We Got This – Part 1

This summer I’m reading through We Got This by Conelius Minor. I’ve heard of the book and another teacher at my school raved about out last year. Based on the preview it looks like it falls in similar lines with two of the books that I read last year: This is Not a Test and White Fragility. I feel like understanding your own bias and privilege are the beginning steps in making actionable change. I’m continuing to read more to find out where I can make lasting impact.

The book is part of an optional study for the summer that was made available by my administrator. With all that has transpired over the last few months (George Floyd’s death, protests, awareness of inequalities … ) the district has taken a stance that equity should be a focus. How that turns out is anyone’s guess right now, but I believe we’re making strides in the right direction. The study group will be reading a couple chapters and then meeting over Zoom throughout the summer. Last week the group initially met to discuss the logistics and decided to read two chapters and meet every two weeks.

I kept my highlighter handy as I went through the first two chapters. I highlighted certain statements that resonated and kept them at limit to focus on particular pieces. I’m writing here to preserve my current thoughts.

Chapter 1

“The true masterminds – the real enemies – in this dystopia are the business-as-usual attitudes ..” p. 10

Over time I’ve realized the business-as-usual tendencies are often rooted in resistance to change. As an organization become larger balancing efficiency with what’s best for students tends to drive decisions at a school level. Being open to modifying or scrapping an idea for something else can be a challenge, especially when the originators of the system are not willing to budge or have been given a directive to stay the course.

“When we are inflexible in our naming, we become inflexible in our thinking” p. 10

Despite our best efforts, fixed labeling is evident in schools. Gifted, resource, special ed, striving, low, high, average, EL, kiddos (okay I threw this in there), are all labels. Once a label is fixed it’s trying to remove it from our fixed perspective. Being more flexible with categorizing can help evolve our viewpoint. Students are changing, growing and developing their own academic identities through experiences at home and school. Why should teachers affix a label that’s attached to a student as the individual learning process evolves.

Chapter 2

“Teaching without this kind of engagement is not teaching at all. It is colonization.” p. 28

The text before this statement mentions the importance of relationships that are grounded in a shared vision and collaboration. The word that bounced off of the page was colonization. When I hear the word I think of establishing control. Is that what school is for? I would assume if you ask teachers, many of them would say that having a classroom community is essential in creating an environment for optional learning. This quote reinforces how important it is to allow (I kind of cringe when writing that word as it assumes that it’s my decision) students to be empowered to be part of a community of learners.

“... Racism, sexism, ableism, and classism are systems”

“The hard part of knowing that oppression lives in systems too is understanding that systems don’t change just because we identify them; they change because we disrupt them.” p. 31

Understanding that racism is a system and not necessarily an act can take time to digest. Being aware that oppression exists within systems takes a critical eye in looking beyond business-as-usual tendencies. Identifying what/how a school culture silences, excludes and/or oppresses students is the first step. Then we move towards the disruption process.

Reflecting on the 19-20 School Year

School officially ended on Monday. It didn’t feel like a typical end of the school year as teachers said goodbye via Zoom and then shut off their computers for a little while. It’s now time to reflect, drink my coffee slowly, work on a few house projects and take some time for self care.

Before leaving for the summer I asked students to fill out a Desmos survey that I found online. It was originally created by Rachael Degnan and I edited it to reflect my students’ situation. The survey asked students about eLearning, their effort and a number of other questions related to this school year. I was able to get 44 responses in total. I’ll post the slide question and observations in the captions.

The first question asked students about elearning and instruction. In my case students primarily use the SeeSaw platform. Teachers were expected to post daily assignments in SeeSaw for students to complete. The assignments were posted by 9 am and Zoom sessions were scheduled throughout the week – some by the homeroom teacher and others by specialists. Sometimes the Zoom session related to the daily assignments other times that wasn’t the case. It was up to the teacher to decide what to assign and how to use the time during the Zoom sessions.

