Absolute[ly] Value[able]

Was anyone else's week CRAZY last week?  I was directing our 6th Grade Egypt play last week, and then I realized I had a principal observation.  I'm a wierdo and love observations, but I was scrambling for something awesome to show off for math.  My curriculum map told me that Monday was Absolute Value, but all I thought was, "How the heck can I make this fun?"  I did a bit of Googling, Pinteresting, and blog-stalking until I found exactly what I wanted.  Dan Meyer is a serious genius, and I gleaned ideas from his two posts found here and here. (They're insanely awesome)

To kick it off, I had a PPT of 10 popular celebrities.  We went through a few people, each time the kids guessed how old the celebrity was.  We then discussed who the closest guesser was.  The huge emphasis had to be on distance from the right age - not the direction.  The best guesser may have been above or below.  That is critical for introducing absolute value.  It was so fun - my principal stood up and asked the kids to guess her age.  It was hilarious!  My kids were so nervous to guess too high!

I introduced what absolute value was, and then I had four stations set up to practice absolute value.
Cereal Weights - We weighed cereal, and students were given a goal weight.  We also had a margin of error of 2 grams, so if was within two grams of the goal weight, the cereal box was sellable!  This was a great time to discuss that in this case, the goal weight was acting as zero.  They loved it!  (Idea originally from here, but it's adapted a bit!)

Nerf Guns - A favorite in class.  We drew a target on the window in class, and then the kids shot suction-cup Nerf darts!  They measured the distance to the target.  Again, we talked about what is acting as zero.

Estimation Jar - Before class started, I had a little jar of jelly beans and had the kids estimate how many beans were inside.  (We definitely need to work on estimation in my class - they were SOOOOOOOO off!) This station, they calculated the best guesser again.  Again, we talked about what number is acting as zero.

QR Station - over the summer, I found great task cards on TPT by Felicia Watkins.  They can be found here!  I put my iPad over there, and the kids practiced in a more "structured" setting.  I'm not sure if my classroom is ever a totally structured math room in the traditional sense, but we actually accomplish a lot, and my students LOVE math!  I don't think I've heard a groan all year. That, my friends, is a serious accomplishment with 6th graders!

TPT Sale for Cyber Monday

I love a good sale as much as the next person, but I have to admit that I seriously dislike the battle of Black Friday Black Thursday and Black Friday.  Fortunately for the commercial world, I'm a sucker for cheap prices, so despite my anxiety of getting trampled by a cart, I was still out there digging for the $1.97 DVDs at Walmart after my turkey meal.  I love the invention of Cyber Monday because you still get fabulous prices, but you can do it at home!  Heck, you don't even have to take a shower or get out of your PJS!  The internet knows how I like to spend my breaks.  To join in the fun, I'm teaming up with TPT to give you guys 28% off my TPT store!  This is the most that any seller can give off, so be sure to stop by your favorite sellers on Monday and Tuesday!  You won't be sorry!  I have three new products and one freebie posted today just in time for the sale!  Click HERE to check it out!

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I hope that you have had a fabulous Thanksgiving, and that you haven't cracked open your plan book yet for Monday! :)  Thanks for being such great followers (yeah, I know that there are currently only three! but a girl's gotta start somewhere)!

Math Vocabulary - Taboo!

Is it just me, or is it like torture for students to practice math vocabulary?  I have noticed that my little group this year really needs the help with math vocabulary because when the test pops up, they often ask, "Wait, what's a prime number again?" or "What does GCF stand for?"  AH!!!!!  So, to give them a little more practice in disguise, I saw an idea about creating a Taboo game for math.  Brilliant!  I don't remember who I saw the idea from originally (it was a few years ago), but the teacher designed it for a 7th/8th grade class.  I started a round with my 6th graders today, and they LOVED it!  I was so surprised how much they enjoyed it, and how much they actually knew!  This game is a keeper!

Want a copy for your 6th grade friends?  Check it out in my TPT store here!

