Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Making Mother's Day Interactive and Memorable in Upper Elementary

Sometimes creating holiday activities in the upper grades can be a little tricky.  There are so many cute ideas for Mother's day on Pinterest and TpT, but many of them are little too young for my sixth graders.  This year we have been working a lot on spatial relationships and geometry.  I was playing around with some foldable shapes, and came up with the idea having my students make their mom's (aunt, grandmother, special person) a geometry flower.

I add some writing elements, including asking students to describe their moms, write similes, draw a picture, and let their mom know why they love them.

We cut out the circles after writing and coloring both sides and folded the shapes back to make triangles.

Next we stapled the pieces together with the triangle point at the bottom to make a four-sided flower.  I had my students color a large Popsicle stick with a green marker (you could also paint them) and I hot glued the stick to the bottom to create a stem.

To pretty them up I asked my students to bring in rolls of ribbon that they may have had left over from other projects, and we tied and glued ribbons to the stem.  Lastly, we filled the bottom of the flower with about 7-8 Hershey's Kisses and Hugs candy.  We decorated small gift bags that I purchased at the dollar store, and made a card for our moms.

But you could also have your students just create a card and attach it to the flower with ribbon like this:

One of the things I liked about the project was that it involved several elements of learning.  Writing, reflection, math and art.  My students had a great time discussing words that may describe their parent, and we all laughed at some of the similes they came up with.

If you are interested in doing something similar, you can go {HERE} for the product.
I would love to hear how you make Mother's Day special in your Upper Elementary Classroom.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Interactive Geometry and Three Dimensional Shapes {Mid-Week Math Motivation}

My geometry standards include getting my students familiar with finding the surface area of rectangular prisms and pyramids.  Thankfully, hard working teacher in lower grades spend a lot of time getting students to recognize three dimensional shapes and their attributes.  After having several years of Common Core Standards under their belts, I'm finally seeing the benefits of this with my class.

One idea that I believe has really benefited my students is their understanding of how a three-dimensional shape can be turned into a 2-dimensional net.  My students really need to have a strong visual of this purpose in order to find surface area.  In sixth grade we don't teach formulas for surface area, we teach finding the surface area through net drawing.  When I get to this unit in my curriculum, I have a series of shapes that we cut out and glue into our notebooks.  These look like 2-dimensional nets when laying flat, but students also have the ability to fold them up into three-dimensional rectangular prisms and pyramids.

When I complete this activity we usually use a day or two on rectangular prisms, and a day or two on different pyramids. After students cut out the shapes,  I have them find the faces, edges and vertices of each.  Their ability to fold the nets into 3-dimensional shapes REALLY helps my struggling students with these concepts.  We also draw a net and practice a three-dimensional shape example.
On another face we write the formulas we need to solve the problem and an explanation of HOW to solve for the surface area.  This one practice in my opinion is the KEY to the entire concept, getting students to WRITE and EXPLAIN the mathematical process.

When we finish with the basics, I either give students dimensions and have them solve in their notebooks, or have them measure the shapes using a ruler (both inches-- for fraction work, and centimeters for decimals).  For kicks, they also color their shapes.  I mean, we all love a little math--art fun don't you agree?

To find the shapes to complete this lab, you can go {HERE} and scroll through the geometry unit to find what you are looking for.  The link is to an Engage NY student packet.

Thanks for stopping by for a little Mid-Week Math Motivation.  Make it a great day!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Notice and Note: Aha Moments

My students are LOVING learning the signposts from Beers and Probst's Notice and Note book.  I can tell that they are really starting to tune into monitoring their comprehension, and are definitely leaving tracks in their learning.

Today I wanted to share with you a few resources I used when teaching the AHA MOMENT signpost.  I created a tabbed booklet for my Smarties to keep track of their learning.  We write an anchor chart on the right side of the booklet, and then create a t-chart on the left with a few examples from movie shorts and book excerpts.

The AHA moment is when the character realizes or finally understands something he has not known. It is a signpost to help readers recognize conflict and theme.  If the character has an AHA moment where they figure out a problem, then usually you can identify something about the conflict of the story.  When the AHA moment is about a life lesson you have probably learned a theme.  My students grasped this concept fairly quickly, although it is important for them to recognize that the AHA moment for the reader may be different from that of the character, and being aware of this is leaving tracks in their learning.

One powerful short that I used was a video from Jacob Frey called The Present.  You can find it on vimeo.  Watch how powerful it is to teach the signpost.

Another AMAZING video is called Snack Attack

Beers and Probst use excerpts from Jerry Spinelli's Crash to help reinforce the concept.  I have really enjoyed introducing each signpost with a short film or two, and then using a novel to see the words in action.  It has really helped my students understand each concept, and I have seen them quickly pick up on each signpost in their own independent reading as well.

Here are a few other picture books that you can use to teach AHA moments.

