to come up with new task problems. And the more they relate to real life, the better. So once a month I am going to start blogging about some of my favorite task problems.  I picked Tuesday nights because I've been going to school every Tuesday night for the last two years working on my math endorsement, but my schedule cleared up in the fall. So welcome to Task Problem Tuesday.

Back in March I linked up with Miss Math Dork for her Math IS Real Life and I blogged about building garden boxes and the task I gave my students. You can read that here. When I moved into volume,  I extended the previous problem to come up with this new task.


These are the actual sizes of my garden boxes which are shown in this picture.


Mathematical Tasks:
1.  How much soil will I need to fill my boxes?

2.  I want to fill them with 2/3 dirt and 1/3 mink manure. How much will I need of each?

3.  Luckily my neighbor has too much dirt sitting on his lot. He will let me have the dirt I need for free.  However, it costs $170 dollars to have 7 cubic yards of mink manure delivered to my house. How much will it cost for the mink manure?

4.  Will it change the price dramatically if I leave the soil in each box 6 inches lower than the sides? How much would I save?

This task requires a lot of problem solving. Students were converting measurements, calculating volume, multiplying, adding, dividing, and subtracting. They were using whole numbers and fractions.  I ended up leaving the top six inches of each box empty. I'll add compost to them for the next few years to fill them up, we just got tired of shoveling dirt and manure and didn't want to spend any more money.  But here is how they looked when I planted the garden.

I'm not sure I wanted to know the total cost of that mink manure, but it was in the name of real life math. Happy problem solving!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Back to School Math Tips

Take a deep breath and relax for another day or two because it's just about time to think about going back to school. One of the things I love most about teaching is the chance to start over each year and this year I am looking forward to changing things up even more now that I've completed a full year at fifth grade. This second year is going to be a lot better. Right now I'm teaming up with some of my favorite math teachers to bring you some of our back to school ideas. Regardless of what grade you teach, you're sure to find some great ideas here.

Tip #1 Spiral

I didn't realize how much I needed to do this until this past year. When you're teaching first grade, it seems like the entire year is spent on addition and subtraction that just gradually increases in difficulty. But as you move up in grade levels, the amount of content just seems to get larger and larger. There's so much to teach and I didn't have time, nor did I want to build in time, for a lot of review. So it's important to not let students forget what they already know.  There are a lot of ways to spiral your math content, but here are a few easy ways I'm using that just fit right in.
  • Number Talks - Last year I wrote a post about starting number talks in the classroom (you can read it here). Number talks were one of my favorite times of the day and they are a great way to bring back past content. They don't take long and you can easily embed your review into the daily routine. Don't just move from addition to subtraction to multiplication and finally division. Mix it up. Keep your students using everything they can. One of my favorite ways to review fractions was setting this up as the daily number talk:

  • Math Tasks - I love using larger problem solving tasks and these are a great way to bring back past content. I often use a multi-day problem that's tied to a holiday or integrated into other curriculum as a way to change things up from time to time. It also gives me a great chance to get my students using multiple concepts at once.

Tip #2 Student Driven Anchor Charts

Rather than coming up with a clever anchor chart that looks great, let your charts be student driven either by making them with the students or letting the students make them. Here are a few examples from my classroom. They aren't as beautiful as the ones I see on Pinterest, but so much learning and solidifying of math concepts goes into the making of each of these.

 This one was made over the course of a few days as we worked at the beginning of our unit on fractions. As students discovered different rules for comparing fractions, we recorded them together with me as the scribe. The last rule was really discovered over the course of a conversation by 3 students whose first names just happened to arrange in a consecutive alphabetical order. The great thing about this chart is that everyone in the class knew who they could ask for help.

This next chart is completely student made. All of the students worked in small groups to create a chart that helped them convert measurements within the metric system. Each groups explained their chart and we picked one that was easy to read and understand to hang up.


These student made charts are from our math word wall. I gave different math vocabulary words for our fraction unit to small groups of students who then wrote definitions, refined the definitions with feedback from the class, and designed the word wall cards.







An InLinkz Link-up

Have a great year!



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Friday, July 8, 2016

Balancing the Equation


Welcome to day 4 of our Balancing the Equation blog hop. To start at the beginning, hop on over to Kids Math Teacher by clicking on the button below.
Kids Math Teacher
Today I'm talking about "The Common Core Mathematics Debate" which is chapter 3 from the book Balancing the Equation

Clicking on the cover will take you to Amazon.
How did a nonpartisan effort to develop a set of common standards by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers become so controversial? Why after complaining about the Common Core, still no one can tell me what they specifically hate about it? What is so objectionable and how should I respond to parents? 

These are questions I think most teachers have asked themselves more than once. So why is the Common Core creating such an uproar? The authors of Balancing the Equation list four issues that are the basis for much of the opposition.

Issue #1: Federal Intrusion on States' Rights

The CCSS were envisioned at the state level, written at the state level, and implemented at the state level. So why all the fuss? Federal monies were offered based on states having college and career ready standards. Many people have viewed this as requiring the use of the CCSS, but in reality each state can determine the standards they want to use. Implementing the Common Core was the easiest way to demonstrate that individual state standards were college and career ready, it was not a federal government requirement.

