Sunday, December 22, 2013

Spark Student Motivation in Reading!

I love this linky from my BBB Joanne at Head Over Heels for Teaching! So many great ideas to get kids excited about school!

Boy, my class sure is full of readers! They have literally been reading up a storm. I think the choice that is part of Daily 5 has a lot to do with it. One kiddo told me the other day, "You're the first teacher that lets me pick my own books!" That choice is a huge motivator! Of course, teaching your kids how to choose good fit books takes time and effort, but I think it's well worth it! Check out my IPICK bookmark freebie in the sidebar!

Another kiddo couldn't believe that I actually stock graphic novels in my classroom library. Bone, Amulet, Kane Chronicles & Percy Jackson, Cardboard, etc. are all great graphic novel choices by the way! My kids wait in line for these. I require my kids to read the entire series in order qualify for a read bead though. And I've noticed a couple of kids who started with the Percy Jackson Graphic Novel and then moved on to the actual book!

The kids really are motivated to branch out to different genres when there's even a slight incentive. I've talked about my read beads recently, so I won't go into a lot of detail there. But I am doing something new along with them this year! My BBB Diane over at Fifth in the Middle created a perfect set of brag tags to go along with the read beads! I have my system set up so that every kid needs to read a certain number of books from each of the genres. Once the kids have have read that number, I award the tag! It serves double duty as a quick reminder of which genres the kids have covered, and which ones they still need to read books from!

How do you motivate kids to read? Check out the other ideas for motivating students in the linky too!

In other news, I just recovered from a looonnng drive from PA to GA to visit family for the holidays. I'm looking forward to relaxing a bit this break, but I definitely have some work to do too! And on a side note, happy anniversary to me! 6 years ago today I married my best friend, Killer B! Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Service Learning - Terracycling meets Math

At my school I am in charge of all of the school's terracycling. If you're not familiar with terracycling, check it out! The down and dirty of it though is that this company takes things that normally couldn't be recycled and "upcycles" them into new products. AND they pay you for the trash. My school collects juice pouches, empty glue sticks & bottles, empty tape dispensers, Solo cups, used toothbrushes, floss containers and toothpaste tubes, and with the help of Diane over at Fifth in the Middle, we collect used writing tools (markers, pens, etc.) 

It's a big job! All of the waste needs to be sorted and packaged for shipping. But the good people at Terracycle want to receive the waste in batches that meet minimum shipping requirements. Each item on our list has different requirements. So I posed a seemingly simple "exemplar's style" math problem to my kids..."How many of _____ does it take to equal the minimum shipping requirements?" I provided scales, pencil and paper, and waste products, they did the rest. 

If you haven't heard of the Exemplar's math program, I'll sum it up. It's basically a way of teaching kids to solve complicated multi-step word problems. Kids are expected to use pictures (diagrams), numbers, AND words when showing their work. Their work can be assessed by the complexity of their answers and the method they used to solve the given problem. 

This problem required them to figure out that they aren't going to be able to just weigh out 21 pounds of Capri-sun pouches. Especially because the scales I gave them measured in either grams or ounces. They needed first to determine the conversion between the different units to pounds. Once they did that they basically determined a ratio for each item (10 pouches = 2 oz.) and went from there to determine how many units it took to make a pound, and finally the number of pounds for the shipping requirement of the item. Phwew!

I had the kids write their numbers anonymously under the different headings to see how close the answers were. We had a great discussion about all of the factors that might have caused different groups to get slightly different (or in one case a VERY different) answers. We canceled out the unreasonable answers and then found the mean.

We decided those would be reasonable amounts to collect before checking the weight to see if we'd collected enough to ship. We agreed that this would be an excellent example of when you'd use rounding up to be on the safe side. 

It was awesome as a teacher to have my kids working together on the solution to a real life problem, while having them critically thinking and doing advanced math skills. Multiplication, division, ratios, finding the mean...these are 3rd graders we're talking about. They didn't have calculators, and they didn't complain even ONCE about doing the math. They were invested in discovering the answers. They need to know how much trash to collect before we can ship it after all!

My terracycling service learning project doesn't stop here though. Later in the year we'll determine how much waste we shipped, how much we got paid, and then we'll write persuasive pieces trying to convince each other how we should spend the money on helping various charities. All while helping the environment! 

