Thursday, June 7, 2018

Non-Scale Victories

I recently heard an analogy I would like to share with you.

Say you set a goal of losing weight. So you start working out and eating healthy and adopt a plan you think will help you reach that goal. After some time, you step on the scale and see that you haven't lost any weight. It doesn't make logical sense to blame the scale, get angry, pick it up and smash it, right? You need to go and readjust your plan.

This analogy was given in connection to using data (specifically summative standardized test data) to improve practices in school.
I want to break the analogy down a bit and look at it more deeply.

One, in order for this to hold up - you have to assume that the tool you are using to monitor progress toward your goal is a tool you have complete faith in. If I want to lose weight, I choose the scale as my tool because I have faith that the scale will give me complete and accurate information. Weight is quantifiable (it's a number)(not like trying to elicit everything a person knows in their brain, which is completely not quanitfiable). I am going to pick a scale I know isn't broken or malfunctioning. I go in with faith in that tool.

Do teachers have faith in their state standardized tests as a tool to tell them how they are doing? How many times have you seen a state test question that simply doesn't make any sense and/or doesn't actually assess what it thinks it does? How many times have you watched kids take a state test in under 5 minutes or fall asleep? How many times have you seen a kid put an incorrect answer only to ask them about it and their explanation holds up (and is actually really genius...)? How many times have you seen a kid answer correctly and probe them (please tell me you do) and find they didn't actually understand it at all...

We don't have good faith in our tool. You gave us a scale that isn't properly calibrated. It isn't showing all the hard work that we did at all. So yeah, we might get a little angry at it.

But let's keep going with this analogy.
If you've ever worked with a personal trainer or participated in a diet program, you've probably heard or used the term "non-scale victory". A non-scale victory is a way to know that you are having success without using the scale. This is a very personal process. You must know your body very well. Non-scale victories might include noticing your clothes fit differently, having more confidence, getting compliments from people, etc.
Most trainers will tell you that non-scale victories are actually BETTER than seeing a number go down on the scale.
How does this relate to our schools?
Well, if we want teachers that teach kids to be good test-takers, than probably not at all.
But what is your true purpose as an educator?
Let's go back to health for a moment.
Let's get deep.

Is the point really to lose weight? Or is the point really to be healthy, feel good, have more confidence and self-esteem; in short, create a lifestyle?
It's an easy answer, isn't it?

So is it our goal to get kids to earn a number? Or is the point for them to be educationally/academically/emotionally healthy, feel good, have confidence, and create a lifestyle as a life-long learner?

I get so tired of feeling like I have to get my 3rd graders to be good-test-readers-only. Being a good reading tester does NOT mean you are a good reader. It means you are a good reading-tester. And I could spend my time giving my kids worksheet after worksheet and helping them get really good at figuring out how to tackle reading test questions, but what have I actually done for them in terms of their adult reading life? Probably killed it....just like lifting weights until you hurt yourself probably kills your love of fitness..

If your goal in fitness is to be healthy and build a lifestyle, then you have to readjust the terms of your goal and therefore readjust the steps you take to get there. You need to rely on more non-scale victories.

We need more non-scale victories in school.
Remember how I said that non-scale fitness victories were very personal and require you to know your body?

Well, non-scale educational victories require you to know your kids.
They require administrators to trust that teachers know their kids. That teachers can see "the clothes fit differently" (or maybe they don't and then we will address it).

When you workout with a mindset of achieving non-scale victories, you do things to get healthy. You are less likely to do something dangerous just to get a "quick fix". You also don't beat yourself up so much when you have an off day, miss a workout, or eat something amazing. Because you know it's a lifestyle you are working toward.

How amazing would it be to have schools with teachers and administrators that looked for non-scale victories. That don't see failing state test scores as an automatic reflection on the poor practices of their teachers. That have teachers that say "look, this kid didn't pass the state test but I know this kid can read....let me give you some evidence." and administrators that believe them. 

Because we KNOW not every kid is going to pass a state test.
That doesn't always mean they didn't learn. It doesn't mean the teacher didn't work hard enough. It doesn't always mean ANYTHING.

Sometimes it means the kid needs to show it differently. That they didn't care. That they went to sleep. That they got tired. That they had a bad day.

