Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration
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Dr. Frankenstein, I Presume? Developing Culture with Lab Classrooms

                                 "Dr. Frankenstein?"
                                 "You're putting me on!"

                                 "You must be Eegor."
                                 "No, it's Igor."
                                 "But they told me it was Eegor."
                                 "Well they were wrong then, weren't they?"

The words "lab classroom" never fail to conjure up images of crazy-haired Gene Wilder and boggle-eyed Marty Feldman in the opening scenes of "Young Frankenstein." I imagine myself in a white lab coat, wearing glasses that make my eyes appear 10 times larger than they really are...and my students tethered to numerous scientific experiments, calmed only by the strains of "Puff the Magic Dragon" played on my ukulele.  In fact, I'm giggling to myself as I sit here typing these words.

Pedagogy Is a Science

All kidding aside, pedagogy is "the art, science or profession of teaching" (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  Sometimes, it does feel like "MAD science," as we race around implementing procedures and techniques that have very little basis in the real science of educational research.  Some days, I do look a little like Gene Wilder. Other days, I think I channel Marty Feldman.

My staff has been on a journey over the last two years.  We've begun delving into the work of Harvard's Project Zero, and we've chosen to examine Ron Ritchart's Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools and its implications for us as a community of learners. We began this journey by reading Making Thinking Visible (Church, Morrison & Ritchart). This year, we've waded into the deep end of this inquiry. 

One thing that became apparent in our learning is that we are really good at talking about data...REALLY good. We examine it. We know where our students are in their learning. We know who needs to be pushed. We know who needs remediation.  However, we seldom talk about the how. How do we push this child? How do we help that child? In our PLTs, we seldom discuss pedagogy.

Dr. Frankenstein Has Entered The Room

We want pedagogical conversations to occur naturally.  And on some level, they used to before the content of team meetings became so heavily monitored or dictated. So in order to shift our staff culture, we scheduled two lab classroom days.

What are lab classrooms?  In our building, lab classroom days are when staff members, who have agreed to open up their practice to their peers, teach a 45 minute lesson in front of 4-5 colleagues. Within the lesson, the host teacher is using a thinking routine embedded in the lesson. Colleagues are there to observe, not participate or interact with the students. After the lesson, the host teacher leaves the classroom (a substitute or another staff member provides coverage) with the observing colleagues for a 30 minute debriefing session.

The debriefing session is highly structured and requires the host and observing colleagues to reflect on the moves the teacher used to encourage student thinking and the evidence of student thinking during the lesson. Another staff member or in our case, a staff development teacher or coach leads the debriefing session.  

During the debrief, participants are not allowed to make judgement statements...this includes PRAISE.  Not praising a colleague is perhaps the hardest part of the debrief.  The purpose of it is to focus solely on the what was observed and the evidence of thought.  The minute we start to praise, objectivity goes out the window. On our lab classroom days, we secure 4 substitute teachers who travel throughout the day to cover staff members who are observing.  We have five teachers who volunteer to teach lessons using thinking routines, and then we schedule the rest of our staff in groups of 4 or 5 to observe those teachers.

When You Put The Lab Coat On...

I volunteered for the first day of lab classrooms, since I had facilitated them as a coach in years past, I felt more comfortable in sticking my neck out.  I chose to model a thinking routine that was new to my students, because I thought that watching a teacher "unpack" a new routine might be beneficial for my colleagues.  I chose Claim-Support-Question.

We had been studying powers of ten in our math workshop, so I came up with the question, "Do other multiplication patterns exist when we use exponents with other numbers?"

I began my lesson by introducing the Claim-Support-Question Routine. Using a slide show that I had created, we discussed the words "claim" and "support."  I asked students my math question, and then sent them back to their table groups to discuss it and write a claim statement on their table's chart paper.

After they had written their claims, they returned to the carpet to report out to the whole groups.  Then, we talked about how we might support our claims.  What procedures might they follow? They returned to their tables to investigate. 