What service learning projects do you have going on in your schools? I'd love to hear about them!

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday break!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Five for Friday - December already?!

It seems like I was just writing my post for November!

It's been a bit since I've been able to make time for a decent blog post. I have had so many half-written in my mind...but I suppose they only count when I actually type them up to share!

So I'm going to link up to Doodle Bug's Five for Friday and try to cover it all in one post!

1. Vacations

This week was a short one, but a doozy. We had Monday off because it was the first day of hunting season. Last week we had school Monday, a snow day on Tuesday, and a teacher planning day on Wednesday. So needless to say when the kids walked in the door Tuesday morning they were not totally in school mode. I fear it'll only get crazier seeing as Christmas break is just 10 school days away! 

2. Language Arts this week

We finished Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes pretty quickly, and have moved on to reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I love this book, though I know it's not everyone's favorite. It's about two kids who run away from home to go live inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That's where they discover a mystery to solve. The book provides a lot of opportunities for teachable moments, and has some great vocabulary.

My mentor sentence activities came from Trouble with Trolls. It's always fun to read a Jan Brett book and point out all of the hidden things, and side pictures. Mentor Sentences are still going really well. I've even turned on some colleagues to using them. My favorite part of the week is Thursday when we write our imitation sentences. The sentences my kids are coming up with are awesome. 

We've moved into informational writing now too! So, Jivey basically writes one out of ten of my lesson plans, because I heard about this book from her blog too. Haha. It's called Animals Nobody Loves, and is great because it packs a lot of interesting information about some unique animals into just a couple paragraphs per page. Because we've only just begun this unit of writing, we mostly used it to talk about the differences between narratives and informational writing, and the idea of choosing "expert topics" to write about. It's surprising how many kids want to write their first piece on something that they know almost nothing about. One of our first projects for informational writing is to brainstorm a list of Expert Topics and Sub-topics. 

I have a product in my store that I've just updated with a couple more cool things. It includes a poster about Informational Writing, a graphic organizer to help kids work on formulaic writing, and my brainstorming organizer. Check it out! Just two smackeroos!

3. If I Had a Million Dollars Project Based Learning

My kids started a new project based learning project this week! They really loved the Zoo Design project we did a while back (from Matt over at Digital: Divide and Conquer) and I really love them having a go-to project to work on as one of their math workshop centers!

So today at the beginning of math I played the song "If I had a Million Dollars" by the Barenaked Ladies, and then explained that the kids would be given an imaginary million to spend. There are rules of course. They have to buy a house, a vehicle, and set aside money for college. After that they get to go wild! We spent some time on today and every kid found a house they would be happy with in the city of their choice. They're excited to see how far they can stretch the million. I think the real compliment was when a kid came over from his class (I teach kids from all the different classes during math time) during indoor recess today to ask me a question so he could work on the project some more. 

I put together the materials I made in a small packet, and have the packet available in my Teacherpayteachers store for just $2.00! Click here to go check it out! 

4. Centering Activities

This year I am part of a team of people in my school who are working on instilling both a growth mindset and mindfulness into our students. As part of that I've begun doing "centering" activities with the kids. These can be as simple as turning the lights down low, sitting in a circle, closing our eyes, and listening to soft piano music while thinking. Today I had the kids sit in a circle with me, we shut off the lights, closed our eyes and I rang a Tibetan singing bowl. When the kids couldn't hear the bell anymore they had to clasp their hands together. 

I borrowed one of these from my teaching bud down the
hall. It's a Tibetan Singing Bowl.
I think the kids really enjoy doing the activities, which serve as a great 4-5 minute brain break, though I have found that some of the activities don't mesh well with one of my students with autism. I'm eager to keep experimenting though!

5. Japan

This week we finally started our Japan Unit! We had a fun activity where I placed artifacts from Japan at centers around the room and the kids rotated as they tried to discover the items' uses. They also were asked to determine if the artifact is unique to Japan or if we have something like it. This activity led to a great class discussion afterwards.

I also read "The Way We Do It In Japan" to the kids. It's a great book that meshes narrative and informative writing. It's about a boy whose family has moved from America to Japan. A lot of great comparisons are made throughout the story.

And that was some of my week! What great resources do you know about for teaching Japan? What about Informational writing? Do you take time to get your kids centered? Any great tips to share? I'd love to hear them!

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