Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Developing Multiplication Concepts - the value of games and hands on activities

Well, it's been awhile since my last post.  I have changed schools and grades, so this has occupied a lot of my time.  I went from 2nd to 3rd and am very happy.  It was time for a change.  I am still in the same school district, but have moved to a grade 3-5 school.

Today it's all about the multiplication.  And I promise to get to that...

First, I want to say that while I absolutely can't stand the politics behind the Common Core I would like to say that some of the standards aren't that bad.  If you really read them you will probably agree that we fabulous educators were already teaching the standards as well as infusing critical thinking into our lessons all along.  But today I want to complain about textbooks, particularly my math textbook, which our district adopted because it was aligned to the Common Core.  I don't like it.  In fact, I don't like most textbooks.  I think I could write a much better version.  Gosh, I'm so humble, aren't I?  Why don't I like it? It is neither teacher or student friendly.  Most lessons are cumbersome and have 2-3 objectives for students to learn in one lesson.  Manipulatives are not built into the lessons and instead my students carry around a 2 inch thick workbook.  The lessons are teacher-centered and require the teacher to stand and talk for hours. (ok, that is an exaggeration, but it feels like hours, especially when the kids are zoning out)  Worst of all, is the fact that my third graders hate math.  At least they did when I tried to stick to the textbook lessons.  No elementary student should hate math!  But, the textbook can be used with my Smartboard, you say.  Isn't that wonderful?  Who cares when I, the teacher, am still the center of the lesson.  Sure, a few students can come up to the board and "interact" while the other 23 students draw smiley faces on the edge of their 2 inch workbook.

Enough of the complaining.  Now I'm going to get to the good stuff.

I am fortunate enough to work in a district that does not require I use certain materials or programs.  My superintendent and principal want me to use best practice in my teaching.  Isn't that fabulous?  So, put those bulky workbooks in your desk boys and girls - we're gonna learn some math.

Back to the multiplication.  I have always been a fan of Marilyn Burns, the guru of math education.  I was introduced to her lessons early when I was in college and continued to use many lessons and ideas from her books, published by Math Solutions.  But it had been a while since I had done multiplication.  Last week I pulled out my Circles and Stars lesson and it was a huge hit.  I forgot how powerful this simple little game was, and how much insight it gave me into my students' thinking about multiplication.

Our discussions after a round of playing the game were energetic.  Hands were up and everyone was engaged and wanted to share what they were beginning to notice.  How do you write 1 group of 4 as a multiplication sentence?  Oh look!  Every time you do 1 times another number it equals that number!  And they are equally delighted when they figure out zero groups of something is always zero.  Did you know that 2 groups of 3 is the same answer as 3 groups of 2?  And an investigation begins to find out if that is true for other numbers.  And it's fun to see them comparing and contrasting multiplication to addition.  Sometimes it seems I can see their little minds figuring it out and working through their confusion right there in front of me.  These hands on activities are priceless.  We must not let a textbook publisher determine how we teach a concept.  We must remember their first priority is selling a product, not educating children.  I do not think its wrong to make a profit, I simply think we, as educators. need to be smarter about the products we purchase and use in our classroom.

I've also involved my class in a study of multiples over several days.  We began with brainstorming things that came in groups - these lists will be used in future problem solving as well.  My students enjoyed creating T-charts to list the multiples of groups.  How many legs on 1 spider, 2 spiders, etc?  I thought using the hundred charts to color skip counting patterns would be baby-ish.  I was wrong.  This visual not only helped them see the pattern, but watching them incorrectly color the hundred charts showed me that many of my students didn't truly understand that skip counting was adding the same number over and over!  If they didn't know that how could I expect them to connect skip counting to multiplication?  Repeating these activities over several days helped my students to begin constructing their own understanding of  multiplication.  A worksheet could never do that!

