Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration
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Project-Based Learning: Three Things to Remember When You "Count Like An Egyptian"

Close your eyes and think back to your ten or eleven year old self. What do you see? What do you remember being on your mind at that age? What books were you into? What were your passions? At age 11, if you had asked me what I wanted to be, I would've said, "Archeologist." Ancient history was my passion. I couldn't get enough of it, and it spilled over into a love of mythology and legend.

Project-based learning is beneficial for so many reasons, but the reason that I love it so much is that it allows students to discover new passions that the curriculum doesn't necessarily introduce. Ancient Egypt isn't part of my fifth grade curriculum. But, place value and fractions are!

I noticed that my fifth graders were pretty geeked about Egypt and mummies. I paid attention to the books they were seeking out in our media center. A couple of students showed me a fun website about Egyptology that they had discovered.  I decided that I needed to bring their passion into our math classroom. By doing so, I helped some otherwise disengaged math students engage. It was an opportunity for them to be "experts" in a subject that ordinarily challenged them.
Project-based learning, however, is only as successful as the teacher's pedagogy. Keep reading to hear me out!
Project-based learning is fun! It's fun for the students. It's fun for the teachers. But embedded in all of that fun, there needs to be rigor. It's easy to get caught up in the projects, but if you're not connecting them to new concepts or challenges, your students aren't learning. 
For example, in the Egyptian place value and fraction project I developed for my students, we learned about whole number hieroglyphs. This was fun. We used to them to review place value concepts my fifth graders had learned in fourth grade. My kids created birthday cartouches using the whole number hieroglyphs.

But what did they learn? Was there dynamic change occurring? For these students, this part of the project was a review of previously learned material. There's nothing wrong with that, is there? Of course not. But had I ended the project there, I wouldn't have described it as rigorous.

Instead, I asked students to think like mathematicians. If no hieroglyphic fraction system exists, then how would they create one? In order to answer this question, my students had to recognize patterns within our number system and the hieroglyphic number system (both base 10). They had to think about how the symbols might be related. They had to problem solve. That one question created rigor.

For maximum impact, project-based learning should hook onto concepts students are learning. I know that sounds pretty obvious, but it's important.  Our brains learn best when they can make multiple connections to new concepts.

In our Egyptian project, we learned about the actual fraction system the ancient Egyptians used. We compared and contrasted the systems we created to the ancient glyphs. We were studying how to decompose fractions and mixed numbers in math class. That's where our study of hieroglyphic fractions took us. We hooked our regular math class learning onto our project-based activities.  The project supported and enriched my direct math instruction. 

Sometimes, it's tempting to just do a STEAM or STEM project just because it looks like fun. Make sure there's a learning hook for your students. Their learning will be more powerful if you do.
Let go of the reigns. Let your students drive the learning chariot.
When they began to brainstorm their hieroglyphic fractions systems, my students struggled a bit. I'm not going to lie, I wanted to help more than I should. But I stopped myself. I asked questions instead. Questions like, "What do you notice about how we write fractions in our number system?" or "How might you use the whole number hieroglyphs to help you?" or "How might your system be different from the one we use today?" You get the picture. When you feel like you want to drive the learning chariot, back away. Ask a question instead. An easy one to ask is "What are you thinking?"

A cool thing about project-based learning is that creates productive struggle for your students. That's how students develop stamina, perseverance, and creativity. DROP THE REIGNS.

If project-based learning is "your thing," or if you're just getting your feet wet, you need to check out these goodies.  They all integrate reading, writing, math and art, and will give your more bang for your teaching buck. 

Psssst! This Egyptian one is being offered 50% off today (Sunday, Oct. 8) only!!!


Be sure to stop by these other fabulous blogs for a great round up of teaching ideas!

Music Makes It Stick: Tips, Freebies & Goodies For Using Music In Your Classroom!

Music is a powerful medium.  How many times have you heard a song from your past and been transported back in time?  It might even trigger emotions.  When I hear "Stairway to Heaven," I'm back at a high school dance with my arms clenched around Wayne, my first boyfriend, my head buried in his shoulder.  I feel nostalgic. I remember the excitement of getting ready for that dance. That's what music transports us to different places and times in our lives...our memories are more vivid because music is connected to them. 

So as teachers, why wouldn't we use it to tattoo our students' minds?

One of my favorite ways to use music in my classroom is to create piggyback songs.  Piggyback songs are songs that use a familiar tune with lyrics that you write yourself to teach a concept.  I've written piggyback songs about Core Democratic Values, to teach the steps to long division, and to unpack math vocabulary.  I've worked with teachers, grades K-12, and watched them write songs to help students remember geometry theorems, calculus content, the names of the months in a year, and on and on.  They all report success. 

One of most favorite piggyback song efforts occurred while I was stuck in a major traffic jam on a 4-hour drive home from my parents' house.  My kids were having trouble with the huge amount of geometry vocabulary in our current math unit.  I was bored.  So, I "wrote" 8 geometry songs to cement the vocabulary.  By the time I got home, I had mentally outlined a script for a geometry musical! I wrote the play over the next three days, and the rest is history! There are three steps I've used to guide teachers in writing their own instructional piggyback songs.  Watch the video below to learn about them!