Why is there even a picture of the president on this post? And it feels like high school peer pressure....everyone hates it, you better hate it too.

Issue #2: Distinguishing Between Standards and Testing

When the CCSS began to be implemented in 45 states, new testing followed right behind. The new tests were designed to assess higher level thinking, reasoning, problem solving, and conceptual understanding. They are also performance based assessments that students complete on the computer. The complaints from parents and educators are legit. The new tests take too much time, many schools don't have the infrastructure for testing online, and using student assessments to evaluate teachers all became major concerns. However, these issues with standardized testing are not solely based on the CCSS. Previous standardized testing focused on basic skills in isolation and only assessed at the lowest DOK levels. The new tests required so much more from students and schools. These are testing problems, not problems with the standards. We could go back to testing at the lowest DOK levels, but I think we all know better than that. We need to work on making the assessments better for our students, but we also need to realize that it's the testing that's the problem, not the standards.

We do have testing problems to fix, but they aren't because of the CCSS.

Issue #3  Standards Do NOT Dictate Curriculum, Homework, or Teaching Methods

I think everyone has seen one of those crazy "Common Core" math assignments. They always make me think twice about what I send home. I wonder if parents will understand the purpose of the assignment or if I will absentmindedly send something that I will eventually regret. The problem with these crazy assignments are not that they are "Common Core" math. They are usually assignments that are frustrating to kids and parents. They may not understand what is being asked or the purpose of the task. We have all given a task or assignment that didn't turn out the way we anticipated, even before the Common Core.  But today the scapegoat for all poorly chosen or frustrating assignments is the Common Core. People don't seem to realize that the new standards do not tell us how to teach, they are standards, just standards. Curriculum decisions, homework, and teaching methods are all left up to districts, schools, and most importantly, teachers.

Another key issue is helping parents understand that there is a purpose behind all of our teaching methods. We aren't getting rid of math fluency or the standard algorithms. We are professionals using research-based methods to build mathematicians. This is where we each need to be better about educating parents as well as students. When parents understand what you are doing, they are more comfortable and supportive. Here's a link to an article on Salon about how some of these crazy, viral "Common Core" assignments make more sense than people think.

Why do they always show something that makes no sense?  It took me a few minutes to realize they were decomposing the 37 and then counting on from 53. It could have been done in a much easier way, but that would have defeated the purpose of this post.

Issue #4  Opinion or Evidence?

Much of what we see on the news and in social media is based on opinion rather than evidence. A study of the impact of the CCSS debate on social media during a seven month period showed some interesting facts:

  • Those posting the most often about the CCSS are against them.
  • The most common topic with a Common Core hashtag is testing.
  • The support for the common core tends to base arguments on reasoning and facts, but the opposition tends to appeal to passion with words such as "threat to freedom" or "psychological harm."
These types of posts do more harm because they appeal to emotions and disregard facts. So how can we help people sift through all the information and understand the Common Core? When I searched for "common core" on Facebook, the first 5 minutes of scrolling through posts gave me nothing but negative postings. All of the images I've included in this post are from that search. It's possible for people to see all the negative and none of the good. The authors suggest challenging people to read the standards for themselves. This is something I have been doing for the past two years. What I noticed is that all the complaints I was hearing were very generalized. I felt like people were responding to what they were seeing on social media or in the news. So I began to tell them to read the standards at www.corestandards.org  and then let me know what they dislike about them. No one has ever returned back to report. There's not a lot in the core to object to as a parent, so it's really more about educating parents on what the CCSS are and what they are not.

I have to confess that I have read the CCSS many, many times and I always miss where it encourages sexualization of children and how it mines data about their behavior. Where do they get this stuff?


All of these issues really have nothing to do with the content of the standards. The Common Core calls for fluency with facts, it calls for learning the standard algorithms. The standards are meant to help prepare our children for a world that demands greater levels of reasoning and understanding. 

"The hope is that they will demonstrate exceptional procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, and problem-solving ability, and graduate college and career ready with unprecedented opportunities open to them." (page 55)

The next post on chapter 4 of the book will go live on July 9 at Math Coach's Corner. You can hop over there by clicking on the blog button below. And if you would like to win a copy of Balancing the Equation for yourself, enter the raffle below. All free copies have been donated by Solution Tree. You can also sign up for a free Balancing the Equation webinar with Matt Larsen on July 9 with this link.





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Monday, May 9, 2016

What Are You Reading?

I am linking up of the May edition of "What Are You Reading?" at Focused on Fifth. I have a really great recommendation this month. I just barely finished reading A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen.


Clicking the cover will take you to Amazon.
Set in the 1960's when the Berlin Wall went up, twelve-year old Gerta finds her family trapped on both sides of the wall.  This very engaging story had my students begging for more. I just finished this as a whole class read aloud and they LOVED it. They couldn't believe this really happened and the fact that I was in college when the wall came down was nothing short of shocking to them. This is a fabulous story that is going to be on my reading list year after year.  To give you an idea of how much they loved it, one of my students is taking a survey of which book everyone liked best - Wonder or A Night Divided - and it's a tie.

For more book suggestions, or to link up with us, go to Focused on Fifth.
Happy Reading!