So my teacher friends out there in blogging land - my message is to trust yourself.  The textbook makes us feel rushed. Look at how much we have to cover!  How will I get all these pages complete?  You know there is no reason you have to do every page in the book.  And a good hands-on activity often is a better bang for your buck - and covers several days of boring textbook instruction.  If you don't like the lesson in the book, don't use it!  Do you keep wondering why your students aren't "getting it"? Then try something different.  Play a game.  Do some hands-on activities.  Do it more than once. There is so much value and learning in playing over several days.  Slow down and enjoy the math!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It's Non-Fiction Wednesday and Non-Fiction 10 for 10 #nfpb10for10

Today is double duty - I am participating in Kid Lit Frenzy's non-fiction picture book challenge this year and today is the 10 for 10 nonfiction picture book event!

I'm excited to be participating in the Non-Fiction 10 for 10 event today, which is being hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine, Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning, and Julie Balen at Write at the Edge

I took the time to look through my non-fiction picture book read alouds for the last couple of years.  I selected the books that my second graders responded to and really loved - the books that started conversations and the books that my students took off the shelf to look at again later.  Please click on the book to view the summary at goodreads.

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder by Mark Cassino with Jon Nelson

If you have not read this book, please run, do not walk (but don't slip on the ice) to your library and check this fabulous book out!  Full of beautifully photographed snowflakes and exceptional illustrations that help to explain how a tiny snowflake is formed.  It would pair nicely with Snowflake Bentley.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.

As 2 cross country skiers explore the outdoors we learn about the secret world underneath the snow.  My students love learning the word, subnivean.  

Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Constance R. Bergum

And this book is a must to pair with Kate Messner's book!  Here we get to take a close look at what those animals are doing during the winter under the snow, and underground.  My students love comparing and contrasting the 2 books!

North: The Amazing Story of Arctic Migration by Nick Dowson and illustrated by Patrick Benson

We often teach our students about the migrations of birds south for the winter, but this book is all about the migration north to the arctic in the spring.  This book would pair nicely with The Long, Long Journey: The Godwit's Amazing Migration.

One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Jane Chapman

Lyrical telling of the Loggerhead turtle's journey from hatching, to surviving in the ocean and returning to lay her eggs on the same beach she was born.  Really, I would recommend any book by Nicola Davies!  

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

I read this book to my class during our Mock Caldecott.  I chose it because I am such a big fan of Melissa Sweet's illustrations and the wonderful story of a everyday person overcoming obstacles including war and a terrible injury.  I loved reading the notes at the end describing the research both author and illustrator did to prepare for writing and illustrating the book also.  But sometimes my young students surprise me with how emotionally they connect to a story.  This was one of those times.  They loved Horace and his story.  They loved how he persevered.  They noticed that after the war he was sad.  They could tell by the colors in his art.  They also noticed that Melissa Sweet was also the illustrator of the series, Pinky and Rex!

Daredevil: The Daring Life of Betty Skelton by Meghan McCarthy

Growing up in the 1930's Betty didn't like to do what was acceptable or "normal" for little girls.  She liked playing with trucks and dreamed of flying one day.  My second graders are always shocked to find out that not very long ago girls weren't allowed to do all the things they can do now.  They are stunned when they learn that women couldn't vote either in "the olden days".  When Betty is not selected to be an astronaut they yell, "That's not fair."  At the end of our reading one of my students suggested that Betty might be a lot like Horace Pippin.  She found a way to do what she dreamed, even though everyone said she couldn't because she was a girl.  Horace finds a way to do what he dreams too.

Abe's Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
I grew up in the "Land of Lincoln", so I have a real soft spot in my heart for Abraham Lincoln.  Standing before the Lincoln Memorial for the first time a few years ago I actually had tears in my eyes. Kadir Nelson's illustrations are stunning and mesmerizing.  I love how Doreen Rappaport's telling of Lincoln's life shows how he overcome so many obstacles.  My student's know he was the 16th president, but this book really provides something new for them.  Doreen Rappaport has a ton of other biographies that I would also recommend.  And please be sure to check out Kadir Nelson's Nelson Mandela, which I have not read to my class yet!

