Monday, February 29, 2016

Is Writing in Math Really the Solution?

As of late, I have really had a hard time convincing the students and myself of the importance of writing in math.  Through all of my schooling and now the PLCs, I have come to realize something about myself...  I HATE to write.  There is no joy for me when I am asked to write.  I don't write lists. I don't write lengthy letters.  My texts are very short If you have ever received an email from me you know that I just get to the point.  I agonize going to the PLCs that I know will involve me writing a little piece in my writer's journal.

I have spent a lot of time this month thinking about the students that are like me.  I love word problems.  I love when the word problems are rigorous and force me to think about how to solve them.  I love using math to solve word problems.  The answers don't always "pop in my head" like the fortunate students I mentioned in my last blog.  But I can relate to those learners because I would rather say that I just know the answer than have to sit and write a bunch of sentences about how I got my answer.  My struggle this month is the writing component to math.  Do we take the fun out of math when we force students to write about their thinking and have them free write during math time?  In their high school Algebra class will they have to write major pieces about the process they went through or will they just have to show what x equals?

Friday, February 26, 2016


Teaching Writing and Challenging Math Problems

This year has been a huge struggle for me with writing in Math. Students still want to do as little writing or explanation as possible. I have tried to model how to attack multiple step word problems and the type of detail explanation that is needed to complete them. I think students are still stuck on the single or two step process of  problem solving. Unfortunately, in the age of PARCC, the 6th grade math curriculum has been changed greatly. What I taught in 6th grade two years ago is no where near to what kids are expected to do. Kids must be able to navigate word problems that involve 5 or 6 steps with multiple concepts in the same problem.  Also, the skills of the math students that are entering 6th grade are very wide. Many of the Robert's kids tend to be more prepared for 6th grade than students that are coming from other schools that may be less rigorous and lower performing. I have literally lost my mind trying to figure out ways to make concepts more understandable. I also struggle with trying to support students that are several years below level and students that are advanced. Students are also struggling with the concept of struggling. They want the quick fix and don't want to keep trying to figure out the problem. They give up easily. What strategies do you use?

Erosional Landforms: Connect-Extend-Challenge

Connect, Extend, and Challenge : Erosional Landforms

In Science this trimester, we have be studying weathering, erosion, and deposition. Most of the work has been pretty straightforward with lots of work on definitions and basic understanding of the concepts .That is why I was pretty excited about relating erosion to their everyday lives. Students listened and read an NPR article on how a hurricane was able to erode parts of the beaches and how it impacts the communities around the beaches. Students were given the opportunity to examine all sides of the argument for and against beach nourishment and its cost. Many students were able to use their understanding of erosion and their experiences of going to the support their debates. . The debates were very lively and I think kids got the opportunity to understand how erosion has a very serious impact on communities. Lastly, students were given the challenge to write an essay pro or against beach nourishment programs. They had to choose only one side. I am in the process of grading the papers but I am excited to read their arguments.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Determining Importance and Synthesizing Information

Students were off to the races and quickly began working in their project teams to explore the question: Should more than six people be allowed at a lunch table?.  Engagement has been high, but frustration began to seep in as their emails were not being answered by principals. The other schools team and the interview team learned that gathering information from busy people was difficult, at best. However, they persevered, checking their emails each day.

The internet research teams finished up and consolidated their data as a source of evidence for arguments. We decided as a project team to delay the experiment since personal observation of the fifth graders could be used as evidence. Apparently, the six-person rule is only a guideline.

The most promising results were the student surveys. Students administered the surveys to one fourth, fifth, and sixth grade class. They quickly began to tally their results. Each team discovered that their surveys had small flaws, but they problem-solved past the issues. They also discovered that many of the survey responders did not read the directions and answered the survey incorrectly. Both were valuable life lessons for the teams.

Finally, as a whole class, students tallied the survey results and transferred them into three tables. Each student had their own copy of the data tables. They were required to reconcile the responses to the number of surveys and arrive at percentages. Students partnered up to complete their charts. Again, there was a high level of engagement during this process.

Once their tables are complete, students will have enough text evidence (survey data and internet research) to begin planning their persuasive essay. My final blog will explain our planning and writing process.

It's been an interesting journey to obtain primary source information. They've learned the value of perseverance, working collaboratively, and dealing with setbacks and frustration. It will be fascinating to see how students interpret and "fit" the data as evidence to support their arguments.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Anasazi, Native Americans, and Explorers OH MY

    As we navigate through our study of Non Fiction reading and writing, amazing things have been happening.  Kids are reading, researching, inquiring, and writing everything non fiction.  Conversations have gone deeper and deeper, discourse is alive and well, and, best of all, engagement is higher than I ever dreamed possible.  I've even won over my naysayers who thought they would "always hate non fiction."

    We began with learning about the Early Coloradans via reading a variety of texts on the same topic.  Small groups formed and pulled out the main idea and supporting ideas from these articles and created a poster to "teach" their learning to the rest of the class.  During these presentations, students took notes and discussed what new learning they took away, as well as conflicting data, etc.  One group had captioned a photo of a Native Americans "Here's a picture of the Anasazi".  Another student pointed out, there were no cameras during the time of the Anasazi so how could there be a photo of them.  From there we had a discussion about verifying facts within non fiction.