Sub Plans

I know I'm not alone when I say I HATE SUB PLANS!  Not only do they take forever to compose, but so often I return to school seeing that my students are totally confused in math, or that absolutely nothing got done.  It drive me bonkers!  I recently discovered an app that I seriously cannot live without!  It's called Explain Everything, and it works a lot like any Kahn Academy video you watch, except you can customize it for your kids!  I was at a training this past week (I'm going to an Arts Leadership Academy training through BYU, and I am totally sold that the arts need to show up in class daily, but I'll talk more about that in a later post), so I missed two days of school.  It just about killed me because I don't like getting behind in math.  Our schedule is pretty tight as it is, and I was getting nervous.  I decided to try making a video on Explain Everything.  The day before I left, I pulled one of my students aside.  I told him that in the video I was going to ask him a question, and I needed him to answer it as I went.  It was magical!  My principal happened to walk in right as the video was starting with my sub, and she texted me to tell me that the kids were totally engaged (possibly a bit nervous that they, too, were going to get called on?)!  Not only that, they rocked their quiz the next day when I got back!

Another way I like to use this app is to create videos to post on my class blog.  This way kids have something to reference at home for homework or to catch up on work if they're absent.  Parents LOVE it because they can see how we are teaching concepts in class, so they feel like they are aware of what's going on in the classroom!  Always a plus!  The app connects with a YouTube account which makes it viewable by everyone on every device.  Here's one I used in class with my substitute:

Half Over or Half Left? (Plus a FREEBIE!)

July 16th?  No.  Way.  It seems like yesterday I packed up my classroom for the summer, which means it'll feel like tomorrow that I'll be welcoming the class of 2020 in for 6th grade!  I've been busy doing non-school stuff for the past few weeks, but I finally got to posting two new items in my TPT store.  Huzzah!  I was able to attend Utah Core Academy in early June, and I am pumped for math this year!  I am very excited to be able to release my two newest products, one of which I absolutely cannot wait to use!  I am tempted to rearrange my curriculum map so I can play it ASAP. :)

Math, chemistry, physics, and earth science have ALWAYS been my favorite subjects since kindergarten.  I do love writing, social studies and reading, art, music, etc, as well, but math and science have always clicked.  I think that is why I love teaching them so much.  Math is everywhere.  Not a single soul can go without it in a 24-hour period.  One of my favorite math-related items are board games.  The amount of probability in there is phenomenal, and, quite frankly, they are fun.  Hence my most recent product: Sugar-opolis!  (Yes, it's a generic name for Candy Land!)  It doesn't have anything to do with Candy Land aside from the fact that cavities abound.  The game is designed to practice fractions, decimals and percent.  Some require converting between the three, others require comparing different notations, some focus on the new common core standard to find percents of a number.  I've added a fun element: the Sour Apple Cards.  If you've ever played Quelf or Curses, you have a bit of an idea of the game.  The Sour Apple Cards require players to do things like keeping their elbows straight, keeping your wrist to your forehead during your turn, speaking in a British accent, etc.  This is definitely not a game for days where you need the class quiet and serious.  But it is a FABULOUS game when math can be a little more laid back and selling the idea that school is (dare I say) fun!

The other product incorporates QR codes to multiplying decimals!  Wahoo!

Anyway, I am so excited to use this product that I want to give out a few!  I will be giving three free copies away!  Here's how it works:

1. Follow my blog.
2. Follow my TPT store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Esther-G
3. Leave a comment on this post letting me know you did both and your email address so I can send it to you!
4. Stick around to see other freebies in the future!

Hands-On Math

With the switch to the common core, I am so excited to see a shift in our math instruction!  One of the biggest and most important messages came from a stellar teacher named Dan Meyer.  He was featured on a TED talk a few months back.  His concern is that we are dumbing down math WAY too much for our students.  Amen!  I know that I often saw my students freak out during a word problem because they had no idea what to do with the numbers.  They would guess on operations to use to solve the problems, and it drove me crazy that my students didn't have the critical thinking and problem solving skills, let alone the patience, to solve a more intricate word problem unless the problem held their hand all the way through it and told them how to solve it.

