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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Designing a Math Workshop for a New Unit of Study

Last week we began a new math unit: Problem Solving Using Addition and Subtraction.
Whenever I begin a new unit of study, I spend a lot of time preparing for several weeks of work. There are always 3 big considerations:
  • What exactly needs to be taught/learned?
  • How will I structure the Math Workshop time?
  • How will I differentiate to meet the needs of students?
What needs to be taught?
In unit 4 the big ideas are:
  • adding and subtracting to solve word problems and recording an equation to represent the problem
  • composing and decomposing quantities to 10
  • creating a story problem to represent an equation
This part comes directly from our curriculum so the decision making isn't about what to teach, but how to sequence it, teach it and assess it.

How will I structure the Math Workshop time?
Structuring Math Workshop varies depending on the unit. This particular unit calls for lots of sharing of problem-solving strategies, time to work on building and recording equations, and modeling/practicing +/- strategies that will begin to build early fluency in number facts to 10. Also, important to keep in mind, reteaching and practicing skills from previous units that have yet to be mastered by any students.

After much consideration, I decided to structure the next few weeks as follows:

Math Workshop = 50 minutes
  • First 10-12 minutes problem-solving warm-up:  Each day a new problem will be presented to the class as a whole. Initially, I model solving a story problem using tools, pictures and recording an equation. Then, I release the responsibility to the students to share their thinking with the group then I have students use a whiteboard app to show their thinking then share that thinking with a partner. If I notice 'smart moves' or efficient problem solving, I bring it to the attention of the group. and over time, the problems will include:
    • Addition
      • result unknown (3 + 2 = __)
      • change unknown (3 + __ = 5)
      • start unknown (__ + 2 = 5)
    • Subtraction
      • result unknown (5 - 2 = __)
      • change unknown (5 - __ = 3)
      • start unknown (__ - 2 = 3)
  • 20-30 minutes of math workstations: For this unit, workstations include:
    • IXL app: IXL is my favorite math app. It allows me to assign specific skill and concept work to students. All the big skills for this unit are available. I can assign practice on skills not mastered in previous units, practice on skills and concepts that are part of the current unit and skills and concepts that are a bit more challenging for students that have shown mastery of current skills and concepts. I can move students beyond their current grade level. This app provides me with diagnostic information on how students are performing so I can adjust their assignments.
    • Education Galaxy: I like EG but the kids LOVE EG! It has rockets, aliens and cards to collect...oh, my! It also has math:) Students take a diagnostic test to determine their proficiency in a variety of skill strands. Most of the big skills for this unit are available. I get reports on my end and students can either work on outstanding skills/concepts or, I can push out specific lessons to them. Students can choose to straight-up learn a skill or they can choose to learn through a game format. If a question is missed, a video tutorial pops up and further practice is provided. Two things I don't love about EG: the technology is sometimes a little 'glitchy' and 1st graders are not typically patient with this;) Also, as far as I can tell, I cannot move a student to skills beyond 1st-grade level.
    • Partner Games: In this station, students work with a partner on games that reinforce fact accuracy and fluency. They use tools, pictures and paper and pencil to record equations. While this station lacks the differentiation that the others provide, it does give students an opportunity to practice working collaboratively. I have noticed that this year's class needs work on taking turns, playing fairly and attending to the game even when it's not their turn. 
    • Problem Solving apps: 
      • Math Word Problems: I like this app because it has a very predictable structure and it reads the story problems aloud. 
      • Bedtime Math: I like this app because the problems are really interesting and engaging and there are 4 differentiated levels of questions. The drawback is that it does not read the problems aloud so it is too much of a reading challenge for a lot of kids.


    • Teacher Station: While students work independently in the other workstations, I can pull small groups to work with me. There is a lot going on here and it's super flexible. I can reteach, model and provide practice on unit skills, provide challenging problem solving for students who are ready and formatively assess skills and concepts in real time. 
      • Three great resources I use here are:
        • Math in Practice, Heinemann
        • Hands-On Standards, ETA Hands to Mind
        • Problem of the Month, Insite Mathematics, https://goo.gl/BfcRSL

  • Last 10-12 Minutes: equation work: We play a game called 'Can you make it?' I found this on one of those midnight internet searches;) 

  • I use lower numbers, 4-10. Students volunteer their thinking and I act as the scribe. There is also a large rekenrek just above the chart for quick, real object modeling. Students have begun investigating communitive property (2 + 3 = 5 / 3 + 2 = 5), identity property (2 + 0 = 2, 0 + 7 = 7) and adding using 3 addends. I purposely leave out a number from a pair so the kids have to think... "Wow, I wish I had a ___. If only I had a __ I could ... " I plan to use this time to teach balanced equations and flexibility in recording equations (2 + 3 = 5 / 5 = 2 + 3) I've been able to use this time to introduce and reinforce math vocabulary (sum, difference, equal, plus, minus, equation, compose, decompose).

