Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Importance of Binder Rings

Always put your task cards on a
binder ring!
I shared the other day about introducing my new third grade students to math centers. One of the centers that I introduced was "Check Writing," which has the students writing numbers in standard and written form on a specially designed check that I created just for the center. I made three sets of the task cards on cardstock, cut them out, and laminated them. I carefully put them into three groups (there are 24 task cards in each group) and put the task cards into envelopes for the students to pick up when they chose that center.

Everything was going swimmingly with my centers. At least until clean up time came. Maybe it is just a third grade thing, but clean up seems to be a disaster every day. Children who were behaving wonderfully seem to lose their minds when it comes time to put things away. This is especially true for task cards that come out of envelopes.

Now maybe I wasn't specific when I gave the instructions, but I'm pretty sure that I said to make sure that all cards that come out of envelopes go back into the same envelopes. This, of course, was not the case. When I started to clean up from the day, I noticed that one envelope of cards was very anemic while another envelope looked as if it had just enjoyed a seven course meal. Instead of returning the cards to the correct envelope, the students just shoved the cards into whatever envelope they could find. I even found some of my Check Writing cards in envelopes with Pirates vs. Ninjas, another place value center. I had to sort all of the cards (again!) to make sure they were all there.

So I wised up. I probably should have done this to begin with, but I invested in some binder rings. I put all of the cards on rings. It was beautiful. And the best part? No cards got misplaced! I am a genius. Now, I just need to remember to do it again in the future.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Introducing Math Centers

One of the things that I am big on in teaching math is math centers. My team and I work hard to create some exciting centers for the students. I want them to be practicing the skills that we are teaching, but to do so in such a way that they don't realize they are learning. If the rest of the year continues the way our first day went, I think I might be successful at that.

The first centers I introduced were place value oriented. We have been focusing on the skills of writing numbers (in standard, word, and expanded form), comparing numbers, and rounding numbers. With that in mind, I created a number of centers to help reinforce those skills.

The first center I introduced to the students was something I call "Catch The Fly!" This activity allows the students to compare numbers using the symbols for greater than, less than, or equal to, but does it in a way that encourages a bit of fun. Instead of using the regular (boring) symbols, the center gives students special frog symbols to use. Each of the numbers being compared has a fly over it, so the frog is trying to eat the bigger of the two flies. The students were very excited about this one and were meticulously cutting out their frogs.  The only thing that I would change about this center is the fact that the frogs they are using are black and white.  The actual file has them in color, but that is a lot of color ink to use when making enough sheets for the whole class to use.

Another center that I rolled out for my students today made them feel really grown-up.  This center is called "Check Writing."  The students get to use the skills of writing numbers in standard form and written form to fill out a check for an amount that is listed on the task card they have chosen.  They were so excited to be writing "real" checks, especially when the task card told them to write a check to their teacher.  I did have to correct one student who wrote "My Mom" when the task card instructed her to write a check to her mother.  It did make me laugh.  This center has the students writing four separate checks and the hardest part for them so far was knowing what the date was.  We had to stop and have a mini-lesson on how to use this great new invention known as the calendar.  I just wish the checks they were writing to me were real.

One last center that I want to share with you is the one the students were most excited about.  This center, called "Pirates vs. Ninjas!" has the students comparing numbers, but they are doing it through an exciting card game.  Each student is given a deck of cards and an activity sheet.  With a partner, the student will flip over his card while his partner does the same.  They compare numbers, write down both numbers, and then determine who the winner is.  After 10 rounds, the player with the most wins is the champion.  My students loved this activity because there was a competition aspect to it.  All of the students wanted to play, but as I only made two sets of the cards, this one was in high demand during both math groups.

Each week, I try to have at least nine centers for the the students to choose from.  All of the choices are self-selected, but the students have to complete a certain number of centers before the end of the week.  This is often their favorite part of math time.  I really enjoy seeing them get so excited about applying their learning (even if they don't always realize they are doing it.)

If you are interested in learning more about the centers I shared above, or would like to purchase copies of your own, Catch the Fly!, Pirates vs. Ninjas, and Check Writing are all available for purchase at my TeachersPayTeachers store.  If you make use of them, I would love for you to share how your students responded to the activities.