Needless to say, this year will look a LOT different in my classroom.  I've never been a big fan of the math book day-by-day instruction because I know when I had classes with that model I had a hard time connecting information.  (I'm not anti-book.  I think that there is a place for it all in a math class, it just needs to be balanced!  I'm also all for the book when I have to call a sub in at the last minute as well!)  I think there needs to be time for students to discover, explore, and practice.  This includes a time for the teacher to step back and let the students battle it out.  Is it ok for students to struggle sometimes?  Yup.  One of the huge differences between Japan, Singapore, and the US is the amount we expect of our students.  Give it a try with your students.  Give them a task that doesn't have an obvious answer and let them go for it!  You'll be quite surprised what they can come up with!  

Back to Dan Meyer, he is the king of connecting math to the real world.  Basically, this was his inspiration:
Seriously, who buys 60?  It's no wonder that our students have a hard time connecting math to the real world outside of class when we are talking about buying an unrealistic amount of fruit that most kids don't even like anyway.  Let's present kids with stuff that they will actually come across in life, regardless of what they choose to pursue as a career.  Let's give them a reason to spend 60 minutes or more in math each day, and "you'll need it for college" isn't a valid answer for them.  Will they need it?  Absolutely.  Is math important for college?  Yes.  But even while I was at college, there were kids who struggled to use math in the real world.  We have to sell kids on math and make them realize that math will help them each and every day.  

Check out Dan's ideas here at www.threeacts.mrmeyer.com.  His approach is intense.  When he gives a problem, he often leaves out key information.  As students begin solving the problem, they begin to notice what they need and do not need so that it's not a crap shoot of random numbers with assumed operations.  When they are analyzing on their own, a magical math book will not appear with a sample problem.  :)  They need to figure out what is important.  So, his initial problem may seem harsh and impossible, but with time, you will see a lot more perseverance (which is one of the key mathematical qualities as outlined by the NCTM).  If you're interested in implementing more of this in your class (don't worry, every day in your class does not need to be like this, but it is a great way to anchor a unit/concept/idea), look into the CMI model for math instruction.  It's AWESOME!  Brigham Young University is HUGE into training their pre-service teacher in this model, and you can find more here: http://education.byu.edu/news/magazine/cmi/  

Teacher Conferences & New Passions

Every year, our fabulous administration invites us to an amazing teaching conference that is local.  This year, it was focused on instructional leadership in the classroom.

We heard from some fabulous individuals, both those in the education and in the business field.  Two of the people that really inspired me were Daniel Pink and Ron Clark.  Daniel Pink is a business analyst that studies corporations and analyzes their level of success compared to the motives that the company uses to achieve such success (or the lack thereof).  It was fascinating to learn that as teachers we often bride our students constantly with IF-THEN statements: If you do this, then you'll get this.  While there is a place for such motivators, we are actually doing our children a disservice.  We are taking away intrinsic motivation, and, therefore, ruining their love of learning in some cases.  If you want to read more, check out one of his books!  

Now, the other presenter that was hands down phenomenal was Ron Clark.  If you've heard anything about the Ron Clark Academy, South Texas's IDEA Academies, or the KIPP Charter schools, you probably know a thing or two about this high energy, passionate educator from North Carolina.  The man has transformed education with his kids.  He makes it fun, and instills serious manners into his students.  His ability to make school fun isn't filled with class points, rewards, stickers, etc.  He follows through to a T with every single one of his policies, even if it means that not every student ends up getting the cookie for their hard work.  He also addressed that we need to be very cautious that we are not raising a generation of soft students by giving them the reward regardless of their effort/performance.  Amen my friend.  I've only read a snippet of his books, but I'm already addicted.  I have secured copies at the local library and I. Am. STOKED!  He is at the top of my professional learning idols, up there with Kelly Gallagher.  I'm so excited to sell the idea to some other teachers who weren't at the conference.  It's going to make next year exciting and wonderful, just like this year was.  Here are his three books!  If you've read them, leave a comment with your thoughts/ideas!  I'd LOVE to hear from you!  Happy teaching and reading!

