Sunday, February 24, 2013

Human Bingo- a Review Activity

On Thursday, we started class by playing Human Bingo.  We are currently working on the concept of percent of a number and have worked with a variety of "real life" activities involving this idea.  These ranged from "going shopping" where students went to Best Buy, Toys r Us, or Target online and "made" some purchases and then calculated a discount to a tax and tip activity where students took three people "out to dinner."  I wanted the kids to do some flat out number crunching with percents and so decided that Human Bingo would be a good activity to get us doing just that.  The students were moving about, doing the activity and I snapped a quick photo of one of their sheets with my iPad and made  this post on Twitter

 where I received a message back from Lisa Henry (@lmhenry9) who asked me about it after looking at the attached picture.

  Thus this post was born.  So for Lisa and anyone else looking for a nice review activity that gets kids up and moving and talking here is Human Bingo (borrowed quite liberally from Rick Wormelli.)

The whole idea of Human Bingo revolves around getting kids up and talking.  You start by giving each student a five by five  bingo board.  The nice part about the bingo boards is that they do not need to be different.  Here are a couple examples

Percent of a Number

Multiplying and dividing fractions

You should put a free space in the middle (everyone loves a free space!) and then place problems that you want to review around it.  I also like to put a couple silly things in (such as know the name of a person who signed the Declaration of Independence or has a dog at home) because I teach middle school and middle schoolers are pretty silly.  Once students have their bingo boards, they need to get up and get people to sign the squares.  Students can get whichever student they want to sign a spot but as you will see later, there is a rhyme and reason to the signing.  I do put a limit to students signing in that they may only sign twice on any one board (including their own.)  Since I'm in the classroom as are other adults (aides, special educator, etc) those people can sign too.  Once I feel that students have moved around enough and got plenty of signatures (and some have their whole board signed) I stop kids and have them go back to their seats.  This is where the bingo really begins.  I fire up the Smart Board and connect my iPad to it with the Decide Now app on it.

I spin the spinner and if a student's name comes up anyone who had that student sign their board can cover ONE (and only one) of the spots they signed.  I like to use Smarties candies as markers for this as the kids get to eat them after (yes I know I let them eat candy but its not THAT much).  We continue the spinning and marking (and the class progressively gets louder as kids start calling out names they need and cheering or groaning as names come up.)  Finally, someone gets a "bingo."  When that happens I have that students call out the name and problem of each part of their bingo.  As they do so, I call on the student who signed the board to correctly answer the problem, if they do so we continue on to see if a bingo was really made.  If they miss the problem, no bingo is made and we continue to play.  Lots of pressure on the kids to perform for one another but a lot of fun too.

As you can see from the above, there is certainly some strategy as students are moving around getting signatures.  Its probably helpful to ask me to sign a specific problem if there is a real tough one for instance.  I have a number of students who don't just take kids' word that they can solve problems but actually make them do it out (and along that line of thought, I have kids who "prove" to others they can do the problems by doing them out and bringing that paper around with them as they sign.)

I like this activity for a variety of reasons.  One as I might have mentioned a few times above :) it gets kids up and moving.  Two its differentiated, if kids struggle with problems they can work on and sign ones that they can do and if kids really know what they are doing, they can opt to doing more difficult problems.  Of course, there is also the part that it actually makes kids practice the skill because its not just their own selves who will be hurt by them not being able to do something but rather their classmates.  I continue to be amazed at how bad kids feel if they "let someone down."  It also amazes me that kids will try their hardest and not "throw" a question even though it isn't them that will end up winning.

I highly recommend this activity and would love to hear how other people put their spin on it.  Obviously there are a multitude of ways to change it.  The problems themselves, the number of times kids can sign, the way you pull names (popsicle sticks for instance) can all be changed.  If anyone uses this and makes their own boards, please share, I'd love to see them!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Math Homework- It shouldn't be readiness only!

Welcome back!  Let me first apologize for not posting in SO SO SO long.  Time has just caught up to me.  My district like so many others has been on the Common Core kick and thus we are having meeting after meeting about that which in turn is taking away time that I previously have had during the day and so I'm having less time to plan lessons.  I also volunteered to coach my little guy's basketball team.  (2nd and 3rd graders playing hoops, now there is something to see.)  In addition, it just seems that I'm wanting to spend more time making my lessons more interesting, more engaging, more everything including what today's MSSUN FUN post is about differentiating, especially math homework.  So on to the post

