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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Teaching the Personality of Character

I can't count the number of times I've asked students to describe a character, and all they write is something like: "He has black hair and brown eyes. He is tall." Ugh; not quite what I had envisioned. How to get students to infer about a character's personality traits, rather than their physical description?
Fourth grade is THE year for moving student thinking from concrete to more inferential. A "tried and true" strategy that works is asking the class to recall favorite parts from a book you've read together. We read Jake Drake, Teacher's Pet as a read-aloud. After kids wrote their favorite part(s) on post-its, I asked them, "What does this tell you about Jake?"
They naturally came up with a whole list: Jake is brave, cunning, shy, funny, etc. Not one kid said their favorite part was the way he physically looked! Students placed their post-its under the personality trait.

You can see by the question marks, when we reread the post-its as a class, students questioned certain pieces of evidence. Great for discussion points.

As a write-aloud, we then grouped the evidence under each personality trait and wrote a topic sentence (as students spoke aloud). You can see below how the class helped to revise as we wrote this together. The additional post-its became the supporting statements.
This super-easy strategy makes character traits more understandable. The writing aloud is important to do as a whole class, so those children with larger vocabularies can model specific word choice in a natural setting. Later, students are able to analyze other characters in the same manner and paragraph writing is not so daunting.

How do you teach character traits? I'd love to hear more ideas!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Boo! The Long October...

     Happy Fall y'all! October is one of my favorite months of the year. I love breaking out my fall wardrobe, evening fires and sipping on a Pumpkin Spiced Latte. BUT as a teacher, October is also one of the more difficult months of the school year. By October, all of the students know the classroom routines, rules and procedures BUT they also have gotten to know each other quite well. So typically, it's a little more chatty in the classroom. I also notice more missing homework assignments, excuses and that vigor that the students had at the beginning of the year has faded a little bit. For our school calendar, October is one of the two months during the school year where there is no day off to catch up on grading, progress reports or lesson plans. My cowokers and I call it the "Long October" because we feel it. This is the time of the year where the back from Summer honeymoon is over and us teachers need a little pick me up.  What I like to do in October is to BOO the Staff. (That's right, I used Boo as a verb!)
     If you aren't familiar with Boo Grams, it is a fun activity for the Staff that helps them get into the Halloween Spirit. You simply choose 2 coworkers to "BOO!" What this means is that you get some little treat, candy, Target dollar section finds or anything festive and then you secretly place them in a staff member's mailbox. You can also have a students deliver it or have the custodian help you sneak into their room. With the little gift, you also leave a "You've Been Boo'ed" sign along with the poetic directions.
     They are to continue the festivities by BOO'ing two other teachers, and so on and so forth. Once you have Boo'ed someone, you place the Boo sign on their mailbox so that everyone knows who has or hasn't yet been Boo'ed.
     In an effort to save my precious ink supply from running out, I ordered 4X6 pictures of these from Walgreens.com which was way cheaper, way faster and way more practical. I spent under $8 for 40 copies of these for the entire staff!   
     If you would like to spread the Boo Gram love with your staff to help the, grab this little Fall pick-me-upper here at my Teachers Pay Teachers store for free!  Here's to an awesome October!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Magic of Decomposing Fractions!!

For me, transitioning to the common core standards over the past few years has been a bit of a struggle. It's been challenging to get buy-in from parents, our curriculum was not aligned, and students were just not prepared for some of the major shifts.

However, I am now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the standards are beginning to have new meaning for me!! With the addition of common core math standards, came MY FAVORITE NEW MATH STANDARD: DECOMPOSING FRACTIONS!!

I have taught fractions to upper grades for YEARS!! However, it wasn't until common core came around, that I ever thought to teach the concept of DECOMPOSING FRACTIONS. It was simply not in my textbooks and not in my math vocabulary. Of course, the first time I taught this concept, the light bulb immediately went on, and I realized that this was what my fraction instruction had been missing all along!!

Here is the standard:
In simpler terms, this standard is all about breaking a fraction down into smaller parts.

