Sunday, February 7, 2016

5 Smart Strategies for Problem Solving

When I was a little girl I hated math.

Like despised it.

I was the child that took forever to memorize math facts, stared blankly at word problems, and suddenly had to go to the bathroom when it was math time.

Sound familiar?

It just didn't make SENSE to me. I had no idea why some problems meant to add and others meant to divide.

Now this, this made sense to me:

As a teacher, I tried to helped kids "get" math and problem solving.  I really wanted them to understand the why, and not just the how.  However, it took me a very long time to get there and I had lots of "learning experiences" in between! LOL

Here are some strategies that I learned over the years, to help students solve world problems.

Forget the Key Words
This is a tricky one and there are lots of different opinions on this.  For the most part, I avoided teaching students key words in math problem solving.  Why?  Well, they didn't always WORK.  Instead of focusing on what the problems was asking for, students zoomed in on a key word and some numbers.  BOOM!  They had an answer.  They just didn't understand WHY it was the answer or explain how they got it....other than "I added."

Jessica over at What I have Learned wrote a great blog post about NOT teaching key words in problem solving.  You can read it here.

Increase or Decrease?
Often, I tried to get kids to focus on the the answer going to increase or decrease?  Are we getting more or less? Most kids, even some with language processing issues, could understand and usually get if the answer was going to get "bigger" or "smaller."

This is an important skill.  First, it helps kids understand what is even being asked.  Second, it can help students choose an operation to help solve the problem.

Which leads me to my next point.

Teach the Relationship Between the Operations
Each year (especially in third grade, where are four operations are taught), I made an anchor chart with students.  It looked like this:

We added to it all year long, as we learned more about each operation.  On the edges of the poster we made notes about how addition and multiplication usually led to a larger answer (when working with whole numbers) and division and subtraction usually led to a smaller answer. I showed this with the arrows.  We also talked about how addition -subtraction and multiplication-division were inverse relationships.

I kept this anchor chart up all year for students to reference.

Help Students Visualize Problem Solving
There are many awesome ways to help students solve the problems. There are great acronyms and graphic organizers.  I liked to keep it as simple as possible.

I used this format:

Understanding Word Problems
Well, this tip isn't rocket science, but I still felt it need to be said.  Students need time to master problem solving with ONE step word problems, before moving on two step problems.  I know this is a hard one, because it is explicitly states in the second grade CCS that students need to solve two step word problems.  However, if kids aren't ready for it...they aren't ready for it.  This is when math groups are really your best option.  Kids can work on the word problems of varying styles and steps, with a varying amount of teacher support.

When students ARE ready for two step word problems, I tried to help students understand what was going on with ALL THOSE WORDS.

We asked ourselves who, what, how, and made a plan.  You can see the anchor chart below on how we color coded the problem to match.  We didn't do this with EVERY problem, just when we were modeling our thinking.

In this post, I shared how students can create their OWN word problems.  This will also lead to a deeper understanding of how word problems work!

Do you have any other tips to help students with problem solving?

  If you would like more ideas from me, be sure to follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers, Pinterest, and Facebook to catch all the freebies and ideas and more!

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sharing Sunday: February Fun and FREEBIES

February is just around the corner. For real.  And with it comes chocolate.  Lots and lots of chocolate. Which leads to...

and then I avoid that box of chocolate and eat my salad and

Sigh. Well, maybe we can just do flowers this year! LOL!

I am back to join up at the Primary Peach for Sharing Sunday! Looking for lots of goodies? Make sure to check out all the other Sharing Sunday links below!

I organized lots of my own freebies, other sellers freebies that suited the units of study, and some of my products to help you.  Click on the pictures.  They will take you to a pdf file.  If you download the pdf file, all the images (and the highlighted text) are hyperlinked to the products and freebies. 

First up, is a look at reading!  In February we studied fairy tales and folk tales.  We  focused on plot, recounting stories, and comparing and contrasting.  We also looked at the character's responses to events.  The unit covered MANY standards.