Most teacher assignments included some type of instruction (possibly pre-closure) or during a Zoom session/teacher instruction video. The most helpful, according to the students was trying a problem and then getting sometime of feedback from the teacher. I’d say approximately 60-70% of the assignments required a student to review the teacher feedback and make a second attempt. Some students required additional attempts. If students were still having difficulty after multiple attempts the teacher would sometimes create a brief instruction video or screencast to help.

The second question related to effort. Most students felt as though they tended to put in a good amount of effort during class. I think if I excluded it to just eLearning the results might be slightly skewed lower. Some students mentioned in the comments that they didn’t try as hard during eLearning because there wasn’t as much work expected. That’s true because the work required decreased during emergency eLearning.

Students tended to skew more positive on the improvement as a student/learner compared to the personal level. This was given to students in grades 3-5 so that’s also something to keep in mind when analyzing the results. Many students related to personal growth to making new friend and helping others in need. I saw responses like this in the student explanations. I thought that was interesting as it wasn’t something that the class discussed much in detail.

This question had responses across the entire grid. Students generally completed the math work in the morning after a homeroom class Zoom session. If a students was having trouble with a concept it was challenging to address it without seeing the student work first. I think this was tough for some students as they were able to ask for help from a parent and others were not. Some students mentioned in the comments that they couldn’t work through problems with a partner or group and that negatively impacted how they felt about eLearning. Other students were nervous and weren’t quite sure how to work their question so they gave up or left question fields blank.

A couple things stood out to me with this question. Most of the students liked completing tasks at their own pace. This doesn’t happen as much as I’d like it to in the regular classroom as schedules often limit timing. Many students mentioned they learn best in-person. This isn’t surprising and highlights the importance of being able to see a student, their work, non-verbals and use those to connect and give feedback. I believe students missed those connections.

The top vote was “getting good grades” and part of me feels sad about this. I try to devalue points/grades as much as possible and focus on the math journey instead. There’s quite a bit of pressure for these students to do well. I was glad to see maintaining friendships and building new friendships to be in the upper half of the priority list. I loop with most of my students so it’ll be interesting to see how students react when I show them this data in the fall.

Each student filled this out and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Most students gave themselves between 5-10. Concepts that haven’t been discussed as much were in the 5 range. Again, I’ll be reviewing this with the students that I loop with in the fall.

I was initially teetering on whether to give this feedback survey. I’m glad I decided to try it out and will be parsing out more details as I dig into the data a bit more over the summer.

Now, summer officially begins.

One Week Left

It’s official. There’s only one week left of the school year. It’s been a trial-and-error emergency elearning adventure for the past couple months and we’ve almost made it. The last couple months have been challenging and there has been plenty of anxiety to go around. Fortunately, I’ve also seen grace in supply as parents and educators tread through these uncharted waters. This year has been far from normal and I’m currently planning out my last week with students.

I have one more Zoom session with each class next week. Each class will discuss the results of a cumulative quiz, review the year, take a polygraph and end with a closing message. I’m hoping to end with some closure as we prepare for a different summer and unusual fall when school starts up again.

Cumulative

Last week I gave one final cumulative quiz over the past 1-2 months of learning through a Google Form. The quiz was only around 15-20 questions, but covered content related to the last unit. I’m required to give a grade for the final trimester and this quiz was influential in reporting math progress. Some of the questions were multiple choice, while other were open response. I realize I need to up my Google Quiz game. Hoping to work on that over the summer.

I’ll be using the quiz results to discuss particular concepts that might need strengthening and to highlight areas of strengths. I’ll most likely use some type of graph that summarizes problems that were correct/incorrect. Trends will be discussed and possible opportunities for summer learning will be brought to the forefront. Usually teachers give sometime of summer work near this time of the year, but I’m going to pass this year unless otherwise directed.

Review the year

The class will then review the year. I have a class Twitter feed that I’ll take pictures from and create some type of brief slide show for the students. I also asked the students for classroom experience/memories during the last class session. I’d like to have each student talk a bit about their math experience this year (if they’d like) and then finish by introducing the class polygraph (Thanks Cathy for the idea!). Each slide has an experience or class event. Students will spend around 10-20 minutes on the polygraph. There won’t be any looking over the shoulder during this as everyone is remote. During the last couple minutes I’ll reveal the names of the partners and then we’ll come back as a group.