That they lost fat but built muscle ;)

And I know this is almost a pipe dream in our day and age with the policies in place. That state tests are not going away anytime soon.
Neither is the scale.
And legislators are just simply not going to "take our word for it" when it comes to our kids. I get that, too. I still believe there have to be other and more divergent ways to show kids are learning, but I get it.
What we can do is begin to change our mindset within our school. Begin to worry less about the scores that come in and begin to focus more on non-scale victories. Because believe me, a teacher will tell you when a student is struggling.
They will let you know.
Because it kills them. They don't need a bit of data to convince them, and they shouldn't need it for you either.
Start getting to KNOW your kids. Don't teach them to be great test-readers (or great computers for math, but that's a whole different post for another day). Know your kids SO WELL that when they move a centimeter, you notice it. Don't spend so much time looking at your scores that you don't even know the kids behind them.

Teach them to read critically; to think divergently.
And most of all, PLEASE most of all, do something every day that builds their healthy lifestyle as a reader. There's already so much out there trying to kill it.

Go out and get you some victory.
Happy teaching!

Aubree Hurt

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Favorite Concept Game - POP! (freebie included)

That is just so crazy to me.

Happy Thursday guys! Today, I wanted to share a game used regularly in my class. This is one of those games that rocks because you can use it for pretty much any concept, any subject.
I don't recommend using this game to introduce or teach the concept. This is the game I pull out after the anchor charts have been made, the practice has been done, and kids just need to PRACTICE.

It's tried and true POP! There are so many names for this game but I used POP when I taught kinder because...easy CVC. Then, when I moved up it was to hard for me to get used to another name so it stuck.
With POP, you create cards with whatever concept you want kids to practice. In kinder, I had sight word cards. In 3rd, I have fact & opinion cards, cause & effect, fractions, multiplication problems, seriously ANYTHING. You show one card to each kid and if they get it, they keep the card. If they don't, they return it. They collect cards until they pull a POP card at which point they get POPPED.

But what I've done is made my POP games digital. I turned them into slides and now we can easily play as a whole class.

I have all my kids stand up. I start with number 1 (class numbers) and display the slide for them. They answer, stay up if they're right, sit if they're wrong. If a POP slide comes up on their turn, they sit. Kids stay pretty engaged because the slides will loop around again.

Sometimes I will mix this up in a variety of ways. One way to do this is to do random "back from the dead" slides. Pick someone who was out but was paying great attention, sitting nicely, etc. and tell them they get a chance to POP back in. If they answer their slide correctly, they stand back up. (I try to do this with ANY kids that get POPPED without answering a question  - that way everyone answers).

Another thing I will do is play in teams. In this variation, the two teams sit in a circle. Pick a team and have them pick someone to start, they stand up first. They answer, with the help of their team. If they are POPPED, they sit at their seat. The next person in the circle from the other team stands up. You alternate questions with teams. The last team to have members WINS. This way is great if you have students you don't want embarrassed by the 1 on 1 nature. They can still participate but they get team help.

I hope you will try POP in your classroom sometime soon! My kids even love doing a round during inside recess.

And just because it's FEBRUARY and I know things are CRAZY - here is a freebie of the POP we did in my class TODAY. It is Fact and Opinion.

Look for other digital POP games in my TPT store SOON.

Happy teaching!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Digital Word Sorts - Nearpod

Happy Monday teachers!

Today's post is about something I'm really excited to share, mostly because it's about my favorite tech tool. If you haven't already heard about Nearpod, you are truly missing out.
Nearpod is a great tool for interactive lessons, formative assessments, and more. Basically, you can make a presentation that students can access on their own devices using a code. From there, you can add quizzes, activities, videos, etc. My favorite feature, though, is draw it. Wit the draw it tool, you can allow students to draw, write, or type on any slide. Basically, you can create digital task cards, worksheets (although yuck), or basically anything you want.

Just go play around with it. I promise you will love it.

One of my favorite ways to use Nearpod, though, is for our weekly word sorts. I love to have students thinking about words and word parts. I want them to be able to sort our words of the week but I hate the hassle of cutting and pasting...or frankly, even making 24 copies of anything.

So this year I began using Nearpod for our weekly sorts. Each Monday, students come in and enter the code. The first slide they see is the list of words. They look over them and write them down (if you use agendas, this is perfect for that). Then they go to the next slide which is just a blank sort form. Like this

I usually include 4 sections even though they know they don't have to use them all. Or, they can use more. Students use the pen tool or the text tool (what they usually prefer) to sort the words out. Once they turn that in, they go on to the "open response" part. This is where I give them a word part and they must come up with their own words that have that part.
In this sort, I asked students to type 3 plural words that use "ies", 3 plural words that use "es", and 3 other plural words.

Here is an actual student response from our word sort this week. The words use au, aw, and ough.

The best part is, all you have to do is go to "Reports" on your Nearpod home page to see everything students did and submitted. 
Easy, paperless way to get the job done.