This was fun to watch. All groups, except one, claimed that there would be patterns.  All groups chose a number and found the exponential products for that number up to an exponent of 10.  I allowed them to use calculators for this part, so it was more easily investigated.  We stopped briefly to remember that scientists and mathematicians want more than one set of data to prove a claim, and then groups continued to work with other numbers to triangulate their data. 

At this point, I had to leave with my observing colleagues and a substitute took over. But before I did, I asked my students to talk to me about their thoughts about the new thinking routine and the type of thinking they believed they engaged in... in other words, I asked my students to engage in some metacognition.  They did not disappoint. Using Project Zero's Circle of Understanding, my students engaged in a lively debate about uncovering complexity and reasoning with evidence.  Then, my students continued the investigation without me.

Mad Science Without The Crazies

The debrief of my lesson was fun.  The lack of praise was weirdly awesome.  Here's why: When people praise me, I am uncomfortable.  Sometimes, I distrust what they say.  Often times, I feel embarrassed.  In the debriefing session, I heard specific feedback.  I heard my colleagues comment on the amount of scaffolding I used to introduce a new thinking routine.  I listened to feedback about differentiation and how I utilize the Circle of Understanding in my classroom.  I swelled with pride as they named and noticed evidence of student thinking and depth of student thinking.  All of this without, "You did a good job when..." Afterward, I walked out feeling six inches taller, and I had some new pedagogical targets to chew on for upcoming lessons.

Shifting Culture

We have a long way to go in our learning community.  Don't we always?  That's the nature of being a community learners: CHANGE. That being said, I've noticed three shifts as a result of our lab classrooms.
  1. More of us are talking about our classroom practices more often. 
  2. These discussions have an inquiry-like tone.
  3. Our conversations and reflections have deepened, and we are asking more questions about our practices.

Ohhhhhh, Sweet Mystery of Life

"Ohhhh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you..." Madeline Kahn rocked that song at the end of "Young Frankenstein," didn't she? Change has begun in our learning community because of lab classroom experiences.  It's exciting to see what happens when teachers take control of their own learning and protocols are implemented that promote a safe sharing environment.

When I returned to my classroom, my students showed me their questions. They asked a number of questions, but two particular questions gave me goosebumps:
  1. If we multiply fractions exponentially, will there be patterns?
  2. If we multiply decimals exponentially, will there be patterns?
They connected the inquiry to our past units of math study! "Ohhhhh, sweet mystery of life! At last, I found you!"


If you'd like a copy of the inquiry math lesson I taught during my lab classroom experience, click the picture below.

You might also be interested in the these visible thinking resources:

Until next time, teach on!
P.S. Come back next week! It's 3 E's Blogging Collaborative Week and there'll be free goodies!

Reader's Workshop Strategies in the Math Classroom: 3 Components

With my school district's emphasis on workshop approaches in reading and writing, more and more of my colleagues began scrutinizing the way they teach math.  I was no different.  I watched classroom organizational wizards design visual rotation schedules for students to follow.  They developed a center-like approach where students were divided in to 3 or 4 groups (ability, based on unit pretest data), and they taught the daily math lesson to each of the groups...think guided reading groups for the math classroom.  Because I have always been somewhat organizationally challenged, I paid close attention to the structures my colleagues were developing. I learned early on in my career to "borrow" organizational structures from my colleagues.  I contribute to our teams in my own way, but organization is not my forte. 

After watching and listening, I tried implementing similar routines in my math class. I created a gorgeous rotation schedule. I created and collected center materials. I analyzed my pretest data and formed math groups.  As a former literacy coach, this didn't feel foreign to me, and I thought to myself, "I got this!"

Self-Reflection is the Root of All Learning

I fell flat on my face and learned something about myself and my pedagogy.  My gorgeous rotation schedule was a problem.  It was too rigid, and unlike guided reading, my student's math gaps with unit content closed more quickly than instructional reading levels improved in guided reading groups.  So, I would move my students in and out of groups over the course of a week.  This disrupted any rotation schedule I was trying to maintain. 

