Saturday, June 30, 2012

Words for the Week

 I hope you are all carving out time for fun with friends and families this summer.  Having an extended summer break is one of the greatest benefits of our jobs...I try to take advantage!  Some of us went to Kings Fest for a concert.  Don't you love outdoor summer concerts?  This one featured Kutlass, Need to Breathe, Jamie Grace and Casting Crowns. Great live music, dancing and fun! I am  inspired by great lyrics.  I just added this song by Bebo Norman to my IPod mix:  

 They make great words for the week-what do you think?   I'm heading to the beach this weekend so I'm sending this out a day early! Have a great week!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Independent Reading and the Reading Journal

Hee-Hee! A little reading humor may be a good way to start this post!
I think most reading researchers are in agreement that independent reading time is an essential component in a balanced literacy program.  The problem here is that with our schedules as tight as they are, we don't have minute to waste.  Students MUST be making wise reading selections and MUST be reading for the duration.  How can we help this process along?

I know many of us spend time reinforcing correct book collection with minilessons centered around How to Pick Good Fit Books

I make students accountable for recording their book choice and reading level in a reading journal each day.  This helps me to be sure they are all reading on their independent reading level and are not abandoning book after book.  I want to see that they are developing their reading stamina and finishing books. If some are having trouble, I give them limited choice which means I put about 6-7 books out that I know are on their level and they may be interested in and they choose from those.

After we all have appropriate books to read, students get an opportunity to practice using the skills and strategies we have been working on.  I allow students to venture away from their desk areas to a comfortable place as a way to make reading an enjoyable part of the day.  Again, they must be accountable for their actions if they are to earn this right.

Here are students reading at their "Book Nook".  Beth Newingham first introduced this idea on her website years ago. I believe my students are less distracted away from their seats and their "stuff". 
If they still are still too squirrly at their book nook-they lose their right to have it and must read at the back table close to me.  Debbie Diller says, "Proximity breeds engagement."  Absolutely!

Here is the Book Nook chart that I use in my classroom.  Students' names are drawn randomly and clipped to a special reading spot.  Students stay "eligible" for a book nook by using their reading time wisely and doing "real reading".

So how do we know students are really reading, really thinking?  This is where their reading journal responses give me insight into their thoughts.   Students are assigned to write me a reading response letter once a week.  This gives me valuable information as to whether or not they are reading for meaning.  Here is the letter that they will glue inside their reading journal.  On the next page, they have thinking stems that help them to develop their thoughts about books.  I think the trick here is to do some whole group shared writing of responses so students get the idea of what they should include. Then they will be more successful in writing them independently. 
Once all my students are settled and reading, it is time for me to make "my rounds".  Like a doctor working on making his way through to all his patients, I visit various students, doing check ups on how they are reading and prescribing strategies that may help them develop further as readers. I record information about my visits with students in my own reading notebook.

I am the queen of the sticky notes and prewrite names on the students I want to see for the day and make sure they have been seen and marked on before the end of the week.  Nothing fancy, no elaborate spreadsheet,  but it works for me. Listening to and talking with my readers gives me extremely valuable from a reading test or comprehension worksheet just doesn't compare to what these miniconferences  tell me about my readers.  

After posting the math journal inserts, I had many requests to share the other journal ideas and printables I use.  I reworked some of the reading ones  and have bundled them. I've also included print outs for those who would like to make a BOOK NOOK poster for your classroom.
You can grab copies to download by clicking here:

Now I would love to hear what you have to say about independent reading time.
Email me with your comments or thoughts:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Achieving Graphing Greatness : A Unit on Data and Graphing

 Hah! Thanks to Bridgett for sending this my way! It made me laugh... then it made me think. I wonder how many of my students have felt like this?

In the NCTM's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics 2000 publication they suggest: Understanding should be the goal for all mathematics we teach.   The single most important principle for improving the teaching of mathematics is to allow the subject of mathematics to be problematic
So how can we teach through problem based tasks instead of the traditional teacher directed lesson?
Books like this one from Van de Walle provide great ideas on the topic:
Here is another resource to explore a  more child centered approach to teaching math.

Let's take a look at problem based learning and how it may fit in a graphing unit.

Third graders are coming to us with prior experiences with data and graphing.  My lessons on the various graphs we need to cover begin with a real life  "Teacher Problem".  Students must use their background on graphing to help their teacher come up with a solution to her problem.  I will tell you that you will quickly learn who knows what about graphing when you begin with a problem. Great way to assess! 