    When conflicting data was encountered, students discussed the possibility of "theories" being presented because there was no way to prove what happened.

   From the small group activity, we moved into individual research.  I created a padlet full of kid friendly resources focusing on the early residents of Colorado.  The kids spent a full 45 minutes their first day delving into these resources.  Engagement was high and the process of synthesizing and inquiry were fully evident.  From there, we did a mini lesson focused around thesis statements versus topic sentences.  We took a stab at writing what we had learned in the format most comfortable to them.  I got a variety of writing including:  Informative essays, Journal entries, and non fiction paragraphs.  A couple of the kids even incorporated poetry!  Overall, I was impressed with their work.

   Now we have moved into Trappers and Traders in our area of study.  Once again, we started with non fiction texts (only this time we focused on one article).  First, students read the article with different levels of support, and annotated the text as they read.  We came back together and discussed what they were wondering.  From their questions, we began to work on "What kind of a question is one that can be researched?"  This was tough at first, but as we worked on it over the next few days became quite clear.  Questions moved from "Why did they name Colorado "the color red"?  to "I wonder what the people saw when they came to Colorado before anything was built?  Did the land and landforms look the same as they do now?"

   We did another group project with the article in a jigsaw format.  Each group identified the main idea and supporting details of each section.  They recorded their information on a jigsaw piece and then put the puzzle together.  I loved watching them make connections to how things changed when explorers began interacting with the Native Americans.  This week they will delve into a new padlet of Trader and Trappers resources...I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Math Writing Priorities

In my January post, I wrote about conferring in math and my challenges in putting together a system for conferring regularly with my students.  Now, I think that I am trying too hard to try to create a routine that may work better for literacy than math.  Lately, my student teacher and I have agreed that we will have a set group that he meets with daily and I will have an invitation group that I meet with to meet with those kids who need a second look.  We have a very simple recording sheet where we keep track of who we have met with and which skills we are working on.  My thinking has stayed the same here, conferring is an important time of our workshop where we can hold kids accountable for their thinking and is a good time to evaluate kids' progression toward understanding. 

The other routine that I am really focused on is our reflection time.  I am carving out 10 minutes at the end of the lesson so that students can verbalize  and synthesize their thinking after the lesson.  I put a prompt on the board for students to write about. The prompt is usually related to their thinking and a thinking strategy.  An example is, "How did you determine which strategy was best when ordering fractions?"  They write and then we listen to several students share their thinking.   I have found this time to be a good one to check in with students' understanding.  It is also a good time to emphasize the focus on understanding, rather than on production.  I have found that student writing has improved with this routine, and I have also been impressed with student thinking during this time. 

My question at this point is: How do I translate this conferring time and reflection time to productive math writing time?  Should production be a priority? Is it important that we do formal math writing, or is it enough for students to do smaller math writing pieces that reveal their understanding as they explain thinking and strategies?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Back to the Mentor Texts

Since my last post, we have been building our schema around the early people of Colorado and analyzing feature articles as a way of sharing interesting information. Approaching this unit of writing through the lens of inquiry has allowed my students to recognize the authenticity of what we are doing, as well as become really engaged. Students naturally began to determine what characteristics feature articles possess as well as decision authors of features articles make. Yay!

As pleased as I was, I once again felt stuck. I knew we needed to 'write under the influence', but I didn't feel like we had 'closely studied' a mentor text to improve our own writing. After grappling with this for days, Michelle, helped me navigate my next steps. In talking with her I realized that our room is already full of mentor texts. Instead of looking at an entire piece, I've decided to use many different mentor texts to highlight different aspects of feature articles. For example, I have chosen a few articles with great leads that hook the readers. I'm also planning on finding a piece full of details and content specific vocabulary to compare to our own work. Do we as authors sound like experts on this topic?

Once again, as I type this it all seems so simple, but it's easy to get lost in the big picture. As I said in my last post, I'm following Katie Wood Ray's lens of inquiry, and I was getting caught up between two stages. When in the 'close study' stage I knew I wanted to purposefully use mentor articles but in my classroom I felt like we were ready to 'write under the influence'. I've come to the conclusion it will be more purposeful for my students (& myself) to closely look at mentor texts as we are writing. So, we're going to bounce back and forth between the two stages. Write a little, go back and analyze mentor text, write some more, look at more mentors, revise, write some more...

This was my big realization. In order for our mentor texts to be purposeful I need students to jump in and begin writing. Then, we can go back to the mentor texts as tools to help us. In past units, I think I've been caught up in finding the 'just right' text and using it/them at the 'just right' time. It's going to be a messy process, but we have a strong start. I feel like I'm growing in my understanding of mentor texts, and now, the hope is we will see an impact on my student's writing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Persuasive Writing Through Shark Tank

A few months ago I borrowed this idea from a friend who teaches 3rd grade STEM classes in another district- SHARK TANK!  You know, like the tv show.  The kids had to solve a simple problem using magnets and then share their idea/invention in the format of the popular show.  Sounded like a great idea, so I did what I normally do- tell Brenna and then ask her how we will make it work.

