Mystery Math Sticks: Make them ACCOUNTABLE!

As promised in the last post, I wanted to share an idea on how I do group work (most especially in math).  My first year of teaching, I wanted my students to do a ton of group work.  After all, I learned in college that being able to collaborate was a 21st century skill and we needed to make sure we gave our students opportunities to be successful in the real world.  Well, group work seemed like it always became social hour, and my students hardly got anything done.  I discussed the problem with my mentor teacher, and she suggested I go and observe a fourth grade teacher at our school. 

WOW!  This teacher was so gifted in how she taught.  Her classroom was far from quiet & traditional, but that's what made it work so well!  The kids were solving math problems like crazy, they were explaining their thinking, and they just seemed to be soaking up every word she said.  I needed this gift!  After watching, she and I sat down and talked about things that I really liked and questions that I had.  She shared these popsicle sticks that she had had (in her words) "for a million years."  The thing was, though, they were magic!  She had a group points system in her class, but it went far beyond the "best group" or the "most on time" etc.  At the beginning of every problem or question they answered, she pulled out two sticks and kept them a secret.  She would make her way around the room and observe students, get them back on the right track, and generally just talk math with them.  The ones who were finished helped others or perfected their work.  Just keepin' it real, but my classroom never, EVER looked like this yet. 

At the end, she would reveal the mystery sticks and award points accordingly!  Amazing!  The very next day I tried it, and honestly, not a ton change, but there was PROGRESS!  Over time, and especially the next year, I was amazed at how 10 little sticks could make such a difference. 

The little sticks in my picture are hardly cute, but they are totally functional.  But!  I made these for y'all!  For FREE!  Because that teacher saved my group work, so I'm going to just pay it forward.  What I love about these sticks is that it's not all about being finished first.  I think that sometimes makes kids sloppy.  So, sometimes it's about being first (10% of the time if we're getting technical here about our theoretical probability-ha!), but a lot of times it's about explanations, being patient, and helping each other out. 
When a group finishes, they raise their arms to an "x."  (This helps me know who's done vs. who needs help).  When I check their work, I either tell them "nope" or give them their order number (first, second, etc.) and they write it on their board because I can't keep track of who finished third.  My brain needs working memory elsewhere!  A lot of times I'll guide them if they're totally off track, but if it's my higher performing kids, I just say no and walk away.  It's good for them to look through notes and see what they missed, even if it's just their units!  For a FREE DOWNLOAD, visit my TPT store at the link HERE!  There are 3 different color schemes and a black & white version to keep your printer happy.  :)

Task Card Tutorial Series: How I Use Task Cards

Hey y'all!  I'm not from Texas or from the south.  My sister is, and one summer I lived there with her.  I loved the word "y'all" and that everybody calls everybody else "sir" and "ma'am."  Several years later these favorite words have stuck around, even though the rest of my siblings think I'm ridiculous and laugh at me!  Being the youngest is rough, guys.
I use task cards all.  of.  the.  time.  Mostly I use them in math, but occasionally I use them elsewhere. I think they're fun & different, and I love that I can assign certain students particular numbers or I can just pull out one or two and work with a few students at a time.  They are a lot less intimidating vs. a worksheet for a student that looks at a worksheet and sees 20 opportunities to fail.

Basic Differentiation.  Most of my task card sets come with a recording sheet.  Depending on how much time I give them, I often tell them they have to have 10 (or whatever number I feel appropriate) to go to recess.  Our math block is first thing in the morning, and I LOVE that their brains are fresh.  I'll tell my students that getting the minimum done isn't going to get them an A+ on the participation portion of the assignment.  It's average effort so it results in an average grade.  If they get additional problems done, this is how they can get themselves up to 100%.  Always, always, always this is lenient.  Some of my struggling students feel like they can't get 10 done, so as I'm working with them, I often tell them that working with me counts for two, and I'll sign off a square.  Or something like that.  (Occasionally I will lower the number to give those students an opportunity to feel like they are super successful, and like I said, this system is flexible.  Often my hardest workers are the kids who have the hardest time, and I don't hesitate to give them full participation if they are working their tails off)  Mostly I use this system to keep the kids accountable while I work with other kids so that there isn't as much funny business going on.  I also keep a rule that no more than 3 people can work at the same problem at a time.  There's days where I throw in incentives if kids get all of them done like a homework pass or something, but I don't do that every day.