Have you read One Green Apple by Eve Bunting?  I LOVE her books!  There are so many amazing things you can do with them!  Even for upper grade students her picture books carry messages with strong themes.  One Green Apple is about a Muslim girl named Farah who has just moved to her new school and is on a field trip to an apple orchard.  She feels lonely and isolated, but soon comes to realize she has more in common with her classmates than she originally believed.  It is such a powerful story for students who have ESL in their classrooms!
(Link to Amazon)
I also love books by Chris Van Allsburg.  One of my favorites is The Stranger.  I love to read this book in the fall, and using it for AHA moments is a great experience because the Stranger never talks in the book.  You have to recognize his AHA moment by his facial expressions.  I also love it because your students don't recognize the AHA moment before the character, but once they realize it they can find evidence in the text that supports it.  These are real reading moments, and students are very eager to leave tracks in their learning with this book!
Link to Amazon
If you want to learn more about how I am teaching the Signposts, you can check out this post on Contrasts and Contradictions {HERE}.  If you want to use the tabbed book as a way for students to keep track of anchor charts and signposts as they are learning, you can go {HERE}.
Keep reading friends!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Data Displays.. Desk Drawing Style {Mid-Week Math Motivation}

Hello friends!  My class is doing some testing review and we have to know about data displays.  I always find that the space they give you on worksheets IS.. SO...SMALL!!  We need a half page at least to draw out our histograms or box plots!  My loose-leaf paper supply is getting a little low, and I needed a new way to keep my Smarties motivated, so I decided to bring out the dry erase markers and let them write on their desks <GASP>.  They almost died when I told them it was ok!  I always think that is the funniest part of letting them write on the desk.  I don't do it very often, and usually save it for towards the end of the year, just so that it is something new and fun for them!

Anyway, we drew our line plots, histograms and box plots on the desks this past week.  I could definitely tell that allowing my students an opportunity to do something different kept them motivated and willing to work.  The dry erase markers are easy to clean off of our desks using some tissue and hand sanitizer.  I have found that the green dry erase markers are a little more tough to get off, but nothing a little elbow grease and a Clorox wipe couldn't handle.

Using the motivation of writing on the desks, we managed to cover the basics of a box plot and how to use our upper and lower quartiles pretty quickly which I was happy about because testing is coming up.  After our state assessments I'll go back through these points again, and we'll do a STEM lab involving data that we gather from paper airplane flying to create our data displays.  I'll be writing about that in the next few weeks, but if you happen to be looking for a fun interactive math lab, you can go {HERE} to check it out.

Have a great week!  Thanks for stopping by for a little Mid-Week Math Motivation!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Poetry for Upper Elementary Students

April is National Poetry month, and I know a lot of teachers that read and write poetry during the month of April.  I wanted to highlight a few great places where you can find good poetry for Upper Elementary students.  Yes, my Smarties in the sixth grade, love a little Shel Silverstein, but they are longing to feel a little more grown-up and these poetry resources really help them feel that way.
First of all, have you discovered Readworks.org?  They have an entire list of poems that are sectioned by grade level.  I usually start with a few fifth grade poems.  My students especially love "Casey at the Bat" and it is a great way to start our unit.  I also like this poem in book form.  It is illustrated by Patricia Polacco and contains a side story along with the famous poem by Ernest Thayer.  It is a great way to differentiate and help out your struggling readers with visual pictures. <Book links to Amazon>

Then I work into the sixth grade level which includes "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.

Another book that I LOVE to use, and firmly believe should be in every library is Keeping the Night Watch by Hope Anita Smith.  This is an anthology of poems written from the point of view of a 13 year old African American boy who is struggling with a father who has left his family.  Many of the poems can be connected to various feelings that characters in novels have.. fear, anger, hope, perseverance. etc.  This poetry book is a great way to teach about theme topics.

Have you read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander?

This Newbery winner is written in poetry form and is AMAZING!.. Seriously, go order this book right now!  There are so many uses and avenues for discussion with this book.  I have been using it as my model book for Notice and Note Signpost strategies.  You can read the first in this blogpost series {HERE}.  Even my most reluctant readers have loved this book, and Kwame Alexander has just published a second book called BOOKED which also looks amazing! It came out on April 5th, so you know it was immediately in my cart on Amazon.

One of the things I've loved about Alexander's book, The Crossover is that it is a great model for writing poetry.  In one particular poem titled Filthy McNasty <I mean how can you NOT LOVE that name> he describes one of the main characters, and I am going to use it as a springboard poem for character traits and motivation when we read The Lightning Thief.  There are so many possibilities!

Happy April Poetry Month!  I would love to hear what types of poetry you will be reading with your students this month!  Any books I should add to my collection?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Using a Map for an Inquiry Based Learning Pre-Assessment: Natural Disasters

Our weather unit has been so much fun with a ton of hands on inquiry labs.  I wanted to share an activity that I used as we began our unit.  This is easy to complete in your classroom and tons of fun for your students.  What I really like about it is that you can use the activity as a pre-assessment of their basic knowledge without using a test.  Although I think graphic organizers like K-W-L charts are great activities, this map activity was different, and I saw a lot of engagement in my students.