One of the first problems I introduce involves students figuring out a better way to organize lunch choice data.  I provide the problem and they work toward a solution.   I am merely a "guide on the side" as Barbara Blanke has suggested.  This can be really difficult.  No more teacher show and tell sessions! This is where I need to remember that the student struggle is an important part of the learning process.  I am working on becoming more proficient in asking good math questions that can help my students make important  math discoveries.
After we have worked through problems involving each type of graph we will share what we have learned about each one.  This helps students organize their thinking and can serve as a sort of exit ticket idea.
Problem based math does take more time than the traditional "I'll show - you learn" methods.  I look for ways to integrate content into my math time in an effort to maximize my time.  In this one, students are getting mapping practice as they hunt down how many rivers, interstates, parks, lakes, and mountains they can find on a Virginia state map. 

Poetry can be a great way to integrate reading into math time.  After reading "Choosing Shoes" we meet in a circle and all take off one  shoe. We placed them all in the center of our huge circle. Then  we work on classifying and categorizing our shoes in a variety of ways before we settle on a way we can graph the most popular shoes people are wearing.
Students need to have a good grasp of math vocabulary.  I want students to be comfortable reading, understanding and using these words as we math talk our problems.  Some focused attention on the words is sometimes necessary.  Here are picture word cards we use throughout the study of graphs and data.

In the end, I need  students to be skilled at using the best graph for particular types of information.  Having  students compare/contrast the different types of graphs helps them to gain a better understanding  allowing them to make correct choices.

Here are some of my favorite read alouds.  A quick read aloud before our lesson helps focus our attention and is a great "hook".  
Books like this one are great to keep at math stations for students to read if they finish their tasks before time is up. 

I really like this one that is problem based and engaging. In this book children are using graphs to help them run a lemonade stand. 
Interested in seeing more of this unit?
Check out TPT:

I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on teaching math through a problem based approach!
Are you doing it?  Do you see value in it?
Email me!!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday's Words for the Week

Tim, publisher/editor of In Shallow Waters, sent me this one.  I immediately printed it and hung it in my office at home and wanted to share it with you.  Isn't this a great thought? Couldn't we all use more exclamations in our life story? I think it is time to revise my composition!  Have a great  week...write yourself some good lines!  -Doris

Friday, June 22, 2012

Questions and Answers

Many of you know that I've got sleep issues and so I do much of my work in the wee hours of the morning with the sound of my snoring family in the background.  My daughter, Sarah, is away at camp for the week. I'm wondering how she is making out in this extreme heat and the thought of that is making it even harder to stay asleep.  So  instead of sleeping I've tried to tackle my email inbox.  Please forgive me for not replying to questions earlier!  The end of the school year was CRAZY busy for me. As I was  going through emails last night,  I realized I've started  to lose track of who I got back to and who I did not. 

So, I'm going to respond here to some frequent questions:
Playlist:  Yes, PLAYLIST won't allow full embedding and playing through a blog anymore.  I know many people emailed about enjoying the music.  You can still access my playlist through the button below without keeping Third Grade Thinkers open or you can create your own playlist.  It's all free!

Scribd:  I know some are saying Scribd is not working for you or they have placed some of my stuff in the archive.   I'm moving over to using TPT.  Get an account (free) if you don't have one.  I'll post my free stuff on there from now on.

Math Journal Pages: Many of you have requested more math journal pages.  I'm working on putting my documents together as unit packets.  Check back as I will post about that soon. It will be nice to have everything in one spot.

Writing:  Many have asked which resource I like best for writing.  There is ALOT out there but my favorite is the 6+1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham.  I base much of what I do in writing on that book.

Church: Many have asked about my church. I go to Riverside First Church of God on Bragg Rd. in Fredericksburg.   LOVE it there. You can listen to the Lifewater Series sermons on the webpage.  Here is the link:

Ok, hoping I've hit on some of your questions!    PLEASE email me again if I've not responded to your question.  I've got more time now, it's important to me and I really want to!  Thanks for understanding- Doris

Monday, June 18, 2012

Developing Number Sense: Let's Play a Game

I totally agree with the NCTM on this one and I do believe that with time and attention all students can gain solid mathematical understanding. But I will say that it is a challenge to provide the time that some students need. Our third grade math curriculum is jam packed and if we are to get students prepared for the state tests we need to keep a fast pace. Unfortunately, some students enter third grade with limited number sense.  I recognize how important a firm understanding of the number system is if they are to understand more than just a procedure to follow to get a right answer. 