I also wasn't comfortable giving up my whole group math lesson. My math instruction felt disjointed, and this created the challenge of keeping track of instruction of the same lesson for 4 math groups, and God forbid one group didn't get their lesson for the day due to interruptions. Did I mention that I'm organizationally challenged?  


After struggling for three weeks, I had an epiphany.  I was tuning into a Jennifer Serravallo Heinemann webinar about small group instruction in readers and writers workshop, specifically STRATEGY GROUPS.  Cue the "Hallelujah Chorus" music.  As I watch Serravallo teach three young students a new reading strategy in a brief small group lesson, I thought about the rigidity of the workshop structure I was trying to implement.  It wasn't working for me or my students because the pretty rotation schedule was the focus---not my students!

I returned the following week with new zeal and a belief that this could work.  Over time, I was able to identify 3 important components necessary for the success of my math workshop.

Strategy Groups Are THE Answer!

Strategy groups are the answer for me.  They allow the grouping flexibility I found necessary for my comfort level.  Here's what I did: 
  • I used our unit pretest as a way to inform my groupings during the first week of a unit.  Think of it as peripheral vision. 
  • Students met with me in small groups based on concepts where their tests showed weaknesses.  These flexible groups also were based on my students communicating their needs during whole group instruction.  
  • As a unit picked up steam (beginning of second week, usually), my strategy groups were formed based on students' performance on independent work or homework.  These were formative assessments...they drove our strategy groups because by week 2 of a unit, the pretest is OLD DATA.

 The Pretty Rotation Schedule: It's All About Purpose!

My rotation schedule became a weekly schedule, not a daily schedule.  It went like this:

Mondays: We focus on skill building like basic facts or advanced multiplication and long division, depending on where we are in the school year and the grade level I'm teaching (4th or 5th).  This means I work with small groups at this time.  The groups are determined by students' levels of mastery. They are based on weekly skill assessments I have developed.  Students that I am not meeting with are engaged with online math learning like www.mobymax or odyssey learning.

Tuesday: Whole group lesson and independent work (+/- enrichment). I teach a whole group lesson to my class using a workshop structure.  This means I introduce the teaching point, we ask questions, we explore together, I model, students practice with support (on the carpet right in front of me or with a peer), and then they practice independently.  During independent practice, I move around the classroom interacting with students, like I do when I hold writing conferences in writer's workshop with individual students. Then, I go to the back of the room (another teaching area in my classroom), and my students know they can join me there if more support is needed.

Students needing more enrichment have more advanced problem solving opportunities embedded into their independent work. Sometimes this is created by me, and other times it is provided by our math series.

Wednesday: Number of the Day learning opportunities.  This is a small group instruction day. That means that I use my students' class work from Tuesday to form strategy groups.  As we work together to gain understanding, other students are engaged in reteaching or enrichment number of the day opportunities. They draw a number and complete problem-solving tasks around the number.  I created these around skills that demand more repetition for student mastery. Many of them are centered on fraction and decimal concepts which are challenging in 4th and 5th grade.

At the end of this session, we come together as a whole group and examine our thinking with "At first I I think..." visible thinking routine.  This helps us cement our learning.  During this time, I also do some pre-teaching about the whole group lesson coming up tomorrow.

Thursday: This day is a repeat of Tuesday's structure.

Friday: On Fridays, we assess our leveled skills we've been working on all week via homework.  These are the skills that were taught or reviewed on Monday.  

In addition, we engage in project-based learning in which math is heavily integrate for much of the day, or we begin another whole group math lesson from our unit.

Student Self-Reflection is Key 

I work very hard to incorporate reflection opportunities into my math teaching every day.  I rely heavily on visible thinking routines developed by Project Zero and Dr. Ron Ritchart.  Using routines like Claim-Support-Question, See-Think-Wonder, and Tug of War elevated our discussions.  We often choose one problem from our lessons to delve into more deeply.  Our math workshop has become thinking-based.  My students are engaged because they have a voice in their learning.  

Implementing a workshop approach in any subject area is a journey. I knew this from my work with literacy. I đź’“workshop pedagogy. I'm still not satisfied, but I've come a long way.  And isn't that the point?  As teachers, we're always learning, developing, and changing because we're learners. 

