Sunday, September 23, 2018

Crazy Math Tools, Pt. 2: Plastic Jars

Here we are, back again with some ideas for using another crazy math tool that you probably already have but might not be sure how to use. This time, the tool is small plastic jars with screw tops.

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If you're already the Queen (or King!) of Containers, you probably already have some small containers just sitting in your closet begging to be used.  If not, you can find this package of nine at your dollar store. They're just right size for the activities that I'm going to share!

I think the very best thing about these jars is their versatility! You can use so many things to fill them, and use them in so many ways.
For our youngest learners, these could be Counting Jars. Unscrew the top (small motor skill!!), spill the contents, and count. This works great as an independent activity. Alternatively, it makes a fun partner activity. Each partner takes a jar, spills, and counts. The partners decide who has more (or less), and then line them up matching them side by side to compare the amounts and prove the answer.

Anybody out there have a few (or a few hundred) mini-erasers? I thought so. They're the perfect size to fit in these jars for math activities! Here, you see them used as a way to get some hands-on practice with fact families.  Just fill each jar with erasers in two different colors. Have your students spill the erasers and create addition and subtraction equations that use all of the erasers in the jar.

This would be so easy to switch out for different seasons and holidays just by using different items for counting. And as I'm sure you know, that alone would make this a brand new center in the eyes of our young students!

Take it up a notch to add counting coins to your possibilities for using jars. Use whatever combination your class is working on now ... pennies and nickels, pennies and dimes, all three, or quarters, too! As with the counting activity described above, you can make this one a partner activity, too, with students comparing their totals.

Just to make your life a bit easier, here's a link to the two printables shown in the photos, free of course!

What else could you put into the jars? Here are just a few ideas.

*  Beads (avoid the round ones ... rolling off the desk, crunching underfoot, ...)
*  Dried beans
*  Pennies
*  Laminating scraps (or just laminate a few brightly colored pages, cut into strips, and snip off the   squares)
*  Treasures from the clearance section of the scrapbooking department in craft stores  (like the stars   in the photo at the top of this post)
*  Pebbles (ask your students to supply you with these!)
*  Colorful paper clips
* More traditional math manipulatives, like two-sided counters.

If your stock of math manipulatives is low or you're just looking for something to switch things up a bit, here's a collection of math tools that might help!

Happy Teaching!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Crazy Math Tools and Great Ideas for Finally Using Them

We've all been there. You bravely push your cart into Target. You vow that you won't even glance at the Dollar Spot. Suddenly the hidden electromagnet in the cart activates and you're sucked into the world of really cool stuff that you probably don't need. "I can always use this as a math manipulative," you think. After all, everybody needs math tools for effective hands-on learning, right?

And then you take that new math tool home or to school. It's still living quietly in a drawer, smiling mockingly at you whenever the drawer slides open, hanging out with its friends from Dollar Tree.

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This blog series will give you ideas for using those potential math tools in your neglected stash, along with some other inexpensive items that you may never have thought about using for math teaching and learning!

Let's kick off this series by talking about Hashtag Building Blocks from Target.  At 72 for a dollar, these could go really far at small cost. Read on for a few ideas, broken down by grade levels. Take a glance even at the ones you don't teach - you never know what might spark an idea that's perfect for your students!


*   Counting: Put a bunch of hashtags in a big bowl. Partner up your students and have them take turns reaching in and pulling out a handful of hashtags. PreKs can put them in a line so the partners can count them together. For your kindergartens, use them with ten frames. Show them how to count on from ten for teen numbers.

*   Comparing Numbers:  Set up the same as for counting. This time, both students pull out a handful of hashtags on each turn. Estimate who has more. Then line them up next to each other to prove the estimate.

* Do you use sensory bins? Mix some hashtags and magnetic numerals in a bin with confetti/beans/colorful rice/whatever you use for filler. Have your students use tweezers (build those small muscles!) to pull out a numeral and then hunt for and pull the appropriate number of hashtags to match it.