So, I have to say, I LOVE the planning part of teaching! In my mind, this plan worked perfectly:) I stayed on schedule, all the kids followed directions and worked either independently or collaboratively, everyone stayed on task and there were no tech issues (there never are in my teaching fantasies yet there ALWAYS are in reality!). Last week, on day one of this new workshop model, the only way to describe math workshop would have been HOT MESS! Students could not remember directions and procedures, passwords were...well, passwords with 6-year-olds, our internet was sketchy and partner games required a chat about not hurting our friends. I was totally distracted and I'm pretty sure my Teacher Station group learned nothing and I'm really not so sure about the other stations! I took some deep breaths, reminded myself that these kids are 6 and called a class meeting. We discussed what went well and what needed improvement. We came up with some strategies to ensure that the next math workstations would go better. And they did! And, better still the next time:)  We are not quite at what I would describe as 'clockwork' but we're getting there.

Things for me to think about:
  1. I don't think I'll get all this content in in 3 weeks so how will I make adjustments for this?
  2. As I write this post, I recognize that I did not integrate engineering into this unit. Cannon is a STEM school and as such, my math workshop should look different from math workshops in other 1st grade classrooms. Two ideas I have:
    • create a station that includes an integrated math/engineering challenge
    • plan breaks from the math stations every few days and do a whole class integrated math/engineering challenge aligned with the skills for this unit

Sunday, September 24, 2017

2017 Cardboard Challenge

Cannon Cardboard Creation Challenge.  
This is part of a global cardboard challenge sponsored by the Imagination Foundation.

This project will be launched along with our October book of the month, What Can You Do With a Box, by Jane Yolen and Chris Sheban



The idea is simple...build something awesome out of cardboard, recycled materials and imagination. To get inspired, watch this video, Caine's Arcade.


The rules are simple...
  • Scholars will design and build their OWN cardboard creation at home using recyclable materials. 
  • Scholars should bring their creations to school on October 4th where all the creations will be on display for the entire school to see!
  • Siblings MAY work together.
  • All projects will be shared globally as Cannon Elementary has registered for the 2017 Global Cardboard Challenge!!


Just to get your creative juices flowing, check out these links then imagine your very own cardboard creation!


101 Things to Do With A Cardboard Box

Monday, September 4, 2017

Morning Tubs…a positive way to start the day

This year, in first grade, we begin our days with ‘Morning Tubs’. This structure offers a play based opportunity for students to investigate, create and collaborate at the beginning of each day.

As students arrive, they unpack and choose a tub. There are 20 different tubs and the tubs include a wide variety of activities, including building, word work, design, math skill practice, investigation and small motor muscle building. Students can choose to work individually or with a friend. This part of the day typically lasts about 15 minutes.






What I’ve Noticed…
Upon implementation, I’ve noticed that when students come into the classroom each morning, they are excited to begin the day. They are efficient in completing their morning jobs because they just really want to make their selection and get started. We have little to no tardies! Those kids who might have lollygagged down the hall at the start of each day are now speed-walking to class! Aside from the ‘administrative’ advantages to the implementation of Morning Tubs, I love the idea that students are starting their day collaborating. They are building relationships with their peers and developing communication skills.

What I Know…
I have long believed that, when given the choice, kids will gravitate toward activities that are ‘just right’ for themselves. Chosen activities are neither too difficult nor too easy but provide just the right amount of challenge that will keep them engaged and where a bit of risk will pay off in success…aka learning! This is what I really love about Morning Tubs; the variety of activities, skills and levels of difficulty…there’s something for everyone to learn.

What I’ve Learned…
One of our district/campus goals for students is that they become self-regulated learners. This goal may seem highfaluting for first graders as it involves choice and the confidence that students will choose to learn in areas of interest if given the right materials and structure.
So… THIS happened on the third day of school: Two students came to me at recess with acorns, leaves, pinecones, some sort of tiny white eggs, some tree bark and an insect wing. They asked if I would put these items into a tub with a magnifying glass so they could investigate them in the morning. These students knew what they wanted/needed to learn about and went about making that happen. THIS is an example of what self-regulated learning looks like in first grade! Needless to say, I did create a nature investigation Morning Tub and it is a hit! As a result of this incident, I set a new goal for myself…involve the students in creating the tubs! #selfregulatedlearning #engagement

Something Unexpected….
Another BIG advantage of this new practice is that I now have 10-15 minutes each morning to build relationships with my kids. I’m meeting them eye to eye. I’m not teaching… I’m visiting, I’m coaching, I’m encouraging, I’m questioning and I’m learning about my students…their challenges, their successes and their interests. Sometimes, I just talk with them until they smile… a smile to start the day is a good thing! This is a time of day where I’ve not planned for outcomes but where the outcomes are totally worth the time.

It’s Never ALL Good (when implementing a new practice) …
One problem we encountered early on with the implementation of Morning Tubs was the noise level in the classroom. With six-year-olds, excitement breeds noise. The volume was problematic because it made it difficult for me to communicate with the kids and for them to communicate with each other. Additionally, I really didn’t wish to start the day by overstimulating students…some kids have difficulty recovering…truth be told…I have difficulty recovering! Solution? Too Noisy. Too Noisy is an iPad app that monitors noise in any environment. There is a gauge with a needle that moves up and down depending on the noise level. I set the level – somewhere between partner and group work – and place my iPad where everyone can see it. Students use this tool to monitor their own volume. Every 5 minutes a reinforcement star is given if noise stays within the designated zone. Interestingly, the kids are totally into the stars! If the environment becomes ‘too noisy’ a signal is given and we regroup. The classroom stays at a comfortable sound level and students learn to self-monitor…win…win!

