Friday, October 28, 2011

Can you KenKen?

Have you seen this game?  It is one of my FAVORITE puzzles to have on hand when I have a student finish early or need a last minute activity.  I came across this game when I attended the NCTM conference last spring in Indianapolis.  I signed up to get emails from the company and they actually send free puzzles to me every week! The puzzles range from easy to hard (Group) and you get several of each with every email.  I am not being paid to talk about Ken Ken (but it would be nice) I am just truly a big fan! 

Here is a KenKen

Here is a video to show you how to play.

Reasons why I love KenKen: 
  1. They help students with basic skills/mental math.
  2. Students use deductive reasoning and improve problem solving skills.
  3. The puzzles encourage students to become more persistent to find a solution.  

I love KenKens so much that I devoted a whole bulletin board to the puzzle.

If you are interested on getting your hands on some KenKens check out their Website.  Sign up for the emails.  Trust me - you will love the free puzzles! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Group Work Wednesday - Marbles

After a few weeks of group work with the group norms listed on the wall I noticed students still weren't working well together.  I tried grouping students by ability levels but had trouble with my lower students working without a teacher sitting with the group.  I tried mixing up the ability levels but then the high students were too dominant and did not give the lower students time to think.  And of course we all have the students who will let anyone and everyone do the work for them while they either socialize or take a nap.  OK- so I might exaggerate on the nap scenario but the socializing is too much of a reality in 7th grade. 

I needed to get my students to care more about their own learning.  I wanted them to realize their participation in their group impacts their learning every day.  If I could get groups to REALLY work together everyone would become a much stronger math student.  To encourage the practice of group norms I decided to give marbles to groups when I saw them demonstrating a norm.  The marbles are then recorded in my gradebook as a participation grade.  I made it part of their grade so that students start to realize they are not successful unless the GROUP is successful.  Therefore, in order for groups to earn marbles EVERYONE must be practicing the group norm.    

Instead of giving a group a marble for "working well" together (which is too vague for most middle school students) I give a marble to a groups when I see students being patient (waiting for his/her group member to finish writing before moving on to the next problem).  To ensure students knew what I would be looking for we focused on one norm each day for about a week.  

I used "Looks like/Sounds like" flipcharts to help pinpoint specific behaviors.  

 * Please ignore my odd choice of colors as backgrounds* 

In groups then as a class we listed what I would hear or see that would gain a group a marble.  After the list was made I would keep the list up while the groups worked together on the math activity of the day.  I gave marbles for ONLY the group norm for that day  (it was hard at times to give five).

Now that we have practiced all of the group norms individually, I now give marbles for all group norms demonstrated.  I often try to tell students why they are getting the marble so they will repeat the behavior or action.  I also tell students when I want to give them a marble but "can't" when I see a certain group norm not being followed.

In the beginning it was really hard to get around to give marbles because groups still needed so much attention.  I have noticed over the past couple of weeks I am able to walk around more and assess each group more often.  This is a good indication that the marbles are working!  I am looking forward to see continued progress with group work after a couple of months of marbles. 

Stay tuned....

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fall Wreath

As much as I love the upcoming holidays I have a hard time decorating in my classroom.  If I put stuff up I have to actually take it back down.

This year I came across this little gem and was very intrigued if I could actually make it..
 If you want to make one yourself click HERE

This Wreath is SOOO easy!! All you need is foam board, fake leaves (I got both from the dollar store), twine,  and the trusty glue gun! I added a couple of extra pumpkins to make it my own.  

Here is my version: 
 I bought the pumpkins and the bow from Michaels.

I decided to bring this to school since I am in my classroom more than home during the week.  It brings a little smile to my face when I see it :)

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Group Work Wendnesday

My focus this year is to find strategies to help my students work in successful groups.  I started off the school year by having my students work in groups on the very first day.  I had my students participate in the "broken circles" activity from this AWESOME book.

I have tried many of the activities in this book to teach students the importance of group norms but my favorite is the "broken circles" activity.

The template to make the circle pieces can be found in the book.  A fellow math teacher enlarged the circles and cut them out on card stock.  After doing the activity I want to use a thicker material like foam board so students can see the small gaps when their pieces don't fit perfectly.  

I use the following flipchart pages during the activity.
(Thank you Ms. Nelson for creating these for our department!)

I have students take a few minutes to reflect on the last slide's questions individually and then we discuss them as a class.  After we have discussed these questions I asked the groups to generate group norms for the class to follow based off of the circle activity. 

2011/2012 Group Norms:
Let everyone participate
Eye contact
Be patient 
Focus on the group (not just yourself)   * my favorite*
Be involved
Share Ideas

I loved what my students came up with and wanted to keep these norms in the front of their minds.  I created a bellringer the next day for students to vote on the most important group norm.  Here are the results:

Let everyone participate was thought to be most important - by a long shot!

I posted the group norms and ranked them from "most" important to "least" important according to my students.  I didn't actually number them because I wanted everyone to value all the norms.
**I don't know what I was thinking with the pink "O" and "M".. They were switched out for the purple the day after I took this picture.**

  I point to the group norms almost daily throughout group activities.  I also always remind students that THEY came up with the norms so they should be able to practice them in their groups.  I really like having group norms rather than rule or expectations.  I feel that although my students need frequent reminders they embrace the norms and take them seriously in their groups.  

Happy Wednesday! 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Math Goal Sheet

My district practices full inclusion for math so students who are normally in a self contained class for other subjects come to me for two periods a day (block scheduling).  My inclusion class has 25 students and 7 of those students have an IEP.  Needless to say I have the daily challenge of meeting a very WIDE range of needs to ensure that every student is learning.  I have a special ed teacher who comes in to co-teach but sometimes I feel that I need about 6 extra teachers to make sure everyone is engaged with their group.  Over the past couple of weeks I have felt very frustrated with students' lack of self control and sense of accountability.  

My biggest concern for my students is the awareness of what is happening around them.  EVERYDAY we start class with getting out our assignment notebooks and writing down the homework assignment.  EVERYDAY we are waiting for the same 5 students who sit down, sharpen their pencil, talk to people at their table (who are writing down their homework), and wait for directions (that had already been announced).  This routine takes up almost (sometimes more) than 10 minutes of class.  
If it takes 10 minutes to write down homework you can imagine how long it takes to get through a lesson.  If my days continued this way I going to LOSE It!

I called a meeting with two of the special ed teachers and a social worker to create a plan for our struggling students.  We picked a few behaviors that we wanted students to focus on during class.  Our wonderful social worker then created a half sheet for students to help them monitor positive behaviors in class.  

I present you our DAILY MATH GOAL sheet.. 

My co-teacher or I initial in the boxes when we see the behaviors listed.  If they reach five initialed boxes they earn a piece of candy.

We have been using this sheet for about a week and I have seen some success with a few of the students.  Other students have not bought into it.  I am thinking I need a bigger reward than candy so my next step will be to find a way to get some $5 gift cards to popular stores for students to earn.  Once they have had a certain amount of successful days they will earn a gift card. 

I really think if students have an immediate reward (candy) and a long term goal (gift card) we will see greater results with all of our students who are using the sheet!

I am keeping my fingers crossed and will keep you posted!