Sunday, May 22, 2016

Making Sense of Mathematics for Teaching Grades K-2

"We noticed you're a middle school teacher.  Which grade grade band would you prefer to review?"

This was the thoughtful question Solution Tree posed to me (Meg) when I inquired about their new book Making Sense of Mathematics for Teaching Grades K-2.  I admit, I understood their confusion.  Why would a middle school teacher be looking for a book on teaching kindergarten through second grade?  However, what they did not know was that this was my last year teaching middle school...for now, anyways.  I am taking a leap to move into an administrative role next school year, and as such, it is critical I continue learning as a part of my eternal quest to become a well-rounded educator.  Although I will be an assistant principal in a 5-8 grade middle school, I will be facilitating professional development for the K-8 grade math teachers in the district, hence my interest in learning more about early elementary mathematics.

The biggest strength of Making Sense of Mathematics for Teaching Grades K-2  is that it is anchored in research on best practices in mathematics teaching and learning.  The introduction establishes the need for teachers to facilitate a classroom where students engage in rich mathematical tasks to "empower students to develop a deep understanding of mathematics."  The eight Standards for Mathematical Practice must play a central role in these math classrooms, as does the teacher's ability to utilize a task-questioning-evidence (TQE) approach to planning meaningful instruction.

The book is broken down into chapters which focus on the various mathematical concepts covered in grades K-2:

  • Number Concepts and Place Value
  • Word Problem Structures
  • Addition and Subtraction Using Counting Strategies
  • Addition and Subtraction Using Grouping Strategies
  • Geometry
  • Measurement
Each chapter provides a vertical look at the topics as they progress from kindergarten through second grade, as well as a glimpse ahead to understand how the topics connect with future progressions in third grade and beyond.  There are frequent pauses in the writing as the reader is instructed to try some of the thought-provoking mathematics tasks via "do now" exercises.  The accompanying videos available via a QR code/URL provide a first hand look into a mathematics classroom so the reader can truly understand what these rich mathematics tasks and conversations look and sound like. 

Although the content itself is specific to grades K-2, the approach to teaching mathematics is transferrable to all grade levels.  I am looking forward to using some of the exercises from this book with my elementary math teachers this summer, as well as checking out the books for grades 3-5 and 6-8!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Future is Now

Every year Jamie and I (Meg) look forward to attending Illinois Computing Educator's annual ICE conference.  This year at #ICE16 the theme is "Welcome to the Future".
Illinois Computing Educator's Conference

Given the theme this year, I decided to take a risk.  Coding and STEM activities are very hot topics right now in education, and as a math teacher, I admit I am inadequately educated in these areas.  So as the saying goes, "the future is now" time like the present to remedy the situation!

Game Creation Graphic Organizer
I began my day learning how to effectively harness the five components of game design to design my own video game in GameStar Mechanic.  There is a great ELA tie-in as well when students storyboard their video game first in order to ensure the story component of their video game is logical.  I whipped up this quick graphic organizer as an adaptation from Tanya Stahl's organizer she uses with her students at Hawthorne Middle School North.  I see a future where area, perimeter, and problem solving can be augmented with video game creation in math class...

Three-dimensional building, the perfect tie-in to any math unit on measurement, comes to life using programs like Lego Digital Designer, TinkerCad, and Sketchup.  123D Design and Tinker Play are downloadable iPad apps that have similar functions.  If your school is lucky enough to have a 3D printer, students will really love having the ability to see their creations come to life.  Another teacher in my session showed me examples of her students' 3D printing projects which included keychains, guitar picks, and earbud cord wraps.  (She commented that the earbud chord wraps require especially carefully measurements.)  I see a future where students' understandings of measurement, surface area, and scale drawing come to life before their eyes...

My first coding lesson
I was most excited about dipping my toes into the waters of coding. is a well-known resource for coding, particularly since it is a huge promotor of Hour of Code.  Hour of Code argues that everyone can learn coding after this introductory hour to computer science and coding.  I really enjoyed learning the (very beginning) basics of Java with Code Combat, a site that teaches coding through engagement in a fantasy game.  In order to move my avatar, I had to enter the correct Java script.  There are also other coding language options on this site as well. Another workshop participant also shared Bootstrap World, which teaches coding through algebraic functions.  Someday (when I am a coding pro) I may be able to program a Sphero to run an obstacle course or write this entire blog post from the HTML page(!).  I see a future where my students and I are learning coding together, side by side...