First Grade  

*  Addition and Subtraction Fact Families: Have your students reach into that bowl again and pull out ten tags, using only two colors. For instance, they could pull out 4 orange and 6 green, or 8 red and 2 yellow. {Sanity Saving Hint: You may find it easier to just put two colors in the bowl and have them choose any ten. Just sayin'.} Then they'll write the addition and subtraction equations for ten that use those numbers. If they work as partners, they can check each others' work! Differentiate by using higher or lower numbers.

*  Measurement: Hashtags are great to use for non-standard measurement.  Let your students loose in your classroom with rulers they've created!

Second Grade

* Odd and Even: Back to grabbing handfuls of hashtags again! Have your students fold a paper in half and write odd on one column and even on the other. Each time they grab a handful of hashtags, they'll line them up like this and then write the number in the correct column. 

Partners/not partners is a great way to make a visual representation of odd and even numbers!

* Arrays: Get ready to multiply by building arrays.  Any manipulative would do the job, but you've got hashtags, so why not use them?

Third Grade

* Perimeter:  Your students can use hashtags to build 2D shapes. Set them up around the classroom and do a gallery walk. Your students will love moving around to see the shapes and calculate their perimeters.

As you see, there are SO many ways to use hashtags! Could you use other math tools for these activities? Well, sure, but you've got these cute little hashtags, so let's USE them!

Stay tuned {aka follow ;)} to see the next posts on offbeat math tools! In the meantime, here's another tool that I'll bet you already have, or your students probably have a few million of and would probably contribute! No, it's not Legos, but good try! These would probably hurt like heck when you step on them in the night, too. Visit the post here!

Crazy tools are great fun, but sometimes you might need something more. I've put together some info about a few more traditional math manipulatives. As is my "tradition", I've tucked two free games into it for you! Click here or on the picture below to learn more about these math tools!

How are you using hashtag building blocks in your classroom? Please share!

Happy Teaching!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Pirate Day Number Activities

With Talk Like a Pirate Day right around the corner (September 19th this year), let's talk about some fun and easy ways to bring number activities into the mix, starting with number sorts.

Sometimes the simplest of activities can bring great results. Number sorts are a simple and effective teaching technique to help your students develop number sense. 

Here's a set of 36 cards, printed nine to a page, perfect for a pocket chart sorting activity. Two sets of headers are also included: odd/even and more than 50/less than 50.

The cards are also good to use to build a looong train of numbers on your classroom floor. So much fun for your kiddos! Have them count up to or (definitely trickier!) back down from 100. There's more than the usual challenge in doing this with this particular set, because not all numbers are included.

I love to get LOTS of use from whatever I print! You, too? Read on!

Use your pirate cards to play, "What's My Number?".  Use sentence strips to put together some quick headbands and clip a card to each one, or use a mini binder clip to attach the card to the back of your students' shirts. Pair up your students and model how to give clues for the number, aiming at whatever you're currently teaching.

→ Comparing numbers? "It's between 54 and 59."
→ Addition? "The number is two more than 56."
→ Subtraction? "It's three less than 71."
Place value? "5 tens, 8 ones."
Adding tens? "30 more than 28".
There's as much learning in creating the clues as there is in figuring out the answer!

Download your set of pirate number cards here!

Another Pirate Math Freebie! 

Do you read Edward and the Pirates to your students on Talk Like a Pirate day? Click here to download this set of word problems! 

If you're interested in even more Pirate Math, here's a bundled {read: save $$$} set of 19 games at my TpT store!

Happy Teaching!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Fluency Fun for Fall (and Why Fluency is So Important!)

Hi, Teaching Friends!

Fluent reading is a behavior we need to expect of even our newest readers. There's one BIG reason ... fluency is essential to comprehension ... but do you know that there are a lot of other good reasons to teach fluency?

"But, wait!' you might say, "They're just getting started! Does fluency really matter when they're brand new readers? How can we possibly get them to read fast?"

Yes, getting your newest readers fluent right from the beginning definitely does matter! Here are a few reasons why:

*   Fluent reading boosts comprehension. The reader who needs to stop frequently to decode or who is still struggling with sight words can't hold the meaning of what he or she is reading. When the comprehension falters, the reader can no longer use meaning as a primary cue source.  It's a downward spiral that you don't want your readers to get caught in!

