Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rethinking Unit Reviews

Last year, I had the opportunity to work with a gal who taught me so much about instruction, and I didn't even realize I didn't know it.  Even after 15 years in the classroom, there is still so much to learn about the most effective ways to reach students.

One of the things that really stood out to me was the way that she reviewed content in preparation for a test.  Traditionally, most teachers review every single concept that is going to be on the test so students know exactly what to expect. This gal really focused on the student work throughout the unit to see the areas of most need for students.  She was all about mastery and would not move on until at least 80% of her students mastered the content.  She believed that if her students really knew the material being taught in 5 out of 6 units, and aced the end of the year test, then she had done a much better job than rushing to cover units because she was on her pacing guide.  When she reviewed for a test, she only reviewed what was necessary based on student work, and as a result, students really understood the concepts that were lacking. A few years back,  I had begun to drop the traditional philosophy of review, but I still dreaded it.  I needed a way to spice things up for my students.

This past week we were finishing up a unit on writing equations for word problems.  My students did exceptionally well on one step word problems, but when it came to word problems with multiple operations that involved brackets and parenthesis, they were a little shaky.  But, I didn't want to inundate them with a ton of word problems to work and check.

So, enter a little Ron Clark inspiration.  When I spent the day at Ron Clark Academy a few months ago, he spoke about putting equations in balloons and having students pop the balloon to discover the equation.

I decided this was just what we needed.  Last week we were out of school two days and had two late starts because of wind chill temps, so recess did not exist.  I needed  a way to get my students moving, but also to incorporate review.  I decided to take the balloon idea and turn it into a relay race.  Normally, I don't do races for math, because I know how it feels to be under pressure in math.  There's nothing like all of the class watching you work a problem out in front of the room (thank you Coach Ashton for the math anxiety) when you lack the confidence needed to think straight.  So we did the following:

1. I found word problems out of our math book that focused on the multiple operation component that I needed.  I cut them out, rolled them into little strips, stuffed them into balloons, and blew them up to prepare.

2. I put all of the balloons at the back of the room.





3.  Next, I divided my kids into a Team A and Team B, making sure to balance my math whizzes among the groups. Each person had a white board and a marker.


4. Set the expectations: Students would move in partners.  I organized the lines purposely to put a stronger math student with one who needed extra support - be careful not to put high with low because the high will usually do the work while the other watches.

5. Students ran in partner groups, picked a balloon, popped it and both students had to solve the problem.  This was critical.  I needed both kids accountable for the work.  I was at the back of the room providing extra support if needed.  We read word problems, applied our strategy of the 5 Step Way (post coming soon), and worked them.  Once the problem was worked, the students returned to their line.

6. When students returned to their line, they partnered up with the group ahead of them and swapped problems to check each other's work.

It was a blast - for me and my students.  They loved the variety of the activity and asked to do it again.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Moving and Shaking

Recently we embarked on my favorite unit in our 5th grade Social Studies curriculum - Prosperity and Great Depression.  Truth be told, every unit is my favorite, with the exception of Westward Expansion. Part of our study of the Roaring 20s includes the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance. The timing of our study could not have been more perfect.  We began the Great Migration when Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was on the calendar and the Harlem Renaissance when Black History month began.  I completely enjoy this unit because I get to focus on some of my favorites - the history of baseball, flappers and Prohibition, and art/music/literature from the 20s.  My favorite poet of all time is Langston Hughes and I take every opportunity to share him with my students whether it is Black History Month or not.

I'm not a sit and get type of teacher on most days and I don't use our textbooks, unless I am resource poor because it doesn't meet our standards. BUT, sometimes there is still a need for students to gather the background information on a time period.

Enter Movers and Shakers....

One of my goals this year was to provide structured conversation throughout my lessons that allowed students to make decisions about their learning.  This activity did just that.

*Before beginning, choose a text for students to focus on for the lesson.  We were studying the Harlem Renaissance, so I chose a text that summarized the entire era.  Students were given 5:00 to read as much as they were able. Some were able to read the entire text, while others were only able to get half way through.


