Friday, January 27, 2017

Reflecting on Our Math Workshop

Math Workshop has always been one of my favorite hours of the day...the energy and controlled chaos within the room is contagious, and we love that the kids take ownership over their choice time. This year our district adopted a new math curriculum...I'm not going to lie, that adoption made me a little apprehensive. After attending the training and reviewing the materials, it seemed to be greatly teacher-driven...something we are not totally in agreement with. I loved the components of Bridges, and knew the kids would enjoy the problem solving activities embedded throughout, but worried that I would be spending too much time in front of the students.

Angela and I promised each other we'd go into the year with an open mind and a positive attitude towards the program. We knew we liked Bridges in and of itself, so we had to remain optimistic. We discussed with our students some of the changes they may see in our workshop block, but promised them we'd familiarize ourselves with the curriculum and go from there. This was one of those moments when we felt bound by curriculum. It took us a good three units, and copious amounts of time co-planning, before we felt we had a grasp on Bridges and all it had to offer. Our students were extremely patient with us getting ahead of the learning curve.

Bridges has supported our students in many ways, and they have grown tremendously through this program. They have an amazing intervention binder that supports our struggling mathematicians (we also use that for our daily bullpens). Our students have also developed incredible mental math strategies. They approach complex problems in a variety of ways, and think about numbers flexibly. We've enjoyed the overlap of concepts, and love seeing how the different domains mesh together throughout units.

A few disadvantages, though, is feeling there is a repetitiveness of lessons at times. Sometimes lessons seem redundant and unnecessary. We also noticed a decrease in the students' daily choice time. Part of these struggles are due to system structures that we can not control, and part of that is feeling as if we needed to teach the program with fidelity in order to best understand all it has to offer. It is a juggling act when you're tackling a new curriculum. There are concepts the students already know, but then there are definite areas where they're missing information. BUT...with the first half of the year under our belts, we are thrilled that we FINALLY feel we can venture away from Bridges a bit and bring in some more project based learning. Please do not misunderstand, Bridges is still our primary resource, but based on pretest results and some of the skills our students have mastered, we know many of our students are ready to take on more independent choice and project based learning.

As I previewed our Unit 4 pretest results, I was extremely pleased with the skills our students already had in place. Students doing well on a pretest is sort of a double edged sword- you're excited and proud of them for showing they're applying skills previously taught and knowing they're ready to move ahead...BUT it can also be terrifying because you're faced with the dreaded "Now what do we do with them?" question.

We had a relatively large group of children (8-10ish) that scored 100% on the entire pretest. We have another 5-8 that will master the skills needed within a few mini lessons or bullpens. Knowing that, we knew we had to plan accordingly for these flyers. They'd be ready for something more. We did not want these students sitting through unnecessary mini lessons. Last year, based on their pretest results, we had students moving back and forth between multiple mini lessons on a daily basis. That was easier to do when we were writing all of our units and lessons. This year it's been more difficult to juggle because we are still getting to know the Bridges units.

Seeing our results for this unit, though, we knew it was time to venture outside of the walls of Bridges and jump back into our "normal." We wanted to give our students an opportunity to practice the skills and standards addressed within Unit 4, but also push them further ahead. We knew this would better serve them and give them the opportunity to apply their knowledge in a real world situation. Angela and I spent time creating "Planning For Your Future- a Personal Budget Project"; an independent project that our students could work on throughout the unit. This project is required for students that mastered the learning targets on the pre-assessment, but is open to ALL kids in our class, as well.
Click the image above to see the full product.
Students tackling the budget project may participate in certain mini lessons, especially during problem solving days. We want their expertise in our discussion, and we want them to practice the skills and explain their thinking in a variety of ways. With that being said, they will spend a good portion of their unit working independently on the project. We have the luxury of having two full time teachers, and a student teacher in our space. This gives us a lot of flexibility to work with a variety of small groups throughout our workshop block.

We are excited because it's wonderful to see the enthusiasm back in  our classroom. The students are thrilled to be gaining back some choice time, and tackling long term projects. They understand, though, that there are days we will pull them back to our mini lesson for multiple reasons. Maybe we feel they need more practice, maybe we need their voice in our discussion, or maybe we think they'll just have fun tackling the day's lesson/activities. We are also hoping to see them take this sort of open-ended project, and spark new ideas of their own! They always come up with better projects than we do!