I find that differentiating math homework is an important role that we as teacher need to do.  Unfortunately for me, most of my differentiation of math homework tends to be solely for readiness. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that that is actually the case for most teachers (at least from what I've seen.)  It seems that when most people talk differentiation that is the main area they are talking about.  For myself, I tend to make two or three "levels" of homework where I do different things to adapt the difficulty.  I might make the problems easier or more difficult by changing the numbers.  For instance on an adding fraction homework sheet, I might have the lower level doing problems with denominators of 2,4,6,8, and 12 while the higher level would work with all sorts of integer numbers.  I also at times have students who struggle with word problems not because they don't know the math but rather because they can't really read the problem.  In this case, I try to rewrite the problems and level the homework not with easier numbers but instead with easier to read word problems.  For longer assignments and projects that students do as part of homework, I try my hardest to make the whole thing is fit to their readiness level.  For instance, our end of fraction unit project consisted of a project making a recipe book where students changed the recipe size by multiplying by a fraction.  (Thanks to Becky Goerend (@MrsBMG)  for this great project!) For students who were struggling with the concept of fractions, I had them double, triple, and halve the recipe.  For more confident students, I changed the fractions to more challenging numbers such as 5/6 or 1and 2/3

The one thing I most certainly do not do when I differentiate homework for readiness is to give the more struggling students less problems and the students who understand more problems.  I want the kids to know that the homework is important for them to practice the skills we are working on in class and because they don't really get it doesn't mean they do less or because they do get it doesn't mean they should have to do more and more because they can.

I need to be better at providing some differentiation through choice.  I have at times given students options of different homework which I've tiered for readiness but I don't think I've done it enough.  It's surprising because almost every time the students opt for the homework that I would've given them anyway.  They really do have a good idea on their readiness level. The other way I use choice during homework would be on longer assignments.  For instance, in class we use choice boards at times.  Sometimes, students are wrapping up a part of a unit and they have to finish their choice board activity for homework.  The choice that they have been given in class then simply roles over as their homework.

The other area that I do NO differentiation for during homework is learning style.  In class, I'm able to provide the visual learners with stuff to do, the auditory learners with activities, and the kinesetic learners the appropriate learning opportunity.  However, I don't really know how to move this into homework.  Since we are a 1 to 1 school, I could probably incorporate the lap tops and have kids use Audacity or some such program to podcast answers, use Smart Notebook for the artistic to "draw" me some responses, and so on.  It seems daunting to move to such an idea because of the time it will take, both to create the varied assignments and to spend time providing feedback on them.  (I don't grade homework, I like to provide some comments to the students on it instead.)

I'd be interested in hearing from others about what sort of way they differentiate their homework, especially for learning style and for choice.  Looking forward to the conversation!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Locker Problem and Why the why is important

Today I had one of my classes solve the locker problem.  The basic premise of this problem is that a group of students is running up and down a hall in the school opening and shutting one hundred locker doors.  The first student opens all the lockers, the second closes every other one, the third opens or closes every third one and so on.  The question that then comes up is which lockers will be open after all one hundred kids get done.

A couple years ago, I was struck by the idea of making the problem more three dimensional instead of just a story on paper.  (Thanks to reading Dan Meyer of course.)  I also thought this might lead to the students generating the question instead of me putting it out there.  So I created this video and Google site.  I showed the video today as the kickoff to the problem and for the first time ever I had a student basically solve the problem out loud at the end of the video.  He looked at my video ending showing lockers 1, 4, and 9 open and said well all the square numbers are going to be open!  Now this is one of the better students I have ever had and fortunately most of the other kids were more interested in seeing what exactly was going on instead of listening to him.  More importantly, I was able to catch him from blurting out the more important "why"were only square numbered lockers open.  While the other students got to work on figuring out what lockers would be open, I pulled him aside and asked him why he thought it was square numbers, which he quickly explained to me (again not surprising, he's a good thinker) and so I set him off to another task and told him not to help anyone else. 

The rest of the kids were working in groups and many came up and told me square numbers would be the lockers that were open.  At this point, I was wondering if I would have to come up with something else to do with the remaining class time.  In year's past, kids took at least the whole period to get even to this point.

So as I often do when we are problem solving, I replied that their answer was great but why? And here is where the rest of the kids got stumped.  For the most part, they spent the remaining class period trying to figure out the "why" of the problem.  They watched the video time and again, they went back to their notebook items and made great connections (such as the people opening and shutting lockers were representing factors, the lockers were representing multiples.)  Still they had a lot of trouble with that question "why."  I even had one student tell me that I wasn't allowed to ask "why" for the rest of the week.  (I was most proud of that, apparently I've been doing my job and actually making her think!)

In the end, I had to give some hints and talk some parts through as they watched the video, but most of them were able to explain the "why" by the end of the period.  Tomorrow we will see how they did on their "Locker Problem Home Enjoyment."  I wanted to know some more "whys!"