*   Fluent reading motivates students to read more.  As an adult, do you sometimes find it harder to force yourself to do something that you struggle with, or that you just plain don't want to be bothered with?  It's the same for our new readers. Children who struggle with reading tend not to want to read.  They get frustrated and so they read less. Less practice = less success ... another downward spiral!

*   Fluent reading makes reading fun.  Think about a Piggy and Gerald book being read word-by-word, without expression or phrasing or attention to the punctuation. Boring, right? But read fluently, they're fun! When readers have fun reading, they want to read more. And we know that "the more you read, the better you read", right?

*   Reading fluently ... or not reading fluently, is a habit. We definitely want to start out all of our newest readers out with the habits of successful readers!

As important as all of this is, nobody said that it would be easy.  Let me share a story about teaching fluency.

When I taught Reading Recovery, problem solving was a part of every lesson. We constantly evaluated what each child needed to advance to the next level. I knew just what this particular child needed - she needed to read faster!  She needed expression, phrasing, pace, and smoothness. But, try as I might, I could not get this child to read faster. Along came my Teacher Leader. Now, I loved and admired this lady dearly, but she could be tough!  When she took over part of my lesson with this little girl, she tapped a long and manicured nail on the book, looked this little one dead in the eye, and said, "Read it FASTER."  It's not like I haven't tried that prompt over and over, I smugly thought to myself.

But when Eileen said it, I guess the girl believed her more than she believed me. Or maybe she scared her (heck, even I was kind of scared!). But after a moment, she read it faster. And whenever she slowed down, Eileen tapped again and gave her the look - faster! 

That technique likely won't work for every child.  Pushing a student to read faster too soon could backfire, causing him or her to guess or neglect critical decoding details.

That being said, it sure worked that time. I learned to be firmer and to have higher expectations. That little girl jumped two levels within the following week, continuing to read not just at a faster pace, but with big improvements in smoothness, expression, the whole fluency picture!

What are the takeaways for your fluency instruction?  

*    Have the expectation that your new readers can and will read books at their independent level with fluent pace, expression, and phrasing.

*    Be insistent and consistent in your fluency instruction!

*    Continue to model expression in your read-alouds.

*    Use shared reading as an opportunity to practice expression and reading the punctuation by having your students join in on refrains.

*    Provide your students with frequent opportunities to reread familiar books.

*    Consider temporarily dropping a child back a level or two to allow them to focus on fluency.

*    Use a listening center for your students to read along with online read-alouds, propelling them through the text.

*    Look for opportunities throughout the day for all readers to experience success in fluency, like the freebie below!

Here's a little autumn activity that will give your young readers a bit of fluency practice. Try it in a fall literacy center! Click the picture to download your copy.

Happy Teaching!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Thumbs Up for a First Grade Math Freebie

Hi, Teaching Friends!

Are your first grade students confident of their answers in math? Can they justify their responses if challenged? Do they know if an expression is thumbs up/true or thumbs down/false?

Supposedly, federal agents are trained to recognize counterfeit currency by carefully studying the details of the real thing. The thinking behind this is that they'll know the details of the real money so well that the counterfeit will pop right out when they see them. There are so many ways to counterfeit, but only one way to make the actual bill.

Now, not being a federal agent {I'm thinking that doesn't surprise any of you ;) }, I don't even know if this story is true. But being someone who's been a teacher for many years, I can tell you for sure that the same principle applies in math. There are often a lot of "counterfeit" answers that seem like the correct answer if you don't think hard about it, but there's only one correct answer. {Okay, that last bit is arguable, I suppose, but less frequently in math than in other areas, right? :) 5+5 will never be 11! }

That's the idea behind "Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?" math games. With lots of practice, it gets to be easy to tell the math counterfeits from the true math facts.  Here's a set for second grade.

There are versions available for kindergarten through fourth grade. See them all here!

