Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Learning with Peeps {Poetry and a STEM Challenge}

Peeps.  Love them or leave them?  I say love them!  They are cheap and you can have so much fun with them in the classroom. 


We recently used Peeps to have a little STEM fun and to write some poems. Keep reading for the specifics, and be sure to stock up on some Peeps so you can have a little Peep themed fun of your own. :)

PEEPS TOWERS
This Fun Friday activity was a huge hit with my students! They were given a few materials and were challenged with building the tallest tower they could.   I paired them up, gave them their supplies, and a set forth a few ground rules. 



The supplies: 
  • 12 Peeps (we used the bunnies)
  • 2 plastic straws
  • 6 wooden toothpicks
The rules: 
  • They could cut or modify the straw, if desired.
  • They could NOT cut or modify the toothpicks or Peeps.
  • They would have 10 minutes to build their tower.
  • Their tower had to stand on its own.
The challenge was tackled without hesitation.  The towers were all different, and some weren't very tower-like at all, but the engagement, problem solving, and team work that went on during those 10 minutes were amazing. 



When the challenge was over, I walked from tower to tower and measured each one (that was standing) with a yardstick.  The tallest tower stood a whopping 17 inches high!


PEEPS POEMS
I pretty much do this writing activity with my students every year.  After eating a Peep, we brainstormed adjectives and used them to write an adjective poem, build a poem style.


You can read about the process in detail HERE.

And, you can grab the freebie HERE.  :)

So, what are you waiting for?  Go stock up on those Peeps before they are gone!

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Jelly Donut Difference {Teaching Kindness}

The topic of kindness is a recurring topic of conversation in my classroom.  Our school promotes kindness every day, and several times a year, I look for opportunities to specifically address this social skill.  One of my favorite ways to talk about important skills that relate to character is with the help of a picture book.



I recently shared The Jelly Donut Difference by Maria Dismondy with my students and it was a great way to review this concept.  Keep reading for a few ideas and links to free resources!



If your aren't familiar with Maria Dismondy then keep reading and then head on over to Amazon and grab as many of her books as you can. They are a must when it comes to your stash of picture books!

About the Author
Maria has a background in early education, so she knows kids.  She write books with strong moral messages and diverse characters.  Her characters are likeable and students can relate to them.  That's why her books are so great for teaching things like kindness, empathy, and understanding.  Her hope is that kids will remember how the characters in her stories handled difficult situations should they ever find themselves in a similar position.  And chances are, at some point they may.


The Book
The Jelly Donut Difference is a great book to share with your students.  It has amazing illustrations.  And, the story is one that students can relate to.

Dex and Leah are twins who live next door to an older woman who lives alone.  When they learn more about this woman who lives alone, they decide that they want to do nice things for her so that she feels happy and not so lonely.  I'm not going to share all the specifics because you really need to read this book for yourself.  ;) 

In the Classroom
Like any picture book, you can use this story to review story elements, analyze the characters, and the like, but my favorite way to use these sorts of books is to have my students make connections to the text. I like to use it as a means to promote reflection and understanding of the citizenship skills covered in the story.  This story, in particular, drives home the important message of generosity and kindness and I made that the focal point of our follow up activities.

After reading the book, we talked about the author's purpose.  More specifically, we talked about what exactly it was that the author wanted the reader to learn from the story.  Lately, we've been working to more specific when identifying the author's purpose.   

Then, we talked about some important words.  These words aren't used in the text, but they are all represented in the text. I thought that these words would be appropriate to discuss and then connect to the text:
  • thoughtful
  • kindness
  • empathy
  • compassion
  • generosity
It isn't necessary to use all of these words, of course. I didn't.  I chose the ones that I felt my students would be most likely to understand and relate to the text.  You can grab the anchor chart pieces HERE (the download includes all the words listed above).

As you can see, I put the definition of each word on the anchor chart.  Then, as a group we thought of examples in the text where these qualities were seen in action with the characters.


