Friday, November 21, 2014

The Marshmallow Challenge

From September...
I know this is old. But, I don't want to not share it just because it is from the beginning of the year. These activities are things that can be done at any time throughout the year. My students loved the Fred activity, and this one that I am about to share so much, that I have instituted STEM Fridays in our classroom.

While looking for fun back to school ideas, I came across the marshmallow challenge. But everything I was finding had pictures but not an actual description. So I took to google to find the details and finally found the details. And this one is super easy...

Materials: (per group)
20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti
1 yard of masking tape
1 yard of string (I used yarn)
1 marshmallow

I passed out the supplies, and gave the students 18 minutes to build the tallest free standing tower that could support a marshmallow. That was all I told them. Well that and "don't eat the materials!"

It was really fun to see the different strategies that the groups came up with. Some students focused on being the tallest, which resulted in them failing to succeed because their structure couldn't hold the marshmallow without falling over. Other groups took out paper and pencil and sketched an idea. While others built, took apart, then built a new structure.
This next picture, I did NOT think their group was going to make it. I didn't expect their structure to hold the marshmallow. But it worked.
In the end, I think only one group's tower fell and one group didn't finish (though after the time was up I let them keep working and their tower DID eventually hold the marshmallow). The group that did not finish learned a valuable lesson in team work and listening. The reason they didn't finish is because they all had their own ideas and wouldn't listen to each other and come to an agreement.
This is the group that went for height first, before realizing that was not going to work. You can see based on the yarn they really had no method and were just hoping for the best. Their tower barely held on!
And this is the group that did not listen to each other. You can see in the left picture, those two students threw something together in the first 4 minutes. They realized, after looking around, that other groups were doing much better and making taller towers. The group finally decided to listen to each other and combine their ideas.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Find me at the Grapevine!

I am over at Elementary Grapevine sharing about our October book reports today. Stop on by, read about them, and grab the freebie by clicking the image below!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The current "curse word" in education... Common Core..

Fair warning- this is a long one... but I promise you it is worth the read.

It seems that way doesn't it? That common core is the worst word someone can say these days? It is quite a hot topic, and you will notice I hardly, if ever, write about hot topics on this blog. But this past week a debate that came from an acquaintance's Facebook post triggered feelings in me that, honestly, I didn't even know I had. Now, let me start by saying that I am not for or against the common core. There are parts of it that I agree with and parts of it that I don't agree with. But this post is NOT about whether the common core is "right" or "wrong".

What really worked my nerve, was that in trying to defend the question students were asked to do (which was one of those "gone viral" things, not even belonging to the person who started the thread on Facebook), seen here,

Because this is not my picture, I linked the picture to the article. 
someone told me that I must be making money off the common core to have such strong feelings. I can assure you that I am not, nor have I EVER made money off the common core. I teach, like the rest of us. And quite frankly, am just sick of parents passing the blame for everything onto us. We didn't choose the common core. We are professionals, and whether we like it or not, this is what we are teaching. And in the grand scheme of things, it isn't so awful. And even more so grand, (especially with all the debate relating to the common core and teachers being "bad"), if we don't defend ourselves, who will?

Back to that image that went viral. The first problem that parents have is that 8+5 does not, and never will, equal 10. And of course, we all know that is correct. But what many people don't see is that the question is not asking the child to miraculously make 8 and 5 equal 10. They are asking the child to explain how to make a 10 when adding those two numbers. The child is expected to know how to decompose numbers to make the math easier. An example is shown below.

Now, I have never taught the younger grades, so this may not be exactly how it is written at that age. But this is what the children need to be able to do. They need to know all the sums to 10. (4+6, 3+7, 8+2, etc). Then they use those sums to find larger sums. And here's the thing. At some point in our lives, we all figured that strategy out if we ever did mental math. It was never taught to me. I distinctly remember as a child realizing that adding things to 9 was easy because I could easily make a 10. 9+7 in my head was the same as 10+6. Making a 10  makes math easier. Not harder.

So, I tried to explain this to the naysayers on this thread. They didn't believe me that students would be able to do harder math if they had the background knowledge of making a 10 and place value. They asked me to give an example. Ask and you shall receive...

Now, your child is required to add 28+15. (No mental math here, stack it up.) In elementary school, we were taught that 8+5 is 13 and you "carry the one"... NEVER was I EVER taught why. The teacher said so, and so we did it. End of story. We never questioned why. We just did what we were told to do. I never learned why we did that until I started teaching and had to explain it to children myself. The first time I, as an educated professional, had to explain the WHY, even I stumbled. But now I can easily tell you why. Just like our children will stumble the first time or two (or even three) that they are learning something new. But they will master it. Have faith! And, for the record, to this day, I have to be careful to call it regrouping instead of carrying the one. And do you know why? Because we aren't just carrying a one. We are literally regrouping a 10! That same 10 that parents are so adamant that their child doesn't need to know how to make. Why should our children just sit and accept that it is what it is because the teacher said so? If we want children to justify themselves then we better be able to do the same. And teachers, be prepared for your students to challenge you. Because with this new way of thinking that we are developing in our children, they WILL challenge us. Accept it! It means you are doing an amazing job making your children think deeper.