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Think Dots

This week's #MSSunFun post is about favorite ways to practice.

 I use a variety of ways to practice as I don't want kids to get bored doing math.  Just giving them practice problems or worksheets might work for some but will definitely turn others off.  I use a variety of games most often to practice, at other times I'll have students do some writing and reflecting and yes at times I do have them do some problems or even a short worksheet.  However, my most favorite way to have students practice applying their math skills is Think Dots.

I'm not sure exactly who I got the idea of Think Dots from.  It could have been in a Rick Wormelli book.  It could have been when we had Nancy Smith present on using differentiated instruction in math and science.  Anyhow whoever I got the idea from, thank you!

The basis idea behind Think Dots is that a student will work with another student to solve and discuss a minimum of six problems.  These problems could be all about one topic or about a number of topics.  I tend to use more word based problems that make students apply whatever we are learning (say prime factorization) but you could do Think Dots with mental math problems or even rote skills.

I print out the six problems onto a piece of card stock which I then chop into six pieces.

  On the back of each piece I use colored dots that our fantastic librarian (Thanks Kim!) gave me.

 Originally they were designed to be level books but we stopped doing that soon after she got the dots in and thus had no use for them (lucky me!)  I put one dot on the back of one card, two on another, three on a third, and so on.  I try my best to make them look just like dice.  Then I hole punch the upper left hand corner of the cards and use a ring to hold all six cards together.  Now the Think Dots are ready to go.

I pair students up (depending on the skill being done, I will often "make" the groups because I may have differentiated the questions for readiness) and give each pair a set of Think Dots.  I also give each pair a small stack of sticky notes and a dice.  The first student rolls the dice and has to answer the question that matches up with their roll.  They are asked to not only talk the answer out with their partner but also write a synopsis of their answer on the sticky note which they then attach to the Think Dot cards.

After the first partner has answered his or her question, they move on to the next partner who rolls the dice and answers the next question.  The activity continues in this way until all the questions are answered.  Once all the questions are answered, students turn in their cards to me (sticky notes attached).  This allows me to look at their understanding later and possibly be able to clear up some misconceptions the next day.

I love this activity for a lot of reasons.  It gets kids talking and writing about math.  Kids are up and working with a partner.  I'm able to get around and sit with groups and listen to answers and provide a thought as well.  Because of the nature of the problems, I'm able to differentiate them to meet students readiness levels.  It gives me good feedback on where kids are, both from what I hear and what I get back on the sticky notes.  Lastly, the kids enjoy it.  Oddly enough, they love to roll dice, they like talking with one another, and they like the fact they aren't just doing a packet of problems.

I highly recommend giving some version of Think Dots a try.  Here is a sample of my prime factorization Think Dots.  Please feel free to try them.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Alphabetical Numbers


So I missed last week's #MSsunfun post on games (darn it all!) because school just caught up to me and I became super busy.  I decided that I needed to make sure I posted this week, even though it was just going to be a short post on organization.

This year, I'm trying something different in terms of getting back papers (quizzes, home enjoyment, exit cards, etc.)  My wife teaches fifth grade and has been using a form of this idea for some time now and I figured I would go ahead and try it.  I've given each student in a particular math class (say math 1 my first math class) a specific number that corresponds with their last name alphabetically.  For instance, if Michael Adams is the first name alphabetically in my class, he gets number 1, Janie Betts is the second name alphabetically, she gets number 2 and so on.  In addition to writing their name on each paper, students are expected to write the number as well.  Then when I pick up all the work, I am able to simply put the work in order by the number and see who is missing and then I can go right over and approach them.  Right now I'm still getting used to doing this as are the students so I need to remind them and need to go back and look at what number goes with whom when I'm missing a number but I think both of these problems will soon go away as we get used to the system.  The other potential problem is that I teach on a three person team and we mix the kids up for different classes, so if my teammates try to do this, kids will have different numbers.  At this point, neither of them is using this method so it isn't currently a problem.

Overall, I'm happy with how it affords me a little more time which over the year will add up to a lot more time!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

My Home "Enjoyment" policy

This week's #MSSunFun post has to do with homework, specifically homework policies.  My homework policy is really just a combination of things that I have borrowed and stolen from others over the year.  For instance, this year for the first time I'm not calling it homework but rather refer to it as home "enjoyment" thanks to an idea from Sam Shah (@Samjshah).  The thought is that it shouldn't be viewed as work and so we shouldn't call it work.