Closing Message

Completing this in a digital form will be new. In a normal setting I’d tell the students how proud I am to be their teacher and that I’m looking forward to hearing about all the great things that they’ll accomplish in middle and high school. I then give them a high-five or fist pump and I say a quick goodbye and keep my composure (some of these kids I’ve seen for multiple years). Obviously this year is different. I’m preparing a slide that I’ll be showing them of of how proud I am during this strange and unique time of eLearning. I still have more work to do on this slide, but I want to make it meaningful and memorable for the students.


I hope I’m able to see all of my students face-to-face next year. I’m not sure that’s going to happen and only time will tell. I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s not really the end of the year. Every year in school impacts the next to a certain degree. This school year seems different and its ripples will impact next fall in ways that we’re not used to as schools scramble to figure out how to safely operate.

I hope you all have a safe end to the school year and a restful summer.

Finishing the Year with Elearning

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School to eLearning

The calendar shows we have about three weeks of school left.  At this time during a normal school year I’d be looking at my unit sequence and schedule my final unit assessments.  I’d also be organizing how I want to end the school year.  I’d usually have a final exam about a week before the end of the year then have a decent amount of time for student reflection and plan a few fun end of the year activities. The last day of the year is always field day and where the school claps out the fifth graders as they prepare for middle school. During that day teachers wave to the busses as students adventure onwards towards their summer.  We wish the students well and tell them we look forward to seeing them in the fall.

Obviously this year is different. With three weeks left I’m looking at an unrealistic pacing guide, have decided to consolidate lessons and am making a priority to check in with students more often. I’ve had to change my own expectations in a realization that emergency eLearning isn’t the same as being in school.  Not even close.  I’ve had to become even more flexible with my own expectations regarding student participation nd missing work. Tracking down missing work digitally isn’t ideal. Students are turning in assignments between 8:30 (when they’re posted) all the way until 9:00 that night or later. Students have been fairly receptive to feedback as around 60% of students need to resubmit an assignment for a second attempt.  This doesn’t happen in the regular classroom.  Because we have less assignments there’s more of an emphasis on completing quality work.  That’s a win in my book.  Students have been consistent with attending Zoom meetings during the last few weeks.  I’ve added more interactive pieces to these sessions as reading off slides for 10-20 minutes is ineffective.  I’ve had more success with using Padlet, Quizziz, interactive sites and question/answer sessions with Zoom.  Referencing other assignments and reviewing the work completed during the week in Zoom sessions has been helpful to some students.  Keeping with similar school routines with questions via a Google Form have helped keep some of the normalities of my class during the past month.  The class then reviews the questions and answers during the Zoom meeting.

I’m in the process of planning out the next three weeks. I want to continue to provide quality experiences for kids, but also realize the limitations of teaching remotely.  Those experiences look different depending on the grade level.  I’ve been attempting to have a variety of assignments throughout the week.  I’ve been picking and/or creating assignments that relate to the lesson from the resources below.

Some of these are used more often than others. The adopted text sheets are used more than others. I try to use 1-2 days of the week for a Google From quiz or Desmos activity.  Those days are designed to review concepts and provide more direct feedback.  When students complete the quiz they receive a score and get to review the results.  Same with Desmos as students can self-check.  The starter slides are also great to check in with students.

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I have a few ideas to think about for the the last few days of school. Last year I used a Desmos polygraph to reflect on our math experiences and am thinking about doing something similar.  I want to close out the year with students feeling like they belong and have made positive progress during their elearning math adventure.

Didn’t think I’d say this last year, but I’m now off to plan digital math experiences for my students.