This is now the first thing I teach when it comes to fractions (of course after reviewing the basics from 2nd and 3rd grade). In my classroom, I like to start with a hands-on approach. I like students to be able to take a fraction, break it into pieces, and manipulate those pieces to see how they come back together in different ways. I have found that it's easiest to start with fractions that are equivalent to one-whole. Here is an activity that I use to get students started. Students manipulate the fraction pieces to make different combinations that equal their desired fraction, and record their combinations as they go.
After practicing with fractions that are equivalent to one-whole, I have students take away one piece from each set of fractions. So 5/5 will now be 4/5. Then they manipulate these new fractions.
So, why is this my favorite standard?!?! Once my students spend a couple days breaking down fractions, EVERYTHING ELSE comes so much EASIER to them. Adding and subtracting fractions just makes sense. Students no longer make the mistake of adding both the numerator and the denominator when adding two fractions. They automatically know that the denominator stays the same. Decomposing fractions also helps later with converting mixed numbers to improper fractions and vice versa. With a solid foundation in these concepts and skills, students are ready to move on to the more complicated standards that await them in 5th grade. In fact, when I taught a 4/5 combo last year, I found that many of my 5th graders needed to go back and learn how to decompose fractions (since this is something that had not been taught before common core), in order for us to move on!

Here is a copy of the activity that I use when introducing this standard. I copy it back to back, and the fraction strips match up nicely. Click on the picture to download this freebie!
Enjoy and let the FRACTION FUN begin!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tackling Complex Text: A Tried & True Tip for Teaching QAR

Now that we're in the thick of school, students are delving into more complex text. But knowing how to access this information is tricky. Fourth grade is the year when we expect students to “read to learn”, rather than “learn to read”; greater emphasis is placed on comprehension (rather than solely decoding and fluency).  Over the years I've found a "tried and true" way to teach QAR: question, answer, response.
I'm sure most of you have already been teaching how to answer questions using QAR. But I still find students have a difficult time knowing where to look for information or whether to infer, using evidence from the text. I begin by teaching question types: some questions are "right there": answers can be found directly in the text. (Think "knowledge" level of Bloom's Taxonomy) We model physical motions: for "right there" we open our palm and point to it with our opposite hand's index finger. This indicates the answer can literally be found and pointed to with your finger in the book. "Think, Search, and Find" answers can also be found directly in the book, but partial answers are located in several parts of the text. We pantomime this by putting our hand to our forehead like a visor, then looking around. 

"Author and Me" questions are more difficult to answer, given the solutions are not blatantly obvious in the book. Students use author clues to infer meaning. We model "author and me" by using our hand to write in the air, then point to ourselves. Much of fourth grade discussions focus on "author and me" questions, such as asking students to infer a character's personality traits then support this inference with specific events or evidence from the story. 

Lastly, "In My Head" questions (we point to our heads) have no one correct answer. Each individual answers a questions based on his or her opinion. We practice throughly answering QAR questions, both during discussion and in our Reading Response Notebooks. We glue the following chart into our notebooks as a reference. You can download your copy here or by clicking on the chart.
Once students are familiar with the types of questions, we practice answering orally using familiar fairy tales or folk tales. In Jack in the Beanstalk: what items did Jack steal from the giant? (think, search, and find) List 1 personality trait for Jack and support with examples. (author and me) Do you think it was okay for Jack to steal from the giant? (on my own)

Not only do I want my students to be able to articulately answer questions, but I want them to understand the types of questions, as well as be able to write their own. To do this, I gathered a stack of tourist brochures (living in Southern California, this was relatively easy to run into a hotel and grab some). There were brochures from places such as Disneyland, Santa Monica Beach, Universal Studios, Medieval Times, and San Diego Zoo.  I chose tourist brochures due to their high-interest level, as well as simplicity of text. Along with a partner, their task was to write at least four questions; one for each QAR type. At first they stared at me with puzzled expressions. Then I modeled: "right there" questions were still located right there on the brochure: Name 3 rides located in Adventureland. (think, search, and find by reading the map) Where is Universal Studios located? (right there: address is printed on brochure)
 Right away, students were eager to get started. They truly used all aspects of the brochures: the maps, the photos and captions, the blurbs describing highlights of an area.
 Somehow not reading a whole book or not having to answer questions about a story seemed to take off some of the pressure. Students enjoyed tackling the brochures to make meaning from them.
I hope you try this tried and true tip! How do you teach QAR to students?
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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Teaching Teamwork

Hey! Everyone, it's Cassie from Funky in Fourth. I want to share with you a few ways that you can start your classroom off right by building teamwork! I start right at the beginning of the year, the second day actually. It's never too early!
First, I always start by reading a few of my favorite books. The books I read this year were: 
Chloe and the Lion is all about how an author and an illustrator need to work together to complete a book. The kids get a kick out of it because the author fires his illustrator (well has him eaten by a lion) during the middle of the story, only to need him back towards the end of the story! Three Hens and a Peacock is a fabulous story about how each person has a specific role on a team and they are all important! 