If you use digital word sorts, let me know how it goes.

Again, Happy Teaching!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Vocabulary Activities (Upper Elementary)

I hope your week went well. I still cannot believe we are nearly though January!
This week I wanted to share with you some vocabulary activities I use in my room. We use the vocabulary associated with our reading curriculum, although sometimes I change it out. I don't think the words matter so much as long as students are increasing the quantity of words they understand. However, I find some curriculum vocabulary to be extremely content specific and not as relevant to my students. For this reason, I like to exchange some of those with words I have noticed my students coming across frequently in reading and not understanding. Something I want to do even better with next year is student led vocabulary. I love the idea of students adding words to a box or poster when they come across words they don't know. From there, the class can pull their vocabulary words. Those kind of words would be perfect for the activities I want to talk about today.

First off, a vocabulary activity I use all year.
Vocabulary Sentence Scramble
 It takes a bit of prep but isn't hard and is so amazing. I got this idea from The Brown Bag Teacher and tweaked it to fit our needs. All you do is get some (preferably colored) sentence strips, a marker, and your vocabulary words. You will need to have a sentence for each word (if you're using curriculum words, there are probably some sentences there or even pull sentences from your story). Write out the sentences on the strip, leaving a blank for the vocabulary word. Then, cut the sentence strip apart word by word. Students work to unscramble the sentence and fill in the blank with the correct vocabulary word. This is always an option for my students at word work and they choose it often. They love the challenge and the puzzle aspect. At first, I would help them by including how many letters the vocabulary word had (instead of a _____ blank, I would put _ _ _ _, etc.) and include the capitalization and punctuation. Throughout the year, I take the help away and students must include the capitalization and punctuation in their recording sheet.

Each week, I create the new sentences, cut them up, throw them in baggies an load them in our word work tubs. Easy peasy. And don't worry if you don't have colored sentence strips (or run out like I have). You can use a different colored marker for each sentence on white strips and students can separate them back in their baggies that way.

The next activity is another I've seen around the Internet, tweaked, and LOVE. 
Conversation Competition
This may be the easiest way to get your students using their vocabulary words in "conversation" I have seen yet. We did this activity today and all my students were abuzz using their words.
For this one, all you will need is a sheet of paper with the vocabulary words on it like this...
(our vocab words this week)
Put students into partners. Each partner will need one vocabulary sheet and pencils. Then, have partners stand around the room. (disclaimer: this activity will need some modeling. I picked one of my "higher" vocabulary students to help me walk through the activity before I threw students out there). When you say go, students must take turns using the vocabulary words in a real life sentence (must make sense, try to be relevant and/or creative - make it fun!). When they've used the word, have students initial next to the word on their sheet (disclaimer 2: the first time my students did this, I told them to just checkmark but they lost track of which partner had done that word so initials are better). BOTH partners must use all the words in "conversation" (i.e. each word should have 2 initials). When they've finished (and this will inevitably take longer than they think) they sit. Keep track of the order partners sit. 

Call the first team that sat up to share out their sentences. The class must come to a consensus whether they used the words correctly or not. If they did, they can be the winner. I usually throw out some superlative awards after that. For example, I may say "today, I'm giving a most creative award" and pick a student that came up with a creative sentence. I also do funnies (but appropriate), longest, shortest, etc. But the trick is, the word must be used correctly, tense and all. 
As students get older or more adept, you can make it more challenging by requiring that it be an actual conversation. I found, however, that my 3rd graders weren't quite there yet and it was enough for me that they were using the words. 
How many times have you asked your kids to write sentences using their vocabulary words? Do this instead.

So, there are my favorite vocabulary activities for the upper elementary classroom. Vocabulary is so important and I am always searching for more ways to make it relevant and engaging. Share some of our favorite activities with me!

Happy teaching!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Word Work Boggle - LOW prep! (free printables)

Happy JANUARY! We are halfway there! (Can you believe it!?)
Are you as ready as I am to get back to the grind? By that, I mean not ready at all. I love my pajamas.

But alas, we are on our way back. And now that we have been doing Daily 5 for half a year, we are desperate for some new word work options. I have seen the idea of Boggle for ages and love it. But I am notoriously bad about changing out bulletin boards. Plus, I would have kids fly through a board and finish before it was time for me to change it out.

So, I sat down to make Boggle more realistic for our classroom. Enter Mini Boggle Boards. I print, laminate, and throw them into our blue word work tubs. This way students can
* choose the board they would like to work on (there are smaller, bigger, various levels)
* change when they've exhausted a board
* get a differentiated board (for groups I want working on certain things)

As I was making them, I realized how smart it would be to include word parts that I want my kids to internalize. These would be especially good if you are a kinder/1st grade teacher teaching phonics. This gets kids moving away from making simple "sat, hat, mat" words to words that include "tion", "ing", or long vowel patterns.