Some of the resources I mentioned in this post can be found below. Some are specific to 4th and 5th grades. Others are more general.  

Number of the Day

Each of these can be used as remediation or enrichment. I use them for an entire month at a time because practice makes permanent. Display numbers, an assessment and answer key, and a daily workout are included in each one.  OR you can buy the whole bundle at a discounted price and get 7 months of number of the day activities.

Math Workshop Organizational Bundle

This bundle consists of calendar and small group instruction planning pages, as well as a rotation schedule bulletin board.  Once you purchase it, you will enjoy a yearly update for free!

Project-Based Learning Opportunities

These are project-based math and art projects. All have a literacy component and require critical thinking and higher-level problem solving tasks. All include an math-art project.

Skill Challenges

These two leveled skill challenges are motivating for students. The advanced multiplication challenge takes students through 6 levels of advanced multiplication from 4 digit times 1 digit to decimal number times decimal number. 

The division challenge has four levels, and students move around the bases on a baseball diamond.  First base begins with 3 or 4 digit numbers divided by a one digit number.  Home plate (the last level) requires students to divide decimal numbers by whole numbers. Both product include data notebook sheets for student use.

Should you choose to purchase any of these resources, be sure to leave feedback and email me, letting me know what you purchased and your user name for verification purposes.  I will send you a free number calendar/number of the day organizational mini-bundle for your use! 

Not only will you earn TpT purchasing credits for leaving feedback, but also a free product.
Until next time, teach on, friend!

Poppies & Pantoums: Poetry Comes Alive with Georgia O'Keefe

It had been a long week- two nights of student-led conferences, a teacher evaluation meeting with my administrator. Add finishing report cards to that mix and preparation for MStep, and I had survived the perfect storm.  Needless to say, we were tired.  I needed to do something that would make our hearts sing.  My students needed it, too!

So, I introduced my third and fourth graders to Georgia's paintings.  Georgia O'Keefe makes my heart sing.  I began by sharing a short mini-biography I had authored, and then I read aloud My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter.  This delightful picture book is a biography of Georgia O'Keefe. From the time she was just a young girl, Georgia O'Keeffe saw the world differently than those around her.  While other girls wore braids and played with toys, Georgia practiced her drawing.  She let her hair flow free.  Georgia followed her love of art throughout her life. This book shows how Georgia followed her dream of becoming an artist and shared her unique vision of the world.
who respond to <b>georgia</b> in hawaii may then pick up <b>my name is georgia</b> ...
After sharing the book and some examples of O'Keefe's art I found on the internet, I showed my students some photographs of natural subjects. The photos were close ups, not unlike Georgia's flowers.  We went through each photo, using the visible thinking move "See-Think-Wonder."  Using this thinking routine elevated my student's responses.    Using this routine, I first asked students to respond orally to a photo selected by me. I recorded their responses on our class response chart paper. Then I showed the other photographs and had students use "See-Think-Wonder" to discuss the photos in their small table groups.  Finally, students used a "See-Think-Wonder" graphic organizer to reflect on one of the photographs of their choosing.

We got "up close and personal" with photography.

Later in the afternoon, we worked with our chosen photograph again.  I modeled how to do a quick write. I viewed my photograph of yellow daffodils, and wrote single words and phrases that came into my head as I viewed it.  I did a lot of thinking aloud for them, so they could hear my stream of thought. Following my lead, students wrote their own quick writes using the quick write page I provided.   Then, I introduced the Pantoum poetry form.  This form of poetry comes from Malaysia and employs a series of repeated lines.  It's perfect for when you want to emphasize an idea or image in your writing.

Again, I modeled taking my quick write ideas and using them to write the lines of my poem. Students followed suit, trying it on their own.  My poem is below:

Spring Daffodils

In mysterious canyons of sunshine and butter,
I follow the secret pathways,
Past bends and turns
on a ruffled and rippled river.

I follow the secret pathways,
Dripping with sunlit honey.
On a ruffled and rippled river,
I ride the tumultuous waves of spring.