Citizenship Board

I try to keep my kids accountable as much as possible, and sometimes that can be a hard task to keep up with!  We track citizenship scores with our Magnet Board, shown below:

Everyone starts the day at "Making Great Choices" which means that  I expect them to begin the day making the choice to be prepared and follow directions.  Students can go either up or down throughout the day.  I really like this model because sometimes a student might have a really rough morning, but they know that it doesn't have to ruin their citizenship score for the entire day.  If they pull it together, they can get move up as well.  It's encouraging for kids.  Depending on the day, students might get to move their magnet up for participating, doing service, sharing a cool way of thinking, turning in a project on time, being prepared, etc.  Basically whatever we are struggling with as a class (or with an individual) I use the magnet board as a way of positively reinforcing good behavior, and occasionally having to step in to correct unacceptable behavior.  I find that the prospect of moving the magnet up is pretty motivating for most of my students.  It also is a visual reminder to me that I need to make sure I'm positively rewarding kids who are on task constantly.

For the magnets, our grade level laminated brightly colored paper, and then punched out circles using a scrapbook paper circle cutter.  They probably have a 1.5-2 inch diameter.  Then I slapped on a self-adhesive magnet on the back.  The first week of school the kids chose their own magnet and wrote their names on it.  It makes the board really colorful!  (Sorry for the blurry spots - had to blot out names!)

So what do I do with this?  Well, the kids have planners that we fill out together at the end of each day. We write upcoming homework assignments, projects, etc.  Each level on the board correlates to a number.  Uh-Oh = 1 and Coolest = 7, and everywhere in between.  :)  Each day, they write their score in their planner which must then be signed by a parent each night, regardless of the score.  

If students unfortunately end the day below "making great choices," they owe me some time during recess doing class service.  That way it's not a study hall reward or anything like that.  
Careful = 5 minutes of service
Yikes = All 15 minutes of recess (they also had a note sent home)
Uh-Oh = Recess for a week, and they must call their parents while I'm in the room so they are accountable for their choices, and so I can ensure that the correct information gets home.  

If a student makes it up to a 7, I give them a homework pass (which are like Charlie's Golden Ticket in our class!)

Want to make your own board?  Save yourself a little bit of time and grab the labels for FREE at my TPT store here!  The board is a magnet board from Ikea, separated with blue painter tape.  

PS - I wish I could take the ultimate credit for this, but I found a picture of one on a random blog last year, so if you made it, let me know so I can give you credit!!!

Word Walls Beyond High Frequency Words

Word walls have always been pretty popular in the educational world, and rightly so!  They were so necessary for my third graders last year.  When I moved up to 6th Grade, I wondered how I could incorporate a word wall without making them feel like "littlies."  I had a parts of speech wall last year where I would put random words up and have the kids identify the part of speech, but it didn't go over too well.  We have some really cool vocabulary words as part of our new Language Arts program through Journeys, but I didn't have the cupboard space to do an A-Z word wall.  So....the two ideas meshed, and we got a parts of speech wall that is updated weekly with the vocabulary words the kids study each week.

We mix spelling and vocab together so that the kids are not just memorizing spelling patterns (many have mastered that), but students are studying words at a deeper level.  They look at the part of speech, connotation, antonym, synonym, some weeks origin, and an example of how to use the word correctly.  After the spelling/vocab test on Friday, we update the word wall so that they have a place to reference those words again AND we actually are seeing those cool vocab words in their writing!  Huzzah!

We also started a weekly vocab jar drawing (in picture below) where kids submit a paper with vocab words that they see in their reading.  I have noticed a huge increase of word recognition since we started the vocab jar.  The kids love it, and they don't even realize that they are practicing. :)

Here are a few pictures for a visual.  I purchased the fun letters at the Dollar Store last summer to label each cupboard.  We have nouns, verbs, pronouns, articles, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, adjectives and interjections.  I print each week's words in a different font and laminate them so that I can reuse next year.  I hot glue them to the wall.  The kids look at it frequently.  They notice when we update it, so it is well worth the effort!