Disaster Maps
A few days before I began our study of natural disasters I had students format a natural disaster map.  I divided my students into groups and gave each group a large world map and dot stickers.  I asked them to place stickers on the map to represent where they thought tornadoes, hurricanes and snow storms might be located.

We also placed a smaller version of this map in our interactive science notebooks and color coded it with colored pencils.  It was amazing to listen to the discussion and conversations my students had.  Their reasoning for placement is what I was really interested in listening to. It gave me a great idea of what misconceptions we might have going into the unit.  I gave my students about 15 minutes to place their dots, and prepare their justifications.  Each group was able to present their thinking, and we had a discussion about what we agreed and disagreed about.

Being on the Gulf Coast it was amazing to see that there were some groups who didn't place hurricane dots in our city or the Gulf of Mexico, some even had tornadoes placed in the Northeast, which rarely sees them.  This activity is a perfect pre-assessment for concepts!!  I had a really clear path as we moved forward, and was able to hone in on some key concept ideas that my students were lacking.

I would love to hear about other pre-assessment or inquiry based tools that you use in your classroom.  Thanks for stopping by to visit today!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Notice and Note: Using Inner Conversation to Monitor Comprehension with Contrast and Contradiction

Even though I teach sixth grade, I have to spend a lot of time in my reading block modeling and teaching students how to monitor their reading comprehension.  One of the best ways I've found to do this is by teaching my students about the inner conversation that good readers have with themselves. I start with an anchor chart of what that "voice in your head" is doing while you are reading and we discuss how readers who pay attention to their thinking, are more apt to learn, understand and remember what they read.  I teach my students that as readers they must leave tracks within their thinking.

Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst is a perfect book for educators who want students to connect with a story, and monitor their own comprehension.  In the book, Beers and Probst discuss the idea of six signposts that are apparent in good literature.  These signposts, or elements that occur in most genres of good literature, help students make connection to text and think authentically about what they are reading, instead of just "finishing" a book.  I basically devoured this book when I began reading it.  It justifies so many things that I believe about reading, and how to create a community of readers in your classroom.  It challenges students to dig deeper into text, and find the authenticity behind what they are reading.  I've begun teaching the sign posts to my students, and they are excited about reading again.  They are excited to dicuss a book, or story, or poem with their classmates.  They feel a little like detectives as they leave tracks, and make connections.

Signpost #1 Contrast and Contradictions
I began the signposts by teaching Contrast and Contradictions.  We created an anchor chart which defines the signpost, and I gave my students a tabbed book for their interactive notebooks where they could create an anchor chart for each signpost as well.  This helped to give them ownership in their learning, and a place to refer back to for anchor questions.

Contrast and Contradiction is the idea that there is a contrast between what we would EXPECT a character to be doing and what the character actually does.  An author will use this in a novel or story for character development, to show internal conflict, theme, or show a relationship between the setting and the plot of the story.  The key to the signpost is in the anchor question.  For contrast and contradiction we are looking at WHY would the character act this way?  It allows students to pause in their thinking and make inferences and connections within the text.

After explaining the concept and creating our anchor charts, I began by showing my students a video that contained several contrasts and contraditions.  I used the Pixar short Presto which is about a magician and the conflicts between his bunny and himself.

I stopped after the first section where a Contrast and Contradiction occurs, and modeled for my students in our tabbed book what was going on, and then used the anchor questions to write about what I was thinking at this point in the story.  LEAVING TRACKS!  Then I continued on with the story stopping at several other areas that showed a C/C and had students turn and talk about it, always emphasizing the anchor question, and that is the key to the deeper understanding.

When we finished with the lesson I  had them read and find at least one C/C in their independent reading books.

On the second day we reviewed Contrast and Contradiction using this great video by Brent Peterson.

Then I modeled the C/C again using the short story "Thank You Ma'am" by Langston Hughes.  This lesson is completely modeled for you in the Notice and Note book.  So if you are nervous about how to get started teaching the signposts, Beers and Probst do an amazing job walking you through the steps with students, and give tons of ideas and books to help you.

Here are a few other books that you could use to reinforce the idea of Contrasts and Contradictions with your students.  (LINKS GO TO AMAZON)

I especially liked using The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  This Newbery winner is written completely in poetry prose, so it is a perfect way to show my students that Notice and Note Signposts can come in all forms of literature.  I have been using it as my own independent reading book example with my students.

Here is a link to the Notice and Note book if you are interested in learning more about helping your students think deeper about text.

I'll share my experience with AHA Moments soon.  Meanwhile, I would love to hear about any resources you may have for using Notice and Note in your classroom!  If you are interested in using the Notice and Note Tabbed Booklet with your students, you can go {HERE} to pick it up!
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