Each grade level version has ten games, with each game focusing on a Common Core math standard for that grade. There's some great thinking involved, as students evaluate expressions that quite often look like the real thing, but after closer checking are just counterfeits!

The games are also fun to play. Your kiddos will love being silly when they say "Sorry, Charlie!", "No, Sir-ee!", or "You'd better believe it!" as they put their cards on their mats.

So, give me a "thumbs up" if you'd like a sample of the first grade set! This set of cards and sorting mat includes sample expressions from the other games in the set. It would be great to use as an end of year math center review game in first, or a "let's get those brains in gear again" game time at the beginning of second grade.

Just click here to download your copy. Enjoy!

If you're a first grade teacher who's always looking for new ways to help your students be successful, click here to visit my First Grade Math board at Pinterest!

This post was originally published at Teaching Blog Roundup.

Happy Teaching!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Keep Math Minds Active All Day Every Day!

Hi, Teaching Friends!

I'm a big believer in making the most of "down" moments during the school day, like when your students are lining up to leave the classroom or when everyone is trying / struggling to find a page in a textbook, except for those three students who were there almost before you finished saying the number. Keeping all kids' minds active all the time sets the expectation that school is where you're always learning something new!

Where do these moments happen in your building? 

* Outside your classroom door, as students line up to come in.
* Inside your classroom, as students line up to leave throughout the day
* In the cafeteria line
* Wherever your students line up for buses at dismissal
* Outside Specials classrooms, like Art and Music, as you and your students wait for the previous class to come out
* If you take your students as a class to use the boys room and girls room, soooo much time can fly by! I know that other teachers have given me funny looks when they pass by and hear me challenging my students with things like, "Give me five names for 10" as I hold up five fingers for them to "knock down", but the kids actually love it!

Long ago, I started a list of times and places like that, which then led to another list of what I refer to as "quick think" activities to fill those moments.

Here are a few math ideas that are on the "quick think" list.

* Play mental math games while you're in waiting mode, like "I'm Thinking of a Number". This game is so easy to differentiate for any level by varying the difficulty of the clues, from "It's two more than 5" to "It's $.45 less than $3", right on up through fractions and decimals. Plus, it's 100% no-prep!

* Use math logic riddles!  Enlarge a riddle task card and post it inside and outside your classroom door, or post a bunch of them around your building, especially in those spots that often keep students waiting!  As your students solve these, they're not only practicing math skills, but inference and deductive reasoning, too!

* Post Hink Pink math riddles around your building, especially in those "waiting" places. Do you know about Hink Pinks? I first heard about them from my college roommate. A Hink Pink is a riddle with a two word answer, with each word having one syllable.  So the answer to "What do you call a much-loved 3D shape that has no edges or corners?" is "Dear Sphere".  There are also Hinky Pinkys (two-syllable words) and Hinkety Pinketys (three-syllables).  

How about "a chewable answer to an addition problem"?  It's a gum sum!

"A straw to use with a six-sided solid"?  Cube tube!

Yes, Hink Pinks are silly, but they're such a fun way to keep your kiddos thinking, and to make learning math vocabulary fun!

* Are you responsible for a shared bulletin board in your hallway?  Keep it easy by loading it up with math challenges!  Post math riddle cards, Hink Pinks, or do a quick search for math riddles for kids.

Q: If two's company and three's a crowd, what are four and five?
A: Nine!

Keep math fun handy for early finishers by putting a math brain teaser up on your interactive board, or by creating a challenge board or box in your math center.

The idea is to not waste those waiting times (the minutes lost add up quickly!). Instead, fill those moments with short "quick think" activities that will keep math fun for your students!

If you like the math task cards that were shown in this post, you can get the set of 24 two-digit pirate riddle cards here in English and here in Spanish, plus lots more kinds of math riddle task cards in many topics at levels K-4 here.

Looking for more Hink Pinks?  Barb Evans at It's About Time, Teachers blog is the Queen of Hink Pinks!
Looking for an all-school math activity that's super-fun? Read about Yohaku, a math game that has The Elementary Math Maniac's whole student body and even the teachers involved!

Happy Teaching!


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