Helen's Big World: The Life of Helen Keller by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Matt Tavares

There are so many, many books written on Helen Keller!  You might think you have seen them all, read them all, and an author couldn't possibly bring anything new to the story of Helen Keller.  But you would be wrong my friend!  This is the perfect book for introducing Helen Keller to my second graders.  Most have never heard of her before and the the story of her tragic illness is shocking to them. Helen's story is the ultimate of a person who overcomes obstacles in her life.  Did I mention how much I love the narrative style of Doreen Rappaport?

Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim and illustrated by Bryan Collier

A powerful story of how young Booker overcomes hardship to learn to read.  A truly inspiring story.  So many of my students take for granted their right to learn to read and go to school.  This book is a gateway to discussing many issues including slavery and the fact that many children in the world still don't learn to read.  The story really hits home the value of an education without hitting the reader on the head!  Very moving story.

That's my top ten non-fiction picture books for now.  I can't wait to read all the other posts!

What are your favorite non-fiction picture books?

Monday, February 17, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? #IMWAYR

Thanks to Jen at TeachMentorText  and Kellee at UnleashingReaders for the weekly meme highlighting children's literature - picture books to young adult.  Don't forget to visit their sites so you can see what everyone else is reading this week!

Poppy the Pirate Dog by Liz Kessler and illustrated by Mike Phillips

My second graders just love dogs.  And this early chapter book is a perfect addition to my class library.  In this story Poppy is afraid of boats and her family struggles to find a way to help her enjoy their vacation by the sea.

Bean Dog and Nugget: The Ball by Charise Mericle Harper

Super silly beginner graphic novel starring lovable stick figure-ish characters.  I could see my students writing and drawing their own Bean Dog and Nugget stories.  I think this is the beginning of a series too, which would be fun.

This is the Rope: A Story From the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome

The book tells the story of an African American family's history as they move north for a better life.  The rope serves different purposes as it is passed from one generation to the next.  I love Jacqueline Woodson's books.  In this story she is able to show how a family stays close together, looks for a better life, yet continues to remember their past.  And she does this with a rope!  It ties the story together.  Get it?  I'm so funny.  I would recommend the book for grade 3 and up.  And did I mention the illustrations?  I love how realistic they are.

Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by John O'Brien

This book tells of Thomas Jefferson's love of books and how that love helped to create our Library of Congress.  Along with the main text, each page is filled with additional information written in an alternate font and floated throughout the illustrations.  A great way to introduce one of our founding fathers while focusing on the love of reading.   

A few years ago, I finally got to visit Washington D.C. and take a tour of the Library Congress.  It was wonderful!  The building is beautiful and the docents do an amazing job with the tour.  Seeing the collection that Jefferson donated to the library was exciting, even though most of his original books have been replaced due to a fire in the library.

Sit-in: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney

This book tells the story of the 1960 Woolworth sit-ins, where 4 students sat at the Woolworth lunch counter to stage a peaceful protest.  A great read aloud that explains the sit-in and other related student demonstrations that occurred during the civil rights movement.  I would recommend for grade 4 and up.

The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli

What child hasn't worried about swallowing a watermelon seed?  This book takes a look at the crocodile's fears once he realizes he has swallowed a seed.  Will he grow a watermelon vine in his tummy?  Perfect beginner book, but a terrific read aloud as well.

Wednesday, February 19th,  I will participate in 10 for 10 Non-fiction books.  Click on the image to find out more about this event! 

What books have you been reading?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Non-Fiction Wednesday #NFPB2014

Thanks to Alyson at KidLitFrenzy for hosting this weekly challenge.  There are so many wonderful non-fiction picture books these days - I just don't want to miss any of them.

QED Lifecycle Series 
I have several collections of non-fiction books published by QED, which I think is a UK publisher.  A librarian friend of mine has given me several sets on different topics.  This set on Life Cycles I purchased from sales group that regularly visits our schools and sells all sorts of things, from candles to toys to cookbooks.  It's the only thing I have ever purchased from the group!  I think the collection cost less than $15-20!  The books have beautiful photographs and includes labels, diagrams and a glossary.  They are great reads for my second graders.  This series on life cycles does mention the term "mating" but obviously doesn't go into a lot of details.   I think it is very age-appropriate.