Massive White Boards  My Texas sister is also a teacher and curriculum designer and administrator and a million other amazing things because she is super teacher/woman.  But seriously.  She observed a teacher who used jumbo white boards for group activities in math.  I fell in love with it instantly.  I went to The Home Depot and bought some shower board.  (I have searched for it online EVERYWHERE and I can't find it, but I know it exists!)  It was like $10-$12ish for a large board, and I asked the nice employee man if he would cut it into smaller pieces so that I could use it in my classroom.  #teachercard  I ended up with six 2'x2' boards (roughly sized).  I will group my students, give them each a different marker color, a jumbo board and a task card.  They have to solve it together.  I use my group sticks to listen in for specific things in their conversation (I need an entire blog post for come back next time. :))  Then, the group will raise their hands until I can come check the board.  A lot of times (depending on the group) I will tell them "yes" or "no" but I won't tell them why.  Sometimes all they're missing are the units, sometimes they have a decimal in the wrong place, etc.  I like to make them review their work instead of becoming dependent on me to tell them what they did wrong.  Also, they lose their spot as "first finishers" if they missed something like that, so over time they get really, really careful.  Win!

Gym Math  My room is right down the hall from the gym, so if the gym is open, I'll often take my task cards down there and spread them out all over the entire gym floor.  I make my students do some sort of movement between cards (crab walk, hopping, 10 jumping jacks, etc.)  This is especially my favorite on a Friday or before Christmas/Easter break.  At first they'll roll their eyes, but pretty soon they think it's pretty fun.  6th graders crack me up.

Draw-A-Problem On days when no one seems to feel motivated to get anything done, I play a game called draw-a-problem.  Every few minutes, I draw a problem number out of a hat.  Any student who has completed the problem can come up and I'll quickly check their work/answer.  If they have it correct, they get a prize.  If not, they have to go fix it.  It's really simple, but it helps them want to solve it right.

Homework Card Every once in a while, I'll print off a mini set of task cards (see this post) and give each student one card to take home.  They can glue it on to a piece of paper and then return it with the work underneath.  This is hands-down one of my students' favorite things because they can't get over the fact that they don't have to take home their huge math book and that they seriously only have ONE math problem for homework (which is hilarious because I really try to keep them between 5-10 every other night!  Ha!)  The little things, y'all.  Kids love it!

Well, that's about all I have in my hat of task card tricks!  What are some ways that you implement them?

Task Card Tutorial Series: Going from Color to Black & White

Growing up, my mom always told me that I would've made a great Catholic.  Each night before I shut my little eyes to go to bed, I'd run through the course of the day.  If I felt like I'd done something wrong, said something that wasn't very nice, or stood by as another kid was a bit mean to a classmate, I had to confess to my mom or else there was no way I'd be getting any sleep.  I'd be racked with personal torment alllll night long.

Not much has changed.  It's high time I made a confession: despite my very, VERY large collection of task cards, I have only three sets in full color.  There.  It's out in the open, and now I'll be able to sleep tonight knowing that all y'all know I'm a total cheapskate.

Most of the time, I print my task cards in black and white on fun and bright colored paper, and then I laminate them so I don't have to reprint them next year.  Lamination stops my students from poking the cards, rolling the edges or coloring on them.  (Please tell me I'm not the only one with students who feel that non-laminated goods are free game??!!  Someday I'll do a post on my pet peeves.  This is right up there with folding the corners of my books instead of using a bookmark.....)

For this tutorial, I'm using Adobe Reader.  I like Preview on a Mac, but I like Adobe Reader more.  I find that I have fewer printing problems when I use Adobe.  With your task cards (or any PDF product) open, you'll want to get to your printing options.  You do this by selecting File>Print or using the shortcut CTRL+P (CMD+P on a Mac).  You should have this window!  Just check the grayscale box and then you're off to see the wizard!

If you have a B&W laser printer, this is the way to go.  Our school only has printers that print in black and white, and since I am allowed to print for free, that's the route I usually take.  They still look great!  Here's what my Translating Algebraic Expressions product looks like:  (you can buy it here)

Here's to simple ways to save money and still have fun, cute stuff!  :)