As We Move Forward
I anticipate change to our materials and procedures as we move forward with this new learning structure, as students grow and change and as I observe and learn.  I am encouraged by what I’ve observed so far and am eager to follow their lead as they help me, help them, discover and learn.






Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Teaching an Old Dog, A New Trick: Reflecting on New Learning

This summer, I learned something new…I mean totally new…something for which I possessed no skill and very little background knowledge. Last Christmas, my husband gave me a stand-up paddle board. I’m not sure why he thought I’d like such a thing. I’m not athletic and I’m not particularly interested in fitness. Nevertheless, he thought I’d like it and it turns out, I do!

Why is she blogging about paddle boarding on an educational blog you ask? As an adult, it has been a while since I learned something totally new. As I have struggled to learn how to ‘be’ a paddle boarder, I have been reflecting on how we (adults, kids… anyone) learn to do something new. I have been seeing analogies right and left as I navigate through my new learning.  My experiences have been a great reminder for me as I think about beginning a new year with eager – or not so eager -  learners in just a few weeks.

Prior to my first adventure, I built up my background knowledge, talking to a few people who have paddle boarded before and watching a few instructional videos on YouTube. This gave me a vision of how things SHOULD look. Believe me, paddle boarding is way harder than it looks…and let’s not forget that I’m not athletic. The best word to describe my first experience is clumsy. I wasn’t sure how to carry the board, how to ‘put in’ (to the water) how to actually stand up on the board let alone STAY up on the board, how to hold the paddle correctly (yup, there’s a wrong way), how to avoid the fishing boats...it was difficult. My husband paddled around in his kayak offering advice and support…my coach/lifeguard…I wasn’t alone. Let me be clear, he is not a paddle boarder but watched the same videos and once had a lesson. I appreciated the support J My first few times out were much the same. I was an emergent paddle boarder needing support, guidance and encouragement. I stayed in the cove, close to shore. I was slow, unconfident and needed prompting to keep going. I fell in a lot.

After several times out, I got a little better. J I was less clumsy. I became proficient in handling the board. I was able to focus on developing strategies. I was gaining confidence. I was taking some risks – aka turning around without sitting down on the board, not so much avoiding the fishing boats. I was learning that it was easier to move perpendicular to the current rather than parallel. I became more aware of my center of gravity and how to move and shift. I was free to attend to these details because more basic skills were now in place. Don’t get me wrong, I was not competent – just better and still falling in occasionally. But, I was developing my skills. I was still slow – but faster than before. I was pretty good if the water was like glass – no waves – my happy place. You might say I was an early paddle boarder. I still needed coaching, feedback and much time for independent practice.

Just last weekend, I ventured outside the cove! It was windy and the water was rough. There were motor boats creating waves. I went outside the ‘No Wake’ zone…and I didn’t fall…not once! I did use some ‘no fall strategies’ like moving to my knees when things got rough, speeding up when the waves got big and taking a break – aka laying on the board and resting from time to time. At one point I actually self-corrected. I felt myself leaning left and almost falling in. I adjusted my center of gravity and corrected my balance. This was truly exciting! No one was around to witness but I did give myself a little Woo-Hoo!  I moved in and out of the cove ‘familiar zone’ as necessary. My speed varied. When things were easy, I went fast. When things were difficult, I went slow. (think fluency) My coach was there, kayaking around and going off and leaving me from time to time but returning to offer prompts (Are you holding the paddle the right way? Make sure you are on the center of the board.) I am a developing paddle boarder.  I’m gaining confidence and beginning to enjoy my time on the water. Where previously I could ONLY focus on staying on the board, now I am able to enjoy the wind in my face and the beauty of the lake.

With more practice, I may become independent. It will take a lot of practice. It will take a lot of repetition to consolidate my skills: moving smoothly in and out of the cove and moving gracefully up and down on the board making adjustments. Being independent on Lake Grapevine is far different than being independent in another environment, say the ocean. Different environments require different skills. It may be necessary to move back to early or developing levels to strengthen skills.

So, how does this connect to learning in the classroom? What is necessary in a learning environment for a learner to stay engaged and be successful?
·      Time and opportunity to build background knowledge
·      Opportunities to fail and be assured of follow-up chances
·      Planned guided practice with an encouraging, supportive coach offering feedback
·      Recognition and praise for self-correction – this leads to independence
·      Opportunities for independent practice
·      Time to consolidate skills before moving forward
·      Permission to take a step back in order to strengthen skills when things get hard or slow

As I prepare myself for the upcoming school year, I have a choice about how I respond to the learning in my classroom. I choose to engage with learners, to empathize and recall the feelings of struggle…excitement…fear…pride…frustration and self-reliance associated with new learning.