Another tidbit that I pointed out on this never ending thread, is that if anything, the standards have decreased in quantity and increased in quality. Don't we always say quality over quantity? Most of the standards we teach did not change. The wording changed. We got rid of some standards in certain grades. The reason for moving some standards out of one grade and into another? So that we can really dig deeper into the standards that are age appropriate. So that we can have our students truly gain some depth of understanding. We increased the rigor, not the content. Rigor is not scary. It is new. We don't run away from a new type of technology... let's not run away from a new type of thinking. A new type of thinking that is making our children think deeper, become self starters, and guide their own learning! Amazing if you ask me...

Here is an example from reading this year. And full disclosure, the first time I thought about teaching it, I was nervous. "How am I going to get the kids to do this? Will they ever fully get it? Will they be able to justify themselves in words at the age of 9?" Guess what- they can... AND MORE!

In reading, students are expected to cite evidence from the text to support their answer. Even on questions where they infer, students should have evidence stating just how they came to that conclusion. A coworker of mine taught me the acronym RAP to get students to do this every single time. And so, we RAP in reading.

R- restate the question- this eliminates the incomplete sentences and overusing of pronouns
A- answer the question- usually the answer will be right in the same sentence as restating the question.
P- provide evidence (or prove it!)- students use a sentence starter in order to prove they found their answer in the text. Some examples they use are: On page ___, The author states____, I know this because _____, For example _____, and so on.

The first time I gave the expectations, those students GROANED. I mean you would have thought I was pulling their hair out. It was pure torture to them. Until we did a couple together and they saw just how easy it was. Sure it is a little more writing. Sure it takes an extra minute or two. BUT- look at the difference in answers-

This is what their answers looked like just 3 weeks ago. Correct answer, but NOT quality.
And this is how we are writing now. This one is from last week. 
Wouldn't you rather your child write the second way? And guess what? If they are answering short answer questions in this way, it improves their writing abilities, causing them to naturally become better writers!

My students' response to this went from "What is RAP?" to "Do we have to RAP?" to "Don't forget to RAP!" and "You didn't restate the question!" and "No pronouns! We don't know who you are talking about!"

And for good measure, here is an image from today's reading questions. All done independently, without groaning, and it did not take them long at all. Students who used to HATE anything that involved writing. Students who would just give me short, quick, garbage answers. LOOK at this quality!

No, it isn't perfect... but you have to admit it is WAY better than that first "attempt" shown from before we learned to RAP.

Whether you are a parent or educator, common core is here for now. Here to stay? I don't know. But for now it is what we have. You can embrace it and be open to learning new things yourself and make the best of it. Or you can resist it and push it away. Option one will lead to you seeing your children soar. Option two- if your child sees your resistance, they will pick up on it, act in the same way, and you may just see them shut down. Because whether you or they like it or not, they have to learn it. Resisting it isn't helping anyone. A lot of parents argue that they can't help their children with homework anymore. And their kids don't get it. First of all, teachers don't just send homework on something they haven't taught. It has been taught, most likely a few times. If your child still doesn't get it, let the teacher know they are struggling. He/she may know, but if your child is the shy, quiet type, it may take a little longer for the teacher to see that the child doesn't "get it". Second- if you don't get it and you want to help your child... instead of taking to Facebook or other social media to gripe... put out a call for help! Don't be ashamed. We are all in the same boat. It is new to all of us. Post the question on Facebook and see if anyone can help you out! Chances are everyone knows someone who is or knows a teacher that can help you. And we all will... because that is our nature. Or, if you don't want to post it on social media... we are fortunate enough to live in an age where we can google just about anything. Google it. In under 2 minutes you will find an explanation, a tutorial, or even a video. And I am sure there are parents that will say "but I shouldn't HAVE to" and that is fine- as an adult, that is your right to feel that way. But please don't hate the teacher for sending home the homework on a strategy/skill that she taught and for doing her job.

For what it is worth- I commented a lot of this on the thread, and another parent replied thanking me. Saying she loved it. And that looking at it from this perspective changes things. It changes how she thought. She is excited for her son to be able to learn in a different way than we did. She also said it is great that students are given the opportunity to learn and engage in their education in a more critical thinking way because it opens so many more doors for them. I love that even just one person is willing to look at it from a different perspective and realize it really WILL benefit our children.

So thank you, to the person who started this debate on their Facebook page. As some of you may or may not know, the past few years in my teaching career were very rough. And I was losing some of my passion for teaching. This person's post (along with being in an amazing school) made me realize that I do still have that passion and I will keep on doing what I know is best for my students.

Please note- this blog post is not a place for you to let out your hatred comments for the common core. For that reason, I will be monitoring comments. I welcome opinions, however I do not welcome bashing of myself, my opinions, or other educators. 

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