I often hear people say that teaching under the Common Core is no longer fun. I shrug and proclaim, "it is in my room!" and go about my day.
I'm a firm believer in things being what you make of them. The fabulous Lucy Calkins says in her book Pathways to the Common Core, "You can view the standards as a Curmudgeon--Or as if they are Gold" (pg 3). I love this point of view and try to embrace it every day. Do I love everything about the Common Core? Of course not. However, if I expect my students to buy into them, I have to have that buy in as well.
Introducing....Decimal Bunk Beds?!
I often pull things out of thin air when I'm teaching. (I know, right? How dare I do such a thing!) Sometimes when I know my students are really struggling with a concept in math, I can think ahead and come up with an idea to help them. There are times, however, that I really do just pull things out of the air. I don't know where they come from but it really makes teaching math fun.
We have been working with place value, decimals and fractions. My 4th grade friends were really struggling with the actual placement of those decimals when you have a number with a tenth and a number with a hundredth. They really wanted the actual digits to line up on the right as they have always done. I was having a hard time getting them to understand that the placement of that decimal was the most important thing with these numbers.
All of the sudden an awesome metaphor came to me -- I knew how to help them understand. Insert the "Decimal Bunk Beds."
See? The "yay!" side is the bunk beds with the decimals lined up perfectly. The "ouch!" side is them not lined up. Kind of ridiculous but the light bulbs sure came on!
In addition to my crazy picture, I used my fists as "decimals" and put them on top of each other. I had my friends do the same. Then we moved them over to simulate the non-aligned bunk beds. They laughed because they realized that they would have the end of the bunk bed on their face if the ends weren't stacked together. Bingo! We don't want decimals (or bunk bed legs!) on our faces. There was understanding here and it was beautiful. Once they caught on to that, it was time to introduce why Zero is such an important number.
Invisible Zero is a Hero
I have recently taught my young friends about the invisible zero. I would imagine that many middle school students would not only laugh at this concept but also benefit from it because that "Place Holder Zero" can be such a difficult concept to understand.
When working with the fraction side of the coin, my friends continued to have some trouble with how to make sure they could really compare the numbers they were looking at. So I introduced them to "Zero the Hero" in a new form--he could become invisible! (What 4th grader isn't fascinated with the idea of becoming invisible whenever you want?) We practiced with where you could put that invisible zero--could he go anywhere? Soon they discovered that no, he couldn't.
On their unit tests, my young friends had to analyze a sample student's work and tell why they agreed or disagreed with the work the student had done. Here is one friend's answer.
This piece of work was priceless to me. I knew this friend had really internalized what I had taught him about that invisible zero. (Love how he also added the dotted lines on his zero to show it wasn't *really* there. Even though he didn't follow the process on the entire problem, the written part of the work was really what I was looking for -- could the student explain how he knew the work was correct.)
While this concept would probably get you laughed out of your classroom if you tried it with secondary students, it was a very useful approach for my inner city 4th graders. It provided some kind of a visual for them to latch onto and really helped them make sense of the concept. I know that while not all of my friends have caught on to this yet, they are getting ever-so-closer every day with the continued reinforcement of our metaphor of the Decimal Bunk Beds and repeated visits from our good friend Invisible Zero.
Are you ready for Digital Learning Day? It’s this Wednesday, February 5th, and if you don’t have anything planned yet, it’s not too late. Here are some great ideas that don’t take a ton of planning.
Many schools and districts have subscriptions to online databases, but if yours doesn’t, never fear! There are great free resources out there that will help you teach your students to do online research. Try FactMonster for short articles about a variety of topics. The site combines an almanac, dictionary and encyclopedia, and it’s a great first step for younger kids. For slightly older students, Biography.com is a great resource for researching famous people. Even kids who struggle in reading can use it; there are short videos for many entries. Also, don’t forget the resources available through your public library. Most public libraries have online databases that only take a library card number to access. And finally, the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress have huge online collections. Use them to teach a lesson using primary sources.
Put your kids in touch with other students across town, across the country or across the world. Use Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout to collaborate with other teachers and create a great digital learning experience for your kids. Google Hangout even allows you to tape the session for use later. Or, use one of these tools to bring an expert on the subject you’ve been studying into the classroom.
Use some of the tools I discussed back in October to teach your kids to make animations. Create a blog for your students, and have them post original work, book reviews or classroom news. WordPress and Blogger are great tools for this, but EduBlogs gives you more teacher controls. Use Prezi, Glogster or even PowerPoint to make multimedia presentations. The sky is the limit!
Digital Learning Day is a great time to start a conversation about cyberbullying. There are many choices for pre-made cyberbullying curricula: try Cable in the Classroom, Common Sense Media or NetSmartz.
I came across a really great article from The Atlantic that was published in October 2013. We all know that the Common Core emphasizes more time in text, and an increase in reading of informational text each year until the balance is 70/30 by the high school grades.
This article is quite fascinating to me, however, because it would indicate that many teachers aren't pushing the rigorous texts that are required by the Common Core.
One of the questions asked of teachers in the article is about how they choose the texts they read with their students. Do they choose them based on grade level or students' reading levels?
64% of elementary teachers said they choose them based upon student reading levels as opposed to 24% that said they select books based upon their grade level range. (For middle and high school the numbers aren't quite as unbalanced: 37%/38% for middle school and 24%/47% for high school.)
