Bear Line-Up and Bear Street — First Grade Math Week of 1/19/15

In first grade math, we’ve been working on some logic problems in cooperative groups.  Last week, we completed ten “Bear Line-Up” problems.  The kids are in groups of four or five.  They receive a group of cards, with each card containing a clue.  The kids read the clues in turn and then attempt to arrange the bears according to the parameters given on the cards.

For example:

  1. Three grean bears are at the front of one line
  2. In one line, there are 3 blue bears and 4 yellow bears.  Each blue bear is just behind a yellow bear.
  3. There are 2 lines of bears.  There are 7 bears in each line.
  4. Four red bears are at the back of one line.

All of the clues are necessary to complete the task.  The students have to listen to each other read the clues and then agree on the appropriate course of action.  This isn’t always easy.  We have a lot of alpha children who are used to taking charge when they are in a group, and now here they are with a bunch of other alphas.  There was a lot of frustration, but they worked through it.

We finished the last Bear Line-Up today and moved on to Bear Street.  These are similar problems, but they involve placing the bears on a map.  This went much more smoothly.  I think the kids are really learning how to listen, take turns, etc.  Next week we’ll do Bear Park and Cubeville, similar logic activities.  I expect this will go even better, but we’ll have to wait and see!

Addendum to Kindergarten Math Week of 1/19/15 — Play “Name the Biggest Number” With Your Child

We didn’t specifically talk about this as a game yesterday, but we did today, and I hope your kids will come home and try to play it with you.  It should proceed like this:

Kindergarten student:  Do you want to play Name the Biggest Number?  I bet I can beat you!

Willing Participant:  Sure!

Kindergarten student:  Okay, you go first.

Willing Participant:  [Thinks, names super big number]  Betcha can’t beat that!

Kindergarten student:  [No spoilers; play the game to find out what they’ll say]

Happy weekend, everyone!

Second Grade Humanities Week of 1/19/15 — Context and Classification

In second grade humanities this week, we talked about classification.  I divided the kids into two groups and gave each group a location (e.g., hospital, school, restaurant, hardware store, second grader’s bedroom).  Each student received an index card, which they used to write down one artifact that could have been found at an archaeological dig of their given location.  The groups then switched cards and tried to guess what the location was given just the 4-6 artifacts.  In many cases, they were successful.  In some, they were not. As we played more rounds, the kids tried to be more and more general with their items in order to stump the other team.  (“Ceiling tile” doesn’t give you too many clues about a location, does it?)

In the end, we had several lists of items found at different locations.  I then asked the kids to classify the items, placing them in categories of their choosing.  Picking categories was harder for them than I expected, and there was quite a bit of (respectful) bickering over what would work best.  We would up with similar categories in all three of my classes.  Here are some SMART Board screen shots to give you an idea of the categories:

context screen shot 2 context screen shotThe kids argued heatedly over the category in which each of the items belonged.  It was fascinating.  It’s one of the really nice parts of having small groups of kids working together — they *can* argue.  They don’t always have to raise their hands.  It’s possible to have a discussion and talk over each other and not have it turn into bedlam.  It reminded me yet again why I love this job.

Next week, we’ll talk about what happens when an archaeologist ignores context and does a poor job of classifying finds.  I’ll give you a hint:  it’s not good.

Place Value, Infinity, and Beyond — Kindergarten Math week of 1/19/15

I opened class this week with a question:  what is the biggest number?  There was a wide variety of answers — from 1,000 to “ten thousand million” to googleplex.  No matter what anyone said I always answered back “That’s a big number!  But you know what’s bigger?  That number plus one!”  There was some frustration.  In every class, at least one child brought up infinity.  My response was always the same:  “Infinity isn’t a number.  It’s a concept.”

After much discussion, we were able to agree — there is no biggest number.  No matter which number you name, that number plus one is always bigger.  Numbers go on forever.  Infinity encompasses this idea, the idea of something (like numbers) that goes on forever.

We then moved on to writing and naming big numbers.  I talked to the kids about how to read large numbers, which includes “knowing comma’s names.”  I introduced them to our friends, the number commas.  The first (and sometimes only) comma in a number is named “thousand.”  The second is named “million.”  So long as you know the commas names and know how to read three digit numbers, you can read large numbers.

So, I explained to the kids, to read 999,888,777, you read the number before the largest comma (nine hundred ninety nine) and then read the comma’s name (million), then you read the number before the next comma (eight hundred eighty eight) and then the next comma’s name (thousand) and then the remaining number (seven hundred seventy seven).  Goodness, does this look confusing when written out!  I hope it makes sense — I mean, obviously you already understand full well how to read large numbers, but explaining it is a different ball game.  I emphasized that if you “know the commas” and know how to read one-, two- and three-digit numbers, then reading big numbers is a snap.

I showed the kids this website, where you can enter any number you want and it will tell you how to read the number.  It’s pretty fun!

We next talked about place value.  We were practicing writing numbers like four thousand six hundred nine, and a lot of the time we were getting 4,69.  We discussed why that’s not correct and talked about how we needed zero to show that there are no tens.

We did all of this in thirty minutes, so it may require some refreshing at home.  Speaking of which, that’s one other thing we did — I reminded the kids that it is okay, even expected, to feel frustrated when doing the homework.  It is not supposed to be easy.  It is okay if they have to spend some time thinking about it.  Being “smart” doesn’t mean that everything comes easily and we do it perfectly the first time.  It means that we persevere even when things are difficult.  I reminded the kids that the “no crying” rule means they should work to/though frustration but take a break or move on if they become really upset.  These ideas will take time for some of them.  For many of these kids, this is the first truly challenging work they’ve done.  Learning how to deal with that is a process.  It’s not always a fun process (for them or you), but it’s a necessary one.

