Skyping For Math Strategies!

As I said in my last blog post, my kids continue to struggle with some of their multiplication facts, which causes problems as we move on to higher levels of math.  So it was timely that my Principal mentioned a finger calculator another teacher was instructing her kids to use at a neighboring elementary school.  He had heard about it at his weekly Principal’s meeting and immediately called the teacher to see if our classes could Skype with each other!

Following several emails and discussions about borrowing a webcam on their end, Mrs. T’s class and my class Skyped.  They were able to teach us about this wonderful tool they were using to ease the problem of memorizing the difficult multiplication facts, those pesky 6’s, 7’s, and 8’s.

My kids were thrilled!  First to “see” and share ideas with other kids from across the county, and second to add another tool to their multiplication toolbox!  Mrs. T’s kids were great!  After showing us the basic concept (she had even written the numbers on her fingers for us!), Mrs. T let her kids solve problems, holding up their hands in front of the camera, that my kids called out as being difficult.  It was a wonderful interaction!  And, what a great tool; one that you will always have with you in a jam (or on the NC End of Grade tests).

Directly after the Skype session my kids had to take our county’s quarterly math assessment.  It was fantastic to see them applying the skills the other class had just shared!  Many of them talked to me at break time a while later about how it had helped them right away.  As Mrs. T stated in our Skype session, the finger calculator is not meant to replace memorization, but as the kids use it more and more, hopefully they will just begin to remember the correct answers.

I created a visual with the finger calculator rules to post on the Math Wall in our room, so my kids will always remember how to use it.  Below you can see what they taught us!  We’ve also decided to Skype with each other throughout the year on other topics!  Isn’t collaborating in the digital age fun?!

[caption id="attachment_480" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Using Your Finger Calculator"][/caption]

Cross Blogged at Ignite!Learning

Zooburst in Math!

I don’t know about your kids, but my 5th graders still struggle with many of their multiplication facts!  Yes, they have strategies to figure them out, mainly repetitive adding (using their fingers, no doubt), but that takes a long time!  And when you are working on a long division problem strategies like that could take hours, say nothing about the additional pressure if you’re working on a timed standardized test!

The kids have had some success with catchy songs they learned in the lower grades, but still continue to struggle, especially with those tricky 6, 7, and 8’s!  Remembering the old proverb that when you teach you learn, I decided to have the kids make up their own multiplication mastery tool.

Sometimes a web tool comes along, and I think, “Oh that is adorable!  How could I use this to help my kids master a part of the curriculum or motivate their love of learning in a meaningful way?”  Zooburst was one of those tools.  Zooburst is a wonderful web application that allows you to create unique digital 3D pop-up books.  So I decided to have my kids create catchy rhyming poems using their most troubling multiplication fact group, and turn them into digital pop-up books.

I learned several things during this process.  One is that many of my kids didn’t understand rhyme patterns, and how to create them.  I started the project by creating my own poem using the 3’s.  The kids were told they had to follow the same pattern I had throughout their own poems.  For example, each line had to start with the fact and end with a rhyming image.  Like, “3 x 2 is 6, go pick up those sticks!”  After we read through my entire poem so they could get the hang of the pattern rule, I showed them a 3D book I had started in Zooburst to go with my poem.  By doing this they would see the end product they were aiming for.  They would better understand that while creating their poem, they would need to be thinking about how they could display the content using objects in the book.

Well, their interest was certainly piqued!  Their first step was to create their poem using Microsoft Word.  They then saved their poems into their Math Home folders on our school’s server (just in case!) and transferred them to my computer using our new Smart Sync software.  Smooth as silk!  I was able to review their poems almost immediately and send a personal message to their computer screen (using Sync) that they were good to go, or that they needed to make a few changes first.  Several were asked to come to my table so we could work together on the rhymes.  I just took for granted that 5th graders knew how to rhyme!  Who knew?

Following the poem “go ahead”, they were free to create wonderful 3D books of their poems.  The free version of Zooburst allows you to create 10 books (simultaneously) per account.  So, because I have 20 students, I created several accounts using our class Gmail account.  After seeing how wonderfully Zooburst works (absolutely no gliches or losses of data), we might just invest in their Premium version which allows teachers to manage entire classes of kids.

Some of the books are hysterically clever!  I am hoping that because they had to write the poem and then choose characters and objects to “act out” the phrases in their books, they might just picture their nutty creation next time they get stuck on 8 x 7 or 7 x 6!  We’ll see!  Zooburst also allows you to share (email or embed, or add to the Zooburst gallery) your books when you’re finished, so you can check out all the kids’ books which have been completed and embedded on our wiki!  Lots of fun!

[caption id="attachment_477" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="From Ciara's Book "Ciara Sevens""][/caption]

First Experience with School Fusion Blog

This year our entire county is using School Fusion for our school and teacher websites.  Although I still love my wiki and will continue to use it as the starting point inside my classroom every day, I am really beginning to like our new School Fusion site.

One of the things we tried for the very first time this week was the Discussion Post.  All of my students are members of my site and are able to comment on discussion posts that I create (parents will be able to register and become members soon as well).  Students are provided a color animal code name to protect their identities.