I always tell my students that I am a life-long learner.  What better way to embrace the future than by modeling this mantra for my students, learning in tandem with my students, and exploring how we can be critical thinkers and problem solvers together?

(P.S.  I wrote the line of code that centered this embedded YouTube video--victory!)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

It Takes a Village

Building a community of readers takes an entire school.  It is important for students to see English teachers are not the only people in a school privy to enjoying a good book.  Today, a colleague and I swapped teaching assignments for the day.  It took a bit of finagling to make our schedules work, but we were able to make it happen.  Our goal was book talks!

Mr. Kramer is a sixth grade social studies teacher who is an avid reader.  He has a wonderful blog (Mr. Kramer's Book Blog).b Several of my seventh grade English students had him as a teacher last year, so they especially enjoyed having him come in to talk about books with them.  We worked it out so he could visit my English classroom for the last twenty-minutes of each class period to book talk, while I went to his classroom to teach a reading strategy to his sixth grade social studies students.  

As you watch the video clip, you’ll see my students jotting down the book title that Mr. Kramer is book talking on their Someday List.  A Someday List is simply a list of books students want to read in the future. Students keep these in their portfolios and know to update them any time we are doing teacher book talks and/or student book talks. These lists are a preventative measure to avoid hearing, “There are no books to read.”

If you are interested in more
information on promoting reading,
this book is wonderful.
It includes a printable
copy of the Someday List.
At lunch time, I was on my way down to the teacher’s lounge when I heard a student calling my name. I turned around to see one of my students from my fourth hour class holding up a book. He wanted me to know he had just checked out a book Mr. Kramer had recommended. Score! Seriously, these types of moments are what teachers live for, right?

Today, may have been a little stressful running between two classrooms, but I love the fact that "my" students became "our" students today. A big thank you to Mr. Kramer for being willing to share books with my classroom.  It was worth the extra effort!

Think about the people you could invite into your classroom to share their love of reading. I know you see Mr. Kramer with a slideshow presentation in the video clip, but you don't have to go that route. You can simply have your guest speaker hold up his/her favorite book and talk about it. And, perhaps English teachers we need to think about maybe going into a science class to promote science fiction and/or a history class to promote historical fiction. Let's work together to build a community of readers!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Read-Alouds: Little Kids Can't Have All the Fun

Presenter selfie at AMLE
I (Meg) just returned from Columbus, Ohio, where I presented at AMLE's national conference with my great friend Becki.  We have been close friends since our undergrad years at Miami University where we were both middle childhood education majors and cheerleaders.  Though we moved to different states after graduating, we continue to remain close friends.  A constant part of our ongoing conversations always revolves around what we do in our respective math classrooms.  It has always been clear that we mutually value literacy integration in our math classes, so it was only natural that we decided to share our brilliant ideas with the rest of the middle school world.  Our presentation was appropriately titled "Math + Literacy = Rich Learning".  As we crafted our presentation on integrating literacy activities into our math classrooms, we immediately decided that our math read-alouds must be a highlight in our presentation.

In Dr. Steven Layne's most recent book In Defense of Read-Aloud, he delineates so many of the reasons read-alouds have a critical home in any classroom.  In addition to being plain old fun for students, read-alouds in a math classroom are the perfect way to build background knowledge and activate students' schema.  Using a picture book or a portion of a novel for a read-aloud provides students the opportunity to encounter a math concept in a non-threatening context and allows them to make connections between math and a variety of real life events.  Becki and I compiled a lengthy list of some of our favorite math-related books for the conference, so feel free to peruse and start using some of these books in your own classroom.
Mrs. Knapik captivating the crowd on read-aloud Monday

While I love using a read-aloud to launch a new lesson, I have started the new tradition of "Read Aloud Mondays" in my math classroom.  Mondays are difficult days for both teachers and students alike.  Starting class on a Monday with a five minute read-aloud has become the perfect way to ease all of us into another week of academic rigor by focusing our minds on mathematics.  The students are always engaged while I read, and by using a simple turn-and-talk or quick write prompt, the students are talking about or writing about math within minutes of entering the classroom.

Mrs. Knapik's "all math" bookshelf

In addition to reading aloud, I also make it a point to proudly display all my math-related books on their very own *special* bookshelf at the front of my classroom.  This bookshelf highlights to the students that reading about math is valued in our classroom.  My students clearly understand that math and literacy go hand-in-hand; they are not separate events.  Since I let my students check books out from my classroom library, keeping the math-related books on a shelf at the front of the room helps make these books pretty popular selections.