The "Cake Pop" problem below is a perfect example of a problem-solving day that was beneficial for ALL learners. Only a handful of our students have background knowledge on multiplying decimals, but EVERY kid in our class could solve this problem using a variety of strategies we've learned in class. Some used ratio tables, some used the double-half strategy, some tore apart the dollar amounts and made the questions easier to solve, and some used the traditional algorithm for multiplying decimals (teaching them the traditional method will come within this unit, but we loved that the students pulled other strategies to solve instead of just saying, "I can't do this...". Our hearts were even happier when partners chose to solve the questions in multiple ways.
Katie & Evy solving their cake pop questions using the traditional algorithm. Another group setting up a ratio table to solve.

We are super excited to see our students jump into the "Planning For Your Future- a Personal Budget Project". This enrichment project has them exploring their future careers, as well as budgeting for life's everyday expenses. Students will find an apartment to rent and furnish the apartment, determine cost of additional living expenses each month, along with making a plan and shopping for healthy meals.  It's going to be an eye-opening experience for them. To check out the project, and try it in your classroom, visit our Teachers Pay Teachers store. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out! We love hearing from you!

 ~ Kate

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sphero Golf!

Swanson Straits logo modified from Whistling Straits Golf Course.
If you have not explored Sphero Balls, today is the day to check them out! Sphero is a robotic ball that pairs with your iPad or Smartphone. Using a variety of apps, you can manipulate the ball's movement through coding, programming, or a simple finger swipe. I love Spheros because they are easy to use and content integration is totally accessible by teachers at all levels. Spheros emphasize the power of play in our classroom, something we're always looking for more of in our world!

We brought the joy of Sphero into our classroom today with another engaging collaboration day with Mike Mohammad and his BCHS students. Y'all may be tired of hearing about our days together, but we are definitely not tired of having fun together! Because of the size of our group (50 students) we decided to divide up the time together into two rotations.

Being a golf lover myself, this morning is definitely ranking up there as one of my favorites of the year!  Mike's students came to "Swanson Straits" a little early to turn our Library Media Center into a 10 hole mini golf course. Our 5th graders were divided into teams and spent the morning playing all 10 holes of golf with the Sphero balls. Even a few grown ups enjoyed "teeing off" and giving it a try. It is waaaay harder than it looks. The Sphero Golf app is fun because it allows you to choose your club, determine the distance needed, and then tee off. The kids didn't tell me that when I started playing, so I was using my putter for most of my hole....urrrghhh! I made up for it in future holes, don't worry! 

In addition to the mini golf, our students also explored the Lightning Lab app. This app allowed our 5th graders to program the Sphero ball to navigate around a series of polygons taped onto the floor of our Makerspace. As the students approached each shape, they had to use the app to program the Sphero to trace the edges of each polygon. Students quickly realized they had to adjust their team's programming, through trial and error, in order to correctly navigate the polygon path. They had to create roll combinations, including the direction, speed, and the number of seconds they wanted it to move. They had to repeat this for each edge of the polygon. This rotation was much more challenging for our students, but they practiced their perseverance and grit to work through the different polygons. 

Although we only dabbled with a few of the Sphero Apps this morning, there are ton of options out there for students. I know there are many more out there, but these looked fun to me. Feel free to comment below with other apps you've used in your classroom!Below is a list of apps your students may find enjoyable: 
  • Sphero
  • Sphero Lab
  • Sphero Golf
  • Lightning Lab
  • Sphero Draw N' Drive
  • Sphero Exile

What an incredibly fun morning! We can not tell you how much we value our collaboration days together. A HUGE THANK YOU to Mike and his students! No matter how much we rant and rave, they'll never realize how much we value this time together. Not only do we laugh and play and have ridiculous amounts of fun, these days spark an interest and curiosity in the minds of our 5th graders. Collaboration days introduce our students to passions they may not even realize they have. The enthusiasm in our space this morning was infectious, and none of us wanted the morning to end! We can't wait to bring our Sphero balls back out in our upcoming Geometry unit.

Until next time...

~ Kate

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Our Place In Space

So many people ask us about our room...where do kids put all their STUFF if you don't have desks? Where did you get your furniture? How do you manage the supplies of 50+ kiddos?? I'm hoping this blog post will answer a few of those questions.