Dripping with sunlit honey,
Alive with bumble and buzz,
I ride the tumultuous waves of spring,
Swimming in its yellow currents.

Alive with bumble and buzz,
Past bends and turns,
Swimming in its yellow currents
In mysterious canyons of sunshine and butter.

                                     By Tracy Willis

Later in the afternoon, we made our own poppies using templates I created and common classroom materials like scissors, glue, and construction paper.   The pictures below show the results.  After our crazy week, it was remarkable to listen to my students as they wrote.  It was the quietest they had been all week.  Even more remarkable, my boys were so earnest as they wrote their poems about Georgia's flowers and bones.  It was a Friday well spent.  

I have to say, this creative writing, reading, and art activity was the perfect way to counterbalance the stresses of standardized test and student-led conferences preparation.  You can find it for your own classroom by clicking the graphic below.  It has everything you need to be ready for April's Poetry Month. 

This month, I've linked up with some other great educators for Teacher Talk. Check out their classroom antics below!


Teacher Empowerment: EXPECTO PATRONUS!

It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.  Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.  
                                            ~J.K. Rowling,  Albus Dumbledore

I've been thinking a lot about empowerment lately. This month, as part of the 3E's Blogging Collaborative, I've chosen to write about it. In the last few weeks, I've had two experiences that have contributed to my musings.  The first, an adult who is close to me while the second, a child with whom I work.  The first exchange went something like this:
           "Why do you let yourself get so upset about politics?"
           "Because it is wrong to sit by when I believe people will be hurt."
           "You're operating under the belief that you can change anything. Our voices don't change a thing."

In the second exchange, I asked a child to write a letter to an author of a book we had read that takes place during the Detroit riots of the 1960s.  As a class, we had discussed civil rights.  One of the main characters is consumed with what she can do to change the world.  We talked about this belief throughout the entire book study.  The child wrote to the author, "I loved your book, especially the character of Beverly. But I don't believe there is anything I can do to change the world." 

I have to be honest. These felt like sucker punches to the gut. And since then I've wondered, when did we become so defeated? When did we lose our voices? Can empowerment be cultivated?

So, what does it mean to be empowered?

I have my own ideas about empowerment, but I turned to the internet for some quick research. I found this on, written by Paula M. Short.  It made the most sense to me. 
Empowerment has been defined as a process whereby school participants develop the competence to take charge of their own growth and resolve their own problems. Empowered individuals believe they have the skills and knowledge to act on a situation and improve it. Empowered schools are organizations that create opportunities for competence to be developed and displayed.

So according to this, being empowered means having the confidence to act on a situation to improve it.  The prefix "em" means "cause to." So does this mean that to be empowered, something has to cause that rise of power within us? Is empowerment something that rises up from within us or is it something that can be nurtured?

Was Harry Potter an empowered individual?

When I think about the character of Harry Potter, I see him as an empowered individual.  Nothing in his rearing prior to Hogwarts developed self-confidence in skill or abilities. And yet, he had leadership "thrust" upon him and he rose to the occasion. Who cares, right? 

All educators should care. Seriously.  Harry Potter is a parable we should pay close attention to because it teaches us about activism, about small people making big impacts, it teaches us about hope, about speaking out when something is wrong. This character teaches us about empowerment. For many of our students, our wands conjure a patronus against isolation, poverty and the harsh realities of our world.  

Thinking about my own experiences, my sense of empowerment did not just rise up from within me.  I was nurtured. My accomplishments and skills were recognized and praised, and I was given opportunities to further develop them. Later in my teaching career, my self-confidence pushed me toward more experiences that empowered me. It was a snowball effect. When you think back on your own development as a person and educator, you probably see much of the same. However, one thing most of us have in common with Harry is adversity. When we face adverse situations and conquer them, our self-confidence grows. I believe that adversity has a close relationship with empowerment.

Perhaps empowerment boils down to three things.

We have to be self-reflective to know our skills and abilities.  We have to know what we're capable of in order to engage in greater risk-taking.  Empowerment often requires us to take risks.