What centers do your students love the most?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Thinking Like a Scientist - Diet Coke and Mentos

During the first week of school, our third grade students talked about what it means to be a scientist.  We brainstormed and came up with ideas of what a scientist does.  These included saving the environment, building technology, and discovering things.  After we made this list, we drew and colored what the students thought a scientist looked like.  Nearly every kid drew a scientist with gloves, a lab coat, and goggles.

The lessons culminated with a lesson on how a scientist discovers things.  I taught them that a scientist begins by asking a question, sometimes even lots of questions.  After coming up with the question, the scientist develops a hypothesis, what he thinks will happen.  Next, he conducts his experiment and records his data.  Finally, he analyzes the data and comes up with his conclusion and determines if his hypothesis was right or wrong.

The big event for the week was the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment. Many of our families were gracious enough to donate the needed materials. We chose Diet Coke, diet lemon lime soda, and diet root beer. We also used mint-flavored Mentos. Here are some of the results:

Needless to say, the students had a blast participating in the activity, even though I was the one having all the fun. This is a really easy and exciting activity to do and only needs a few materials. There is a website devoted to the science behind this experiment with a lot more videos. The website is called EepyBird.com.

Many of the students were asking me about the special tube I used in the experiment. I used a special tube that attached to the top of the soda bottle and allowed me to load the Mentos into the bottle and pull a string after moving safely away. That tube is called Steve Spangler's Geyser Tube. The Geyser Tube not only kept me dry, it also controlled the flow of the "eruption" from the soda, allowing it to go much higher. The Geyser Tube can be purchased at Amazon.com, but I have also seen them at Cracker Barrel and sometimes at toy stores in the mall.

It was a great first week teaching science and I am looking forward to the exciting things we have planned for teaching matter.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Using Dice in My Math Classroom

Some of my favorite things to use in my classroom are dice. We use dice for just about everything. They are incredible versatile and be used for nearly every math topic. As I get ready to teach place value, I will definitely be using more dice. And the best part is that my students love to use the dice as well. Of course, we have to have a "mini lesson" on the proper way to use dice (no throwing, no launching into the air, etc.), but, once they know the right way to use the dice, we always have a lot of fun.
While most people think of just the 6-sided number cube that is used in most games, there are actually a large number of different dice, ranging from 4-sided to 12-sided. In my class, we use 6-sided cubes, 10-sided dice, and 12-sided dice. Here is a list of some of the things I've used dice for in the past.
  • Making numbers for rounding
  • Place value games
  • Addition problems
  • Subtraction problems
  • Multiplication facts
  • Division practice with remainders
The list of ideas is infinite, limited only by your imagination. Dice are a great way to add some rigor and challenge to your students' math skill practice. It definitely beats always giving them worksheets.
The problem that I ran into was the fact that I only have a small number of dice. I think I currently have six of the 10-sided dice and six 12-sided dice, in addition to a number of 6-sided cubes. This limits the number of students who can participate. Unfortunately, the price for the dice were also a bit expensive. At our local teacher supply store, the dice were between $1.50 and $2.00 each. This doesn't sound like a lot, but when you have to buy a lot of them, that price adds up quickly.
The other day on Amazon.com I came across an item called Pound-O-Dice. While I don't know if it exactly 1 pound of dice, I do know that it was exactly what I was looking for! The Pound-O-Dice gave me a huge collection of dice. I received 4-sided, 6-sided, 8-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided, and 20-sided dice. And not just a few. In total, I think I received over 100 dice in the Pound-O-Dice. The price was about $21.00, but I recently receive an Amazon.com gift card for taking an online survey. Even at $21, the Pound-O-Dice was well worth the money.

12-sided dice - Great for multiplication

The package came with all these
number cubes.

Look at all the 10-sided dice!
What ways do you use dice in your classroom?  Do you students enjoy using them?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school. I don't need to go into all the details of what that entailed because I'm pretty sure that if you are reading this, your first day was fairly similar to mine. Meet the students, go over procedures, answer a million questions about when is lunch and when do we go to recess, etc. One thing that stuck out from today, however, was a beautiful little gift one of my students brought me. Here is a picture of it:

To be honest, I'm not even sure if she know how special it was to me. Here's the back story: When she and her family came to visit at Open House, I was teasing her little brother about needing to have a joke every time he came to see me or wanted to come into the classroom. He just laughed and walked away, not really understanding what I was doing. It would appear that my student took me seriously, so she went home to find and download some jokes to share with me and the class today.

I don't normally get all teacher-mushy, but this definitely made me smile. It was a good first day.