Let's start with general room set up...Our room has a few "zones" of instruction. We have a "Large Group Meeting Area" that can hold all 50+ kids in front of a SMART board. We do have another SMART board on the opposite side of the space that all the kids can sit in front of, if needed, but it is a little "tight." We do also have 2 classroom libraries--one for fiction and one for nonfiction books. We also have smaller group work spaces, individual work spaces, a variety of seating choices, and lots of rugs! We have a "kid storage" side of the room, where kids can go into ANY cupboard or drawer to get things. We also have a "teacher storage" side of the room, where we house our things, and they have to ask permission go into. We have lots of kid-zones for storage, as well, which we will share below! Kids will often ask for other zones or for us to create new ones. From their input, we created a "quiet zone", as well as a "mindfulness zone" by utilizing hallway corners and landings outside our space. It is important to us that our students know their voice and needs MATTER in TEAM Togetherness. The space is THEIRS, and we want it to reflect that.

Within our "Large Group Meeting Area", we have our infamous "bar." Not going to is one of my favorite pieces of furniture. This "bar" can hold 10 kids around the back and 10 kids on the bench. We love it! It also has a white board table that we painted (an old round table, that we took the legs off of). It also has one set of our red "step" pieces that can hold about seven 5th graders. The "bar" and the "steps" we get asked about most often. We ordered them through Business Interiors by Staples. They served as the "middle man" between a bunch of different manufacturers. I know the bar was made by a company called "JSI" and was part of their "Connect Collection." Since we have purchased that, I know that there is a smaller, less expensive version that can be purchased through School Specialty (it has vinyl seats, and a shorter counter). Sadly, I cannot remember the name of the company that made the red step pieces, but they were also purchased from Business Interiors by Staples.
Here are our classroom libraries. Having the two separate ones really helps to keep books organized! I wrote an earlier blog post about how we basket/number/color code books. You can check that one out HERE. It also includes a link to the free basket labels we use! We love the "mini milk crates" that you can get at Target or Wal-Mart to house chapter books! We find the most success in getting them during "back to school "shopping time, as they often have them by the dorm room items. We usually get them for about $1 a piece. 
The "counter top" seating you see in the nonfiction library was a "recycled" piece of furniture we made. We had some solid wood bookcases (purchased from a rummage sale) and a co-worker was replacing her counter tops! We took a piece of her old counter top and secured it to the top of the bookcase! Voila! Instant seating! We love the multi-purpose-ness of this piece! Too often, many get hung up on "expensive" fancy furniture, when in reality, much of what we have in our room was garage sale or re-purposed items! The beautiful, green "Hand Chairs" that you see in the pictures were also a fantastic rummage sale find!

We also like to keep our room "tidy" and "organized" (hard to do with 50+ little bodies that might make it their secret mission to make a mess!) These are our "math bins." These are housed in a cabinet on the "kid storage" side of the world.  On the "Kid Storage" side...they have their math bins, math manipulatives, tissues, paper towels, ziploc bags, textbooks, loose leaf paper and indoor recess games!
The image links to Wal-Mart, which is where we purchased our original "blue bins" 4 years ago. I don't think they make this exact model anymore, but this one is close. These bins hold a personal white board, marker, eraser, math zippered pouch (calculator, protractor), their math notebooks, and the district-purchased math journals that are tied to our Bridges Math curriculum. Some kids also house their scissors here, some Sharpies, highlighters, etc. We stuck a "binder label pocket" to the front of them, then slid a label in. This allowed us to change names in and out very freely! We also use these same pockets on our book bins! Here is a link to the adhesive pockets we purchased! They come in SOOOO handy!