We must believe we have influence because of our unique skills and abilities.  If the belief of influence is not there, we won't act. We are hopeless.

If we are reflective and know ourselves, and if we believe we can have influence, then we experience increased agency. We become agents of power. We act on situations and face adversity.  This is a glorious cycle, when you think about it.  Because, in facing more adversity we become more confident in our skills and influence...which empowers us even more. 

So what does this mean for educators and their students?

I have felt, for some time now, that teachers have become victims. We have lost our voices. We have listened to our government, our communities, and even our peers tell us over and over again that we are failing.  We have been forced to abandon best practices to adopt high-stakes testing preparation. Many of us have been given "scripts" from which to teach.  We have had funding yanked from public education, stakes upped, and expectations increased around moving targets. We have been blamed for the morals and characters of our students. We have been criticized at every turn. Our pensions, salaries, and benefits have been attacked, and when we protest, we've been called money-hungry and greedy. And we have listened, my friends. We have listened, and on some level, we have believed what we have been told. 

Let me ask you to reflect on this: CAN YOU EMPOWER YOUR STUDENTS WHEN YOU, YOURSELF, DON'T CLAIM YOUR OWN POWER? Our wands are broken, my friends. It's time to get out the duct tape and patch them up.  I have been complacent for years.  But after recent events in our country, I can not be complacent any longer.  My future depends on it.  And if I lose hope, my students' futures will suffer.  It is time to conjure up a patronus for the health of public education, its educators, and its students. 

Here are some ways...

  1. Become involved in your local and state governments. Whether you like it or not, teaching is political. We are state employees.
  2. Reflect on your strengths and skills. Ask yourself, "Where can I make the most impact?" Don't wait for the empowerment fairy to grace you with her stardust.
  3. Speak up at staff meetings. Share your viewpoints. Ask questions. Don't cower.
  4. Write letters to the editor of your community newspaper.
  5. Invite community members into your classroom community. Let them see and understand the importance and challenges of what we do on a daily basis.
  6. Reclaim your joy. Why did you enter the teaching field? Figure it out, and do more of whatever that is...even if it means closing your door so you can do what is right.  Do you honestly think that the umpteen millionth test prep lesson taught in isolation is going to result in stellar standardized testing data? 
  7. Support your peers. Don't engage in teacher-lounge bashing. Be kind. We are all suffering together.
  8. Celebrate your students, everyday.  Ask yourself, what lesson am I supposed to learn from this student? 
  9. Take care of YOU. You are a human being. You are NOT a victim. You have basic needs like everyone else. Fill those needs.
  10. Walk tall. Seriously. Square your shoulders. Gird your loins. Imagine yourself, wand at the ready for the dementors of our profession. BELIEVE. To be a teacher means that leadership has been thrust upon you. Accept it.
And don't forget this...never forget this:

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.
                                                             J.K. Rowling, Albus Dumbledore

Now go turn on the light with some other fantastic posts and free resources for teaching empowerment, empathy, and equity in your classroom by clicking the links below.              


When Colors Sing...Art in the Math & Reader's Workshops

I spent my time reading the first two books in the Harry Potter series wishing I could live at Hogwarts. I was an adult reader---don't laugh.  I've read Tuck Everlasting over and over again, each time wishing I could find the ash tree in the wood and imagining myself moving the pebbles that hide the secret. I've listened to Beethoven's fifth symphony and find it impossible not to move, not to feel. Chopin's nocturnes can move me to tears. And when I go to an art museum? There are paintings I wish I could crawl into.  Exploring the arts can be a visceral experience for adults and children.  Music, visual arts, books, movement---these are other ways of KNOWING.  Typically imbedded in "gifted and talented" curriculum, I firmly believe they need to be woven into every child's learning experience, because they are other ways of knowing.  One does not have to be gifted and talented to learn other content through the arts.  

Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings, the artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.
                                                              Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky's art is quite the experience. Wassily Kandinsky had synesthesia. He wrote about using a paint box for the first time and hearing the colors hiss.  For Kandinsky, life was a multi-layered sensory experience.  There are certain Kandinsky paintings that I'd like to live in for a while. One of the ways I do that is to bring it into my classroom.  