I hope you can find a way to use these boards in your own classroom! The best part is I am gonna give you the ones my kids use (and love) for FREE. All I ask is that you hop over to Instagram and show some love.
You can find me on Instagram at AubreeTeaches.

OH, you want the printable?


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

peek at our THANKSGIVING week

Hey peeps!

Short weeks before a break are just hard. They seem to drag on like 2 full weeks. Everyone is ready to be on break, the schedule is all sorts of jacked up, and there is some assembly going on every 5 minutes.


I knew 2 things for sure. We couldn't do math stations (without a full week) and we needed to do something fun....with candy.

This is not Thanksgiving related so it's a perfect activity to use any time of year. If you teach multiplication/division concepts and/or you like Skittles this one is for you.

I put my students into groups (I used their math station groups but you obviously group however you like.) The beauty of this activity (and any good activity) is that it can be so easily differentiated by the amount of Skittles you give each group. Not only more or less but also giving some groups a number that will be hard to share "equally" and have them grapple with remainder.

After my students were in groups, I told them their task. They were to make a dozen cupcakes (i.e. 12). In their bag they already had the cupcakes ready (awe, paper cupcakes!? yeah, but REAL SKITTLES!) Each cupcake had to have the SAME amount of Skittles. 

I passed out the bags. The bags included a dozen cupcakes and varying amounts of Skittles (36, 48, 72, or some odd numbers like 61 and 17). The bags also had recording sheets for each student. All they needed to bring was a pencil.

Groups got to pick a spot around the room. You may want to tell your students to spread out as they will need lots of room to "work on" their cupcakes. 
First, I had students count out their cupcakes (12) and their skittles so they could write in those amounts. Then, I told them to start "baking". 
I walked around to facilitate. Students could divide the skittles however they wanted as long as each cupcake had the same amount. They needed to write down how many "leftovers"/remainders they may have had. Then, they would write the division problem and corresponding multiplication problem. For some groups, it was easier to start with multiplication which was fine.

After they filled in one row, they weren't done. They were challenged to put a different equal amount into each cupcake. (for example, a group that had 36 skittles may have started by putting 3 in each cupcake resulting in no leftovers. They could then try 2 or 4 in each cupcake and they would have a remainder which makes the division & multiplication equations a little more challenging). 

The most interesting part of this activity was when one group decided to play around with zero. That led to some really good discussions about multiplying or dividing with zero. The concrete representation really made sense to them. I love facilitating during activities like this because we really dive deep and I can easily differentiate.

I hope you try this activity out in your own classroom and let me know how it goes! It worked perfectly for a short week before holiday...which is coming again soon!

Want the activity? Click on any picture above or right HERE

:) Happy HOLIDAYS!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Subtraction Strategies For The WIN

Hey again!
You know how I'm big on strategies? No? Well, you should.
I'm big on them.
My kids know this. We talk a lot about how we can memorize math but if we someday forget it, what will we do? We need a strategy to fall back on. It's just SMART.

Last post, I covered how I cover multiplication strategies with my class. Well, today I'm gonna take us "back" I the curriculum and talk about the subtraction strategies I use with my class.
Something shocking to me when I moved into third grade was students lack of understanding with addition and subtraction. They seemed to vaguely remember some kind of rules they had been told but they either used them incorrectly or not at all. Every. single. student.
Even students that were "high" math kids and had great understanding would botch computation problems by trying to use some abstract RULE they had been told and simply couldn't recall or understand. When presented another way, these students could get the problem easily.
They had been ingrained with some arbitrary rule of how to do math. A rule that ditched place value, threw out number sense, and was made by one person one time.
And it took me 9 weeks to erase that.
9 week of frustration but my students finally starting valuing getting an answer that made sense over doing "big kid math" (please don't perpetuate this - looking at you 2nd grade teachers).

Here are 2 strategies I guided my students toward and how they ran away with them. Why two? Because I introduced them and using one of these ways,  every student in my class could subtract. Every student.

