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Fraction Number Strings

Using number strings to get the fifth graders to add unlike denominators in their head.We are knee deep into our fractions unit and I wanted to share something that has been rather successful in getting my students to recognize landmark fractions and decimals:  Number Strings.

What are number strings, you ask?  Well, they are similar to number talks in that it is a way to get the kids to *mentally* think about the math that they are doing.  What makes them different is that the number strings focus on ONE strategy to get the students solving problems, as opposed to the several strategies that number talks promote.

Since we are working on adding and subtracting fractions, my math coach gave me this book Minilessons for Operations with Fractions, Decimals, and Percents: A Yearlong Resource (Contexts for Learning Mathematics) to help me get started.  The first number string that is presented shows the kids how to equate certain fractions with money.  Money is so common amongst the kids, that they instantly related.  Showing the kids that 1/2 is just like $0.50, or two quarters....well, they get it.  Then you tell them that 1/4 is like $0.25 or 1 quarter.  Bingo...lightbulbs.  So if you add 1/2 + 1/4 it is like adding $0.50 and $0.25.  That is $0.75, or three quarters....3/4!  Boom!

Once you show them that, you do another problem, this time with 3/4 + 1/2. Since they already know those landmark decimals, it isn't too hard.  $0.75 + $0.50 = 5 quarters or $1.25 or 1 1/4.

This was our first number string.

Using number strings to get the fifth graders to add unlike denominators in their head.
I promise you, ALL of this was done in their head.  All of it.  I just wrote down what they said.

The next day, we added 1/5 in there.  1/5 = $0.20.  And 1/10, which was $0.10.   And 1/20.  When I asked my students what they thought 1/20 was, there was literally no hesitation.  Hands went up all around saying $0.05.

Then, we did mixed numbers and improper fractions.

Then subtraction.

Seriously, these are amazing.  The kids are adding fractions with unlike denominators IN THEIR HEADS!!  I can not believe it.  There has been a shift in the way that they even think about fractions.  Equating them to decimals naturally really has made all of the difference in the world.

Now this is only the first strategy that the number strings book presents. There are MANY, MANY more.  They truly are fantastic.  If you already do number talks, this is a must to add.

A great website to check out is Number Strings.  There are so many great ideas there too!

Do you do number strings?  Do you have any advice you care to share?

Collaborative Colonial Slides Project

Creating a slide for a collaborative google slides presentation.  21st century learning in a 5th grade classroom.
The longer I teach, the bigger the bag of tricks I acquire.  This makes things very easy when, from year to year, I teach the same subjects and can assign the same projects.  But this year, with the introduction of Google Classroom into my bag, I am able to change things up like never before.  One example is how I am now able to do collaborative group projects.

So each year, as we begin to talk about the 13 colonies, I have my students research the 3 different colonial regions and create a poster to share with the class that includes the major economy, religious influences, reasons for founding, and the climate/geography of the area. Usually what ends up happening is that one kid takes over the group and does a majority of the work (sound familiar??)  This year, I decided to switch it up.

I had my students create a shared Google Slide presentation. 

I know what you are thinking.  HOW did you do this?  Well, I will break it down for you.

First, as a class we read an introduction on each of the three colonial regions that was found in our social studies text book.  I modeled some note taking strategies and close reading techniques as we went.  Then, I assigned each student to a colonial region group.  I have 3-4 students per group, so there are a few New England, a few Middle, and a few Southern colonies groups.  Each group was then given the criteria for the assignment.  I wanted them to each have at least one slide they were responsible for, so there were a total of 5 slides that needed to be created.  Here is the actual criteria I laid out for them.

Creating a slide for a collaborative google slides presentation.  21st century learning in a 5th grade classroom.

Next, before I gave out any of the chromebooks, each of the groups had to come up with a game plan for what their presentation would look like.  I just asked them to sketch out the slides and draw what they thought they would put on them (where would the paragraphs go, pictures, titles, etc..) and to decide who was in charge of which slide.