Every. Day. In. Math.  Every day!  I have one student who is a fabulous math student, but he loathes showing work.  I've pulled out all of my tricks throughout the year:
Me: "Well, what if you get a math problem wrong?  How will I know how to help you?"
Student: "When was the last time I got one wrong?"
Me: "But what IF you do?"
Student: "My record shows that I don't."

I take off points for not showing work.  I've made deals for showing work with this student.  I've even bribed him with "if you show your work 5 different times, you can do this problem in your head."  Does it change anything?  Nope.  I don't know why students think that we enjoy torturing them with homework and asking them to show their work.  Heck, if I wanted to torture them I'd give them millions of Scantrons where I had no idea what went wrong in their thinking, hoping to ruin their mathematical solving process forever!

I pulled out an extreme, yet cliche trick on Friday.  I began grading the quiz they took on surface area.  We've gone over how showing work means writing the formula, showing each step, and circling the final answer.  The student got 100% on the answer part, but there were no formulas to be found, nor was there a lick of work.  I flipped the paper over and wrote the following note:

"I know you hate showing work.  Let's imagine that someday you are a doctor, and you discover an amazing cure for some disease, but you don't write the steps down meticulously.  Now the cure can never be recreated.  Wouldn't you wish you took the time to show your work for finding this life-changing cure?  (Please show your work.  If for nothing else, do it for my sanity.  -Mrs. G)"

The look on his face tells me I might not be getting work anytime soon.

End of Year Review

It's that time of year again!  Test review time!  There are tons of resources out there on TPT to help review.  I love the task cards.  I print them off, laminate them, cut them up and either put them around the room, or put a ring around them for center/group work.

Here's a few that I've created that my students love.  Each comes with an answer key.

If you don't have a laminator in your room, get one!  I got mine at Costco for $15 at the beginning of the school year (it's not currently on their website, but stop by in August or September).  Walmart also has them, and sometimes Sam's Club has them in stock, too.  Don't be fooled by the fancy-schmanciness of the $50+ ones.  My $15 laminator gets used all of the time, and it seals the edges well.  When you need a refill, purchase laminating pouches.  I get mine at Sam's Club. They come in a 200 pack for about $21.  Just make sure you get a hot laminator, and that the laminating sheets are for "hot lamination."  Sam's Club has the best deal that I've come across.  Even Amazon doesn't have a cheaper option.  If you find one, please pass on the information!!!

Beginning of a New Era

6th. Graders. Rock.  They really do!  They're independent, witty, creative, innovative and curious.  Mine are still in elementary school, so they also still care about their teacher liking them; they love being at the top of the food chain.  I've only been working with 6th graders for one school year, but I am absolutely sold.  Although this is my first year teaching 6th grade, I am the only rollover teacher in the grade next year at our school, so I'll be the leader of the 6th grade pack.  Terrifying?  Yes.  Cool?  Yeah, a little.  Ready? Not a chance.

It's the end-of-year time of year.  We're finishing up nearly every unit, and we're about 4 weeks ahead of schedule on math.  So exciting!  That gives us four solid weeks for review, more review, and, you guessed it, a little more review.  My colleague and I are big fans of cooperative and active learning to get kids learning out of their seats and in a hands on setting.  As more posts show up, you'll see that my classroom is not your traditional class with worksheets, strict silence, a teacher neatly grading at her desk all school day, diligently making note of missing assignments.  In fact, the only time I sit at my desk is to submit attendance and lunch count, or to get the technology ready for the upcoming lesson.  My chair is proudly underused.  It gets to join me during guided reading.  Don't get me wrong, there are days that are absolute disasters where I wonder if we got anything accomplished or if anyone learned a dang thing at school that day.  But I relish in the days that end with a feeling of, "Did that really just go that well?  Did you see how well ___________ did?  Have you read her poem?  THEY ACTUALLY GOT IT!"  Those are the days that make it all worth it.  The days where the light goes on, the emerging kids shine, and the kids reluctantly leave, hoping tomorrow will be just as awesome.  I live for those days no matter how far between they seem.

Here's to 42 more days of hard work in the 2012-2013 school year.