October 30, 2012

Spontaneity Brings Math to Life!

By Nyla Phillips-Martin, Guest Blogger

Last week, while in the midst of teaching a lesson on cuboids, I quickly realised that I had to do something drastic to get the attention of my most easily distracted student. I mean, there I was feeling all proud of myself for having everything I needed, I had my examples and non-examples for the students to handle, observe and compare attributes. My classroom was buzzing with excitement; hands were fervently flying up during Q & A time as I selected students to answer questions.

But the hand that I was looking for at the front corner of the class never went up. Justin (let’s call him Justin) just sat there looking away from me, tapping his ruler on the desk. Then he poked another student with his pencil. Now, it is not uncommon for him to be like this because he sometimes gets into trouble in order to avoid class work. What I needed to do was to get his attention without halting the momentum that the other students were having. At that moment, an idea popped into my head.

I walked out of the room, spun around and returned with a silly grin and a cuboid net in my hand. I didn't say a word. I just slowly folded the net into a talking cuboid (like a puppet). Think of a box with the top lid open – that flap became the puppet’s mouth. Anyway, I used the silliest voice I could muster and made the puppet talk.

He introduced himself as Corey the Cuboid and went on to talk about his other siblings and the fact that he feels like the odd one out because he cannot roll like the cylinder or sphere and he’s not as cute as his brother the cube. My fourth grade students were wide eyed and everybody was paying attention – not to me the teacher, but to the cuboid on show.

They all wanted to have their turn with handling Corey the Cuboid and making him talk (including Justin). In fact, they had so much fun making him talk that I videotaped one of my students as she brought Corey to life!


I really enjoyed that cuboid net lesson and it taught me that even with a lot of planning, a touch of spontaneity keeps things interesting. The lesson gave me an idea for their math project – to have them put on their own puppet show featuring different talking 3D Shapes.

If you like the idea of having students create puppets from 3D shapes, feel free to use the patterns from this free assortment of 3D shape nets that I created to save yourself some time! And don’t forget to flip out and be just a tad spontaneous!









Nyla Phillips-Martin, is a young wife, mother, and teacher in the Caribbean. She has a B. Ed Degree in Primary Education and is in her seventh year of teaching. She hopes to show other teachers in her country the power of using technology for use in records, planning and especially in the classroom. To her, education is all about fostering creativity and facilitating hands-on learning. Visit Nyla's blog, Nyla's Crafty Teaching, for more engaging lesson ideas!

October 24, 2012

Winning a Million - Math Lessons and More!

What would you do if you won a million dollars? The NC Education Lottery offers winners a choice between the entire amount paid over 20 years, or a lump sum payout of a smaller amount. What are the implications of each choice?

Today I saw a news article about a local man, James Anderson, who won $1 million in the Holiday Millions lottery game. One part of the story in particular really captured my interest:
"Top prize winners in the Holiday Millions game have the option of claiming their prize as a 20-year annuity or a lump sum. Anderson chose the $600,000 lump sum, which left him with $408,006 after taxes."
When I read this part of the article, my teacher brain went into overdrive! Do you realize that by accepting $600,000, Mr. Anderson gave up $400,000 of his payout just so he could get the money now instead of spreading it over 20 years? Furthermore, the government took such a big chunk that he now has less than half of that million dollars.

Million Dollar Lottery Lessons
As I read this, I immediately saw all kinds of possibilities for lessons about winning a million dollars. There are loads of obvious math lesson ideas, but I can also think of many literacy lessons as well. Here are a few quick thoughts about where you could go with this topic. Please share your ideas, too!

  • Read informational text.  Begin by having students read the article. You can find the article online here on the Fayetteville Observer website.  Then ask them to complete a "What's the Scoop?" graphic organizer to uncover the important facts and details in the news story. You could also use the Current Event Report form in my Social Studies file cabinet to have students write a summary of the important information. 
  • Analyze the math involved in Mr. Anderson's decision. What exactly did it mean in financial terms to take $600,000 now instead of a million paid over 20 years? I called the lottery hotline to make sure I understood how the 20-year annuity worked, and it's basically an option for taking out 1/20th of the money each year for 20 years. So how much money did Mr. Anderson give up? If you received a million dollars in annual payments over 20 years, how much would you get each year? What would that be on a monthly basis? What is the average salary in America? Would you be rich, living comfortably, or just getting by?  
  • Debate the pros and cons of the two payout options. Even though he gave up $400,000 to take out the immediate lump sum of $600,000, it might actually not be such a bad deal if he invests the money wisely. Disregard taxes because taxes will have to be paid on the money either way, and consider what would happen if he invested the full $600,000. What interest rate would be needed to make that money grow to $1 million in 20 years? As a side note, the person I spoke with on the lottery hotline said that the last 5 jackpot winners all took the lump sum payout. I'm assuming they contacted a financial adviser before making that decision, so it may be that taking the lump sum is a better option. But what if you took the money and just spent it? Would you be able to invest it?
  • Explore probability - Discuss the probability of winning money in the Holiday Millions game. You can read more about this particular game on the Holiday Millions page of the NC Education Lottery website. Players can win different amounts; what is the probability of winning each amount? (Click here to download a chart showing the approximate odds of winning.)