Creating a slide for a collaborative google slides presentation.  21st century learning in a 5th grade classroom.Once that was taken care of, each group got the chromebooks.  The "leader" of each group gathered the email addresses of everyone, created a slide presentation in Google Slides, and shared it with each group member.  This part was really not that hard at all.  The group leader just needed to make sure that all of the email addresses were correct and they were off.

After that, the kids pretty much just got to work.  They set out on their agreed upon slide and started compiling research from their social studies text, information texts that I gave them, and internet research (though they were to keep that to a minimum so that they could actually work.)

It truly, honestly, without a doubt, was AMAZING what was going on.  The kids were collaborating in a way I have never seen them do so before.  The productive talk was fantastic.  Everyone was on task.  It truly was spectacular.

Creating a slide for a collaborative google slides presentation.  21st century learning in a 5th grade classroom.Beware though.  Deleting slides is very, very difficult to undo when the kids are working like this.  Since they are all typing at the same time, it messes the computer up on the undo amounts and it just won't go back far enough sometimes.  There is also a "comment" feature where the kids can talk to each other on the slides.  So far, my students have been very responsible with it (asking things like, "How do I add a text box again?" and "I want to change the background to blue" type things)  I can see that there could be a problem in the future though, so I am monitoring it as I walk around. 

Once the slide shows were completed, I had each of the groups practice their presentation.  They then shared the slide show with me (which you could most definitely do at the beginning to monitor it more closely...I just didn't on this one) and I projected it as the groups presented.  21st Century collaboration and presentation at its finest.

How have you used Google Slides in your classroom?  Have you done any other collaborative projects??

Theme, Google Docs, and Tagxedo

Using Google Docs and Tagxedo to help the students publish their writing about the theme of a bookIf you read my last post, you know how much I am in love with Google Classroom right now.  With that, came my exploration of Google Docs.  I wanted to share with you the first project we did using the Google Doc and another site called Tagxedo.

In class, we have been discussing theme in children's literature.  This isn't exactly the easiest of topics. In fact, it is something we tackle all year long through these lessons, but as we continue to discuss it, the kids really seem to glom on to the idea of what theme in literature really means (as opposed to main idea.)

This past week, we read the story Elephant in the Dark by Mina Jahaverbin and discussed the underlying themes within the text.  Together, we brainstormed what exactly the author was trying to teach us (as opposed to the main idea summary of the text).  After much discussion, they all seemed to grasp at least one main theme for the text and I set them off to write a paragraph with the reasons and textual evidence of that theme embedded within.  The students used this organizer to help them organize their thoughts.

students type their writing about the theme of a book into google docs, then use tagxedo to give it flair.Once the paragraphs were written, the students broke out a chrome book, logged on to their Google Doc account, and began typing away.  They typed up the complete paragraph, which then was saved into their Google Drive.

Publish the theme paragraphs using the website Tagxedo.
The next time we went to the computer lab, the kids opened their Google Drive and copied the text of the theme paragraph.  Opening up the website Tagxedo (which does NOT work on Chrome), the kids then pasted the text into the load box, and the website automatically created a word cloud.  Since an elephant is one of the picture options, I had them choose that (either baby or mama) and it automatically changed over their cloud to an elephant shape!  The kids saved their work as a 500 jpeg and printed it out.

The final products are not only rigorous academically (because, let's face it, writing a paragraph on the theme of a book with evidence isn't exactly a walk in the park) but looks amazing on the bulletin board!

5th grade lesson on theme and a great way to publish the final work!
Have you used Tagxedo or Google Docs....or any lessons on theme?? Please share your experiences below!

Google Classroom: Signing Up!

Google Classroom is something that has been around for a little bit.  And, I am going to be honest with you, until this past week, I couldn't have cared less about it.

