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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Focused on Fifth: Products for Payday Linky

Today I am linking up with my fellow bloggers from Focused on Fifth to share some of our favorite products for fifth grade. This has been one of my favorite products for a few years. I first made this product when I was teaching first grade. It's called "What's the Question?" It integrates problem solving with writing and is designed to help students develop deeper mathematical understandings. You give the answer and allow your students to create the story and question that leads the mathematican to the answer.  It works great for use in math centers, small groups, homework, and whole class teaching.

I updated the product and added 48 new pages specifically for the upper elementary classroom when I moved to fifth grade. So the product is a lot bigger and contains more possibilities. There are pages for fractions, large numbers, all operations, and ideas for differentiation. To increase the difficulty you can require specific operations, two-step problems, etc. The possibilities really are endless.

Clicking on any picture of the product will take you to TpT.

Product based on the following article:
Barlow, A.T. and Cates, J.M. “The Answer is 20 Cookies. What is the Question?” Teaching Children Mathematics (2007), 252–255.

To find more products from the other authors at Focused on Fifth, click on our button below.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Math IS NOT Scary

I hate it when people complain that they are no good at math or when kids think math is too hard, too scary, or just no fun.  Math doesn't have to be scary. In fact, math shouldn't be scary. Here are a few tips that I think have helped my students feel comfortable with math, because math IS NOT scary.

Tip #1: It's ok to make mistakes. All mathematicians make mistakes, yet for some reason my students seem to think that the only important thing is getting the right answer. One of the best ways to let students know that it's ok to make mistakes is to make some of your own. I don't even have to make them on purpose, they just happen for me. But you may need to make some on purpose to let your students see that we all make mistakes. 

Tip #2: Put math into real life contexts. I love writing problems with my students in them and they love hearing a problem about themselves or their classmates. Real life problems let students use what they already know to make sense of the mathematics.

Tip #3: You don't need to practice 50 problems if you can show what you know with 10 problems. Or maybe even 3 problems. I love math, but even I get tired of doing the same type of problem over and over again. There's no need to make the math boring with too many problems. Plus just looking at a page full of problems can raise the anxiety level for some students. If they can show their mathematical abilities with less, do less. If they need to get more practice in, consider other ways to do that besides a page with lots of problems. Think about using task cards, games, project based math assignments, etc.

Tip #4: Differentiate the same problem for your students.  My students come with a wide range of abilities. Giving problems that are appropriate for each level doesn't have to be a lot of work. I like to write task problems without the numbers in them. Then I can list 2 or 3 different sets of numbers for students to choose from. Most of the time students will choose the set of numbers that is just right for them or slightly difficult. Rarely do I see a student choose something that is just too easy for them. Plus, when a student is given the chance to pick their own level of difficulty, you've just given them the chance to feel confident before they even begin.

Tip #5: Make math fun. At the very beginning of the year I wrote a post about trying to help my students understand the magnitude of numbers. I set my students off to build up to one million. They worked all morning and even into the afternoon before anyone even reached one hundred thousand. When I stopped everyone and we gathered around to discuss the size of the numbers and the patterns they saw, I mentioned that math has a lot of patterns in it, you just have to look for them. One of my students asked, "This is math? We've been doing math all day?" Ummm...yes. Math can be fun. Math can make the time fly by. Math doesn't have to be boring.

Math IS NOT scary, so have fun with it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Reading Response Letters

Using Reading Response Letters - The Research Based Classroom

I've done a little bit of posting about the challenges of teaching guided reading in the fifth grade over at Focused on Fifth, but today I want to look at one of the really positive things I'm doing with my students.  I need to place a little disclaimer here because I know I read this idea somewhere in teacher blogland over the summer and I CAN NOT find it. So frustrating. But thank you to whoever blogged about this last summer because I love this idea.

So what is going good? Reading response letters. I really, really love these. I am the lucky teacher with only 4 guided reading groups and 24 students. I had to stretch a couple of students to make everyone fit into 4 groups, but so far it seems to be working wonderfully. With only four groups, my students are meeting with me twice a week. One of the things I assign them to do is write reading response letters. One week they write to their reading partner and the following week they write to me. The reading response letters are written in a spiral notebook and we don't tear them out. You write to your partner in your notebook, then give the notebook to your partner. The partner then writes back in the notebook and returns it. The next week the student writes to me in the notebook and then I write back and return it to the owner.  I have these set up so that each week I receive 12 letters. I worried that this might be too much for me to respond to, but with only 12 letters a week and with students turning them in on different days, it has been easier than I imagined. The example above is one of the shorter letters I have received and one of the shorter ones I've written, but it's still the beginning of the year. So here is what I love the most about assigning reading response letters:

  • The students are choosing the topics they write about. Some are writing about the characters, others about the big ideas or themes within their books. I'm not assigning any topics, it's their thoughts about the book.
  • Book conversations are happening between kids. Each partnership has two conversations going in a week (you write to your partner, plus you have to respond to the letter your partner wrote you).
  • I am having private book conversations with each and every student. This is something I have never been able to accomplish before.
  • We are writing about books in authentic ways.
  • I can quickly glance back at the previous letters to spot check the work between partners when their letters to me get turned in.
  • I get a chance to ask questions on an individual basis to help further each student's thinking. Which in return gives my students a topic for their next letter to me if they choose to pursue it in writing.
  • Independent time during guided reading is all spent in reading, writing, and talking about books. 
Consider giving reading response letters a place in your reading block, I think you'll love them too!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

October What Are You Reading?

I am linking up with Focused on Fifth for their October What Are You Reading? linky.  Right now I am reading Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan with one of my small reading groups. Several of the students in this group seemed a little disappointed when they found out this was their book. Which, of course, made me worry that I had picked badly. Then I started reading it and I quickly realized I had never read it. I only picked it because I thought I had read it years ago. But, nope! More worrying.
Click on the cover to go to Amazon.
However, our first group meeting went well and all the students seemed to be enjoying the book. I assigned the next reading assignment and they asked to make it longer. I thought that was a good sign but it actually was at the next group meeting that I realized how much they loved this book - boys and girls alike.  They were really engaged in the conversation, they had all read way beyond the required number of pages and they were giving all kinds of text evidence to support their opinions. But then they turned in their reading response letters that they had written to me. Four of the six students told me in their letter that they loved this book and the other two told me they were disappointed that they had to read it at first, but that now they were so happy they got to read it.  I'm so glad it turned into a win for me. This book is filled with possibilities for discussion and the depth of the characters have made it perfect for group discussion. If you head on over to Focused on Fifth you can see what others are reading or link up what you are reading. Just click on the button below.

Focused on Fifth