November 24, 2011

Sharing the Joy of Giving!

Holiday Giving Project

One of the things I miss most about not being in the classroom is the opportunity to teach my students about the joy of giving. I want to share with you a wonderful activity that I did each year with my class, and I hope you'll consider doing this with your class as well. It's one that takes a bit of coordination, but I've created a free packet of materials to help you with the process.

Every year in November I worked with a local agency or our guidance counselor to find  a needy family in the community (not at our school). I tried to find a family with several children who was having a difficult time and who could use our help during the holidays. My students did not know who the family was other than their first names.

I sent home a letter explaining the project, and any of my students who were able to do so would contribute cash and gifts based on that family's needs. I also asked for donations of wrapping paper, boxes, and bows. You can download the project description and a sample letter from TpT Store.

Our Holiday Giving Project was so exciting and such a special time! I asked my students to bring in their items a few days before we got out for the holidays so we would have time to wrap them. We started by creating dozens of small cards with the family members' names to attach to the gifts. My students folded rectangles of white construction paper in half, decorated them, and wrote holiday messages inside.

Then had a gift wrapping party one afternoon during the week before the winter holidays, and I taught them all how to wrap a present with style! You would think that 5th graders would know how to wrap a gift, but I learned the first time I did this project that most had never been taught. Boy did we waste a LOT of wrapping paper that year! After I realized that they didn't know how to wrap a gift, I taught them what to do. First I showed them how to cut the wrapping paper so that it was just the right size, and then I demonstrated how to fold and tape the paper so it looked attractive. Yes, that's me in the picture below!

Next, I borrowed a box of crayons for each student from the supply room, and they had to practice wrapping that box until it was perfect! Then each student chose a partner and they teamed up to wrap gifts. They had so much fun!

At the end of the day, we took a class picture of everyone holding the gifts before I loaded them into my car. You can see the joy of giving all over their faces - what a wonderful lesson for students of any age! Everytime I look at these pictures my heart just melts because I miss these kids!

Mrs. Candler's Awesome Class of 2010!

November 17, 2011

Drum Roll for the Winners Please!

Last week I announced a contest you could enter to win one of three autographed copies of Enemy Pie, one of my favorite kids' books. To enter the contest, folks had to answer one simple question: "What is the grossest thing you have ever eaten?"   

I have to give credit to the author, Derek Munson, for coming up with that one! He told me that he often asks this of the students when he does school visits but he's never asked teachers this question. 

I think we both expected folks to write a few words about their grossest foods, and I had no idea what those foods might be! But holy smokes! We never dreamed that over 150 people would respond with the most amazing tales ever! You guys have eaten some seriously gross stuff and you really know how to tell some great stories!

Congratulations to the three winners below! Two were selected from the messages on Facebook and one was selected from the entries here on this blog. I wanted to you read what they wrote in case you didn't catch their stories earlier. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • Melissa Monroe wrote, "Aspic anyone? On trip to Russia I was served a plate with this clear, gelatinous mound perched atop a piece of lettuce. It had an unappetizing brown hue, and floating inside were pieces of egg, fish, and some other unrecognizable things. Not wanting to offend the host I tasted it. To this day, just thinking about its cold, slimy texture and fishy flavor gives me the heebie-jeebies! I'm shuttering right now as I write this. Apologies to those aspic lovers out there."
  • Kim Wasson Compton wrote, "I accepted a dare while I was a teenage waitress at a summer camp. Trying to impress a table of cute boys, I ate their concoction of food they prepared from "all" the leftovers at their table (peanut butter, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread, coffee grounds, sugar, grape juice, veggies, get the idea!). Needless to say, I wasn't feeling well for the rest of that day!"
  • Mrs Hopper wrote, "I love this book. I work at a school that is in an impoverished area of California. Fighting is prevalent at our school and students at a very young age are accustomed to seeing fights in their daily life outside of school. I love the underlying message behind this book. We have a lot more in common than we realize. My students always enjoy this book and I always pray they take the lesson away and keep it for a lifetime. I would love to win a copy. The worst thing I ever ate was a fly. It flew into my open mouth during PE while I was doing jumping jacks. I swallowed it before I quite knew what was going on. Actually, in reality all I know for certain was that it was a flying bug. I always assumed it was a fly. I learned to exercise with my mouth closed and breathe through my nose."
Mrs. Hopper, Melissa, and Kim, please contact Derek to let him know where to send your copy of Enemy Pie. You can find his contact information here on his Enemy Pie website.  

Thanks to everyone who shared a story, and thanks to Derek for generously offering to give away three autographed books!

November 10, 2011

No Names on Papers? Problem Solved!

Are you frustrated with students who forget to turn in papers or who forget to put their names on their work? I used to get so annoyed when I took a stack of papers home to grade, only to discover that three students had not turned in their work and three more turned in a paper with no name!

But then I got smart and got organized! I devised a system where students turned in their papers by placing them into "paper drops," laminated brown envelopes with student checklists attached. At the end of the class period, I quickly pulled out the papers and checked off who had turned theirs in so I could solve the mystery of the missing papers before they went home for the day. Then the papers went right back into the envelope so I could keep them together for grading later.