    A lottery ticket costs $20. Look at the odds of winning a million dollars. What if you bought a ticket every day for a year? How much would you spend? How much would you improve your chances of winning?  
  • Research possible purchases. What can you buy with $408,000 (the amount after taxes)? Research the cost of a home in your area, the cost of a new car, a dream vacation, etc. 
  • Discuss the concept of a million. Read the book How Much is a Million or If You Made a Million written by David Schwartz and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. Use the ideas in these books as a springboard for discussing just how big a million really is. 
  • Discuss impact of winning a $1 million. How would your life change? Are people with more money happier? What problems might be caused by winning a lot of money? Would people treat you differently? (I've heard that many people who win large sums of money end up broke and unhappy in a few years. It would be interesting to research the facts on this and discuss your findings with your students.)
  • Write an expository paragraph or paper - What would you do if you won a $1 million and had a choice between taking a lump sum of $600,000 or the whole amount over 20 years? How might your life change based on your decision?
These are just a few lesson ideas that came to mind as I thought about the implications of winning $1 million dollars. How would you teach a million dollar lottery lesson? I think we can agree that this topic is a goldmine of rich learning opportunities, no pun intended!



October 10, 2012

Weathering, Erosion, or Deposition? Sorting Out the Processes



Science is one of my favorite subjects, and I've always been interested in geology and landforms. I remember hiking through the White Mountains of New Hampshire as a child, listening to my father explain the geology of the area. He showed me evidence of glaciers that once covered the area, interesting caves and rock formations, and fossils of sea animals that somehow ended up high in the mountains! I still enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities, and I often wonder how certain features of the earth were formed.

I guess those early experiences are why I enjoy teaching students about landforms of the Earth. Hands-on activities and opportunities to explore nature are especially important in this area of study. One of my favorite projects is to have students work in teams to create islands from salt dough, and each island has to include specific landforms. When students share about their islands with the class, they have to explain how those landforms might have been formed. We read books about weathering, erosion, and deposition, and even take walks outside to observe evidence of these three processes in nature. I show photos of pictures I have taken myself and other pictures I've found on the internet to explain how weathering, erosion, and deposition shaped Earth's surface.

Sorting Out the Processes (and a Freebie!)
Yet even with all of those activities, my students still had trouble remembering the difference between weathering, erosion, and deposition. These concepts are very confusing. To help them practice, I created a sorting activity with examples that students could read and classify into one of the three categories.

They worked in teams because having time to discuss and debate the placement of the cards was really helpful as they grappled with the concepts. When they discussed a card, they had to talk over the action taking place and decide if it was most likely weathering, erosion, or deposition. They took turns so all students had the opportunity to participate equally.

If you'd like to use this sorting activity with your students, you can download it for free from my TeachersPayTeachers store.

Illustrated Task Cards and Self-Grading Google Quizzes
If you believe that a picture is worth 1000 words, you'll love my resource for teaching this topic. Weathering, Erosion, and Deposition Task Cards and Google Quizzes includes 24 printable task cards in both black & white and color, as well as 24 task card images that can be used with the free Plickers program or with Google Classroom. You can even use the images to create digital decks of task cards for cooperative learning activities like Showdown! Weathering, Erosion, and Deposition also includes two self-grading Google quizzes that can be assigned with Google Classroom or administered as online formative assessments. 



The illustrations on these Weathering, Erosion, and Deposition task cards are what make them really unique. Most of drawings were created by my daughter Wendy Candler of Digital Classroom Clipart on TpT, and I love the simplicity of her artwork. Somehow Wendy was able to capture the essence of how weathering, erosion, or deposition contributed to each situation being depicted without adding unnecessary details.

I hope these activities and resources help your students develop a deeper understanding of the difference between weathering, erosion, and deposition.





October 8, 2012

Off the Wall Westward Expansion Lesson


Guest blog post by Joann Claspill

Every once in a while I love to shake things up in my classroom a bit to keep my students on their toes and engaged. The first time I teach “off the wall” is always an amazing experience for my students, and it turns out to be one for me too!

As many of you may be experiencing, time allowed for Social Studies instruction is often a disappearing act. Since that area is my passion, I purposely find ways to integrate it with my ELA standards on a daily basis. In my fifth grade class this past week, we were learning about the effects of the second Westward movement and the effects that all the new settlers were having on the land and the way of life of the Native Americans. I decided this was a perfect lesson to take “off the wall”.