Once students read the article, I provided 5 minutes to write the top 3 ideas they felt were most important in the text.  This allowed me to see if they were able to grab the main idea of the text.

  Once all students in the group had written their 3 ideas, each person shared all 3 with their group.  We have a standard "who goes first" procedure in our classroom - the person with the shortest hair in the group always goes first.  After every person had shared, the group then discussed what the MOST important idea of the entire text was.  This could be an idea off of someone's paper or a combination of everyone's idea.

Once deciding on the most important/main idea of the text, the group worked together to justify their thinking.  All students were responsible for writing this information down in order to move to the next portion.


The group decided on a MOVER and a SHAKER to share the group ideas.  Movers took their paper and rotated to another group to share their thinking.  The Shaker stayed behind and shared the thinking with the mover who would arrive.  We did this rotation 3 times.  This resulted in students hearing the main idea of the Harlem Renaissance at least 7 times.


At the end of the lesson, I had the movers share their thinking one more time.


The kids LOVED this activity and have begged for it multiple times.  Since then we've used this discussion protocol in math as well.  Instead of looking for the main idea, students wrote 3 equations for word problems, chose the most efficient one to solve, and then justified how it was the best choice.

I've added this to my stash of good ideas to use each year.  With the excitement that my kids had and the results on the quiz (80% scored 80% or better!), it is definitely a keeper!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I Have a Dream Week

This week was one of the most phenomenal we have had in our classroom all year.  It's amazing on those days that everything clicks.  We have worked so hard to come together as a class this year - 4 months of working every day - and it all clicked this week.  The timing could not have been more perfect since I had an administrator in my room for an observation.  I think that was the first time all the stars aligned this year.

The focus of our reading workshop this week was CCSS:
  •  RI.5.6. Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent
  • RL. 5.6 Describe how a narrator's or speaker's point of view influences how events are described.
If you've been hammering out these standards in your classroom, you too know how difficult it is for some students to understand perspective, point of view, and first/second hand accounts.  They are abstract and it is difficult for students to find the evidence to support those ideas.  

With MLK Day and Black History month coming up, I wanted to make sure that we spent a good amount of time talking about how Martin Luther King, Jr. impacted our world for the good.  This is always one of my favorite units to teach, but I had to do something different with these kiddos.  I had a portion of them in 2nd grade and I wanted to make sure that it was new and fresh.

So, we began by reading My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Christine King Farris.  As we read, students used the text to gather information about the life of MLK.  



We then added 3 other texts that were biographical in nature, but took on a different perspective.  Our discussions were rich and centered around how the author, narrator, or speaker's experiences influenced the text.  (I used various texts online from Time for Kids, diary accounts, etc.)  I was amazed at the discussions that I heard in all of my groups.

We then watched the following video (more suited for older students.  There are some powerful images of MLK, Jr. after he was shot).

Ya'll, after watching this video and doing the reading, my room was absolutely silent.  So, I did what many of you would have done and threw the lesson plan out of the window and embraced the opportunity to discover what was going through the minds of my students.  We did this through a quick writing reflection.  I gave students about 10 minutes to just write what was in their head.  When I looked around, I had 3 students wiping tears.  When I saw that, I had to wipe my own.

We read all of these texts and watched the videos in preparation for a writing assignment.  My students had to take on the role of Martin Luther King, Jr. and write an I Am poem from his perspective.  Students took the notes they had taken throughout the week and then created poetry using the I Am poem generator. Students completed the poem online, copied it, and pasted into their Google Doc to upload to Google Classroom.

I was blown away by the quality of poems that were written by students.  Here are a few:

I Am
by A.J.

I am Brave and will not give up.
I wonder if this war will be over, this war of hate, love and death.
I hear my friends, sometimes screaming but others in joy and peace.
I see others future where little white and black girls and boys can play together.
I want Peace and nothing but peace, peace means no more suffering, no more hate, just peace and only peace.
I am a dreamer and the only way dreamers get around is if the believers come with them.
I pretend that love, love is that thing that makes us human, and that the only thing.
I feel all that whatever I do will do something, something will change.
I touch the people’s hearts the ones who have to go though this, those who have tried and tried, but I, I will change that.
I worry I will fail my people, fail that the people will not hate but love.
I cry about the fact that others treat each other like a dead man.
I am the middle of this I just hope it goes right.