The entire Paper Drop System system is described in this packet and includes the printables you need to make it work for you. You can also download a customizable checklist from the Classroom Management page on Teaching Resources. Paper problem solved!

Visit Teaching Resources ~

November 9, 2011

Free Fall Math Word Problem Puzzlers

If you haven't implemented a math word problem solving program this year, I have just the thing for you!  Download these two Fall Math Puzzler printables to try out an easy and effective program that helped my students soar to success in math. With this method, your students solve just one problem a day, Monday through Thursday, with Friday being reserved for in-depth problem-solving lessons or additional practice with challenging puzzlers. It takes just 10 or 15 minutes a day, and you will be amazed at the results!

The Fall Math Puzzlers freebie includes two versions of the same activity page. To decide which version is right for your class, click here to download both pages and print them out. Then try solving the problems as if you were one of your students. Adults would solve these problems using equations or number sentences because we easily grasp what to do. But your students would be more likely to solve them by drawing pictures or illustrating them in some way.Thinking about how they might solve each problem will help you choose the right level for your class.

If you want to differentiate instruction, you can use both activity pages in your class, assigning the first page to some students and the second page to those who need a challenge. However, don't give both pages to the same student because they have similar wording with different numbers.

The Daily Math Puzzler Program
There are four levels in the complete Daily Math Puzzlers program, and each ebook includes enough printables and lessons for a year's worth of instruction. The easiest Level is A which is about right for 2nd or 3rd grade, depending on your students. The most challenging level is D which may be appropriate for 5th or 6th grade.

To see examples of all of the levels and test them with your class, download my free Problem Solving Assessment pack. Administer the pretests to your class as described in the directions. Answer keys are included. If you decide to implement the full program, you can use the post tests to assess student progress at the end of the year.

For more problem-solving strategies and additional Daily Math Puzzler activity pages, visit my Math Problem Solving page on Teaching Resources. Problem solving can be fun when students solve just one problem a day!

November 7, 2011

8 Strategies to Motivate Kids to Love Problem Solving

Here are 8 strategies that helped my students feel more comfortable with problem solving. These techniques thawed their attitudes towards math and motivated them to actually enjoy problem solving!
Students often fear math, and are especially intimidated by problem solving. These feelings prevent them from being able to relax, think clearly, and apply what they've learned to problems they're trying to solve. The resulting brain freeze serves to reinforce the idea that mathematics is scary and difficult. Math standards keep getting tougher, and students are expected to be proficient at solving complex problems far beyond what we were expected to solve at their age. How are we to help our students become confident problem solvers when math continues to get more challenging?

Strategies to Thaw Math Brain Freeze
Fortunately, there are many tools and  strategies you can use to show your kids that math isn't all that scary after all. Here are 8 strategies that helped my students feel more comfortable with problem solving. These techniques thawed their attitudes towards math and motivated them to actually enjoy problem solving!
  1. Implement a problem-solving program in which students solve just one word problem a day, and start with easy problems they can ALL solve without difficulty 
  2. Mix up the types of problems and present challenges that require different problem solving skills and strategies. This will require your students to tap into different types of math content and skills to solve them. 
  3. Keep problem solving sessions short at first - no more than 10 to 15 minutes a day - but as students start to look forward to these sessions, you can include longer problems that require more persistence
  4. Refer to word problems as "puzzlers," "brain teasers," or "stumpers," and present them as fun challenges rather than dreaded math problems
  5. Alternate cooperative learning strategies with independent work to add an element of fun while ensuring individual accountability
  6. Allow students to use calculators during problem-solving sessions
  7. Require students to show their work with pictures, symbols, or words, but don't require them to write complete sentence explanations for every problem they solve.
  8. After giving students time to solve a problem, reveal the correct answer up front and then spend the remaining time asking students to share strategies. Ask, "How many different ways can we discover to solve this problem?" Call on several student volunteers to come to the front of the class, one at a time, to demonstrate how they solved the problem. This will highlight the variety of different ways a problem can be solved. 
Daily Math Problem Solving and Growth Mindset
I've had great success with these strategies, and when I've shared them with teachers, they have experienced similar results. They've told me that their students now look forward to their daily problem solving sessions! In the same way that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, it seems that a problem a day keeps the brain freeze away!

August 2017 Update - I'm in the process of updating the Daily Math Puzzler program to align it with best practices for fostering a growth mindset. On August 31st, I'm presenting a webinar called Math Problem Solving: Mindsets Matter, and I'll dive into recent research on this topic and bust some math myths about problem solving. If you miss it, you can purchase the professional development version of this webinar from my TpT store here.

Problem Solving Assessment Freebie
One of the free files I share during the webinar is my Problem Solving Assessment pack which can help you evaluate your students' problem-solving abilities. It includes both a pretest and a posttest on 4 different levels. Believe me, you'll learn a lot about how your students solve problems when you score their tests! If you don't have time to watch the webinar now, sign up HERE if you'd like a copy of this freebie sent to you by email.

What are some of your favorite strategies and tips for helping kids to thaw out math brain freeze and enjoy solving problems?