I knew it would provide a high engagement factor, but that was about all I had going for me until Michelle shared her argument and persuasive writing concepts with us the past two Fridays.  Now things are starting to take shape a bit.  (It also helped that Michelle was kind enough to have a planning conversation with me.)

I narrowed it down to these basic writing goals: a persuasive piece both in an oral presentation form (Shark Tank Pitch) and a blog post (persuasive paragraph).

And these science based success indicators:  kids will be able to a craft a solution that is reasonably scientific and shows an understanding of the nuances of magnets and the relationship to energy (ie. attraction and repulsion, conductors for magnetic force, and limitation of magnets and force.  As well as be able to use scientific evidence and persuasive techniques to persuade a reader/listener.

Most importantly I realized that I need to SLOW DOWN this process.  I have adjusted my timeline to include the use of mentor texts and videos.  The extra week I've given myself will allow me to more purposefully plan the critical mini-lessons to include modeling and mentors.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Math Word Problems

As we all know, math word problems are one of the hardest things to tackle.  We have all struggled with how long it will a train to travel across the country at a certain speed or if Alice has five apples and gives two away, just how many apples will Alice have left.  However, the math problems have certainly increased in rigor and length.  Even my highest math students have had to grapple and show perseverance to come up with an sensible answer for many of the word problems I present to them. 

My main focus with math and writing this year is for the students to determine what is important in the math problem and to identify the various steps that are needed to solve the multi-step problems.  My expectation is that the students will write the steps taken, to justify their answers and to also support the validity of their answers.  For many of my students it is very hard for them to do these three things.  I have several students that are so lucky to have the answer "pop in to their heads."  It is my hope that by expecting them to slow down and detail the steps they take and also justify and convince me that their answer is reasonable, that we can bridge persuasion and math.  I am also hoping that by the end of the year I can find a way to have the students write a persuasive piece justifying an answer to a complicated word problem.  Anyone have any ideas to share ??

Friday, February 12, 2016

February 12th post

As I was looking through one of the books at the end of PD, I found a fun way to kick off persuasive writing. Similar to looking at the Derrick Rose commercial, students would kick this off by immersing themselves in a variety of ads – commercials, print ads, billboards, images, etc. We would then talk about what we notice in all of the different ads; then, the focus would be on what are they selling (because every ad is trying to sell something) and how did they make us want the product. After discussing this, students would then create their own ad in groups. What are they trying to sell? How are they going to do that? From this, they would then create their ad in groups. After presenting their ad to the class and everyone trying to figure out what it is they are selling, we would then transition into how does this connect to writing. I want to take this fun ad activity and then have them write about their own ad: what were you selling? What strategies did you use to “hook” in the person looking to buy your product? How does this connect to writing, in particular persuasive writing?

After collaborating with this in groups, and then together, we would then take it to a persuasive piece in our curriculum – how did the Anasazi disappear? We have discussed this, and many students expressed their ideas of how they vanished. So using the information we gathered as to how to persuade someone to believe something, they will write a persuasive piece outlining the above, but with purposeful guiding and outlining.

My beliefs in writing to support understanding continue to grow throughout this process, PD, and my year in general. I continue to find that having examples, mentor texts, or different ways to look at something is really beneficial, in terms of student engagement and also, student work. My mindset definitely keeps progressing! 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

February-Progression in Writing to Support Understanding

Through our professional development discussions, team dialogue, and meetings with Michelle, my beliefs around writing continue to be solidified.  The idea that students need to be exposed to multiple examples (mentor texts) of a particular type of text so that they can study the craft moves of the author, along with studying the text features of a particular genre is one of my strongest beliefs about writing.

For example, right now we are studying non-fiction texts and their features.  What I really enjoy about this unit is that students are looking at non-fiction texts such as: interview transcripts, documentary videos, and articles about the rain forest.  These are types of non-fiction texts that I have typically not used before.  Students are guided through taking notes on the various text features, as well as comparing and contrasting the different forms of non-fiction.  Below is an example of one students text features notes.  Through our immersion and close study, students will become very familiar with the text structures of non-fiction so that they can be confident in creating their own as our culminating project.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

February Post

In 2016  you have a bonus day, February 29th.  Great day to write your blog post or comment on someone else's!  Last Friday, Michelle Jones was with us to talk about opinion, persuasion and argumentation writing.  Continue with the Connect, Extend, Challenge routine and write about one of the following:
  • Tell the reader about how that work resonated with you and your teaching practice and the ways that you will use that PD with your students.
  • Write about your progression in writing to support understanding.  As you reflect on your post from January, what is your thinking now?  How has your thinking changed or stayed the same?
As always, these are suggestions on how you can structure your writing.  You are welcome to stray from the Connect, Extend, Challenge routine if you feel it is not working for you.  Adding pictures, work samples, student reactions are a great way to really drive home your work for the reader.

This post is due on February 12th, comments due a week after that.  Keep it simple, keep it concise, do it before the 29th!

Thanks all...