After reading the stories, it was time for the challenges! First up, The Cup Stacking Challenge! If you haven't seen this done or tried it for yourself, YOU ARE MISSING OUT. I was so surprised with how well my students responded to this activity. Let me remind you, we did this on the second day of school. I have three new to the district students this year, so I was hesitant because they are still trying to find their feet with all of their peers. But everyone did awesome! Here are the directions for the activity: 
Here are some pictures of my students in action! I love how they worked as a team and they gave instructions to each other. This activity also gave a few of my shy/reserved students a chance to open up a bit and engage with peers! 
Up next, The Save Sam Challenge! You may have seen this activity lurking around on Pinterest or Instagram. This is a quick challenge that you can easily fit into your schedule! Students work in pairs to try to save Sam the Worm. Here are the directions for the activity:
One of my favorite parts about this activity is the interaction between students that wouldn't normally pick each other to be partners. Although, I just randomly picked sticks- the mixture of students was a complete success! Here are some pictures of my students completing the activity:
After completing both of the challenges and discussing them of course, we moved on to the best part of the day. Creating our Anchor Chart all about Teamwork! This is hanging on our wall already! It will be a great reference as we start setting up our reading rotations and math rotations!
Do you have specific activities that you use to start the beginning of your year off on the right foot? How do you build classroom teamwork with your students?
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

DonorsChoose 101

    As teachers, we spend hours upon hours before the school years starts prepping, planning, decorating, organizing, researching, laminating and making constant Target trips. By the time the school year has actually started we have already spent a pretty penny (or two) of our own money, to keep our classroom stocked, our library relevant and everything in between.  As we start the new year there are inevitably things that we wish we could have for our class but we just can't (or don't want to) justify another cost... I mean we can only write off so much, right?  Well, today I am going to be sharing about DonorsChoose, a.k.a, a teacher's best friend!
  If you are unfamiliar with DonorsChoose.org, it is an online charity that helps public school teachers get projects funded for their classrooms. Simply put, teachers post classroom projects on this site requesting funds for a variety of resources for their students and/or classroom. Then, businesses and people donate to the project, and when it is fully funded the materials are mailed to the teacher.
     Over the past 3 years I have gotten eight projects funded from DonorsChoose!  The projects I have gotten funded include 2 sets of classroom novels, a laptop, high interest fiction books, leveled biographies for literacy circles,$400 worth of graphic novels ,6 Kindle Fires and a kidney table (which is on it's way to my school as we speak!).
 Getting started in DonorsChoose is super easy! There are even video tutorials to help you. Today, I am going to share some tips and tricks of how to get a DonorsChoose project FUNDED.
     The DonorsChoose website gives these 4 tips to any teacher:

These are the  Big Four for any DonorsChoose projects. When we teach writing, don't we tell our students that we want to GRAB their reader's attention? When we talk about persuasive writing, we tell them to appeal to their audience's emotions and use strong verbs to help state their claims. Well, same goes for you when you write your DonorsChoose project.  Speak from your teacher's heart, use quotes and a vibrant vocabulary to compel donors to choose to give to your project!
The DonorsChoose blog shared a post with an interesting analysis of projects that get funded. Their post reveals ways to "Stack the deck in your favor". Here are some of their tips:
  • The more expensive the project, the less likely it will be funded. Projects that are $200 have an 85% success rate while ones that are $2,000 have a 47% chance of funding. 
  • Technology projects suffer because they are expensive. The DonorsChoose Blog suggests reconsidering your technology approach. Instead of asking for a laptop, ask for Chrome Books because they are more cost effective.  Think about quantity, do you really need 6 iPads, or can 2 still make an impact.  iPads are a lot more expensive then other Tablets on the market. They suggested looking into Kindles, Google Nexus , Samsung tablets as alternatives.
  • Statistically, projects relating to books, field trips, music, art, math or science are funded more often.

