Some lessons work out so well that I can’t help but share them with others. This is one of those.
So far my third grade Polite Pirates (what I call my students) have learned how to round to the nearest ten and hundred, plus three-digit addition and subtraction. As we move on to multiplication and division, I came up with a way to make reviewing and practicing our foundational arithmetic skills unbelievably fun: a game.
Usually, I’ll create a game around a story. This time, I kept it super simple: “Closest to a 1000 wins!”
Old-school building blocks are magical. You could dump them out in front of a 4 year old or a 40 year old, and you’d see the same reaction; Building. Everyone wants to stack blocks.
The first thing I did was write three-digit numbers on the sides of mine; I actually wrote the numbers on pieces of paper that I taped to the sides. Then I threw them in a box. The “Box O’ Blocks” is plain-old fun to say;) I told the Polite Pirates that it was a game… Instant positive vibes.
Here’s how you play:
Each team blindly takes 3 blocks out of the box.
Stack the blocks so you can see the numbers.
Add the numbers up.
Closest to 1000 wins. “How do you tell who is closest?” (Let students figure this out. There will be some teaching. This is one of my favorite parts.)
As a team decide on one block to exchange in order to get closer to 1000. Place it on the side, but not back in the box.
Blindly take one more block out.
Combine this number with the others. Make a prediction. Will your new total be closer or farther from 1000?
Add the numbers. Was your prediction correct?
Repeat steps 5-8.
Which combination of 3 blocks is closest to 1000?
Compare your sum with that of other teams. Who is closest to 1000?
Start over; Play another round.
When I first introduced the game, I was astounded to witness the number sense that this little activity generated. Kids could instantly tell that their 3 blocks would exceed 1000 by quickly adding up the hundreds. But, they had to include the tens and ones to see which team was closer.
Closest to a Thousand
Figuring out which team was closer to 1000 was a lot of fun, too. I had two teams competing during a math center, and everyone thought that the team with 1349 was closer than the one with 749. I drew a simple number line with 1000 in the middle. It was easy to see how far 1349 was from 1000. It’s just 349 past the 1000, but what about 749? The Polite Pirates were tricked into thinking that it was 749 units away from the mark (1000). When we subtracted 749 from 1000, the Polite Pirates saw that this team was only 251 units away from the 1000, making it the winner of that round.
When kids have a purpose for playing, they will do any amount of math. I had the students who met with me at this center bring their Spiral Notebooks to work out their arithmetic. Some were trying to do the math in their heads. Others worked it out quickly on their papers and shouted out the answers. We figured out together how to play the game politely: Wait for everyone to solve the problem, and then compare numbers. Discuss how you got your answer.
We use Ready Math in my school district. One of the things I love most about Ready Math is the multiple ways to solve the same problem. I had kids drawing base-ten blocks to show their hundreds, tens, and ones. Some kids used expanded form to add up the three-digit numbers. There were kids who were able to add 3 three-digit numbers one on top of another, using the algorithm I grew up learning.
One girl had added two numbers together, and then the third to that sum. She was thrilled to find that she could simply substitute that last step with a new number when her group chose a different block! It saved her a step.
I was able to review regrouping on the board for those students still struggling with borrowing to subtract. Everyone was at a different level, using different tools and strategies, but we were all engaged in learning, reviewing, practicing, and having fun.
If a kid finished before others, they simply messed with the 3 blocks, stacking them different ways, and that was perfectly okay! With only 3 they didn’t make much noise if they fell. The other mathematicians only hurried more to complete their work, too. They wanted to get their fingers on the blocks, also. “No dice till you finish figuring out how close to 1000 your group came.”
Lastly, a surprising teaching moment arose when I was able to reintroduce the commutative property and mental math within adding 3 three-digit numbers. I was showing the algorithm style of adding 3 numbers on top of one another. “When you have a bunch of single-digit numbers, it can be difficult to add them all up in your head. Look for tens or combinations that are easier to work with,” I explained to my Polite Pirates.