I understand I'm hated, loved, and for some, it’s both.
I say we are just selfish and we are human witch we should use for good.
I dream about others dreams and their children’s dreams.
I try to do the impossible and I’m almost done. I hope all my work and love, hate, and care is use for good, the good of my people not for selfish humans who think it’s not fare
I am the middle the middle of hope and nothing but hope.

I Am
by Amajzhe’

I am brave and kind
I wonder if my speech even worked
I hear that little black and white children are playing together
I see anybody could drink out of any water fountain
I want segregation to stop
I am brave and kind

I pretend that segregation is my imagination
I feel my heart pounding
I touch people’s hearts
I worry that my four little children are not segregated against
I cry that people think they are different because of their skin
I am brave and kind

I understand that some people don’t feel the same as me
I say segregation will stop
I dream everybody is created equal
I try to stop violence
I hope my speech worked
I am brave and kind

I Am
by Charlie

I am Brave And Courageous
I wonder If Maybe One Day Black And White Children Will Hold Hands At The Table Of Brotherhood
I hear The Cries Of Black Children Around The World
I see A Country With No Difference Between Black And White People
I want For My Message To Be Heard And My Children Once Will Be Friends With White Children
I am A Non-Violent Protester

I pretend Everything Is Equal In This World
I feel An Arrow go through My Heart Whenever A Black Man Gets Hosed
I touch Hearts And Minds With This Speech
I worry My Children Will Never Be Free From This Chaos
I cry When I See People Abused By The Color Of Their Skin
I am Like Mahatma Ghandhi

I understand Not Why We Should Disagree But Get Along
I say Segregation Should Be Put To An End For The Good Of Everybody
I dream That Here On The Hill Of Georgia We Will Be Free!
I try To Protest And And Stop Segregation
I hope My Word Will Be Heard Worldwide
I am Me

I Am Poem
by Mia

I am a freedom fighter and determined
I wonder what the future will bring; blacks and whites together or have it the same
I hear black people and white people laughing together and playing together
I see little black boys and little black girls joining hands with little white boys and little white girls as brothers and sisters
I want the country not to be segregated
I am a freedom fighter and determined

I pretend that black people and white people can drink from the same drinking fountain
I feel disappointed how whites don’t treat blacks fairly
I touch the people of our country hoping that things will get better with my words
I worry that my dream won't come true and everything will stay the same
I cry when I think about the racism that my family might see
I am a freedom fighter and determined

I understand that whites aren't treating blacks equally
I say my dream over and over to myself
I dream that one day blacks and whites will join hands as friends and family
I try to let people know what is happening to the world
I hope that the world will soon change and blacks and whites will be able to go to the same school, drink from the same water fountains, and go to the same restaurant
I am a freedom fighter and determined

I Am
by Zora

I am strong and free
I wonder will this world ever change
I hear the bells of freedom
I see brotherhood and sisterhood coming together
I want everyone to love not fight
I am strong and free

I pretend that I’m sitting at a table of black and white
I feel the hands of love
I touch the hearts that need to be open
I worry that the world will not change
I cry when people fight
I am strong and free

I understand that all people are different
I say that we need to get rid of this
I dream that one day everyone come in the name of love
I try to help but I need your help too
I hope the world will live a happy life
I am strong and free

The next step was to create a piece of artwork to go along with our work. Honestly, this is still in progress. We took the following image and blew it up by creating a grid and assigning students a square to draw. One of the reasons I chose this was to show students that each had a very vital part of the process. Without one square, we couldn't finish the project. In the heart of all transparency, I still have about 5 squares not finished, so I can't show you the final work.


These lessons are now a part of my favorites. My students absolutely loved them and I enjoyed teaching them. Some days, it isn't fun because of all of the other distractions that play out in a classroom. But these days, we found our groove.