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Math Problem Index Card Tower: A FUN Review Game

Fifth grade math review gameI don't know if you spend a lot of time over on Instagram, but I have to say, the teacher community there is full of amazing ideas.  I am always being inspired to get out of my comfort zone and try something new.  This little review game (though I use that term loosely) was one of those things I saw on IG, tweaked, and used in my room...with much success!  So I thought I would share here on my blog with you so that you could replicate as well.

My friend Katie at Adventures of Ms Smith posted about how she had her kids create a tower of index cards using math problems to earn those cards.  I thought that was genius!  I mean, I had heard of creating tall towers using index cards only, but to have the students EARN each card they used was the perfect twist.  So I got to work to see how I could use that idea in my room.

We have been working on the various fraction operations, with subtraction specifically our focus for the week.  So, using a simple table on PowerPoint, I created 24 "task cards" with subtracting fraction problems on them.  There were three levels of problems.  The easy ones were straight like denominator problems.  Medium level were mixed numbers with like denominators (and no regrouping).  The hardest were unlike denominators.  Each level problem, once solved, could be redeemed for a certain amount of index cards.  

Easy (which I put on pink paper) = 1 index card
Medium (which I copied on blue paper) = 2 index cards
Hard (copied on green paper) = 3 index cards

I had the students get into groups of 3 and gave them all of the math problem task cards.  Solving them at their own pace directly on the task card, the students would walk their work up to me when they thought they had the correct answer.  If it indeed was correct, I handed the student the proper amount of index cards.  The students worked together to solve the problems, helping each other to make corrections along the way.  If the problems were solved incorrectly, I simply handed the task card back and told them to try again.  I did not give any hints or clues as to why it was wrong, as I wanted the collective brains of the group to work it out.  For most of the students, the problem in this particular case was that they were adding instead of subtracting OR that they did not simplify (which was specified earlier as a requirement.)
Once the kids started correctly solving problems, they then had the index cards on their table.  They could work at the building and problem solving at the same time.  The kids had to work together on the building as well, as index cards are rather flimsy, so finding the perfect way to stack them proved to be challenging.  I did not show them how to bend the cards, or even tell them to do that.  Trial and error reigned supreme once the building portion began.

Some groups decided it was best to solve all of the problems first, then build with all of the materials at once.  Others decided to hold off and see if they could build a tall tower without all the cards available to them.  It was a group choice.

After about 45 minutes of math solving and tower building, I told them time was up and the tallest tower still standing (as there were MANY falling towers throughout the work time!) was the winner.  The kids who won got a pat on the back and the satisfaction of knowing that they built the tallest tower.

And that was it.  The kids reviewed the math concepts and had a little fun while they were at it.  They were engaged and focused the entire math block.  What is really great though is that this game can be used for anything.  No topic is off limits here and the game rules can still be applied.  I foresee us playing this game many more times this year.  



Diary of a Teacher on Strike

Thoughts on the strike from an educator who went through the LA Strike 2019On January 14, 2019, the teachers in my school district went on strike.  There are many reasons why I, along with 30,000 of my fellow Los Angeles teachers, decided that walking on the picket lines in front of our schools, in the rain, to fight for the future of public education was our only option.

We were striking because our kids deserve smaller class sizes in which they can receive more individualized attention to meet their learning needs. We were striking because our kids need full time nurses and librarians. We were striking because our kids need less testing and more teaching. We were striking because public education is at a crossroads. There are those around us who would like to see public education crumble and who would love to see charters take over and let public education fall by the wayside.


But we, the teachers of LAUSD, think differently. We set out to walk the line to fight for our future and the future of the schools and the children we hold so dearly. Because a Los Angeles without public education is a Los Angeles we don’t want to see. Our children deserve more. And we walked the line for them.

The following is my day to day reflections on our strike efforts.  It is written diary style, in a sort of stream of consciousness and captures my own thoughts as to what occurred that day on the picket line with my fellow educators.  

DAY 1

On that first day, in the pouring rain, I walked outside my school with my signs on my umbrella, wearing my red poncho, and chanting for my students. I walked for smaller class sizes. I walked for more nurses and counselors. I walked for less testing. I walked for charter regulation. I walked to save our public schools.  And the support I felt was electric. 












Cars were honking.  People stopped to show their support for our cause and to reaffirm that what we were doing was the right thing.  Parents kept their kids home from school and brought food for us to eat on the picket line.  They walked with us, in the rain.  They called the district to show their support.  

Downtown, as we all converged together to march on the district headquarters, the sense of camaraderie was amazing.  We all were there for the same reason and you could tell.  It felt good, knowing we were there to fight the good fight for our students.  






DAY 2


I couldn’t be prouder of my colleagues. Each and everyone one of us is out there on that line early in the morning, coming together to rally, and represent at our schools in the afternoon with a smile on our faces and conviction in our hearts.

We all have a common purpose for our strike. We want things that really are not unreasonable. They are what every child should have in their education. We want:



Smaller class sizes.

Teaching, not overtesting.

RNs in every school every day.

Including counselors and librarians on every campus.

Kids should always come first!