Elearning Wins and Obstacles

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The governor extended the stay at home order throughout the month of May. With that order schools are now physically closed for the remainder of the year.  I think most thought this might happen, but it wasn’t confirmed until last week.  Having a sense of closure of what’s expected moving forward was relieving, but at the same time understanding that we won’t be able to meet with the kids again this year is disappointing. It’s bittersweet. When meeting classes through Zoom you can tell that this pandemic and closure is taking a toll on all of us.

With all that being said, we’re trying to push forward.  There are five weeks left on the instructional calendar.  Moving abruptly to emergency eLearning hasn’t been a walk in the park and there has been a lot of anxiety. The increased amount of planning has caused a massive amount of stress, but I believe most teachers in my district feel like their feet are on a bit more solid ground compared to about a month ago.  Professional development is happening more consistently and everyone seems to understand (not accepts) that this new normal is in place for the remainder of the school year.  Coming to terms that the education structure has changed isn’t simple. Through this process of tinkered, tweaked and took some risks in trying to find out what works best with this new medium. Personally, I’ve found some ideas/strategies that have worked well and others that have downright bombed.  I’m keeping a list of the technology tasks here so I can reflect (and hopefully use again!) back on them. Feel free to use and remix as you see fit. Just like in a normal classroom I’ve found certain ideas have worked well with eLearning and other haven’t. I’ll be noting wins (some instruction, some structural) and ideas/platforms that are on the fence below.  Let’s start off with the wins.

Wins

SeeSaw – I’m required to post daily math assignments through SeeSaw and it’s been a great tool so far. I generally post a brief message to the class and a link or a page that the class would normally complete if we were together.  Students will complete the assignment, I review it, offer feedback and send it back to students if they need to redo something.  Right now about half (yes I said half!) of the students redo and resubmit the assignment for a second attempt.  This process has actually been helpful as students use the feedback to make changes.

Desmos – I’ve been using Desmos with all of my classes this year.  More so now then I did when in a physical school. I’ve been borrowing tasks found here and creating my own that match what I’m teaching.  One of the game changers has been the self-checking and feedback slides. Students are able to take as much time as needed to eventually find a solution.  This has been a great way to provide correct/incorrect feedback without being there in person.  Also, really enjoying the “starter” and “checking in” screens.

Google Forms – I use Google Forms for parents to sign up for activities or clubs.  Haven’t really used them beyond that purpose until this week.  I gave a Google Form to my 4th and 5th graders on Monday and we discussed the results when we met live via Zoom. Later in the week I gave my 5th grade group a brief graded quiz on concepts that we’ve been discussing.  I’ve also been able to incorporate spaced practice within the forms. Students were able to see how they performed immediately afterwards, which is a win in my book.

Teams – I feel fortunate to have a supportive teaching team to discuss ideas with.  Moving from a regular classroom to remote learning has been a challenge and my team has been fairly consistent in the process.  It certainly hasn’t been easy, but having a supportive team and new administration that has done a fantastic job with the navigation has helped.

Upper Fence

Zoom – Being able to see your students live is important, especially when there’s been such a change in instruction.  My meetings last around 20-30 minutes and the first few minutes is allocated to seeing how everyone is doing.  The class says good morning and then we settle into a math routine.  Third grade works on an Estimation180 task, fourth with a Who am I, and fifth with SERP’s pre-algebra.  The class then is introduced to a new concept through Google Slides.  Students have opportunities to ask questions and then we say goodbye.  Some students stay longer to ask questions or tell me about something going on in their lives that they’d like to share.  I haven’t had much success with the polling option (it isn’t available) and breakout rooms need to have another adult in the room so that’s not always feasible. The chat is a mixed bag and I feel like I’m policing whenever it’s available. I’m adding an additional Zoom session for my students that might need extra support this week.  I’m anticipating some positive results.

Instructional Videos – I’ve made a few instructional videos over the past couple weeks.  The videos are between 2-5 minutes and discuss particular problems that the class explores during our live sessions.  I think it adds another personal element, which is needed during this time, but I’m not 100% sold on the effectiveness of the videos.

