Saturday, August 17, 2013

Back to School - Math Edition

It might be time to think about renaming my blog, because I'm really excited about teaching math this year! It all started when I read the book Number Talks over the summer.

I've always understood the importance of mental math and computation strategies, but I'd never really understood how to teach it. It felt like something kids either had or they didn't. This year, however, I decided that we'd start doing number talks from day #1, and I'm already blown away by how my students are developing as mathematical thinkers. They're able to solve complicated addition problems in their heads -- no paper allowed -- and they're articulating their strategies well. I've been introducing a new strategy every 2-3 days, and it's been awesome. We'll be moving on to subtraction strategies in a few days, and I have high expectations for that to.

To help students with the mental math strategies, I made a set of posters that describe each strategy with an example of how it works. There are 20 posters in all -- one for each strategy described in the book.

The complete set is available in my TpT store, and they'll be on sale for 28% off this weekend as part of the Teachers Pay Teachers back to school sale if you use the code BTS13.

As I've been working on order of operations and number sense with my fourth graders, I also introduced the four fours problem. The premise of the problem is this:

Using some arithmetic combination of four 4's, can you write an equation for each of the numbers from 1-100? Here are the rules:
• You may use any combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and/or division
• You may combine numbers, e.g., use 2 of the fours to make the number 44
• You may insert decimal points
• You may use a four as an exponent
• You may use square roots
• You may use factorials, e.g., 4! is equivalent to 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24
• You may use overbars to make a decimal repeat
• You may NOT use any digit other than a four
• You MUST use all four 4's in each solution

Before I go on, let me give two caveats. 1) I didn't expect all of my students to be able to handle all of these rules. Square roots, exponents, and factorials are WAY above my fourth graders heads generally, but I did have a handful that could handle it. And there are plenty of solutions to be found that don't require those operations. 2) This problem freaked out the parents more than it scared the kids, I think. I had a few panicked parents that I had to talk down while we were working on this, but in the end, it was well worth it. My students were so excited about math and problem solving as we worked through this problem. It was homework each night to try to find a few more solutions, and then we'd add to a chart during math class. Look at all that my students accomplished after just two days!

We've filled in a bunch more solutions since then, but of course I left my camera at school this weekend...

Finally, in honor of the big back to school sale on TpT, I've bundled four of my favorite math resources into a back to school math pack for this weekend only.

Sold separately, this is \$17 worth of products that I'm selling this weekend for \$10, but after Monday, the bundle will no longer be available in my store. So if you've had any of these on your wish list...

Hope everyone had a great week! I'm still learning how to juggle grad school with teaching, but I'm hopeful that I'll still be posting at least once a week.

Off to start catching up on blog reading and filling my cart for the TpT sale! Have a great weekend!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Classroom Tour 2013

Whew! It has been a crazy week and a half. I have completed 7 school days of my year already! SEVEN! Now that things have settled into a more normal-ish back to school routine, I'm finally sitting down at my computer to share some of the gazillions of pictures I've been taking lately and share more about my first week-plus of the school year.

First, I reorganized my classroom library using the Ready 2 Number Customizable Library Labels from Ladybug's Teacher Files. I adore all of Kristen's work (as you'll see in later parts of the classroom tour!), and I was so excited to reorganize my classroom library this year.

I decided to use the Booksource Classroom Organizer tool to manage my classroom library this year, so this was really quite the overhaul -- scanning all of my books, sorting them, and labeling them. And like so many of my projects, what I thought would take me 1-2 days of work this summer ended up being closer to 5, so that really ate up a sizable chunk of my pre-planning. But it's so worth it. My books are now impeccably organized.

And when I ran out of shelf space, I spilled some of my larger nonfiction books into drawers.
Those used to be drawers for students to store their many notebooks and folders. One of the benefits of going to a mostly paperless classroom is that I can reclaim those for other things.

Here's a view of the library as a whole, with my "Welcome to Eberopolis" pennant banner and iPad cart in the middle.
In addition to reorganizing my classroom library, I created a better small group space for my classroom this year, courtesy of Ikea.

Last year, I used one of my 6 student tables for small groups, but with the number of students I have, I didn't feel right about packing them into 5 tables and leaving open a table that we'd only use some of the time. I also had a shortage of chairs, and I hated having to wait while students hauled over chairs from their tables to my small group space.

This year, I bought 2 small white tables from Ikea (each about \$20) and 6 teal stools (about \$5 each). I already had the blue swivel chair for me, but that was only \$15 at Ikea. So in the end, this is a great small group space for less than \$100. Well worth it to me.

I'm trying to do Daily 5 and CAFE this year, and I came across the very cute CAFE letters from Terri over at the Creative Apple.  (I think she's updated them since then, but I'm not quite ready to return to my printer and laminator just yet!) I also finally hung up my cursive letters from Ladybug's Teacher Files.

On the other side of the wall I have my class job chart, an explanation of my class economy, and my Standards for Mathematical Practice posters. I also made something new that I'm trying out this year for exit tickets, but I'll share more about that in a future post.

Here's our class meeting/carpet space.

I have some new buckets for holding clipboards at the front of the room, and I brought in a new chair for read alouds. I like that the chair easily folds and stores away so that we can move it out of the way when we don't need it.

The view of my desk is perhaps the least inspiring section of the room, although I'm loving the new paper lantern lights that I've put in my room. They really affect the ambiance, especially when it's early in the morning and we're all settling in.

And then in front of my desk are all of my students' book bins, numbered 1-27 (so far!). That's where students store the few notebooks, books, and papers they have in my classroom. They're also keeping their headphones in there for now.

Finally, I acquired a few Ikea desks from a friend who was leaving our school at the end of last year. They run about \$20 each, and they're a total pain to put together, which is why he left them with me rather than disassemble them for his move. They're awesome because they fit under the lip of the table and act as an extension for the 3 tables of 5 students, and they also give a little extra space to some of my students who need it. They're getting well used this year.

So, that's my classroom tour for this year! It's the happiest the space has ever felt to me, and I really need that happy space -- especially given how many hours I spend there each week. It feels a bit smaller now that I'm packing 27 bodies in there, but bit by bit, it's getting very organized.

I hope that everyone is having a great transition back to school -- or is enjoying those last few weeks of summer before heading back! I start classes for my doctoral program on Monday, so I don't know how often I'll get to blog this year, but I promise not to drop off the face of the blogosphere anytime soon.

Can't wait to see everyone else's classrooms!