Curious Critters by David Fitzsimmons
Full page photographs of various creatures.  The accompanying text is written in first person from the point of view of each creature.  Visit the website.

What non-fiction books have you read lately?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

World Read Aloud Day 2014

My class will be celebrating World Read Aloud Day on March 5th in order to spread the message that learning to read and write is every person's right.  We have invited guests to come into our classroom to read their favorite picture book and will be collecting books to donate to a local children's organization.  We are very excited to be Skyping with Tara Lazar, author of The Monstore and illustrated by James Burks.

Please be sure to check out to find out more about World Read Aloud Day.

Will you be celebrating World Read Aloud Day this year?

Monday, February 10, 2014

It's Monday! What are you reading? #IMWAYR

Thanks to Jen at TeachMentorText  and Kellee at UnleashingReaders for the weekly meme highlighting children's literature - picture books to young adult.  Don't forget to visit their sites so you can see what everyone else is reading this week!

I took a break last week from posting for #IMWAYR, but I did visit other blogs to see what everyone else was reading.  Most of my reading time last week involved an adult book. I know. Shocking.  I do that sometimes.  I read The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  I highly recommend it.  Here's what I read in the kid lit. world;

Zita the Spacegirl (#1) by Ben Hatke

Graphic novels are not my favorite genre - they have to be extremely good to hook me and keep me interested.  With that being said, I love this book!  In this story Zita's best friend is kidnapped by aliens and she follows along to save him.  The story is full of intergalactic adventure, humor and a spunky heroine.  Will Zita save her friend?  Will Zita get back home to Earth?  You will have to read to find out!  Third graders will definitely be able to read the book independently and so will many second graders.  I will definitely purchasing a copy to add to my classroom library.  There are 2 other books in the series.  You can watch the book trailer here.

Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. The Stupid Stinkbugs From Saturn. by Dav Pilkey and Martin Ontiveros

I admit to never having read a book from this series, even though it seems very popular on Scholastic book clubs.  I have never seen a student in my class read the series or check a book out from our school library either.  But someone gave me a copy, so I read it.  I think it would be a great series for reluctant readers in third and fourth grade.  Ricky and his robot have to battle alien stinkbugs from outer space that are attempting to kidnap his cousin.  There is lots of imaginative battle scenes, including "grow gum balls" that the aliens chew and become gigantic.  The illustrations are great and full of action too.  This book had one chapter that included images that could be flipped to become animated and at the end directions for drawing some of the characters is included.  This copy will be added to my class library after a proper introduction. 

One by Kathryn Otoshi
A very simple book that teaches the lesson of standing up for yourself and others.  So many books about bullying often beat the reader over the head with the message.  This book does not do that.  I loved it!  Great to pair with The Dot.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Non-Fiction Wednesday #NFPB2014

Thanks to Alyson at KidLitFrenzy for hosting this weekly challenge.  There are so many wonderful non-fiction picture books these days - I just don't want to miss any of them!

Flight of the Honey Bee by Raymond Huber and illustrated by Brian Lovelock

In my second grade class we have been reading about what animals do during the winter to survive. One of the great tools we use is Wonderopolis.  Last week we watched the wonder called, What do bees do in winter?  My students were fascinated by the bee video and I think they will love this book.

It tells the story of a bee scout, who's job it is to go out and search, or scout out, flowers for the other bees in the hive.  Fall has nearly arrived and the hive must have nectar so they can make plenty of honey to survive the winter.  While the story is told in narrative form, there is plenty of bee information throughout, including additional text at the bottom of each page.  Bees are so darn fascinating!  Great book.  I will read it to my class this coming week.

Toad by the Road: A Year in the Life of These Amazing Amphibians written by Joanne Ryder and illustrated by Maggie Kneen

Non-fiction poetry - I love it!  There are 4 sections in the book - one for each season of the year.  The poems are rich with descriptive language and full of facts.  There is additional information on the bottom of each page as well. A great addition to any study of frogs, toads and amphibians - as well as your poetry collection.

Have you read any good non-fiction this week?