Open number lines are my love language. I remember learning about them in college and it was a whole new world to me. YES. This is how I do math in my head and I bet it's the way a lot of you do to. Chances are you've heard of an open number line but for those sleeping beauties, here is the gist.
You draw a number line. You know, that line with two arrows on either end (because numbers go on forever). Put the number you want to start with on one end and the number you want to end at on the other.
Now, before you introduce these you need to make sure that your students understand subtraction is the difference between 2 numbers (it's literally called finding the difference). In fact, that little minus symbol means in between. I relate this to book pages. If someone tells you to read pages 35-72 you don't just read 35 and 72, right?
NO. You read those and the pages in BETWEEN. To find the difference, we have to find the numbers between. Start at one number and count up to the second.
There are two ways to put this on your number line. Let's do 74 and 35 as an example.
You can put 35 on one and and 75 on the other and count up.
OR you can put 75 on one end and 35 on the other and count back. Counting up makes sense to me and is how I introduced it at first but changed my mind about that when I had a few students who thought it made more sense the other way. I think because they relate subtraction to getting smaller. Either way works so let students find what makes sense for them.
Once you have your line set up, you can start doing jumps. At first, I have students use 1 jumps. They soon discover this can take forever. So we start circling over ten of the little one jumps and doing 10 jumps. Make sure your students have a firm grasp on adding or subtracting 10 from any number (pull you your hundred charts!). Later, students can do any jumps that make sense to them (5s, 2s, 20s, 100s,).
In our example of 74 and 35, I would start at 35 and do 3 ten jumps to arrive at 65. From there, I could do 9 one jumps and reach my goal - 74. The 3 ten cups and 9 one jumps make 39 jumps. 39 numbers from 35 and 74.
A lot of students stick with ten and one jumps and that is FINE. Tens and ones make sense, they're familiar and students have worked with them before. I wouldn't stress making kids move toward other jumps until they're doing problems in the hundreds or thousands.
Here is an example I show my kids. They help me fill in the boxes under each jump. Then, we see how many jumps it took to find the difference.

The beauty of number lines is if practiced enough, they help kids improve their mental math skills. This is something you should model for your students. Every time we work on a subtraction problem, I show my kids how you can do tens and ones jumps in your head (recording on your hand or a sheet of paper) and arrive at your answer.


Let me paint you picture. You have a student in from of you trying to subtract 53 and 27. She remembers that she absolutely positively has to start with her ones (eye roll) so she looks at 3 and 7. She writes 4. What do you say to her?

Don't tell me.
I got it.

"You CANNOT subtract 3 from 7. If I have 3 dollars could I give you 7? Exactly, no"

Don't believe me? Ask a middle school algebra teacher who is MAD at you right now.
Teach your kids the concept of negative numbers. TRUST ME, it makes way more sense to them than the regrouping thing.
I am not just saying this. I have done it with low kids and high kids. And this is how.
First, we talk about the concept of negative numbers. Like, if you needed 7 dollars but I only had 3 I could give you the 3 NOW and owe you 4 later. Next time I get more money, I will take the 4 out of that and give it to you. This means I owe you 4. Negative 4 (-4)
Together, my students and I build a number line that includes negative numbers to -10 and positive numbers to 10. We play around and we practice. Soon, students realize that any subtraction problem FLIPPED is the negative same number. Like, 5-3 is 2 and 3-5 is negative 2. See how this helps us to get negative answers quickly? But students need to arrive at this conclusion.
Once they've played around, we apply the concept to larger subtraction problems.
Let's go back to our original example. 53 minus 27. First of all, I let students start with the tens. You know, we really might need to borrow or take away so it's good to know what we are working with. Even in standard algorithms this is good. Anyway, we start there. 50 -20 is 30, right? So we write down 30. Then we look at ones. 3-7, students look at the number line and see that this will be -4 (or realize that 7-3 is 4 so the opposite is negative 4 - let them work at their pace). We have our 30 so let's take the 4 from there. That will give us what we need. 30 - 4 is 26. The answer is 26.
I know, I KNOW. This was another mind blower when I thought of it. It makes sense for any subtraction problem as long as you keep the place value. WHY HASN'T SOMEONE SHOWN ME THIS?!
I love this strategy for a lot of reasons. It retains place value so kids aren't thinking about digits only, it introduces them to negative numbers (algebra teachers will praise you - don't tell kids you can't take a bigger from smaller!) and it plain makes sense to kids.
They totally get the idea of negative. Of owing something. It's a real life thing.
At first, I too was skeptical about this method. I used it often with my high kids but wasn't sure about my lows. One day, I decided to just go with it. And guess what? They got it. They write themselves a little negative number line right there and miss way less problems. I saw our computation scores go up big time when I introduced this to them.
If you have students struggling with subtraction, I urge you to try out one of these ways. If you use diligence, you might be surprised how much your students grow with understanding.

Here is a free sheet that you can use to help your kids practice using expanded form and negative numbers to subtract. :) Click to download. 

Happy Teaching!