Click on the picture to see the links to free online books and several recounting and comparing freebies!

In math we focused on problem solving in both addition and subtraction.  It was also a great way to throw in a little money!

Make sure to click on the picture to get to the pdf file.  Then, click on the pictures for the freebies.  There are FOUR different freebies on this one page alone!  

In writing and grammar we finished up informational writing and started opinion writing.  There is a great smaller pack perfect for research famous African Americans. We also started our opinion unit.  This unit isn't themed and can be used at any time. We also studied pronouns and reflexive pronouns.

Make sure to click on the picture and then download the pdf to get your freebies- there are THREE freebies on this page!

This last page is mostly for centers and assessments.  I have my easy February Math Printables.  These are great for assessments- just a quick and dirty one! LOL!  The Literacy Activities are great for independent practice and many of the skills are practiced in the context of a passage. My math centers are also included- they are perfect for differentiation.  They also include extra practice worksheets for each skill!

Make sure to click on the picture and then download the pdf to get your freebie- there is a free math center with extra practice pages!

 One last little tidbit. Do you follow my store? If you don't, I highly recommend it!  Each month I try my best to send a little present jammed packed with NEW and exclusive freebies. It only is available to store followers. I am going to try to send it out soon.  If you don't follow, now might be a good time....;)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Super Charge Your Math Instruction {FREEBIES}

January is ALWAYS a good time to reflect on your practices in your classroom. Maybe it was my personal love of reading or the fact that I went back to school for my Masters in Reading, but I always found this area was easy to reflect upon.  There are tons of great professional texts that are easy reading.  Math, well not so much- at least for me!  I hated math as a child and dreaded it in college.

Even though it was harder for me, I still did find joy in teaching math.  I liked seeing the light bulb moments and it is easier to “see” student thinking.

So how can you reflect upon your math instruction and make it even better for 2016?  Here are a few ideas to get you started!

Kids need to talk.  Not just to get the wiggles out, but also to organize their thinking.  It is as important in math as it is when discussing a story.

This research article is more about teaching an effective lesson.  However, you can't ignore all the times class discussion is mentioned.

 However, it is important to give students a frame work to help them realize what on task and relevant discussion looks like and sounds like.

Consider creating an anchor chart like this one with your students during a whole group lesson. Please note, NONE of these are my original anchor charts.  Click on the pictures to see the original image and blog post (and author)! 

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You can practice these same ideas during guided math groups. This gives students scaffolding and support so it will be easier to transfer to independent work time.

One of my most FAVORITE ways to get kids talking is math games! This automatically gives them something relevant and engaging to talk about.  I have written and shared several FREE ideas for math games.  You can read about those here and here.

I love this article on WHY your should play math games.

Games are an important tool for learning in elementary school mathematics classrooms:
•     Playing games encourages strategic mathematical thinking as students find different strategies for solving problems and deepen their understanding of numbers.
•     When played repeatedly, games support students’ development of computational fluency.
•     Games present opportunities for practice, often without the need for teachers to provide the problems. Teachers can then observe or assess students and work with individuals or small groups of students.
•     Games have the potential to allow students to develop familiarity with the number system and with “benchmark numbers” (such as 10s, 100s, and 1000s) and engage in computation practice, building a deeper understanding of operations.
•     Games support a school-to-home connection. Parents can learn about their children’s mathematical thinking by playing games with them at home."

Kitty Rutherford, April 27, 2015 

Looking for some new math games?  I just started this Pinterest board!  Most of them are FREE!

Before having your kids play math games, you may want to read this post.  It has lots of tips to make game playing much smoother! 

Real world application can be VERY hard in the classroom.  But it is so important- isn't it the reason we need math anyway!  To apply it in our lives!?!?

I think one of my most favorite lessons a friend of mine did MANY moons ago (love ya, Julie!).  She told the students (4th grade) the gym floor was going to be refinished and we needed to find the area of the floor to figure out flooring.  The gym was a separate building, so kids used yardsticks to measure the perimeter to find the area.  SO MANY standards covered.