Here is where I rely on guided math and math stations.  Here is a fun but effective number chart game to give students more exposure to patterns and number relationships.  It was one of my students' favorites last year.  Teach it in the fall and keep it in the rotation for the year.  I promise kids will want to play it and will stay engaged while you meet with small math groups.   When I introduced it I used cheerios to represent the flying saucers and they got to munch and play if they were being productive but after the initial teaching, we used small circle markers.

Would you like to give it a try with your kids?  It's free on  TeachersPayTeachers Come grab it here!

I know, I know, some of you are asking what's up with all the math posts! Actually math is on my brain since a friend and I are doing some math work on the side and it would help if some of you would/could review this game for me in a comment or email. I'd love to know what grade you teach and if you think this would be something that might help your students. Thanks a bunch!  I promise language arts stuff is in the works too!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday's Words for the Week

Gosh, I love these lines.  They really speak to me. 

This weekend we dropped my daughter off at an away camp.  She brought one small bag of clothes and a pillow and sleeping bag.  She is out in the woods with no cell phone, Ipad, Ipod, computer, tv, nothing.  I was in awe of her contentment, her happiness.   She was super excited to go and  just be outdoors with her friends.  She'll swim, hike, climb, boat and will enjoy every minute. She will come home with nothing purchased, but her mind loaded with  fun memories that no one can take away and that  won't get discarded or thrown away later on down the road.

So this summer I can learn a lesson from my daughter.  I can  focus on something other than the stuff in my life.
  I can do more and be more.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Algebraic Thinking in Third Grade: Exploring Equality

My ideas on teaching math have evolved through the years. One point that I am convinced of is that it is never too early to start thinking in terms of algebra. Algebra in the early years helps to set the groundwork for later learning. Having a high school son who just finished Algebra 2 has convinced me of that. If students are to solve for unknown variables later on, they need lots of experiences with situations involving the idea of equality now.
One misconception some third graders have from the start is  that the equal sign means : "the answer is".  Early on I do a quick mini lesson on the symbol itself.  We soon discover that we can replace the symbol with the words  "is the same as" or "has the same value as" .  I like to jumpstart this lesson by reading this cute book:

From there we start exploring the idea of equality with this equation balance scale.  Students LOVE using it and  makes the learning concrete. It is a MUST HAVE tool in my classroom.
Here are some other balance scale games that I have found online. I love lots of the crickweb games. You can find all kinds of engaging math games on this site.
Here is an app for the IPAD using a number balance.
Have you checked out the illuminations site? FANTASTIC resource from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

I understand the importance of multiple exposures to math concepts so I will introduce a few games that deal with equality.
They will get placed in our math station boxes for use throughout the year.
Here is a game that gives students practice identifying if addition equations are equal, greater than or less than each other. It has students identify statements as true or false.  The key to the success of this game is making students accountable for proving their thinking instead of just calling out true or false. They must tell why it is true or false.  Students are tested in similar ways on the standardized tests they face at the end of the year so it is great practice for this as well.

You can grab yourself a copy of this game here:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Effective Math Instruction and Journaling

Ha!  Isn't this the truth!
 We met to discuss the results of our spring math test before school let out.  It was a tough test and the rigor has been increased tremendously.  Students need to work through tough multistep questions and must be flexible in using logic and strong reasoning skills  if they are to do well on these tests.
Because of the new testing expectations, teachers are gearing up and planning on spending even more time and attention on improving mathematics instruction.
So herein lies a positive outcome! 

One important component of my math program is the math journal.
My students split a marble composition book  in half last year.  The first half was for note writing and the second half was for problem solving.

Sometimes I will give my students a math problem to respond to in their journals.Other times it is much more open ended and students respond to their learning using a thinking stem (see below).
I am careful about what I use for graded pieces here.  I am fearful that a graded journal would communicate that there is a "right" or "wrong" response.  I would rather see the journal used for a place to write about their insights, understandings or partial understandings, connections, conjectures, and questions. I learn so much about what they know from reading these journals.

Note taking, including math vocabulary was done in the same journal but in another section.  We often referred to prior learning before starting something new.  Having notes recorded was helpful in building these bridges.  

Here are some inserts that I use in the front of the math journal:
Here is an example of the student math responsibilities that I stress with all students. Being a productive math student fits in with our PBIS behavior plan.  

Our school system is using the Exemplar Program to help students develop further in the area of problem solving.  Next year I plan on focusing much more on this.  We use a standard rubric to assess students.  Key here is to teach the rubric to the students so they begin taking control over their own math learning and development.

Here are some of the math inserts I use for the math journal.  Visit me on Teachers Pay Teachers to grab a free download of the ones shown below.