I also highlight *special* books I have in my classroom library.  These are books I have gotten signed by the author or books written by an author I have actually met.  I use a big "Look!" sign and arrow to direct my students' attention to these special books around my classroom.  When I am lucky enough to meet an author, I try to get a photograph with him/her and then tape the photograph inside the book's cover.  It makes the kids think I'm pretty cool!
One of Mrs. Knapik's *special* books!

Some neigh-sayers may ask, "Wait, you read aloud to your middle schoolers?  Don't they think that is kind of babysish?"

The answer is a resounding, "No!"  My middle school students, whether eighth graders or sixth graders, always LOVE being read to!  Never underestimate the power of a read-aloud.  ;)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Higher Level Thinking + Technology = Student Engagement

Helllllllo, world!  After our end-of-summer/back-to-school hiatus, we are back in action on the blog! If you are like us, the summer is full of exciting travel and professional development.  Come mid-August, we are ready (for the most part) to welcome a new group of students into our classrooms. Now that we have gotten to know our students, established our classroom procedures, and are in the swing of things at school, we are ready to turn our attention back to sharing our ideas with other educators and continuing to develop ourselves as life-long-learners.

Changes in Bloom's Taxonomy to reflect 21st century learning
Every year, the Illinois Reading Council hosts its annual conference to bring together passionate educators from all over the state and country to share literacy best practices.  This year, the two of us created a new presentation with our colleague Kirby to focus on how we integrate higher level thinking tasks from the top of Bloom's Taxonomy with technology in order to engage students and enrich their learning experience.  Since Bloom's Taxonomy was revised in 2001 to reflect 21st century changes in learning, we focused on analyzing, evaluating, and creating within the contexts of our middle school English and math classrooms.

Meg, Jamie, and Kirby are ready to present at IRC 2015
Kirby, a sixth grade English teacher, highlighted how she uses Newsela to find quality nonfiction texts for her students.  Her students analyze the part-to-whole relationship of the text structure.  Using the Notability app on their iPads allows them to annotate to help them with this process.  They then evaluate how an author crafts his/her writing to communicate information before creating their own online article via KidBlog or creating their own "how to" video using iMovie.

Jamie, who is a seventh grade English teacher, has her students analyze mentor texts in the form of blog posts.  In breaking down these mentor texts, students are able to see the parts of a quality blog post which ultimately prepare them to create their own blog posts on Kidblog.  Her students also evaluate book reviews on GoodReads and then use these book reviews as mentor texts prior to creating their own book reviews on GoodReads and/or book trailers using Animoto.
Great turn out for our session!
I (Meg), the math teacher of the trio, have my students use Noteability to help them document their hands-on experiences in class as they analyze part-to-whole relationships between numbers, for example how the side length of a cube relates to its volume and the math term "cubing a number". They can capture photographs of their manipulatives, write text to caption their images, and record audio as they turn-and-talk to a neighbor to summarize their analysis.  Students are able to evaluate the best problem solving strategies as they record screencasts of their math strategies using the Explain Everything app. Students are able to create math picture books using the Book Creator app to integrate the writing process with their math knowledge.

How do you use higher level thinking tasks in your classroom?  We would love to hear your ideas!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Getting More Out of Your Summer

Recently, I (Jamie) was afforded the privilege of hearing Frank Serafini present at the Literacy in Motion Conference at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois.  At the beginning of his presentation he made a comment about teachers that made me chuckle.  I am paraphrasing here, but he said something along the lines of teachers needing to live our lives outside of the classroom, so we can be more interesting for our students. We all laughed, but he was right!

Our Camping Van
With that in mind, I just returned from a two week RVing trip with my husband.  Oh, it was interesting!  But, that is too long of a story.  I do want to write about a fantastic place I visited that I can’t wait to tell my students about. My favorite stop on our road trip was The Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick Canada.  I am not a science teacher, but I will use these fantastic rocks in the teaching of my English class. 

