Sunday, November 22, 2015

Family Math Night

Keeping parents informed and involved is a common goal for most teachers.  One way that I do this is by hosting parent or family nights on a variety of subjects.  Most recently, I had a family math night for my students and families. 
I had 6 math game stations set up in our school's multi-purpose room.  I had multiple copies of the same game at each station so more than one family could play.  Families moved from station to station at their own pace.

I also had a table with lots of math related books.  This served as a break station or an overflow station if someone was waiting to play a game.

I also had a beach ball toss station which was a big hit.  I used 2 beach balls and wrote numbers on them with a permanent marker.  The students passed the ball and added or multiplied the numbers where their thumbs landed.  I put pieces of tape on the floor to confine the area a bit.

I also had an odd/even sorting chart.  I gave each child a number card when they entered the multi-purpose room.  They had to place the number on the chart on the correct side.

At another table, I had an estimation station set up.  I had saved several peanut butter and mayonnaise jars and filled them with a variety of "treasures."  Each student got to make an estimate on the jar of their choice.  I tallied the guesses and gave the jars to the students with the closest estimates.

Each family received a packet that included the directions for the games we played that night.  At the end of the night, each child also got a "Math is Fun" goody bag.  The bags had a deck of cards, some play money, 2 dice, and a set of mini dominoes that I had purchased from Oriental Trading Company.

Overall, it was a lot of fun for the families and for me!  Please check out my "Family Math Night" pack on Teachers Pay Teachers by clicking the link below.

Do you or your school host family nights?  What ideas can you share?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

For the Birds

Here is a form that my students use for the science window.  I have a stack of these forms available near the window.  They can get one and use it during writer's workshop or Daily 5.  After writing about their observation, they place it in the science section of a binder that they keep data and work samples in (like a portfolio).

Some of the things they might write about include weather changes, bird feeder activity, squirrels visiting our tree, worm farm happenings, or anything else that we might see in and around the science window related to "wildlife."  So far we haven't seen any bears or tigers.

Wildlife Observation Sheet

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have seen quite a few birds.  Check out the photos below!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Science Window

Science has never been my best subject as far as teaching goes.  I decided to make a concerted effort this year to improve my teaching of science.  So... I decided to have a science window.

My goal is to spark an interest in science related content.  I started by blocking off a section of our window just for science stuff.  I added some books and some stuff to observe like fossils, dead bugs in magnifying jar, a bird house, and bird feeder.   Then we added a worm farm.  Talk about a hit!  

It was surprisingly easy to do. I bought the worm farm from a local teacher supply store.  I dug up some dirt from my front yard, and sent my son to the bait store.  We added 4 live worms.  

Taking care of the worms was easy.  We had to keep the soil moist and add a few dead leaves once in a while.  We also added some chunks of apples.  We observed the worms for a few weeks until we decided it was time to release them in our courtyard.  The exciting part of the release was that there were still 4 live adult worms (Thank goodness!) and there was a baby!
I wish I had taken a picture of the baby, but I didn't.

We did some writing about our worm observations.  We read some worm related books like Diary of a Worm.  We ended our worm "unit" by making worm pudding.  We just used snack pack pudding cups, crushed chocolate graham crackers, and some gummy worms.  Delish!

One of our second grade science standards is that living things cause changes on earth.  By observing the worm farm, we could see how the worms help decompose waste, and they add air to the soil.  Overall, I think the kids enjoyed it.  Even I enjoyed it!!

Another feature that has been fun with the science window has been the bird feeder.  We actually started by making some bird feeders and hanging them in the tree outside our window.  It took a few days, but we finally had some visitors.  The squirrels enjoyed the food more than the birds.

Eventually we hung a window bird feeder to the window which has attracted lots of birds.  We even tracked how fast the bird food was disappearing!

All of this science stuff did sort of take over for a few days, but now it's not as much of a fascination. 

I am thinking of adding an ant farm to the window next.

What do you to to spark science interest in your classroom?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Class Meetings

I used to have class meetings every morning.  Although I loved starting the day this way, we felt the time crunch and something had to give.  Now we only have class meetings once a week.
The purpose of our class meeting is to build a sense of community and give the students a voice and chance to problem solve.

We start with an activity.  Sometimes we do GoNoodle songs or dances.  Other times, we play a short game.  We just like to start with something light and fun.  Plus, it gives me a chance to show my dancing skills (picture Elaine from Seinfeld).

Then we talk about what is going well in our class.  These ideas can be generated by the students or me.  We might point out things like how well we are building our stamina in Daily 5 or how everyone is using good manners.  

Then we talk about any things that might need to be changed.  Sometimes we talk about how messy the book area is becoming or how we need to work on walking quietly in the hall.  I prefer the ideas come from the kids, but I contribute to the conversation.

We always talk about what we can do to improve any problem situations.  The students really do have some good ideas.  I want them to see themselves as problem solvers, so it's best if they come up with solutions on their own.