End privatization.

All of these things, we believe, are essential to educating our students, the children of Los Angeles, properly. Things our children deserve.



DAY 3

I have never felt more like a teacher with super powers as I do now.

This strike has brought out the best in myself and my fellow teachers. We are all united by a singular mission, unwavering in our resolve. Each of us out there on the line knows we are out there for the right reasons and will continue to stay out there until our voices are heard.

We are out there for our students. We are out there for the future of public education.

We know we are on the right side of this fight. History will remember what we are doing and the effects will be felt for years to come.

If that is not what it feels like to have super powers, then I don’t know what does.

DAY 4

Today it rained nearly all day. Each of us was wet down to the core. Our feet are starting to hurt. We are exhausted, both mentally and physically. We are all on an emotional rollercoaster not knowing if today might just be the day we get to pack up our signs and pick up our plan books.
But even with all that, we are not backing down.

The support we have from the parents — those amazing, giving, wonderful parents — is keeping us afloat. They show up daily along with us, bring us food, walk the picket lines, and cheer us on. They set up Facebook groups and talk about ways they can help us MORE. They are incredible and I am so grateful to each of them.

The public, with their honks, their high fives, their fists in the air, give us that push we need to keep going. Each honk breathes new life into my colleagues and me.

And we can’t forget the kids on the line, at home, and in school. THEY are the reason we are out here and THEY are why we continue to fight. It is THEIR future we are ensuring and it is because of THEM that we walk this line.

So, when I am down and tired and a little bit too emotionally drained to stand it, I am just going to think about all of the kindness I am witnessing and reinvigorate myself. This strike is bringing our community together and for that, I am grateful.

DAY 5

The theme of the day was strength. After 5 days, you would be hard pressed to find a teacher out there on the lines who isn’t strong. Everyone, in their own way, is finding an inner fire to keep going for what we all know is right.

Our picket lines were bigger and fuller and longer and louder than they have ever been before. The noise and energy exudes strength.

The crowd at City Hall was bigger and fuller and longer and louder than it has ever been before. The feeling of community and togetherness breeds strength.

Our school community was bigger and fuller and longer and louder than it has ever been before. The love and hope and genuine concern we all have for each other encapsulates strength.

Today we are standing strong and holding our line. We are WINNING because of these lines, this community, and this strength. Our collective power is sending a message to the district that we have the resolve and will not back down. We have the strength to last one more day longer than those who wish to see us fall.


For more of the day to day action, you can visit my Highlights on Instagram.  I have documented everything in more "on the spot" and "live" style there.    




The Magic of Saying Hello

Starting off the day on a positive note is a good way to get buy in from the students and keep them engaged all day long.I will admit it.  I didn't always speak to my kids when they came into my room in the morning.

I know...a collective gasp of revolt and judgement just went up in teacher-land.  

But it is true.  My kids would come into the room and I would sit at my desk (or whatever space I had in the front of the room) taking attendance, lunch count, processing notes the kids gave me, or whatever other 100 things we as teachers need to do in the morning as the day begins.  My kids would get to their seats and immediately get to work on a morning packet or reading or whatever else I assigned for them as morning work that particular year.  There was very little interaction between anyone in the room.  Everyone was serious and got to work.

Now, this worked for me for many different reasons, not the least of which was that it was quiet in my classroom.  No one was off doing anything they shouldn't be doing.  No one was out of control or out of their seat.  I had complete control of the room without saying a word.

But what I didn't have was any connection at all.   My kids were doing what they were supposed to, and throughout the day they were learning, but there was no real connection between them and myself.  I was just a lady standing in front of the room teaching them stuff.  

I could have been anyone.

This year, though, I wanted to change that.  So I made ONE little modification to my morning routine that literally changed everything in my classroom.  I now say hello to the kids in the morning.

I stand by my door as the kids grab breakfast.  One by one, as they come in, I say hello to them and call them by name.

"Hello, Nico."

"Good morning, Addy"

"Hi, Cameron"

The kids then say hi back (some nod or just look at me, but they are slowly coming around ;) ) and head to their seats, unpacking, eating, reading....just as they did before.  

Now, you are probably saying to yourself, how on earth did this change everything in your classroom?  Well, you see, by acknowledging them by name I have let each child know that *I*  know that they are present and a part of the classroom.  My kids aren't wondering if I even know who they are anymore.  They feel important and seen.  Because they have a sense of import, the kids are more focused, more engaged, more involved throughout the entire day.
Honestly, before I started saying hi to the kids in the morning myself, I thought those who did were crazy.  I mean, there was just so much noise in the morning.  So much time was taken out to say hi.  The teacher was just standing in the back greeting people.  Surely the time could be used better. 

But no.   This 15 seconds I take per child in my room sets us on a positive and productive track for the entire day.  My kids are more responsive and on task.   And why is that?  Because they feel more connected to me as a person.  I am someone who notices them and cares that they are there.  I am no longer a lady standing in front of the room teaching them stuff.  I am Mrs. Moorman who knows they are there and cares.

All because of a little magic word....hello.