I know.  I am a blogger who uses technology in my own life on a consistent constant basis but in the classroom, I was lucky to get my ELMO to work long enough to play a little GoNoodle.

However, this past week, I was in a jam.  I needed the kids to type something up for our librarian and the computer lab was in use all week.  I was faced with the prospect of checking out our chromebooks (which I am well aware of just how lucky I am to have access to three class sets of them), and typing on there.  My computer teacher suggested we use Google Docs.  So I checked it out MIND WAS BLOWN.

Since I am new to this, and maybe some of you are too, I thought I would start a blog series for you documenting my experiences with Google Classroom and all of the wonders it holds as I learn about it.  Today's post is just about how I signed up and used the FREE service for the first time in my classroom.  This is not everything, nor is it the be all, end all of Google Classroom, however it will help to get you started.

The first thing you need to do is sign up for Google Classroom.  It is very simple.  Type and it will take you to the site.  Now, as far as I can tell, from playing around with my own email addresses, you need a school email to sign up.  Once you are on, you can then create a classroom.

Once that classroom is created, you can invite your students to join.  They need an email address, which my students are assigned from the school district.  We used those.  They also sign on to and enter the code for my class and automatically they are connected to me! How cool is that???

When they were assigned to me, this is what they saw.

That's right.  I had assigned them all a comprehension quiz to take.  You see, the night before I had created that doc using a Google Form.  It let me input a reading passage, create questions, decide if I wanted them to be multiple choice or short answer, and then generate the test.  I was able the to assign it to my class.

Once the kids took the quiz and submitted the answers, I automatically received the answers in the form of a Google Sheet (which is just like excel). There is an app on the Google Sheet that helps to transfer the excel to a Google Doc (like Word) so I can easily read and grade the responses.    Then, I can go back in and assign a grade to the test, so the kids can have their grades right at their fingertips.

After giving just this one test, I am hooked and in love.  I know there are SO many things I can do with Google Classroom (peer collaboration, shared writing, etc...) and that what we did is just the tip of the iceberg.  I can't wait to see all that this has in store for us as the year goes on...and I can't wait to share it all with you.

How do you use Google Classroom in your room???  I want to know everything so please share!

My Classroom Doors

Classroom doors can be a great place to showcase the learning going on throughout the year.
I have two doors in my classroom that are "growing" as we march through the year.  I thought I would share their progress with you as this first semester ended.

Our classroom "graffiti wall" where the kids write one thing we learned in class each day.My front door is a year long record of our classroom learning.  I call it the "Graffiti Door" and at the end of the day, I ask the students to share something they learned over the course of that school time.  After listening to a few, I choose one of those students to add what they said to the door.

This serves two purposes.  One, it gives all of the students a chance to remember what we learned that day, so when they go home, they can actually share something with their parents who ask.  Two, it allows the students to contribute towards are growing set of learning.  They LOVE being the one to write on the door (with our fancy markers that write on black paper), so they are very eager to share an idea.  Even the typically shy kids will get in on this action.

A classroom "bookshelf" that can show the books that the class is reading throughout the year.
You can see how this has grown.
The second door I have in my room is our "book shelf".  This is just a brown piece of butcher paper I painted to look like it has "shelves" (ok, brown lines every few inches.)  I then leave out book spines that I found on the web doing a search of 'book spines'.   What happens here is simple.  Every time the kids finish reading a book, they put a spine up on the wall.  Since we have silent reading time every morning, that is when the kids actually do this.  The kids write the title of the book, the author, and their name on the spine.  Then, using tape that I have out, the kids tape up the spine.

I also have a little sign where I write how many book spines have been added to our door.  I update it at the end of the day (if I remember, which I do occasionally forget ;))
A little sign, made with a frame and print out on the computer, that I use to update how many books our class has read collectively throughout the year.  I use an overhead pen to write on the glass.

I really like these two growing parts of our room.  They make the room a living, breathing, learning space.   


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