Marilyn Burns is a math guru.  She has a blog and one of the post categories is real world math.  You can see all these posts here.

Another great place to find ideas for Real World Problems is Miss Math Dork's blog series, Math IS Real Life.  You can check it out here on her blog or see her Pinterest board here.

Problem solving is SO important.  And it is SO hard.  I remember when I was a child, I DREADED word problems.  Nothing put me closer to tears in school.  The reality is, that kids need to understand how word problems work.  I guess you could say it is an abstract application of real world word problems, right?

In second grade students need to master problem solving situations.  I found this graphic with the situations here.

It can be hard to find resources with all the problem solving situations.  I wrote this resource to include all the situations as journal prompts.  I also tried to differentiate them with to include problems with and without regrouping. I also included some activities for one and two step word problems.

Another way to take problem solving to the next level AND ensure students really "get it," is to have STUDENTS create the problem.  This activity basically differentiates itself.  Higher students can create multi-step problems and lower students can create simpler problems with one basic operation.

In these problems, the teacher provides the answer. STUDENTS create the problem and ensure that it equals the answer. LOTS of higher level thinking skills.

I love this poster from Elementary AMC

I wasn’t able to find many resources for this concept.  Maybe I was searching under the wrong terms? I created this freebie.  If it is something you like, I would be happy to create a longer product with several more examples and pages!

Another really hard skill for kids is error analysis.  This is a fantastic way to see how kids attend to detail and understand the process of the problem.

I love this post by Teaching to Inspire with Jennifer FindleyIt discusses more complex problem solving, since Jennifer teaches upper grades.  However, conceptually it is the same.

 In my January Math Centers, I created an two-digit error analysis center for subtraction.  I differentiated it by difficulty of the problem. You can snag it as a FREEBIE below!  Enjoy!

How do YOU supercharge your math instruction?  Have any advice?


   If you would like more ideas from me, be sure to follow me on Teachers Pay TeachersPinterest, and Facebook to catch all the freebies and ideas and more!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Conferencing During Math Workshop

I am so excited to have another guest post today!  Tammy, from The Owl Teacher, is here to share ideas for conferencing during math workshop.  While I did do math workshop for many years, I NEVER felt like I did a good job with conferencing.  It felt just out of my grasp for some reason. 

I love these steps Tammy shared- so practical and easy to implement! Ready to read what she shares?


Conferencing is a fundamental part of math workshop.  It is the heart and soul of your teaching.  Here is where we connect with our students and gain a deeper understanding of what makes them 'tick.'

Before I explain conferring in math workshop, I want to first give a disclaimer.  If you are new to math workshop, don't feel the need or rush to grasp conferring.  First begin understanding math workshop and its routines.  Then once you feel comfortable with that, begin conferring.  It's better do a few things well, than everything poorly.

I love conferring.  Conferring is where you gain knowledge of what students understand and what they are struggling with specifically.  Then using that knowledge, you are able to create short, individualized lessons to pinpoint those specific needs.

You may wish to choose ahead of time who you want to confer with or just simply look around, observe students while they are working and decide then.  Not all students need to be conferred with regularly nor does the student who you choose to confer with have to be a struggling student.
So what does conferring look like?

The first part is research.  During this stage, you will approach a student quietly and sit next to him or her.  During that time you will observe and take notes of what the student is trying to do.  First initiate with a broad general question asking to explain what he or she is doing.  For instance you may say, "Tell me about what you are working on."  You may ask probing questions as you progress, but remember you are searching for evidence of understanding and if the student can apply the concept appropriately.  Scan the student's work and reflect on any previous notes you have.  You do not want to devote too much time to this stage nor do you want to get off track.  Try to guide the student away from areas that won't extend your knowledge.

After observing a student and determining what he or she knows, you then decide on what your teaching point will be and how you will teach it.  You may choose to accept or alter a student's strategy and/or process.  Sometimes there may be no obvious lesson or other times there may be so many you don't know where to start.  Determine what teaching point is the most critical at that time and then note the other areas to touch on later.