The really neat thing about School Fusion's program is that I can award students certain medals for their comments.  For example I can award a lightbulb to a student who has left an insightful comment, or a hammer to a student who has built onto the conversation and been constructive.  Anyone who visits the blog can see the awards I've given each comment, and the awards are tallied in the student's membership page.  I think this will be a great way to have the students learn about being positive member of digital conversations!

I've decided I will post a new discussion each week, and the kids will have a week to interact on the site about it.  This week, since we are studying landforms, erosion, and weathering, I chose a picture of a cliff dwelling to spark the conversation.  Taking a GREAT idea from my Twitter PLN (sorry, I can't remember who it was!) I asked the kids to include in their comments on the post, 2 inferences, 2 questions, and 2 predictions they had as they analyzed the picture.  What a treasure chest of comments I've received this week.  I'm smiling just thinking about it!  Please check it out and visit often to see the neat ideas and discussion these kids come up with!

Sites From Today's Surfing! (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Year 2 Day 29 Minor Change

It's funny how I can never be totally satisfied with the way the classroom is running.  I guess this is true of most educators.  We are constantly tweaking things here and there to make the day run a little more smoothly.  One minor change that I made starting today was to flip my math and language arts blocks.

I had always held language arts first thing in the morning, but continually ran into the math block to finish things we needed to get accomplished.  I don't know if it is because the activities I plan for language arts take more thinking time, creating time, or if the kids just take their time, but it wasn't working!

Especially because we take break with the other fifth grade classes for socialization purposes, the first block is shorter. So today we completed our math activities during that time, and had a nice long block to work on reading and integrated science.  Much better!

Today's challenge was again related to my much-lamented irritation that the kids are not yet independent problem solvers.  One of their tasks today was to use their Smart Notebook SE software to create a vocabulary activity that could be shared with the class later in the week.  We began by looking at many of the Smart Notebook Activity Toolkit options (of which there are many cool ones!) and talking about how we would choose only those that would be good to help us practice our new landforms vocabulary. Then it was create time.  Well, within 2 minutes of "trying" hands were flying up and groaning could be heard.  They wanted me to spoon feed them the software rather than trying to get it on their own.

This is not going to happen. We talk all the time in my room about becoming independent problem solvers, and how important it is to work things out the best we can without having to continually ask for help.

I guess we'll need to keep working on this skill....

[caption id="attachment_471" align="alignnone" width="225" caption="Questions, Questions!"][/caption]

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Sites From Today's Surfing! (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Jumping off the Dock!

This summer, as I spent WAY too many days reading every minute's new posts from my PLN on Twitter, attending WAY too many online conferences, and dreaming, hoping, planning for the upcoming school year, I made a vow to myself they I would try to blog every day when school started.  Even if it was just a little tidbit about an encounter I had or revelation of one of my students.  Even if it didn't pertain to our 1:1 laptop program, or web 2.0 tool, or something Earth-shattering!

Well, here I sit, 5 weeks into the first quarter, drowning in guilt! How could I go 5 weeks with my wonderful class of 5th graders (whom I adore, so I begged to move up with them), 20 laptops working almost non-stop throughout the day, a classroom cottage set up in the best  arrangement I can remember in the past 20 years of teaching, and not have blogged ONCE?!  Not ONCE!

Not only that, I was asked to join the Ignite!Learning Blog team over the summer, a wonderfully exciting opportunity, and still here I sit, posting my first blog.  So I figure my therapy will be to lay out all the excuses so I can get over them, rid myself of the guilt, and move forward on that vow.

Excuse #1 - I did move from 4th grade to 5th grade, so although I taught 5th grade for 7 years 5 years ago, I am having to refresh my understanding of the NC curriculum.  And as all educators know, that takes some time!

Excuse #2 - We are in our second pilot year of carrying out the 1:1 netbook initiative, and although I have the same students I had last year, finding resources, rethinking how to teach, and planning takes TIME!  Lots of time!

Excuse #3 - Assessment in the digital age is different!  With my students creating content, as opposed to completing stacks of worksheets, which can, quite honestly, be graded while watching my sons' baseball games, assessing take more time!  A LOT more time!

Excuse #4 - My 3 sons!  Okay, so my oldest graduated last year, so I don't have his ballgames to watch anymore (sigh!), I do have two other year-round baseball nuts!  With practices, games, and the other "running around" and laundry that goes with teenaged boys, I have LESS TIME.  A LOT less time!

Excuse #5 - Oh yeah, and I have a wonderful husband.  And although he is very patient, I'm sure he is beginning to think that my netbook is attached to my fingers.  Not always a productive way to grow a strong marriage!

Whew!  I'm feeling better already.  The excuses are laid out, and as you all know there are about a hundred more that could fill this post.  So, my new plan? Hmmm, what's the new plan?  Well, to be honest, I'm going to try to blog as soon as I get back to my classroom from taking the kids to the bus at 2:30.  Everything from the day will still be fresh, and ALL those other "things" will just have to wait.  I feel better when I blog.  It gives me a chance to reflect, share, and refocus on how I can make tomorrow's lessons even better.

So, thank you for reading my rant.  My kids have done some fantastic things the past 5 weeks, so I will be blogging about each week's adventures.  Luckily, I have been working very hard to keep our Collazo Cove wiki, which guides our daily journey together, updated and full of the links we've been using.  So until I can post what we've been up to the last 5 weeks at the Cove, you can always peek at the wiki!

Feels good to be back!

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