Homework is a double-sided sheet about writing numbers.  Place value and zeros will probably be the hardest part.  Spelling doesn’t concern me for this assignment, and I told the kids that.  I don’t think any one piece of it should be too challenging, but if it is, let me know and let your child move on/skip that part.

Inventions — First Grade Reading Week of 1/12/15

Today, the first grade readers started a unit about inventions.  To begin, I divided the kids into two groups and gave each group a different object — one group a cup and one received scissors.  I asked the groups to talk to each other about what problem each of the items solved and how the item has helped people.  We discussed the kids’ thoughts.

I then asked the kids if they thought the items were technology.  This is not my first time at the rodeo with this unit, but, for the first time ever, I had two children (in two different classes) who said YES.  We went around the room, and these two kids stood firm even when every other student in the class argued that no, of course these items are not technology.  My heart almost exploded with admiration for them.  I hope they never lose that confidence and ability to express their own viewpoint even when no one else agrees.  (This experience might have helped, since according to the definition we were using, they were correct!).

We talked about the definition of technology — the students decided that to be technology, something must have an outside power source.  The kids specifically mentioned electricity, batteries and solar power.  They came up with these on their own!  I then read them the wikipedia definition of technology:

Technology is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species’ ability to control and adapt to their natural environments.

Based on this definition, what do you think?  Are a cup and scissors technology?  The kids decided that indeed they are.   I assigned the kids homework that had to do with this concept.  There was no worksheet — the homework was just something they were supposed to say to you at the dinner table.  If you don’t think you heard it, ask your child!

Finally, we read a book called Imaginative Inventions by Charise Mericle Harper.  This book uses silly rhymes and illustrations to explain the random ways in which many common items — such as potato chips, the doughnut and (my personal favorite) high-heeled shoes — were invented.  Ask your child how the invention of the doughnut involves a boat, or how long it took between the time eyeglasses were invented until someone came up with the idea to add arms going over ears to keep the glasses on our face.

As our unit progresses, we’ll examine a number of enduring inventions that were actually “accidents.”  I love the idea of leading the students to the realization that  “mistakes” are not just okay, sometimes they’re actually more valuable than if things had gone the way we expected.  Students will also come up with their own inventions.

A special thank you to the Elementary PTA, who helped fund this Inventions Unit through its Teacher Grant Program!

Second Grade Humanities — Can You Dig It? Archaeology and Chronology

Welcome to the new session of Second Grade Humanities!  This time around, we will be studying archeology using a unit called Can You Dig It?  Our first lesson was about chronology and it was entitled “The Time of Your Life.”

We began with a general discussion of archaeology, talking about how it is an examination of the past using artifacts to learn about people, culture, etc.  We discussed how important chronology is in archaeology.  We looked at a timeline of Ben Franklin’s life and identified the parts of a timeline.  We decided that making a timeline is pretty easy if you know when things happened.  Unfortunately, when archaeologists dig up artifacts, they don’t come with ID tags telling the year in which they were used.

I gave each student six strips of paper.  On each strip, they wrote one event in their lifetime and drew an artifact to correspond with that event.  They then mixed up all of the strips.

FullSizeRender Working on the timeline strips.  Hmmm… I wonder if “I was born in Seattle” comes first?

FullSizeRender_1 Vedika works on her strips.

FullSizeRender_2 Preston’s strips are ready to go!

FullSizeRender_3A sample set of strips (I bet this child’s parents know to whom these strips belong!).

Next, the students switched desks and tried to put their partner’s strips in order.  Sometimes, this was easy — especially if they knew the person well and knew where to place strips like “my brother was born.”  Sometimes, it was more difficult.  Especially when certain people tried to be difficult on purpose, coming up with hard-to-place events like “I saw my first parade.”

I think it helped the kids have a sense of the challenge involved in developing a chronology when at an archaeological dig.  At least, I hope it did.  Next week, we’ll be talking about CONTEXT.  After that, we’ll do a little activity designed to show what happens when archaeologists don’t pay careful attention to these factors.  (Hint:  they tend to mess up and get everything all wrong).

Kindergarten Reading Weeks of 1/5/15 and 1/12/15 — Bang, Crash, Boom!

Did you guess last week’s topic based on the title of this post?  We spent our class time discussing everyone’s favorite word (no?  Just me?) onomatopoeia.  Onomatopoeia words, of course, are those that describe a sound, like pow or crash or woof or meow.  In class, we watched a few short clips — the “onomatopoeia song,” an onomatopoeia project put together by two fourth graders, and a clip of tons of song lyrics containing onomatopoeia words. We looked at how onomatopoeia words are often written in big comic book-like bursts.

In class, we made onomatopoeia pictures, picking a word and making it stand out with big letters, bright colors, and a jazzy background.  I also went over the homework, which is a one page sheet of onomatopoeia words.  We talked about how the questions do not necessarily have one write answer (i.e., “sound a cat makes” could be meow, or purrr, or rowr, etc.) and that’s okay.

I was then out the rest of last week with a sick child at home (so if you have a kindergarten or first grade math student and you’re wondering why they didn’t see me last week, now you know).

This week, we talked about homonyms, homophones, and homographs.  I don’t really expect the kids to grasp the difference (or at least I don’t expect them to remember it), but I think it’s important to know that there are different categories.  (Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different meanings; homophones sound alike, and have different meanings but different spellings; homographs are spelled and sound the same but have different meanings).

As part of the lesson, we went over there/their/they’re, to/two/too, and your/you’re.  They may not have it down right now, but if we start emphasizing the difference in kindergarten, you’re child’s future Facebook friends will thank us.

Homework was a one-page sheet writing sentences using homonyms/homophones.