My best advice for writing your own piggyback songs includes:
  • Don't use the same melody for more than one song.  You want THAT particular tune to be attached to THAT particular concept.
  • Start out with easy ditties first, like "Mary Had a Little Lamb."
  • Don't forget to "unpack" the lyrics with your students. Use them as a lesson. Do a CLOSE READ with your song lyrics.
  • After you get more practiced, try writing them WITH your students.  They'll be even more motivated because they helped author it.
  • Put your I'm-tone-deaf-I-don't-even-sing-in-the-shower crud away.  Your kids do NOT care. Truly.
  • Revisit your songs often. They are a great way to review. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
  • Add movements to your songs and you'll double the learning whammy.  Bodily-kinesthetic approaches are just as powerful!
  • Laugh! Don't take yourself so seriously.
Working with non-musician teachers, I know how daunting it can be to incorporate music into your pedagogy.  So I've put together a little "I-don't-even-know-where-to-start" goodie for you.  If you click on the picture below, you'll find a freebie that outlines 20 ways to incorporate music in your classroom, a list of 30 instrumental songs that are perfect for classroom use (think "YouTube"), and a list of 41 melodies that work well for creating your own piggyback songs.  But will you do me a favor?  I LOVE hearing about how other teachers incorporate music in their classrooms.  If you've done this, please share  in the comments section.

To hear excerpts from a couple of my students' most favorite songs click here and listen to the start of this podcast! You won't be sorry!

If  you're interested in trying out some of my piggyback songs in your classroom, then check out the products below by clicking on the pictures.  There's another free resource here, too!                    

                                           Until next time, teach on, my friend!

GOT GAME? 3 Tips for Making Games Effective for Learning

I was in the toy aisle at Target the other day and spied a giant set of dominoes. It was a thing of beauty to behold. I was instantly transported back a gazillion years to my grandma's kitchen table. We sat hunched over the domino tiles. Her left hand cupped her never-empty coffee cup. There was a small plate of windmill cookies off to the side. She used her index finger to sweep up my cookie crumbs while I labored over my next move. My grandma and me, we were fierce domino players. 

Because she was a fourth grade teacher, when my grandma taught you how to play a game, you learned strategy. It was discussed and developed. I learned to visualize several moves ahead. I learned patterns of play. I learned what tiles were best to hold back until the end and which tiles were best to play first.

To this day, I adore playing games because of my Grandma Eller. As a classroom teacher, they are one of my favorite ways to teach concepts, strategy, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.  Over the eons of my teaching career, I've discovered three important factors that make or break classroom game-playing experiences.

Modeling is imperative. When I teach a new game to my students, they, as a class, play against me. I put the gaming materials on my document camera and project them onto my Smart Board. Before the days of technology, we sat on the floor in a circle and played. 

I usually begin by close reading the game directions with my students. We highlight key words. We ask questions to check our understanding of the directions. 

While I teach the game, I make my mathematical thinking visible. I think aloud. I question aloud. I want them to see how my thinking helps me play the game better. I ask them to predict any trouble they think players might run into.

Then we play against each other. The whole class is one entity that plays against me. Students take turns coming up to play for the class team. We stop, when necessary, to fix up any misunderstandings of the directions or errors in mathematical thinking.

Finally, I turn my students loose to play.  They scatter around the room. I monitor their efforts. This is important. It keeps students on task, helps their understanding (because questions always come up), and informs me of their mathematical thinking. I'm assessing them. 

We are so inundated as teachers, we often take this opportunity to multi-task while students are playing, but it's important to focus on their play. 

After students are about half way through a game, I call them back to my large group teaching area to discuss any "A-has" they've made about mathematical content and game strategy. We record these on chart paper or the board. Sometimes, we make plans for how we'll change our play when we return to the game.

The strategizing session is important because it helps all students be successful during game play by making the problem-solving nature of game play transparent.

Finally, at the end of math workshop, we come together again to share out. This is the segment of the game play where we cement the mathematical learning. Closure is a vital part of playing learning games, because it refocuses the entire time period on the mathematical learning. 

I usually ask, "So what mathematical learning did we do today?" We chart our responses. Sometimes I use a visible thinking stem. "At first I thought________________, but now I think__________________" in order to name and notice changes in our thinking. These get recorded on our math wall. 

Game play will always be one of my favorite ways to teach concepts. I think it is potentially powerful for the learner when the three steps are followed. But it is also my favorite because I'm transported back to the taste of almond windmill cookies and the click of domino tiles...and my grandma's laughter, warm and loving. 

If you're looking for classroom games, take a look below. There's a freebie in the line up, too, that is perfect for teaching back-to-school procedures. Enjoy!

This month, I've linked up with some fabulous teachers for Teacher Talk. There are some great classroom ideas here! Check them out below!

Wild Child's Classroom Tour 2017: Freebies and Ideas!

Greetings, friends! I'm reveling in the fact that my classroom set up is done- EARLY! I have meetings all next week, and I start school with students on the day after Labor Day. For the first time in years, I hadn't moved rooms, schools, or grade level, so my classroom set up felt like a breeze. Watch the video below to tour my room and then scroll down for some celebratory freebies and products. 


There's something exciting about setting up a classroom for the new year.  After 25 years, I still get excited to set up my classroom. However, I have one rule I've set for myself. My decor must have a function. With that rule, I've began creating it myself.

If you're interested in any of the goodies in my classroom, I've listed them below for you. Some are FREEBIES! Have a great school year and enjoy!