Marshmallow Volume

Hands-on lesson to teach the concept of mathematical volume.Introducing the concept of volume to my students is never as easy as I always think it is going to be.  I mean, I usually just assume that when I explain that volume is basically length x width x height, the kids will think, "Oh, yeah!  That's like area with one more thing to multiply!"  It never goes that way.  I mean, never.  Ever.
So this year, when I set out to introduce the concept of volume to my students, I knew I needed to do something memorable that would help the concepts sink in.  So what did I do?  I broke out the trusty marshmallows.  Yes.  You heard me right.  Marshmallows.

You see, mini-marshmallows are basically a cube shape.  They aren't perfect, but they are close enough that using them to help my students understand the concept that volume is the amount of space something takes up in cubic units was just what my students needed.  I gave each student a quart-sized baggie that was pre-filled with about two handfuls of marshmallows.  I purposefully didn't count them as I wanted all of the students to be using different amounts of marshmallows as we progressed through the lesson.

Once they had the marshmallows, I gave the students a recording sheet and we began to work.  Using a whole group  lead by the teacher method, we began on the first task.  Each of the six tasks had the students working on ideas of volume in a progressively more difficult manner.  They were introduced to the idea of dimensions, layers, "missing" cubes, and so much more.  We didn't really talk about length x width x height at all, but by the end of the tasks, the students were seeing the arrays that the marshmallows were forming and coming up with that algorithm all on their own.  It was amazing!



After the six tasks were conquered, I wanted the students to do a hands-on performance task, taking all of those ideas we learned together and apply them on their own.  I gave them another recording sheet, this time as a performance task.  They used all of the marshmallows in their baggie and needed to create rectangular prisms with specific guidelines in mind.  They were to diagram the prisms, record the dimensions, and find the volumes of each.  I *thought* this would be easy for them, given our work together on the previous six tasks, but I was mistaken.

Working on the performance task was quite a challenge for many of them.  Having to think of their own rectangular prisms, proving they were different from each other, and visualizing this concept on their own was difficult.  There was a lot of productive struggle going on as I walked around and guided the students towards creating their own rectangular prisms.  
Overall, though, once the lesson was done (which took us about 2 hours), the students really did have a much more firm grasp of what volume is.  Now, when I say layers or I ask them what the dimensions of a drawn 3-D figure is, the students are confident that they know.  Manipulating the marshmallows really helped to solidify a firm understanding of this big fifth grade CCSS concept.  

Would you like to resources I used in this lesson?  You can pick them up here.  

How have you taught the concept of volume in a hands-on way?  Let me know below!

LEGO Glasses Get to Know You

Great back to school activity for upper elementary to get to know your new studentsThis year, on the first day of school, I did something that I have never done before.  We broke out some glasses equipped with LEGO studs and the bricks and created representations of ourselves to introduce each other in our class.
How?  Well, here is the basic run down.

These LEGO glasses are perfect for doing a get to know you activity in upper elementary.This summer, I went to the Get Your Teach On conference in San Diego.  While there, Hope King showed us this STEM unit that she does in her classroom.  The first activity was a get to know you type thing and I instantly fell in love.  I just couldn't get the idea out of my brain.  So I broke down and ordered these glasses here. (my affiliate link)
Wonderful back to school get to know you activity for fifth grade.On the first day of school, I told the kids that we were going to introduce ourselves to each other but first we needed to build representations of our personalities.  Each child got a pair of glasses and LEGOs (that I raided from my own children's stash).  They used the LEGOs to create things that might mean something to them.  For example, on my glasses, I put a tall pink LEGO to represent my oldest daughter with a medium sized blue next to it and a smaller blue for my two sons.  I also added a red and green piece to symbolize an apple since teachers are synonymous with apples.  Once I modeled a few, the kids got to work.

As they were working, I was walking around asking them to explain some of their choices to me.  It was an awesome way for me to get to know the kids.  I heard about their favorite foods, details about their families, where they went on vacation, and even some made up stories that they wish happened to them. It was a wonderful way for me to begin building a connection to my students right off the bat.

Once the glasses were complete, I took a picture of them wearing the glasses. They then diagramed their drawings using a template I created (and you can find here.)  I had them dismantle the glasses and put everything away.  These glasses were too expensive for them to keep ;)  I will find another use for them later on in the year.  
The next day, the students used these drawings to write a paragraph explaining the glasses.  Everything they diagramed was to be explained in the paragraph.  This became their first writing sample and a wonderful assessment of their basic writing skills.   Did they indent?  How was the spelling?  Were the sentences simple or elaborated?  It gave me a baseline with which to start instruction.

Finally, I put the pics that I took of them on a shared Google Slide and each of them logged onto the computer to type their paragraph.  This, again, served as a jumping off point for me to see the tech skills they came in with.  Could they get online?  Did they know about text boxes?  Did they panic when something went "wrong"?  
Combining back to school with Google Slides and LEGOs

And that is it.  Total, with the writing and all, this took about three sessions in class.  Can you say BEST TEACHER EVER???  ;)   Well, maybe not, but the kids did love it, got to be creative, and they wanted to come back the next day.  What else can we ask for?  

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