As an elementary teacher, I can adamantly say that trying to teach a book with a Lexile of 1000 when some of your students are reading in the BR range (which is K-1st grade), and a majority are in a late 1st-early 3rd grade range, is impossible. So of course we are going to select books that are more interesting and can be accesible to the majority of our class.
Many "Classics" Don't Make the Cut
What I found to be the most interesting thing about this article, however, is the titles of books that are deemed as "not rigorous enough" based solely upon their Lexile range.
In 4th-5th grade, books such as Because of Winn-Dixie, Sarah, Plain and Tall and Stone Fox are not in the appropriate range based upon Lexile. Interestingly enough, the first story in our 4th grade Reading Street book is an excerpt from Because of Winn-Dixie. Is it possible that had they asked these teachers when they were using certain books they would find these beloved books that have been enjoyed by 4th graders for years are being read at the beginning of the year as a bridge from 3rd to 4th grade content?
In middle school, it becomes a bit more apparent that something may be wrong with basing text selection solely upon Lexile score. Some of the books cited as being read in middle school include: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, The Cay, The Pearl and A Wrinkle in Time. Not one of those books fits in the Lexile range deemed appropriate for middle school. The Cay boosts a Lexile of 860 which would indicate that it was in the 4th-5th grade reading range, but I wouldn't read that book with the majority of my students simply because they wouldn't be mature enough to make sense of the themes in the book.
By high school, three of the most popular books, all classics in my mind, are not rigorous enough for Common Core instruction when you look at their Lexile ranges. To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451 and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are all below the recommended range for high school readers in 9th and 10 grade. Now I've never taught high school but I can't imagine teaching To Kill a Mockingbird to a 4th or 5th grader which is where its Lexile score falls!
Teacher Judgment Still Matters
I'm all about the Common Core. (Kind of obvious, right?) However, I do believe that teacher judgment and common sense still matter. We aren't working on a press and creating robots. You can't simply toss out a book because it isn't rigorous enough according to one measure of text complexity. The longer we teach the standards, the easier it will be to make better judgments in terms of the content we are teaching, regardless of the complexity of the text. Yes, we should teach complex texts and how to navigate them...but not at the detriment to taking great literature out of our students' hands based upon one measure that proclaims it isn't "tough enough".
The tech tip this week is a great website called Cite This for Me. The Common Core has brought more of a focus this year and will so even more, in coming years on students doing more research so that they are better prepared for college and career life. This website provides an important service for students and teachers alike by helping to cite books, journal articles, newspaper articles, websites and over twenty-four more different possibilities.
Cite This For Me is easy to get started because they have a simple 3-step process. First, you add your sources manually or users can search by title, author or ISBN number. Second, after adding your source(s), the site will build your bibliography in alphabetical order. There are several popular citations that are available such as: APA (6th edition), Chicago (16th edition), Harvard, MLA (7th edition) and Vancouver. Third, you can download the formatted bibliography and simply attach it to your document.
There are some nice extra features of the Cite This For Me website as well. For example, there is a grammar and plagiarism check. The site uses an add-on service called Grammarly. The plagiarism and grammar check service provides an automated proofreader and plagiarism checker. Grammarly claims that it can correct up to 10 times as many mistakes as other word processors and that it can find and then correct over 250 types of grammatical mistakes. There are also some add-ons such as a Word Add-on and Chrome Add-on which add easier functionality because users can simply go to a particular website and click the button in the browser window and have it cited in a variety of ways. Finally, Cite This For Me offers citation guides so that students can also learn how to compile their sources manually as well and the reasons behind why citation is so important. I have used this service several times with my students this year and have found it very useful.
There’s been a lot of discussion lately about coding, and teaching students to code. It can be an intimidating prospect for a teacher, who may not have much (if any) experience in this area. Luckily, some tech heavyweights have stepped up to the plate and created some great resources that walk students through rudimentary coding, step by step.
Code.org is the brainchild of a former Microsoft engineer who wanted to bring coding into the classroom in an accessible way. He was also the visionary behind the Hour of Code event that took place in December, encouraging people worldwide to try coding.
Code.org is super easy for kids to use. The learning curve is fairly small, and the difficulty builds gradually, giving students a chance to master a concept and then expand upon it. Many levels of the program use familiar characters from games like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies, which quickly draws kids in. Best of all, you can sign up for a teacher account, with student sub-accounts. This lets you check in on student progress and reset forgotten passwords.
Scratch was created by the MIT Media Lab as a programming tool for kids ages 8-16. Scratch is much more free-form than Code.org; while the latter has proscribed levels, Scratch offers much more opportunity for creativity. The flip side of this is that the learning curve is a little steeper.
In Scratch, students can program animations and stories, then share them with the Scratch community. There’s a strong community aspect to the site, and the creators have taken steps to protect privacy and create an appropriate environment for kids.
While traditionally coding is done using text, both Code.org and Scratch use visual tools that students just drag and drop into a workspace. While they are definitely very different programs, they don’t have to stand alone. Scratch could be the logical next step for a student who has finished the levels of Code.org.
Codecademy is a great tool for older students. Unlike the visual interfaces of Code.org and Scratch, in Codecademy you write code in text. Like the others, Codecademy scaffolds gradually, beginning with a simple task then expanding upon it. Codecademy starts by teaching HTML and CSS, with the goal of creating a website by the end of the course. The site also teaches programming languages like Ruby and Python.
The focus on programming in text makes Codecademy less accessible in the elementary grades, but a great option for late middle or high school age kids.
Are you teaching your students how to code? Share more resources in the comments!