June 30, 2012

Math + Literacy = Connections

I'd like to welcome Lorraine Vasquez from the Fabulous Fourth Grade Froggies blog! She's my guest blogger in the Top Teachers' Blog Hop and Swap today. I'm blogging for Mor Edri-Zrihen at A Teacher's Treasure. After you read Lorraine's blog post, hop over to Mor's blog and read mine! ~ Laura

Math + Literacy = Connections

We all know how important it is for a student to see the connection between what they learn in school and their everyday life.  Sometimes students have a hard time seeing these connections.  I personally think it should be easy for our students to see math in our everyday lives but I'm apparently wrong.  I asked my students to write down all the ways their family uses math at home. Most students wrote when cooking you use measurement but that was about it.  Can you believe it?  I was blown away by this response.  I was expecting a whole lot more since I have a pretty bright class. 

To help my kids make more "math connections" I read the book Math Curse by Jon Scieszka.  My students loved the book and even better, I heard a lot of, "Oh yeah", "Duh, that is math too", "I didn't think about that as math", etc.  {Click on the picture below to read more about the book}
We had a great discussion after reading the book and talked about ways we use math in school (besides during math time) and at home.   Students love to read the book on their own or with a friend as well. 
One place in the classroom where we see math connecting to real life situations is in word problems!  My students (like most students) love to see their names in word problems.  As one of my students said, "I feel famous when my name is in our math assignment".  I even include my name in word problems too....... It kinda does feel like you're famous.  LOL!   Even if the word problems are from a book or our district curriculum it only takes a few minutes to retype the names or situations to meet my students lives.

Word problems can be fun but they also can be very difficult especially for those students who have reading comprehension problems.  In my classroom we act as if we are detectives when trying to solve word problems.  We use this four step scaffold I made to help us solve all word problems. 
Here are the steps we use, but once you download the scaffold {by clicking here or the pic above} for yourself, you will also see the "substeps" that are even more specific and will guide your students to successful problem solving.
                                            Step 1: Understand the Problem
                                            Step 2: Come up with a Plan
                                            Step 3: Carry out your Plan
                                            Step 4: Look back/Check

If you use this scaffold, or what we like to call our problem solving map, frequently enough the steps become second hand to the students.  Hopefully you will see a positive change with your students in problem solving once you give this a try.

A great big frogilicious THANK YOU to Laura Candler for participating in the Top Teachers' Blog Swap and Hop. I feel honored and privileged to be chosen to share my thoughts right here on her blog.  My name is Lorraine Vasquez and I teach 4th grade in South Texas.  I love being an educator and sharing my love of learning with my students.  I invite you to hop over to my blog, Fabulous 4th Grade Froggies, and learn a little bit more about me and the 'hoppenings' in my classroom.

June 5, 2012

End of the Year Fun!

The end of the school year can be a grueling time when you fight your students every step of the way, or it can be a fun time when you create special memories together. The traditional advice is to keep following your regular routines, but I always found myself to be fighting a losing battle when I did that. My only hope was to engage them in activities that were a little different from the norm and make the last few days enjoyable for us all.

Last year on Teaching Resources, I outlined a dozen ways to keep kids active and engaged at the end of the year. Here they are in no particular order:  
  • Learning Centers
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Classroom Book Clubs
  • Welcome and Advice Letters
  • Class Scrapbooks
  • Class Newsletters
  • Fun Friday
  • Scrabble Tournaments
  • Outside Learning
  • Team Challenges
  • Ed Tech and Online Learning Games
  • Multimedia Projects
For more details about how to implement these strategies, read the full article, "Easy and Fun Activities to Wrap Up the School Year."

End of the Year Classroom Management Strategy
It goes without saying that if you plan to have your students do special activities at the end of the year, you need a great classroom management system in place. It's important to have a back-up plan, too. I highly recommend the Erase-a-Letter Strategy. In a nutshell, you write the word STOP on the board and cross off a letter each time you have to warn the class about their behavior. When they run out of letters, you stop the activity and switch to a back-up plan. You can read a full description of the Erase-a-Letter Strategy on Teaching Resources.

If you aren't out of school yet, I hope you find something here to make your last days less grueling and more fun. For those of you lucky enough to be out already, just pin this blog post to your End of the Year board on Pinterest to save it for next year!

June 1, 2012

Facing My Fear

Just a quick heads-up - my blog post today has nothing to do with education. Hopefully, you won't mind some non-educational rambling and some personal photos from time to time! I'm typing this from a hotel in Boone, NC. Yesterday my husband and I went for an awesome hike on Grandfather Mountain - but it was probably the most strenuous and scary hike that I've ever been on! Our daughter Amy will be attending Appalachian State University next fall and we traveled to Boone for her orientation. Since we love to hike, we decided it would be a great opportunity to hike as well.

Yesterday Marco and I drove to the top of Grandfather Mountain and set out for Calloway Peak, about 2.5 miles away. Little did we know that this "hike" would involve scrambling over boulders and climbing up ladders that were bolted into rock faces. If you've ever done much hiking, you'll know that most hikes are marked as easy, moderate, or strenuous. This one was marked strenuous, but after about 2 miles of hiking, I decided that there needs to be another difficulty level beyond strenuous - the word "treacherous" came to mind! Not only did you have to be in great shape to tackle this trail, but you had to be agile enough to climb over boulders and up wooden ladders such as this one.

It turned out to be a spectacular hike, and I've included a few pictures to show you what I mean. The rhododendrons were starting to bloom and the weather was perfect. However, the pictures don't really do it justice, nor do they convey just how scary this hike was for me.

You might be wondering why I titled this post, "Facing My Fear," so it's time to fess up. I'm afraid of heights, and this hike caused me to face that fear many times over. My dad and my husband are both rock climbers, but even when I'm roped in, I'm terrified on a rock face or anywhere close to the edge of a cliff. To climb up some of those ladders and walk across exposed areas of rock was an act of bravery for me! The trail actually had a safer option where you could bypass most of the ladders and rock faces, but you would also miss the spectacular views. I'm proud of myself for taking the scary route and facing my fear! 

But I have to be honest and admit that I haven't totally conquered my fear of heights. My knees will turn to jelly and my heart will pound the next time I do this hike, but that won't stop me from doing it again. Am I ready for anything more? Not yet. Next weekend my husband and daughters are going sky-diving for the first time ever. They asked if I wanted to go, too. Thankfully, I didn't have to decide because I have an important meeting that day and I can't miss it .... really. But if I hyperventilate at the thought of walking across an exposed rock face, I'm quite sure that I'm not ready to jump out of an airplane!