Google Slides – Most of my Zoom meetings include some type of lesson.  I’ve been using Slides for this and am trying to keep the classroom routine similar to our face to face interactions.  I tend to create one deck with all my grade levels.  The first slide includes a title, then the objective and then eventually into the lesson.  The decks are short, usually less than 10 slides.  I try to make them interactive, but there’s a lot of be desired and part of that is due to the time it takes in the creation process.  One of the benefits is that I can send the class the slides after the lesson as a review. Maybe I need to look into more options/templates for this medium.  So far it’s worked ok, but nothing to write home about.

Lower Fence

Quizziz – I use this frequently during face to face instruction (probably more than any), but not as much during remote learning.  There’s some competition involved with Quizziz and it doesn’t work as well if people are using it at different times.  There’s feedback embedded, which makes it a decent option.

Nearpod – Again, I use this in the regular classroom.  I love the draw option where students can show you their work, but students aren’t aware of how well they’re doing and what’s correct or not.

Adopted Text screenshots – By screenshots, I mean taking a workbook/worksheet resource and using it as an assignment that is sent back and forth through SeeSaw.  I think many teachers feel obligated to use the district resource in an effort to stay consistent with the scope and sequence. Also, this falls into the digital worksheet realm, which has pros/cons. I think there’s a lot of potential here, it just hasn’t been collectively used yet

Time – Managing time working from home has its challenges.  I’ve been digging my commute, but haven’t yet settled into the new normal. Since I’m not able to easily check in with students, I’ve been working longer at creating content/finding resources that provide meaningful feedback to students. I’ve attempted to balance the amount of increased screen time with getting outside and enjoying the weather when I can.  I’m making progress and believe other teachers are in similar situations.


I’m certainly not ranking the platforms/ideas, but instead showing what seems to be working well or not so well during this transition to emergency eLearning.  Platforms that provide opportunities to for feedback and multiple attempts are more helpful than others.  I’ve been able to curate many resources because of the fantastic #Mtbos and #iteachmath communities.  I’m looking forward to making the next five weeks memorable and beneficial as we continue to move into uncharted waters.

Week 3 of eLearning

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My class finished up their third week of eLearning today.  Tomorrow is a scheduled non-school attendance day so today ends the school week.  I think most teachers are still figuring out how to balance and cope with what’s changed over the past couple weeks.  A historical event is playing out before our eyes and the learning environment for our students (and us) has significantly changed.  Even with all this being said, I believe we (using the collective educator we) are making progress. We’re adapting, learning new skills and attempting to reach students through a different medium.  I believe Llana’s Tweet sums up my thoughts fairly well.

Since student work is now being turned in digitally teachers now return the work in the same manner. Right now students complete assignments and return them through SeeSaw (at least at the k-5 level in my district).  The assignments take many different forms.  Some of the them are digital while others are pulled from district adopted resources.  Most of the assignments include some type of written response or visual model.  Assignments are sent out once a day and students send them back to the teacher completed. Once a student’s finished assignment hits the teacher’s SeeSaw inbox the teacher has the option to accept the work, send the work back, or add comments.  Usually teachers add a comment about the work and send it back to the student. Here’s where the feedback/analysis comes in.  Take these two different examples.

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With limited information available, a couple questions come through my mind when taking a look at both of these responses.

  • Does the student understand the question?
  • What made the student decide on using multiplication?
  • Why did one student use 40 and the other 3.5?
  • Did one student forget to move the decimal point?
  • Which student has a better understanding of the concept?

Identifying misconceptions and offering feedback based on that analysis is becoming more of the norm with eLearning. This is part of the regular classroom experience, but is emphasized even more now as contact is limited. Asking the student for more information and/or a well planned question to encourage the student to rethink their answer might help here. Giving feedback through digital means isn’t a simple task.  It takes thoughtful consideration and thankfully I’ve had the student more 3/4 of the year so that helps frame some of my own thinking.  As I contemplate how to give feedback in a more meaningful way, I’m planning on using a coding key for SeeSaw activities.

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This is similar to the NY–M retake sheets that I used during non-learning days.  I’m hoping this is helpful (along with the feedback!) as we continue into week 4 next Monday.  Enjoy the weekend everyone!