Match Offers: Timing is everything! Every project that I have had funded is because of Match Offers.  Every month, DonorsChoose will share a list of Match Offers with you via email, or on their website. A Match offer is when a corporation or company agrees to fund half of your project if it meets their requirements. By checking the Partner Funding Opportunities per your state, you can see which businesses are looking to do this.  DonorsChoose will also give you a MATCH code for your project where when people check out and type in the Match Code, then their donation is matched by a company and then doubled.
   For the last several Back to School seasons, Chevron has partnered with DonorsChoose. They call it Chevron Fuel Your School. I have had a project funded every year for the past 3 years because of Chevron! What they ask is that you post your project between September 1st and November 15th. The closer you post to September first (TODAY), the more likely your project will be funded.  All of the rules for the individual states that are apart of this are listed here. There is no time like the present, whether it be your first project or your thirteenth, this is a great way to bring more resources to your classroom!
     I have seen great success by linking my DonorsChoose account with my personal Facebook page. It is a simple option that DonorsChoose asks you but it is powerful.  By linking these two pages, whenever you create a new project, get a donation, or complete a project, it will be automatically posted to your Facebook account. My past 4 projects have been funded by friends, family and coworkers who have seen my DonorsChoose Facebook posts and donated using a Match Code. If you don't have a Facebook, you can always send letters out.  http://printandshare.org/ is a website where you enter your DonorsChoose project URL and they create a flier for you to hand out to parents or paste in your workroom. It asks people to donate to your project.  Don't be afraid to promote your DonorsChoose projects. When I first started, I didn't share my project with my family, friends, or my students' families... BUT nobody will know about your project unless you spread the word.   You can easily do this by emailing friends and family. DonorsChoose even has a template for you. You can also post it on your classroom blog or newsletter.
    We all know that it is better to give than to receive, and as teachers giving is apart of our teacher DNA. BUT I need to share two secrets about giving and DonorsChoose.
1) If you sign up to be a Monthly Donor not only can you write it off as part of your charitable donations for taxes BUT DonorsChoose will also send you a $50 code to use on your own projects!
2) Once I have created a project and it is live, I donate to it. I usually donate $25 and use the Match Code given to double it. This shows potential donors that I believe the materials asked for are needed enough and that I believe in the project. Plus, when you do this, if your DonorChoose is linked to your Facebook page, a post will go out and friends, colleagues and family members will see this and from my own experience, they either ask me about it or donate to it. 
   Well, I hope that this helps you all on your DonorsChoose endeavors. Remember, posting NOW, until November 15th, can help you get Chevron funding! 
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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Interactive Notebooks for Math

I don't know about you, but I love interactive notebooks!  I began implementing them a few years ago, and I especially love using interactive notebooks for math.  They have become such an important reference tool for my students throughout the year.

Today I wanted to show you how my students set up their interactive notebooks, and I also want to talk about some awesome interactive notebook resources I have found on TPT.

I personally use spiral notebooks for my interactive notebooks.  I know a lot of teachers prefer composition notebooks because they are more durable, but I find most interactive notebook activities require a larger-sized page.  I want my students to have plenty of room to work out problems on the page, so I feel the spiral notebook is a better fit for my classroom.

First, I have my students set up a table of contents in the front of their notebook.  The table of contents is very important.  We begin each math lesson with the date, the topic/title of the lesson, and the page number(s) for the notes.  We take the time to do this at the beginning of each lesson, so that when we spiral back, the students are able to quickly find where certain topics are in their math notebook instead of flipping through all of the pages.

As we take notes throughout the lesson, I have my students begin on the back side of the page.  (Side note: this was so hard for me to transition to, because it was not the way I learned to take notes, but when you think about it, it makes sense to see the pages side by side.)  As the students complete their notes and activities, they are able to see both pages laid out in front of them instead of flipping back and forth.

There are a TON of different interactive notebooks for sale on TPT, but I personally love the Interactive Notebooks from CreateTeachShare.  (Rebecca from CreateTeachShare is actually one of our authors for iTeachFourth!!).  She has interactive notebook resources available for grades 3-5.  Her resources cover every standard- which is awesome!  Here are some examples of my students' interactive notebooks using Rebecca's resources:


As you can see, each standard comes with its own title (which explains the standard in student-friendly terms).  There are also notes at the beginning of each page which can be used to enhance your direct instruction.  She has also included practice problems which can be used for guided and independent practice.  Most days I even collect these, and I can get a quick class work grade.

Be sure to check out Rebecca's store and see the interactive notebook resources she has to offer.  

I'd love to hear about you incorporate interactive notebooks into your math instruction!  Please post in the comments section to share what you do in your classroom.
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