Off the Wall Lesson Preparation
My students had background knowledge from fourth grade about the Plains Indians and their dependence on the buffalo, so I made this my focus today. I went online and found pictures to print of the new buffalo hunters, the mountain of buffalo skulls that were sold, the buffalo carcasses lying in snow after they were shot, and a painting of the newly built train line running buffalo over with shooters in the train cars. I looked at parts of our textbook that fit the lesson and transcribed them into my own document. I found some other information in a book I had called “Saving the Buffalo” and wrote up some paragraphs that matched the pictures I selected. Everything I wrote included something about cause and effect or making inferences - my two ELA focus areas for the lesson. Last preparatory step was to print everything and create nine pieces to hang on walls in the hall outside my classroom. Each piece had a picture with a paragraph or two underneath and a number 1-8. Total prep time was one planning period of 45 minutes.

Learning in the Art Gallery
After reviewing orally with my students the reasons why settlers moved West, as well as who already lived there, I explained the directions for our Art Gallery (and this is where the magic begins!!) Each student got a clipboard and paper. They needed to have room for 8 answers - some students folded their paper into 8 boxes, others just listed as they went. We reviewed rules for an Art Gallery - quiet, thinking, observant, focusing on the paintings, no touching. I explained that I wanted them to circulate among the paintings, do the reading and answer any questions on their notes. We got into “Art Gallery Mode’ with our clipboards in hand and you could have heard a pin drop! Students were moving around, reading, taking notes, silently nodding at one another, pointing at paintings while looking back at me - good stuff! As I moved around among the students, the inferences and observations I noticed them making were astounding!

Discussing Facts and Inferences about Westward Expansion
As a bonus, I brought a Beanie Baby buffalo and let him sit on the shoulder of students who were being especially observant! Students went through the gallery, self-paced, for about 20 minutes. At that time, we all came together to sit in the hall and talk about what we learned. I went through each painting and had students share out their inferences if facts were not stated, and since I had their undivided attention, I went ahead and told them if their inferences were correct. By the end of the 8 paintings, without me ever “teaching them” the direct effects the buffalo hunting had, or why settlers were hunting buffalo, every single one of my 42 students were able to articulate it through their gallery experience.

Teaching Off the Wall
Sometimes, just moving your classroom outside its 4 walls can create an automatic “hook” for your students. As with any strategy, I only use it sparingly or else it gets as old as just listening to me. I have used the art gallery approach when looking at characters in novels we read, comparing stories or genres, and of course with Social Studies lessons as appropriate. Try teaching off the wall and let me know how it goes!

Joann Claspill is a 5th grade teacher in South Carolina. She has won 2 state Social Studies teaching awards and has been published with a local publisher featuring her integrated ELA and SS work. Her blog is www.fifthisfabulous.blogspot.com.

October 1, 2012

New Webinar: 5 Amazing Web Tools

Note: The webinar described in this post took place on October 10th. 2012. However, you can watch a free recording of this webinar on Laura Candler's Whiteboards and Web Tools page.

Collaboration is the name of the game in education, and that's why I'm excited to host this upcoming live webinar! The internet has transformed the way we interact with others, and Web 2.0 tools provide amazing opportunities for students to collaborate with their classmates and even with other students around the world.

Recently I've been learning how many teachers are using web tools in creative ways, and I invited five outstanding educators to share their experiences in a webinar. I'm thrilled that the tech-savvy teachers below accepted my offer, and each of them will explain how to use a favorite web tool to foster classroom collaboration. 

5 Amazing Educators Share Their Favorite Web Tools 
Let's take a peek at the web tools we'll explore and the educators who will share their expertise with us:
  1. Animoto - Erin Klein of the Kleinspiration blog will share how she uses Animoto with her 2nd graders. With Animoto, your students can collaborate to create exciting videos from their digital photos, video clips, and music.
  2. LiveBinders - LiveBinders is a free online tool that's like having a 3-ring binder on the web for organizing and storing resources. Lisa Dabbs, creator of the Teaching With Soul blog, will share how to use LiveBinders with students.
  3. Skype - You've probably heard of Skype, and more than likely, you've used Skype yourself. It's a free video calling service where you can talk to friends and family face to face via the Internet. But have you tried using Skype in the classroom? Fourth grade teacher Paula Naugle will share how she uses Skype to enable her students to connect with other students around the world. Paula's blog is appropriately titled, PLN - Not Just My Initials.
  4. Kidblog - Kidblog is a safe environment for students to blog, and over a million K-12 students have a voice there. Fourth grade teacher Joan Young will share how her students are using Kidblog in creative ways. You can find Joan's blog at Allkidscanflourish.blogspot.com.
  5. ClassDoJo - ClassDoJo is a behavior management tool that teachers and students seem to love! Suzy Brooks of the Technically Invisible blog is a fan of this web tool, and she's going to share how she uses it for more than behavior management in her 3rd grade classroom.

Free Interactive Webinars
I thoroughly enjoy presenting webinars because they're interactive and fun! You'll have the opportunity to ask questions, collaborate with other teachers, and contribute your suggestions using the chat box in Blackboard Collaborate. I invite you to visit my Webinar page on Teaching Resources to learn about the webinar recordings that are available right now for you to watch. 

Have you used any of these web tools in your classroom? If so, please plan to attend and share your ideas with us. If you haven't used them, I know that participating in this webinar will inspire you to give one or more of them a try in your classroom this year!