The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes, or dark lake with the treble.
                                                                                Wassily Kandinsky

I began by reading The Noisy Paint Box to my class.  This picture book is a great way to explain synesthesia to students. My kids were fascinated, and we spent a long time discussing what that disorder is like and all that it must entail.  Then I shared a biography I had written about Kandinsky. This second text gave more of an overview of his entire life.

Everything starts from a dot.
                                                                                      Wassily Kandinsky

Next we looked at Kandinsky's Color Study: Squares With Concentric Circles.  After reading about how Kandinsky used color and shape to denote emotions and ideas, we viewed each square of this piece as a separate experience.  This gave us the opportunity to talk about mood and symbolism in art and literature! I created a response grid and numbered each square of the piece, and we went from there!

We also looked at Kandinsky's words.  We had been doing a lot of thinking about how the words we say and write reveal things about us as people.  We did this with authors and their books, activists and their speeches...why not artists and their words, too?  I created a quotation biography. There are many fascinating quotations attributed to Kandinsky.  We read these and completed a "Read-Think-Wonder" thinking routine about our favorites.  This was especially interesting as we ended up comparing our thoughts about his words to our thoughts about his artwork.

The Math & Art Connection

Because we had been viewing Color Study: Squares With Concentric Circles, I used this as an opportunity to introduce circumference to my students.  Using a template of concentric circles I had created for our use, we explored the concepts of circumference and the formula associated with it. What I liked about including this concept in our project is that it was an enrichment for my fifth graders.  However, it could be used as a review or main teaching point when done with other grade levels.  
Next, I posed the question: If we had five concentric circles, of five different colors, and the colors could move between the different-sized circles, how many variations could we make if we layered those circles as Kandinksy did in his color study?  I showed my students what I meant by drawing an example of the question on my SmartBoard.  How many combinations could I make if the big circle was many if it was green? How many if it was purple?  

At first, I allowed my students to explore this question in their own ways.  They went to work in their math journals, exploring possible ways of solving the question. As they explored, I moved around the room observing and offering support when needed.  

What I really enjoyed watching was the creative ways my students came up with solving for the question. Some drew circle diagrams and filled them in with color initials. Others worked to come up with equations that would solve it.  Some made organized lists. After they had explored for a while, we discussed their thinking.  All had identified some sort of process they wanted to use, but none had solved it correctly.  This gave us an opportunity to examine our errors in thinking. At this point, I introduced a problem-solving chart they could choose to use...CHOOSE being the important word in that sentence.  

 After students found a correct solution and could explain their process, I required them to solve it a second way to prove their solution. While there were many groans and eye rolls, my students worked collaboratively to come up with their second solutions.  They were forced to interact with each other to examine thinking other than their own.
They recorded both of their solutions in a frame worthy of an art gallery wall, naming the solution as one would a work of art. 

Paintbrushes at the Ready?

For the next part of our Kandinsky exploration, we whipped out our paintbrushes for a little color exploration.  Each student used a piece of white construction paper (11x17) and painted it with watercolor paint, mixing colors and keeping in mind all that we learned about color and emotions.  

After their papers dried overnight, they used the circle templates to cut our four of each circle size from the painted paper.  They chose a colored background, based on the emotion they were trying to communicate and arranged their concentric circles on the paper.  THIS WAS AMAZINGLY FUN! 

 Painting with passion and layering colors!

Our final step included a reflection about their artwork! Check out our results below!

When we were done, my boys (yes, my macho, sports-oriented rough and tumble boys) asked, "What are we gonna do next, Ms. Willis?"  And then,  I overheard one of them say this, "I really like the effect of watercolor, it's so moody."  So you see, colors don't just sing when art is added to  math class...hearts do, too.

If you're interested in trying math, literacy and art applications in your classroom, check out these problem-solving projects by clicking on the pictures below.

P.S. Shhhhhh! Coming soon...Keith Haring & ancient Egypt! Stay tuned!