Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The One with the Mystery Pictures

Before Spring Break we began studying integers and the coordinate plane.  My students were beyond thrilled to be finished with our unit on fractions.  I have to admit I was pretty excited to be finished as well.  

They immediately fell in love with integers.  Maybe it was because integers aren't fractions.  Or it might have had something to do with the fact they got to play integer war (see previous post) which they are still begging to play again and again.

To help them practice graphing points on a coordinate plane, I gave each student a "mystery" picture.  I had gathered somewhere between 10 and 15 different pictures from different sources because I wanted there to be a variety.  I also wanted to keep the element of surprise.  I hate when that fast working student yells out "It's a ..." and the fun is ruined for everyone else.

Having a variety also allowed me to give easier pictures to students who needed them and more challenging pictures to my more advanced students.

We spent two days working on these pictures as some of them were pretty detailed.  My students absolutely loved it.  They would start guessing as to what their picture was as soon as they graphed the first point.  Some of their guesses made me chuckle.  

I'm proud of how they turned out.  I think my students did a fabulous job.

Some of these are created by my students as extra credit - they designed the pictures and then wrote out the coordinates and directions on how to put it all together.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The One with the Integer War - Bunco Style

Oh my goodness.

My students and I had so much fun in class yesterday.  

And to top it off there were some great conversations about integers going on.

A few weeks ago as we were ending our unit on fractions I came across this blog post and immediately knew I wanted to try it out with my students.

Thank you Controlling my Chaos for sharing this fabulous idea.

It started with the purchase of 14 decks of cards.  Thank goodness for Dollar Tree.  I was able to get all of them for only $7.   And then I removed all of the jokers, jacks, queens, and kings from the decks.

I arranged my desk so that students were sitting with a partner.  This set the stage.  My students knew something was up when they walked in and saw the new arrangement.

Each pair of students were given a deck of cards which they divided evenly between the two of them.

They then played the old card game war...only with a few slight changes.

While the black cards represented positive numbers, the red cards represented negative numbers.

Aces were worth one.

Here's where it gets interesting.

The tables were numbered in true Bunco fashion.   The winner of each table gets to move up a table.  The goal was to get to the head table.  The winner of the head table stayed at the head table, but the loser had to go all the way to the last table.

Really you need to know go read Controlling My Chaos's post.   It is a much better description and even includes pictures.

My students and I were had a blast.  We were all smiling and learning.

Students were really getting into it.  There were a lot of "OOHs  and AWW MANs flying around.

They were begging to play longer.

They were upset today when they walked in and the desk were back to normal.

We'll have to play again soon.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The One with the Goals

I've been labeled as a math teacher.  My students this year can't imagine me teaching any other subject.  My students before can't imagine me teaching math.  Yet I am labeled as a math teacher.

A math teacher in the middle of this great debate known as common core.

I'm sure you've seen the pictures floating around...the one of the first house built with common core math or the one of the tip left for a waiter using common core math.

But have you seen the pictures floating around showing the good part of common core?

Yeah me either.

I'm not trying to debate common core with you.  Like anything else it has its pros and it has its cons.  It's what today's teachers have been dealt.  We have to make the best of it while still focusing on what is most important.

Our students.

It has been said that we don't teach _____ (insert content area or grade level) but we teach children.  

I believe that to be true.

I'm a teacher.  Period.  I teach children.  Period.  There doesn't need to be any other labels there.  Sure the focus of my days is 5th and 6th grade math.

But that doesn't mean I don't have an influence outside of that.

Recently I realized that I have three goals as a "math" teacher.  Funny thing is none of them are exclusive to 5th and 6th grade math.

First and foremost I want my students and all children I come in contact with to feel loved and valued.  I want them to feel safe and important.  I want them to feel like I care about them as an individual.  If no one else in their lives smiles at them or makes them feel loved, I want to be the one to do that for them.  Each morning after we say the Pledge of Allegiance we have a moment of silence.  I take advantage of that moment of silence to pray for my students.  Yes, I said it.  I pray for my students on a daily basis.  Not aloud or with them though I would happily do that if they asked, its a silent prayer between God and me.  I pray my students would feel safe and that they would know that I love them.    Elementary students are still young enough that they sometimes tell their teacher they love them.  I never hesitate to say it back to those sweet kiddos.  They need to hear it.

I am still surprised at how many students in our school who are not in my class will say "Hello Mrs. Weaver" when they see me.  I'm new at my school and have only had the students who are in my class this year yet I'm often greeted by students I've never met.  I don't know their name or how they know mine.  Further proof that I'm a teacher - not a 5th and 6th grade math teacher.  My influence reaches beyond the four walls that make up my classroom.

I want to help my students gain confidence in their abilities.  Yes right now I want them to gain confidence in their math abilities, but that doesn't mean I don't encourage them in other areas of their lives.  They've learned that I may teach math but I am a lover of books.  I encourage them to read and to do their best in every class - not just mine.  I encourage them to give it their all when they are participating in a sporting event or an art contest.  I want them to believe in themselves.  

The best part of my year has easily been watching students gain confidence.  I've been able to watch students who only months ago claim to be bad at math grow in their confidence and are now volunteering to work problems at the board and help their classmates.  It makes me do a happy dance every time.

I began this post by mentioning common core.  My third goal is where that comes into play.  My third goal explains how I interpret common core.  You may disagree with me.  That's okay.  I'm not here to debate with you.  I'm only trying to share my heart and what I believe as a teacher.  To me common core math is simply what math should have been all along.  It's teaching students to be problem solvers.

I always made good grades in math, yet I've always been terrible at math.  I was simply a good student who could imitate what my teacher was doing.  I never understand the why.  I never had good number sense.  Those are things that I'm gaining as I find my way through 5th and 6th grade math.  Because of my childhood experiences I always said that if I ever had to teach math I wanted to be a different kind of math teacher.  I do not believe there is one way to get the right answer.  I am not a "it's my way or the highway" kind of math teacher.  If a student arrives at the correct answer and can explain their thinking to me, I'm happy.

For me that's common core.  Teaching students that it is okay to think about a problem differently.  There is more than one way to get to the right answer.  My third goal is to help my students learn to think for themselves.  I want to give them a backpack full of strategies that they can go to when presented with a problem.  I want to give them as many real world situations as possible.  I want to help them learn to vocalize their thinking and justify their reasoning to classmates.  I want to teach them to question others' thinking and realize when an answer is unreasonable.

This has been incredibly difficult for some of my students.  Some of them are imitators like I was.  They have had moments of frustration when I wouldn't tell them how to solve a problem.  I would have had those moments too as a student.  But some of those same students are some of my best problem solvers now.  

I've had students say to me on more than one occasion that I sound like their mother.  I consider that to be one of the highest compliments I can receive.  It is then that I know I'm reaching my goals to some degree.  

That has nothing to do with common core.  That is teaching children.