Then we have "teacher talk."  During this time, I might tell them about some upcoming events or topics of interest.  Sometimes we review procedures or routines that need revisiting.  I always try to end the meeting on a positive note by pointing out some good things that have been happening in our class.

I have a laminated chart that hangs on one of the cabinets in my classroom.  This is where students add ideas for discussion.  We use this to guide our meetings.  After the meeting, I erase the topics, and we are ready for the next week.

The picture below shows the chart for one week.  The students wrote "transitions" on the plus side (what is going well).  I wrote "great manners."  Another student wrote "3 inch voice" on the delta side (what we need to change).  A three inch voice is what we call a whisper.  There are times in the day where students need to use a 3 inch voice.

On top of the plus/delta chart is our procedure for class meetings.  Both of these charts are laminated and have magnetic tape on the back.  This way we can move them around and bring them to the carpet are where we have class meetings.

When we are learning about class meetings, I explain that this is not a time for tattling.  We are not allowed to single out a person or tell on anyone.  

I really feel that our class meetings are valuable and overall very positive.  Do you have class meetings in your school?  What ideas can you share?
Class meeting charts

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fact Fluency??

How do you move students toward independence in math?
One way that I work to help students become independent mathematicians is by increasing fact fluency.  I do this mostly through the use of games and concrete materials. Using games makes the learning fun and decreases the anxiety often associated with timed tests.
There are tons of free math games available on TPT and other websites.  These can be easily incorporated into your math block or even added to indoor recess games.  That's kind of a sneaky way to encourage working on math, but it's an option.

The use of flash cards and timed tests has been debated for some time now.  I am not against using flash cards, but I think they should be used in a certain way.  Students should have the option to use concrete materials such as ten frames when working on addition or subtraction facts.  Also, I think students should have to explain their thinking if the fact recall is not automatic.  For example, when a student sees 5+5 she automatically says 10 because she has had enough experiences with this problem for it to become quickly recalled.  But when she sees 5+7, she pauses.  She might then say, "I know that 5+5=10 so 5 +7 is just 2 more than that.  So 5+7=12."  That shows that she does have some number sense and is able to use it to solve other problems.
Timed tests often create such an anxiety in students that they are unable to complete the test, or they make frequent mistakes in their computation.  I don't want students to have math anxiety as it negatively impacts their view of math overall.  My goal is always to move students toward independence.  If I want them to be able to solve a variety of math related problems, I need to foster the kind of thinking that will enable them to stick with a problem.  Timed tests don't do that.
I feel like the root of fact fluency is really a strong number sense.  When students have enough experiences with solving a variety of math problems, they develop stronger number sense.  Facts become automatic because of the repetition of solving them.  These "automatic" facts become building blocks for new facts.

As an elementary math teacher, I struggle with how to best meet my students' needs.  I know there are students in my class who do not have a strong number sense.  These students can often be seen counting on their fingers for even the simplest computation problem.  Yet, I have to keep moving forward with the second grade content which includes addition and subtraction with regrouping.  I feel guilty asking students to work on these types of problems. I always allow these students to use concrete materials and place value mats to solve the problems.  At least this gives them tools that will hopefully increase their number sense in the end.  I also have these students play math games that require them to use addition and subtraction.
I don't really know the solution to the flash card timed test debate.  I think it will continue as long as we have students who are struggling.  I think I will struggle, too.  Am I really doing what's best for my students?  I think of a quote I have heard from Maya Angelou.  I don't know it verbatim, but the gist of it is that you do what you think is best for the time being.  When you know better, you will do better.
One source of information that has influenced my thinking is a website called Youcubed.  It's fee to join and has some great articles and resources.  There is an article called "Fluency Without Fear" by Jo Boaler.  You might want to check it out.

How do you address the flash card/timed test debate in your classroom?

Friday, November 13, 2015

My Classroom

I thought I would give you a peek inside my classroom.  I teach second grade in a self contained class.  I have tried to make my classroom warm and inviting.  Here are a few pictures of the inside of my room. I plan to talk about certain features in future posts.  Anyhoo, you get the idea.  I didn't really choose the colors with a great deal of thought.  It just seems that I started to accumulate stuff with primary colors, so I went with it.  I'm too far in to change the color scheme now.

I love seeing inside other people's classrooms!  My favorite part of back to school is getting my room ready.  Each year I try to add something new to spice it up a bit.  We spend so much time in our classrooms.  I think I decorate as much for myself as I do the students.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Welcome to Teaching Tips and Treasures!

I have finally made the leap from blog stalker to actual blogger.  I am really looking forward to sharing ideas and collaborating with others!  I have been so inspired through other teaching blogs.  I hope to be able to add to the conversation.

If there is one word that summarizes my teaching philosophy it would be independence.  I use this word a lot in the classroom.  I tell my students that we are always learning and working toward being independent.  My job is to give them tools and strategies that enable them to do things on their own.

"Independent" is posted above my Daily 5 charts

How do you move students toward independence?

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