Saturday, January 24, 2015

Spark Student Motivation Saturday: Activity Center

If your classroom is anything like mine, you have a vast range of ability levels.  Just over a third of my class requires regular intervention, and about a fourth of them have mastered the lessons before I finish speaking.  The rest fall somewhere in-between.  Motivating the kids who finish quickly to do something productive, without making it seem like they are having to do extra work, can be a bit of a puzzle at times.  However, a few years ago, I decided to create an "activity center."  And I am linking up with Joanne today from Head Over Heels for Teaching to share this idea.

My activity center is next to the library and is stocked full of educational games and activities.  I rotate the available items to create interest and to include things that we are currently working on. Students know that when they finish their assignment, they are expected to continue to "build brain cells."  We spend some time in the beginning of the year talking about the importance of utilizing every minute in the classroom and that idle minds often get into trouble.  They get excited to know that they get to "do something fun" and I tell them that I am excited that they get to "do something educational."  It is a win-win situation!

Over the years I have managed to pick up a variety of games and brainteasers.  The Mindware catalog is a great resource (and I always price compare with Amazon.)  I inherited quite a few Marcy Cook Tiles cards and have continued to add to my collection as time has marched on.  I have purchased some games, such as Word on the Street, at conferences I have attended.  I also put out task cards and review activities/games that we have already worked with--they do go back to them quite often.  Here is a look at some of the things that are there right now:

I can honestly say that the activity center has cut down on behavior problems and the inevitable 6th grade cries of boredom--which makes me very happy.  

My giveaway is still going on for a few more hours....check out this post on Teaching Percents to enter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An A+ in talking!

I love teaching 6th grade! They are funny, capable, interesting, and awkward. I laugh everyday I am in my classroom with them.

BUT...there is always a but... 6th graders talk and talk and talk. They excel at it. Over the years, I have started to look a bit more like grumpy cat--I know it is old age. And although my patience might be 100 times thinner than my ever-expanding waistline, I have found successful ways to deal with my chatterboxes over the years.

 I have a few incentives going on--they earn good behavior cards and letters that spell out Go Noodle so they can take brain breaks. I build in time for them to talk about what we are learning about with a variety of engagement activities. we review our expectations for behavior my teacher Spidey sense starts tingling--I know you all have that--that feeling of dread that courses through your veins when you feel the energy level rise unexpectedly in the room.

But none of that compares to my number one super strategy. It is cheap. It is easy. It is so simple it boggles the mind. Nothing silences a room faster.

Years ago, back in my teaching infancy, I would lecture, scold, name it, I tried it. And I had varying degrees of success but I felt disappointed, angry, exhausted. So, a kindly kindergarten teacher took pity on my down-trodden face and said "Sweetie, try to focus on what you want instead of what you don't." Well, between you, me, and the fence post, it took me a while to figure out what that meant....but it finally clicked.

So when the talking gets too much for my sensitive ears to bear, I simply find someone exhibiting the behavior I want and say something like:
"Wow, Jojo, thank you for working quietly."
"Kiki-you are so focused and on-task."
 "Table 3--I am so impressed to see how seriously you are taking your work."

And 9.7 times out of 10, everyone else settles down and gets serious....wanting to be recognized too. If it is a particularly tough day, I might toss in an incentive "Helga and Martin...please go pick a prize for working quietly."  Trust me, the results are amazing.

NOTE: It is important to select students carefully--avoid choosing the same ones over and over again as that can lead to resentment. And never ever ever say "Why can't the rest of you work quietly like Bryannah?" That will backfire faster than a speeding bullet....(I learned that the hard way.)  And for some classes the quiet might not last more than a few minutes...don't give up, don't give in, just find someone else to recognize in a positive way.  ;)

And, if you haven't already entered the giveaway, there is still time!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Teaching Percents

Teaching percents is never easy.  With the common core, it was challenging in one way and simpler in another.  Normally the kiddos have an easier time transferring their understanding of ratios and proportions to percent.  But when I taught ratios this year, we focused on the idea of equal ratios and using ratio tables.  In 6th grade, the word "proportion" is not mentioned in the standards.  It makes its first appearance in 7th. I don't know if that is a plus or not.  Seems like it is a bit of a disservice to me, and perhaps next year I will teach them to solve rate problems using proportions, but this year I purposely stayed away from explicitly teaching them--don't get me wrong though, I couldn't stop myself from talking about proportional relationships and connecting the ratio tables to proportions!