The entire time I was  there, I kept thinking of all the potential writing possibilities.  At first, I was thinking only non-fiction, but then my creative juices kicked in to gear.  There was a rock called Diamond rock.  I started to think of a story along the lines of a Greek god story.  One in which a god gives his girlfriend a giant diamond ring, but she does not accept and throws the ring aside.  There it lies in the Bay of Fundy.
Another rock was called the E.T. (extraterrestrial) rock.  If you look real close, you can make out a face that looks alien, right? Think of the possibilities!  Students writing about how the rock came from another planet.  Perhaps, the rock comes to life at night and roams the Earth collecting information on our planet.

It wasn't just about the rocks.  The coolest part is the ability to walk on the ocean floor at low tide.  I can't wait to educate my students about the tides, the geology, and the animals that inhabit the area.  I hope to use my experiences to inspire them to tell stories about their own life experiences. 
My husband and I also visited the home/museum of AlexanderGraham Bell located in Baddeck Nova Scotia.  If you’re like me, you immediately think telephone.  However, Bell was an inventor of many things.  He began working with the deaf and trying to help them communicate. Even more interesting, he actually successfully invented the first powered airplane to fly in Canada in 1909.  And, as if this was not enough, he worked with a man named Baldwin on something called the hydrofoil (HD-4) the fastest boat in the world in 1914.

So, how can I weave this into my English curriculum?  I took a lot of photos of different things displayed in the museum and hope to use them as story starters.  But, I also thought I could use the fact that I typecasted Bell as the inventor of the telephone--nothing else.  I thought I could prompt my students to read non-fiction about something they have a preconceived notion about or something they simply want to investigate more.

Bell Experimenting with Flight


Indeed, Frank Serafini was correct. Getting out of my classroom does make me a more interesting teacher.  I can’t wait to share stories of my summer experiences with my students.  When you share a part of yourself with your students, you move beyond the curriculum.  You make connections with kids and show them all that life has to offer.  The more I learn, the more I can teach my students.  I love new experiences and learning new things.  Traveling always satisfies those two passions for me.   There is still enough summer left to build memories to bring back to your own classrooms.  Get out there and enjoy life!

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Connecting the Dots" between the Coordinate Plane and the Real World

Although we have been a bit MIA from the blog the last few months, we have been fully present in our classrooms.  Both of us have been working tirelessly to keep our middle school students engaged despite the numerous days of testing that come along with the spring season.

Sometimes, some of my (Meg's) favorite and most successful classroom activities are those that require no technology at all...a good, old fashioned, back-to-basics type of activity...and then we will follow up with a little blogging, of course.  ;)

The coordinate plane
on our classroom floor
As my sixth graders and I began our exploration of the coordinate plane, our classroom floor was just begging to get involved.  Our classroom floor is comprised of square foot tiles which create the perfect grid.  All I had to do was lay down an x and y axis with my trusty red duct tape, and we were ready to go!  With the tables moved off to the side of the room, the students of course were immediately intrigued as they walked into class.

"Where do we sit?"
"Why is that stuff on the floor?"
"Wait, is this like Battleship?"

Using the coordinate plane
to create polygons
The kids then became a part of a kinesthetic lesson, moving around the coordinate plane from quadrant to quadrant, and then taking on the role of specific ordered pairs based on their exact location on the floor.  Conversations were had about reflecting points about the x and y axis and why (0,0) is called the origin (gotta get that academic vocabulary in there, too!).  Our favorite part of the activity was when a few student volunteers stood at various points about the coordinate plane and held the same piece of yarn to form a polygon.  Simultaneously, the remaining students were plotting the same ordered pairs on their own coordinate planes.  The students were able to "connect the dots" to identify the polygon, which ultimately led to conversations about classifying polygons, perimeter and area.  (Don't you just love when you can connect multiple math topics into one conversation?!)  To end this class, we sent out a class Tweet to share with the world what we learned.

The next few days, we did some more kinesthetic coordinate plane activities to start each class, but we spent the majority of our time working with the pictorial representation of the coordinate plane.  The students also did some research on how coordinate planes can be useful in real life and blogged about their findings.  Many students made connections in their blog posts between the coordinate plane and the game Battleship and using maps.  However there were other interesting real-world connections I would not have thought of myself, like this student who discovered how artists can use coordinate planes and this student who remembered a video game designer who had spoken to her elementary school and explained how coordinate planes were used in his job.

Not only did this lesson allow the students to get up and move, but the blogging was a great way to integrate literacy into our math classroom.  The students could "connect the dots" between the coordinate plane in math class and how it is used in real life.

What are some of your most successful kinesthetic lessons?  How have you recently used blogging with your students?  We always love to hear from you!