Learning Sync

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One of my classes finished up a unit on multiplication strategies last week.  Before the test I usually have students review a study guide and I meet with small groups to determine if certain skills/concepts need reviewing.  This time I changed up the schedule.  Instead of a study guide I went the route of using a brain dump.

I’ve heard of the term brain dump before, but didn’t really have a way to organize and use it effectively in the classroom setting.  I learned how to refine and apply it based on the examples in the book Powerful Teaching.  I thought I’d try it out with one class, see how it went and then possibly use it with other classes.  If all went well then I’d move to

So I gave each student a prompt.  The prompt was “write everything that you know about multiplication strategies.”  It was in 12 point font at the top of a 8 x 11 sized paper. Below the prompt was a massive canyon of space.  After I passed out the papers I had about a third of my class raise their hands.  Apparently they weren’t used to this type of prompt or activity.  I told the students that I’d answer questions about the prompt, but wouldn’t give them any examples.  Some students were confused at first.  I told them that they would have five minutes to complete the task and drawings to show strategies were certainly okay.  A few students gave sighs of relief.  I started the timer and the students were off to writing.

I walked around the room and observed the visual models and strategies that were filling up the white space on the students’ papers.  After the time was over I randomly grouped the students in pairs and they shared their individual strategies.  I used the questions directly from the book p. 58.

Is there anything in common that both of us wrote down?

Is there anything new that neither of use wrote down?

Why do you think you remembered what you did?

The entire experience took about 25 minutes and it was worthwhile.  Afterwards, students asked about being able to use this activity for our next unit.  I think it worked well with multiplication strategies, but I’m a bit unsure of other concepts.  I’m definitely willing to try it out though.  The class decided to change the name.  We came up with a couple names and then I mentioned Learning Sync from the book and it stuck.

Nice to Meet You Area Model

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This week my second grade students have been exploring multiplication strategies.  We started off early in the year looking at arrays and using doubling strategies.  Then we moved to helper facts.  These are still used to this day, but we introduced a new tool this week.  Enter the area model.  Hello!

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Students transitioned from arrays to squares, but didn’t sit at that spot long.  Through the area model, students take apart numbers and partition (yes, we say partition at second grade) the rectangle into parts.  Each part is a partial product.

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I’m fortunate in my position to see this strategy used at multiple grade levels.  The rectangle evolves over time.  As students progress, I find that place value and advanced decomposing strategies become more prevalent.  You can learn quite a bit about a student’s understanding by checking out their math work with an area model.  How they split up the numbers can also tell a story.  Why did they split up the rectangle that way?

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I find quite a bit of value in using this strategy.  For one, it doesn’t immediately move students towards the standard algorithm and it helps build/show conceptual understandings.  My 2-6th grade math students use it in a variety of capacities. My 5th grade crew has recently been using them to multiply fractions. Short story: It makes an appearance at every grade level.  It’s also a a fairly smooth transition to using the partial-products strategy.

Even though it’s a useful resource, I find there are a a couple things that irk me about using this tool.  Sometimes organization skills can hamper the effectiveness of drawing and organizing.  I’ve had more than a handful of students draw boxes that overlap or numbers that might not be decomposed correctly.  Also, it’s not to scale, but that’s not a game changer for me.

As students progress through elementary school they encounter a variety of math tools and strategies.  Manipulatives are generally used to help students build a better understanding of math concepts. The CRA model is often emphasized at this level. Many tools are brought out to help fill gaps and others are continually used.  At some point, I’m assuming the my students will rely on the standard algorithm to quickly multiply numbers (if they don’t have a calculator handy).  They probably won’t understand why the algorithm works, but it just does.  The area model shows multiplication in a concrete way.  Don’t get me started on lattice.

Surface Area and Improvements

Last year I taught a lesson on surface area that bombed.  I thought it’d be great to have students measure the surface area of a state using a scale model.  This task was found in my course adopted resource pack. Looking back, it wasn’t a bad idea or problem but the execution was far less than stellar.  The problem asked students to find the surface area of the state of Nevada.  They were given a model and a scale at the bottom.