When I was younger, I learned the different ways to find the percent of a number, the percent of a quantity, and the percent given the part & whole.  Then I started teaching it and I realized that solving percent problems via proportion caused a lot less confusion.  So, I made a decision this year that it still makes sense to me to teach this method.   However, they struggled more because we hadn't worked with "cross-multiplying and dividing" as much.  Their struggle, in turn, has caused me to struggle.  I wrestle regularly with the implementation of the "common core standards."  The ambiguity in them drives me crazy.

Although it is not in there explicitly, my team did make the decision to spend time with conceptual understanding of percents.  I do a variety of exploration activities to help with this, but one of my favorites is "Finding 10% and 50% of a number."  50% comes somewhat easily because they usually have a pretty good understanding of a half.  For 10% we work with objects, and then grids, dividing them into 10 parts and counting how much is in each group of 10.  Eventually many kids are able to see  that the decimal point is moving one place to the left to quickly determine 10%.   I firmly believe that by learning to find 10% of a number, students can solve many percent problems mentally and it helps them with checking to see if their answers make sense.  I created a game this year to have them practice this skill--check it out here.

In December, I actually won a giveaway on a blog and it made me so happy.  I want to try to give someone else that feeling, so I am going to try to hold my first giveaway ever.  I hope I have used rafflecopter correctly....only way to find out though is to try it out.  So, fingers crossed!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Spark Student Motivation: Two fun ways to review math!

Vacation is almost over--how did it fly by so quickly?  I know I accomplished a lot of my "to do" list but it seems like that every time I crossed something off, I remembered two more things to add.  I am looking forward to getting back to my routine and seeing the kiddos--we have so much to do! I am linking up with Joanne to share a few review ideas that we will be using this first week back.

One review activity that we do I call "Compute and Check."  First I have the kids divide their paper into 8 sections (fold it in half twice and the opposite way in half once.)   I put 8 (sometimes I do more and we just use the back side) review problems up on the document camera.  The students do a problem one at a time and come back to where I am sitting and I check it to see if it is correct.  I have answer key right there which I keep partially covered to prevent peeking.  I give them a star if it is right and a dot if it is wrong (the dots help me track how many times it took them to figure out the right answer.)  If it is wrong, the student has to find the error and correct it.  However, if the coveted star is earned, the student gets to move on to the next problem.  I never correct more than one problem per student at a time (sometimes they like to try to sneak an extra one in there--but I hold firm!)  I also don't explain their mistakes to them as that holds up the line.  I like this activity because it allows kids to work at their own pace, and they get immediate feedback on their work.

Another fun activity that we do regularly is called Scavenger Hunt.  I have found that 10 posters/problems is the right amount for my class of 6th graders.  To create the scavenger hunt posters, you need to first determine the problems you want them to solve and then the answers for the problems.  Don't number the posters until the end!  (This is the key to making the scavenger hunt work correctly.)  Then, starting with poster one, write a problem on it in the middle of the poster.  Place the answer to that problem in the corner of poster two.  Write a problem in the middle of poster two and the answer goes on poster three.  Keep repeating this until you get to the final poster--the answer for the final problem goes on the first poster.  Now....go back and number the posters but not in the correct order.  What was poster #1 can be poster # 8 and 8 can become 3, etc.  (I used to use a 10 letter word--with one letter on each poster--but my bright kiddos figured this trick out and wouldn't do the math.)  the posters can be hung up around the room in any order and kids can start with any poster--it should make a chain. Most of the kids can solve the problems correctly in the 20 or so minutes I give them to complete this activity.  While they are working on the hunt, I can either monitor to see who has it and who doesn't or I can pull a small group to provide those who are struggling with additional support.  (If I pull a group, I just hang the posters on the other side of the room instead of all around it.)  It really is a fun way for students to independently practice their skills with immediate feedback--if they can't find the answer, then they know they made a mistake.  I have an example of one hunt I created in my store--if this didn't make enough sense.

I am planning on using the first activity when we get back to review a bit of what we were working on before vacation.  It will keep them moving and it is doesn't take too long to prep!