After you have decided what your teaching point will be, explicitly tell and show the student.  It's important that you are coming across as a partner sharing knowledge.  It's also vital that you are providing specific, descriptive feedback of what the student has done well and what he or she may want to reconsider.  You may wish to demonstrate or provide guided practice. 
The last part of conferring with a student is to linkDuring this stage, you are renaming the strategy or teaching point using mathematical vocabulary and reminding the student to use it in the future.  Sometimes I will even ask the student to restate my teaching point by asking, "Okay, tell me what you have just learned" or "Talk me through this problem here."  Students should then return to work and apply their new knowledge.

A few notes...

One thing I want to mention is that conferencing is meant to be brief.  It's not a tutoring session but more about taking something a student can almost do and giving that little nudge to doing it independently.  We are more of an encourager that builds the much needed confidence.  Sometimes there will be students who need more than just a nudge because, honestly, they just aren't getting it.  Conferencing is not the place for it.  When that happens, we need to pull students into a group to reteach and reinforce for more targeted teaching.  From time to time, you may also notice that several students (or even your entire class) are struggling with certain concepts.  This is a great opportunity to take a step back and replan your mini-lessons.  Lastly, you will always want to follow up with your students after a few days to see if they are still applying the teaching point from your conference.

Most importantly, conferring takes a little time to get use to.  Don't feel discouraged if you aren't able to immediately meet with many students, keep them brief, or remember each step.  Over time, with practice you will have it down with no problems!  Just don't give up because in the end, it's worth it!

Looking for other awesome math posts by Tammy?  Check these out!



Saturday, December 12, 2015

Easy Holiday Baking (For People That Don't Bake)

I am so excited to be linking up with Classroom Tested Resources to share my FAVORITE holiday baking recipes!!

I love the thought of making Christmas cookies for my girls and giving lovely plates of cookies craftily wrapped with springs of evergreen to my neighbors.

But let's get real.

Baking with small children is hard.  And generally, not the most sanitary.  So, the LAST thing I want to do is wrap any of our personalized germs up to share with neighbors!

Instead, I try to get my holiday baking done during nap time.  This means I only have a short, uninterrupted time to work. I made all THREE of these recipes during nap time (2 and a half hours- it was a long one) AND cleaned up.  It was magical!

This is an oldie, but goodie!  White chocolate dipped pretzel rods!

To make these I simply melted a bag of white chocolate chips in the microwave (following the directions on the bag).

I dipped the pretzel rods and set on a wire rack to harden.   I did put wax paper under the rack for easy clean up.  Then, I shook Christmas colored sprinkles all over the white chocolate. 

I  found some small, cellophane bags at Wal-Mart and wrapped two to a bag! Super cute and easy clean up!

Have you ever made these pretzel treats?

These are so easy and kids can help with these, if you want ;).

You just need Butter Snap pretzels (they look like windows), M&M's, and Hersey kisses.  I used a combination of regular kisses and peppermint kisses. 

Lay out the pretzels on a baking sheet.  Heat the oven to about 325 degrees. Put one kiss on each pretzel.  Pop in the oven for about 2-5 minutes- just long enough to soften the chocolate without burning it.  Take the pan out of the oven.  Squish one M&M on top of each kiss. I put the pan in the refrigerator to cool quickly.

Note to self- the peppermint kisses melted way too quickly compared to the chocolate kisses.  They were a hot mess.  Tasty, but messy! Next time, I will stick with the chocolate kisses.

The last recipe is the most involved: Peppermint Bark Brownies!  Mmmm!  

However, it has three ingredients so how hard can it be, right!?!?!

I just made the brownies as directed on the box.  

Then, after the brownies cooled I made peppermint bark by melting white chocolate in the microwave and stirring in crushed peppermints.  Then, I poured it over the brownies like a frosting. They did take a bit to cool.

Want a quick printable recipe so you make your own brownies?

Looking for some more yummy recipes?  Check out all these links below!!!