Speaking of book bins....We have two spots in our room to house the book bins. This helps when 50+ kids are trying to get to them all at once (prevents accidents :) These are simple "magazine boxes" that are from DEMCO. Here is a link to a similar product. Again, those binder pockets come in really handy! They come in lots of sizes, so you can definitely find one that fits your needs!
We also use these amazing drawers as "mailboxes." In these mailboxes, kids keep their "home folder" (Which goes to and from school every day), their "stay at school folder" (which houses any loose papers they NEED to keep safe and here at school), their word work notebooks, any special pencils, and their flash drives. You can purchase these from all sorts of places, but the most reasonably priced ones that we found were from Sam's Club. Here is a link to their site. They can get pretty pricey if you buy them from other locations!
We also utilize a lot of "community supplies" in our space. We have small, plastic shoe boxes (purchased from the Dollar Store) to house general things. We also have some great "fish bowls" that we got from a K-Mart that was going out of business near by. We got them for only $10 (they used to hold Chapsticks and hair ties in the beauty department, I think?) We also got the white "double carts" to house some of our general math supplies from Amazon (link to exact carts). It is great to have supplies in multiple parts of your room, so kids can always grab what they need. We also have MANY pencil cups throughout the room holding pencils and erasers (I swear, they must EAT pencils for breakfast on some days!!)
Besides covering 4 tables in our space with white board paint (A tutorial can be found in THIS BLOG POST), we also re-purposed old art room stools. So many schools have these gems hiding in storage rooms somewhere. We got a few cans of Rustoleum Glossy spray paint (for about $4 a can) and voila! You have colorful seating options that are very easy to move where you need them!
One of the first pieces of furniture that we actually purchased during our first year was a vinyl futon! We wanted "couches" in our space, but wanted them at an affordable price AND cleanable! We now have 2 of these beauties and they are still in use...4 years later! They get daily use, to say the least! Since we have had them for so long, I don't think they make our "model" anymore. Here is a LINK to a similar version. I think we paid about $130 for each of ours at the time.
We do also have a "teacher zone." We are rarely sitting here throughout the day, so it typically becomes a "dumping ground" for our papers, books, etc. When we ARE sitting there (outside of lunch or prep), kids are usually there with us. We use it as a getaway to confer with kids quietly/privately.
I think that covers most of the "zones" in our space. What storage tools have you found to be helpful? Any tips and tricks for us? We are always looking for new ways to rethink our environment!

Happy Teaching!


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Amazing Race Across the United States

Okay, so this blog post is long overdue...I am almost embarrassed to be posting this months later, but better late than never. Although Angela and I won't be tackling the Regions of the United States this year, we know many of you may be, so hopefully you'll find this post informational.

During our summer co-planning meeting, our 4th grade team was trying to come up with a creative way to teach the Regions of the United States. We had quickly brainstormed ideas, but with the start of school, and all that comes with that, our enthusiasm and ideas fell by the wayside. Then, last December (yes, over a year ago...shhhh), I met with Drew & Laurie, two incredible teachers from a neighboring school district. They agreed to jump into my "crazy pool" and look for ways to bring interaction and fun into an upcoming Social Studies unit. In the past, teaching the Regions of the States, states and capitals, along with other general information about each area of our country, has been rather dry and boring. Our goal was to enjoy a warm cup of a coffee at a cozy cafe and plan an engaging and meaningful inquiry unit for the Regions of the United States. It was then that the ideas for the Amazing Race Across the United States was born.

We spent that initial morning hashing out a few clues, creating collaborative docs and brainstorming next steps. With the caffeine flowing, we surprisingly got quite a bit accomplished. We continued to work together, from afar, and by the end of April we were ready to tackle the Amazing Race with our students. We had hopes of having our students compete against each other, but with timing, field trips, and everything else that happens at the end of the year, that didn't happen. What did happen was a lot of laughter & learning! 

The Amazing Race Across the United States is a fun and interactive way for your students to explore the Regions of the United States. Our students had a blast RACING across the United States using this fun inquiry project
We introduced our students to Google Maps, and they used Maps to track their journey across the states. Within Google Maps, they collaborated with their group to insert images and generate newly learned information about each Pit Stop Road Clue. As the groups worked through the tourist attraction Pit Stops, Angela and I bombarded them with Detours and Road Blocks. They bundled up and made hallway "snow angels" during a Nor'eastern blizzard and "Gator Chomped" our assistant principal while visiting the Everglades. They crab walked their way down the coast of Maine and "hula hooped" through Tornado Alley. 

It was a great way to add inquiry, student voice and choice, and self-pacing to a formerly dull unit. The project encouraged collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking skills, as the students “RACED” with their team across the United States of America to learn more about our “AMAZING” country!

If you're interested, check out our product in our Teachers Pay Teachers store! If you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to email!

~ Kate