Tuesday, June 18, 2013

First Graders are AMAZING! (And my persepctive on the Common Core Standards in Math)

Hello, Friends!
There has been so much discussion about if the Common Core (or, as our legislators in Utah prefer to have it called “Utah’s Core Standards”).  Are they developmentally appropriate?  Are we expecting too much of our students?
I understand that if you are the parent of a third, fourth, fifth or sixth grade student, I can easily understand why you are frustrated and concerned.  I have no doubt that math is a source of stress for your child right now. It is likely that your child comes home with homework hat you don’t understand. (I can tell you that many of my first grade parents didn’t understand the homework that was coming home last year- not because they don’t understand math, but because they are not accustomed to thinking about numbers as fluidly as the new Core Standards require.)
Here’s the thing… we know that American students are achieving below students in other countries.  We know that our kids are equally capable.  We also know that we have amazing teachers here. (Have you seen Pinterest lately? Our teachers are AMAZING!)  So we need to do something to help our kids reach their potential.

What’s the alternative? Continue at the rate we are going—where our teachers are working hard and our kids are learning- but are not completive in the world market?  Continue waiting for the rest of the world to slow down to our speed?  Sorry, but I don’t want to play that game.
So how do we get our kids on the right track?  We could, I suppose, start with the preschoolers.  Start them out on the right path and go from there.  That’s great—for those kids.  But what about the children already in our schools?  How can we possibly say “We know that there is a better outcome for you, but it’s too late for you—sorry.”  I don’t think I could sleep at night feeling that way.
So we have to do the best we can to bring ALL children up to speed.  There will be a learning curve.  And each year, I sincerely hope, it will get easier.  We have to hang in there.  Together we have to help our kids work towards a brighter tomorrow.  It’s not going to be easy, but I firmly believe that it will be worth it!!

I have a few examples from my own first grade classroom that were excellent reinforcement for my own commitment to the Common Core Math Standards.  I am going to share them here—please contact me if you have any questions, or if you have any great examples, I would love to see them!!
This student was responding to a task question. She showed her thinking by drawing it, writing an equation, and drawing a number line.
This is in response to a task. They had to show their thinking. This student drew pictures and then also showed her thinking by drawing a number line.
This is one of hundreds of examples I could give that shows how fluidly my students understood numbers.  You have to admit that it is pretty awesome.

When we were adding 3 numbers, this boy noticed that 4 and 6 make 10, labeled it, and then knew to add 5 more.

Happy Tuesday!

Introducing Place Value

Every early childhood teacher can tell you that teaching place value is tricky.  It is an extremely abstract concept and some children will go with it, while others struggle to grasp the idea.  Every middle and upper grade teacher will tell you that place value is a critical concept- it is the foundation of our number sense. 
These are some activities I do to help my students build a strong understanding of place value.  
On the first day, before my students come in, I break apart unifix cubes into a tub.  Depending on the group size, I put in 80-120 cubes. 
I have my students work together to count them.  (Some groups will immediately start grouping them by color… others will just try and count them one by one… we discuss different strategies as they go.  Once we have a group that groups them by colors, and then by tens, I make a big deal about that strategy and the other groups give it a try.)

With this activity, they figure out that you can be much more efficient by grouping objects into tens to count how many.  That's the first step!
 The next day, I give my kids bags (and boxes) of assorted items to count…  I basically raid my manipulatives shelves and just pass them out.  We do the same kind of thing as the day before—they group the items into tens to find out how many. The difference is that they will not end up with exact groups (and they do it independently).  This allows for more conversations about tens and ones. (Again, be sure to stop and discuss strategies as you go… start with the most basic and work your way to the more complex.)

 They take the items, group them in to sets of ten and count them.


Then we move to a more pictorial version. I have laminated cards that have an assortment of stickers on them.  I have my students use a whiteboard marker to circle groups of ten.  They find the total (how many groups of ten, how many ones, how many in all), come and tell me, and trade for a new card.   It makes a great center after you’ve done it whole group!

(They look like this-- with a variety of stickers and a random mix of numbers).

Whenever introducing a math concept, remember that you must move from concrete to pictorial to abstract. Kids need to touch and feel to understand. 

Seeds, seeds, seeds!

Hey, Friends!

First Graders sure do love learning about plants!

The most effective way I have found to teach about plant life cycles is to use lima beans, cotton balls, and zip-lock bags!

It really is so simple-- and they grow quickly!

Put wet cotton balls into your zip-lock bag (you want them wet enough that you can squish out some water, but not so wet that it puddles without pressure.)

Then have your kiddos put 3 or 4 lima beans in the bag (avoid using old beans) :)
Make sure the beans have direct contact with the cotton balls.

I like to tape it to the window, with the beans facing the sun. We take them down to inspect them, but then I always re-adjust the seeds to make sure they face the sun.

I like to do 6-8 extras.  That way we can take them out and take a closer look at different stages of growth without risking anyone's precious plant! :) (And it allows for replacing any that mold quickly).

A few things to note:
Not all of them will grow into plants. (Some years I offer the students to trade me for one of the extra bags).
Some will mold-- they can mold really quickly if your kiddos have a lot of germs on their hands.
Some will grow like crazy-- be prepared.
Once the leaves touch the top of the bag- send them home to be replanted.  Thy won't live much longer in the bag- they need soil at that point.

Happy planting!