I left the chart up because I wanted my students to be reminded of these important qualities and because I wanted them to choose one to focus on.  I often task my students with setting kindness goals at school, but this allowed them to try and engage in other forms of selfless action.

I also had my students write a letter to the author.  We are currently in the midst of a letter writing unit, so it seemed perfect!  In the body of their letters, they wrote about what they liked about the story, as well as what they learned from it.  From there, they were free to write whatever else they wanted including asking the author a question or two.  I enjoyed reading their responses and seeing where it led their thoughts. You can grab this letter writing template HERE.  :)


If you're looking to add a meaningful picture book to your collection of resources, be sure to check out The Jelly Donut Difference.  It's sure to be a book you go to year after year.

Happy reading!

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This post contains affiliate links for Amazon. By purchasing an item on the Amazon site using these links, I will receive a small commission on your purchase. For more information about my Disclosure Policy, please visit this link.

I received this product for free to provide an honest review.  All opinions expressed within this post are genuine and impartial.
 



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Friday, March 10, 2017

Teaching Students to Write Word Problems

I love word problems.  There I said it, I really do.  Anytime I can squeeze in some extra practice for my kiddos, I do!  I especially love tasking my students with writing their own word problems.  This encourages them to think about word problems more critically than when they simply read and solve a problem.

We recently started practicing this skill in my classroom. Typically, I start this much earlier in the school year, but we just weren't ready to tackle this skill until recently.  Some years are like that, right?  Now that the skill has been introduced, we can practice it each week (and I'm pretty excited about that).
 
A Few Things You Need to Know
When I task my students with writing their own word problems there are two things you need to know.  
1. I give them a starting point.  Meaning, the activity isn't totally open ended.  I give them an answer, and it is their job to write a word problem to match.
2. I start out by keeping it simple because I want them to grasp the concept and feel successful with something new. I encourage the use of key words, and I encourage them to write straightforward problems without "extra" information.  When the time is right, they will be encouraged to write tougher problems. 
 
Procedures
So, to introduce the skill of writing word problems, I use this chart.
 

And, this mini book (or some variation of it....more on that in a moment).


Here's a look at that chart again. 
 
 
Keep in mind that these guidelines work for us because we write word problems based on a given answer.  
 
Once we go over the chart, we write at least one word problem together, using the mini book from above and the chart to guide us.  Then, I have the students work in pairs to write a second word problem. I check their stories as they finish.  Finally, the students write one word problem independently.  Again, I check it when they are finished writing because I like to help them make any necessary corrections/changes on the spot. 
 
As we revisit the skill each week, the students will write one story at a time.  Independently.  
 
I keep it simple at first, encouraging them to use key words, and to stick to simple stories (two statements and a question) like the one shown below.  Once they have these steps down, I will begin to encourage them to add extra information to their problems. 


I love using my What's the Problem? mini books for practicing this skill (shown above, and below).  I made an entire series of these mini books several years ago, and they are still a useful resource.  Did I mention that they are a freebie?  ;)  This one is The Lucky Edition, but I've made one for just about every month of the year.


Frequency
As mentioned above, the first day that we practice this skill the students write three word problems. After that, they write just a few a week.  We bring the book out as part of our math warm up, or at the end of our math lesson.  They end up writing about two word problems a week.  This gives them continued practice, but they also don't get burned out as easily as they would if we did it every.single.day.   

A Few Final Thoughts
It is always harder for students to write a word problem than it is to solve one.  And, they learn this pretty quickly.  However, they seem to enjoy the challenge of getting it right.  As we say in my classroom, if you don't challenge your brain, it won't grow.  So, bring on the challenge! 
 
When you're first starting out, you'll notice that some students "get it" very quickly, whereas others need repeated practice with the skill before it begins to click. Some students will need more scaffolding than others, and some will need to be encouraged to write "tougher" problems. I've even changed some of the answers for students who needed to work with either bigger or smaller numbes.  As always, do what's best for your students and differentiate as needed. 

Below are links to the What's the Problem mini books that I've shared in the past.  I hope you can use them.  :)
 
 
Have fun challenging your learners!

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