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The class completed this mostly in whole group (which in hindsight was not the greatest idea).  I asked students to use the scale to find the surface area.  Students used rulers and decided to find the area by dividing the shape into one rectangle and one triangle.  After giving students about 10 minutes I surveyed the class and the answers were all over the board. Some debated on the word “approximate” as the class was asked to find the approximate surface area.  Other students thought the 0-100 km was a guideline and could be rounded. While others decided to neglect the missing piece near the southern border of the state.  Needless to say it didn’t go as well as planned.  Looking back, one of the problems was that this activity was completed whole group.  Students didn’t get time to discuss with each other what or how to measure.  There wasn’t a determination of what to do with the missing piece in the south and how to divide up the state.  The class eventually came to a consensus that there was one right answer and we moved on.  I put a note in my planner to do things differently next year.


So it is now next year (2020) and I have a different class.  This year I gave the same problem, but did things a bit differently.  I first front-loaded information about the state itself as a whole class discussion.  The class discussed the shape of Nevada and how it’s not exactly one rectangle and one triangle.  I reinforced that we can’t just neglect the small corner of Nevada.  It may be helpful to find that area as well.  Students were then randomly selected and placed in small groups of 2-3 students per group.  I asked the students what was meant by the scale in the bottom left and how they could use it to help them find the area.  Student groups had time to discuss and report out how they would use it.  Some students even found that the 0-100 km was actually 1 centimeter. I then gave each group a ruler/straightedge to help construct shapes within the state itself. Students had approximately 15-20 minutes to discuss and find the surface area using the tools that they were provided.  Students were busy slicing up the state and using a straightedge to find the approximate surface area.

The class then came back as a whole and each group submitted a response.  I received all the responses and students were given time to think about their submission and possibly make a change.  It’s interesting how peer pressure and consensus will sometimes make you second guess a decision.  In this case students mostly received affirmation and there was justification that came along with that decision.  All but one group was in the ballpark and that group didn’t initially convert the scale.  There answer ended up being extremely small compared to others.  Some of the groups decomposed like this:

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The majority of the class was within the approximate range and it was a productive discussion.  If you’re wondering, the surface area is approximately 278,000 square kilometers.  So now you can win a trivia contest.


I put a note in my planner to use this method next year.  Last year it bombed and this year was much better. Part of teaching is improving your craft and I had more than a couple pieces of humble pie last year. I tend to hear the phrase best practice thrown around in the field of education. I’m more of the mindset of emphasizing better practices and looking forward to tweaking this even more to make it a better experience next year.

Exploring Perimeter

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My third graders have been investigating perimeter and area for the past week.   I find when the terms are isolated, students are able to define them fairly accurately.  When put together it’s a different story.  Students tend to switch them around or heavily rely on one term based on what the class has been working on for that day.  So this year my students worked on a project that focused specifically on perimeter.  Area is part of it, but only if a teacher wants to pursue that avenue.

Students were put in groups and given two sheets.

Students outlined the map and personalized the city.  The construction zone is intended to be used for the actual city piece.  After the maps were distributed, each group received a centimeter grid.  The grid was used for students to cut out and create a city based on a certain criteria.  Each group received one sheet that indicated certain dimensions.

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Students then filled in the rest of the grid to match the dimensions.  Some of the dimensions were non-negotiable, like the height for the school or perimeter for the police department.  Others had some leeway.  There was a lot of erasing and rewriting for this sheet.  Once they completed the sheet students started tracing and cutting out the centimeter grid paper.  Trial-and-error was part of the process.  Students then cut out the buildings, put together some supports and glued them to the construction zone.

Students put together the cities and attached the dimension sheet to the bottom.  I’d say that around half of the class is finished and the rest are making some great progress.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of them turn out and the gallery walk that will happen afterwards.  Here are the files that I used and feel free to use it in your own classroom.