My journey to where I am now in terms of homework started when I first began teaching over ten years ago.  I originally assigned homework just about every night and graded it, in fact I counted it for as much as 50% of students' grades!  Over time, I realized that homework really is practice and counting practice toward the grade isn't really fair.  We don't count practice toward the final score in a soccer game for instance.  However, I do feel that students need to practice in order to do well so I go do insist that students complete the homework I assign them.  Along this line of thought, I'm instituting a type of responsibility binder much like Julie Reulbach (@jreulbach).  This will be a great way for me to get some data on which kids are completing assignments and which aren't.  I also go by an idea I heard from Rick Wormelli which is "the penalty for not doing your work is, DOING YOUR WORK."  Therefore, students who do not complete their homework are responsible for staying after school to complete it.  (this isn't really a problem in our district as the K-5 school gets out about 45 minutes later than we do and kids can take that bus.)  We are trying something new this year by having band and orchestra after school (it used to be during a time in school we called "enrichment.")  so I'm not really sure how that will play out if a kid doesn't do his homework and needs to go to band or orchestra.

So to sum it up my homework policy is basically this:
  • Homework is practice and as such is not graded
  • I still expect everyone will complete their homework
  • If you do not complete your homework, you will have to complete your homework (after school)
Looking forward to reading some others thoughts on homework and how they manage it and probably stealing a couple other ideas!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

How I set up my classroom

This week's #MSsunfun post is about classroom set up.  This seems like it is going to be a great set of blogs to follow as it is super interesting to see how other teachers set up their classrooms.  I posted about my classroom set up a couple years back.  Of course since then, I have moved classrooms twice (and a total of 5 times the past 7 years!)  Last year, I was in a classroom and a half as I was also teaching science and needed the extra room.  This year I'm back to a regular sized classroom although its shape is a little different than I'm used to because it is at the end of the building not in the middle.

Anyhow, onto how I set up my classroom.  Every summer, the custodians take all our furniture out of our classrooms which basically gives us a blank canvas on how to set it back up.  (They will put the furniture back as it was, in differently if you ask, etc- the custodians are great!)  Last year, when I moved rooms I went from plain old tables to science desks (you know the black ones made heavy wood that fit two kids on a side).  If you read this blog, you will know that I learned about Dry Erase paint and decided to make over the science tables.  I painted the table tops with this paint which enables kids to write notes, do math problems, draw, etc and also allows me to stop by and while discussing a problem with a student to actually write stuff out.  Both the kids and I loved it last year.  So, I took the tables with me.

  Its looking like I will need all 12 tables as I have class sizes of 24 students again this year (possibly even higher if more people move into the district.)  Because my classroom is long and narrowish I decided on doing four groups of three desks.  I like to group the desks because most of the work I do has the kids working in groups either of my choosing (or random choosing) or their own choosing.  The groupings of three actually should help with discussion and group work.  Later in the year, I use a different way of assigning seats (I'll post about it later) but to start the year off I allow students to sit where they choose.

When I set up the desks, I allowed for extra room in front of the Smart board so that I can put a carpet there and work with small groups on certain skills at times during math classes.  I also made sure to leave plenty of other spots around the room for groups to go to as I've noticed my 6th graders just LOVE sitting on the floor (well unless we tell them they have to at an assembly.)

I myself don't really use a desk but instead have a long table on which my desk top computer (the one that runs the Smart board) sits along with my ELMO.  I figure I spend most of class walking around or sitting with different groups that there isn't much of a reason for me to have a desk.  When I'm on my prep break and need to correct, the table works just fine.

I've always tried to put all materials that kids will need together in one spot and this year is no different with me having this nice white cubby set up where I can put dice, playing cards, crayons, staplers, and the like.  I make sure to go over this early in the year, telling kids they can use whatever they want but reminding them that they are responsible for picking up after themselves or the stuff won't be there anymore (the whole with rights comes responsibility thing that is so important in middle school.)

The other thing I do is use mailboxes to pass out things like homework, classwork, notes, etc.  I find this much easier than passing it out at the beginning of class or having a student in charge of passing stuff out.  I make sure early in the year to practice with students what they will do when they enter my room (go to their mailbox, grab EVERYTHING in there) and so it works pretty well.  I have three classes and so have three sets of mailboxes.  I suppose I could use one and share but I don't really want to rush between classes to put papers into mailboxes (especially if I tier assignments and need to pass out different stuff!)

New to me this year is having raised shelves to put student notebooks.  I love this because it gives me more room (as these shelves are right above the mailboxes.  Again, I practice with kids getting their notebooks as they enter and we will have to see how these new shelves work.

You probably noticed that my walls are pretty bare.  I do have a few math and inspirational posters that I put up but I like to keep most of the wall (and blackboard) available to post student work as the year goes along.  I'll include some updated photos throughout the year.

Well, there you have it.  That is how my classroom is set up for this year (starting for us in about a week and a half now!)