I showed this by pulling a column of 4 numbers out of the algorithm and writing it in a line. “You can add these ones in any order you like,” I told my learners. “Choose combinations that work best for you. Don’t forget any numbers.”
We didn’t want our center to end! Polite Pirates were reluctant to drop their blocks back in the box. But, what kid doesn’t like making noise?
Finally, I will say that when I first dreamed up this simple game, I was thinking that I’d have my students buy blocks or measure how high they could build. I thought that I’d explain the three-digit numbers to represent how much mass each block was (some were more dense than others), and they could only build a 1000 kg structure… I could come up with a million scenarios for my block-building game, but it was unnecessary. Perhaps, it would be helpful if reintroducing the game to the same students down the road.
When first explaining how to play, though, numbers on blocks in a box are all you need. If you like this lesson, give it a try. If you have thoughts on its implementation or ideas on improvement, let me know. Good luck and great teaching!
Along with every other kid in the world, my 8 year old daughter Scarlet is experiencing at home, online learning during the “Stay at Home” novel Coronavirus Pandemic. She is receiving daily assignments of online activities. As I’ve been witnessing hers and preparing my own, I am evaluating what makes the most effective distance learning tools.
Recently, Scarlet was asked to log into a math website and complete a task geared toward teaching coin-counting. This cartoon animation had her making 25 cents with nickels and dimes.
I try to let Scarlet do her online learning with as little distraction as possible, but this got to be too much for me! She was dragging coins to a spot on the screen until she accumulated 25 cents, and then it would celebrate her accomplishment with a silly jingle. I felt like my daughter was turning into a chimpanzee.
I closed the device she was using and drew a grid. “I’m going to teach you a homonym; a multiple-meaning word,” I told her. “This is a table; not the kind you eat on. You use this to make sense of numbers.”
We made a few tables with varying totals and different coins available. She made many different combinations of coins to show the same amount.
While filling in a row of varying coins totaling a dollar, Scarlet made a slight mistake. The table already had one half dollar and one quarter. She wrote “5” in the nickels column which made me happy, but then she wrote “2” in the dimes space. I knew what had happened. She equated the value of one nickel with the number to be written in the field. No biggie. As it turned out, we happened to have toy coins that I had dug out of the closet. I presented the actual coinage on the carpet. Scarlet almost didn’t let me get out all five nickels, having realized her mistake.
Eventually, I made some puzzles where I would fill in certain coin fields and have Scarlet solve the missing number. “If you are making one dollar out of pennies, nickels, and dimes, and you have 8 dimes & 3 nickels, how many pennies will you have?” Not only did Scarlet solve the problem easily, but when I asked her to describe what she had done in her head, she walked me through her thinking.
This is what was missing from the chimpanzee-producing online practice. The software allowed Scarlet to drop coins onto a spot on the screen and either rewarded her with a jingle or delivered a negative noise. It was up to Scarlet to figure out what worked best for getting the jingle to happen: Pull the lever to get the banana.
I’ve witnessed software programs that stop a kid after a few wrong answers and reteach a concept before allowing the student to continue an activity. Another way to check for thinking is having students type or video-record their reasoning for an answer. Then the educator can interact with the thinking, praising accurate steps, guiding ideas, and correcting missteps.
The closer to simulating the tailored responses of a human teacher an online program can produce, the more thinking it will stimulate in the student. How can you make a program applicable to the most practitioners, while simultaneously being tailored to the most personalized outcomes/answers?
Thanksgiving night 2019 my daughter Scarlet, wife Sonia, and I all sat down to play a game together. Scarlet was interested in learning Cribbage. This is a card game where players move tiny pegs that stand in holes drilled into a wooden board. Each players’ line of holes goes to 150 points. You leapfrog the pegs, so that one keeps the place of the previous accumulation of points, while the other counts out the new total. The player to get her pegs to the finish first, wins.
I wasn’t sure how Scarlet would do with this game of many rules. There were many firsts: I taught Scarlet how to shuffle the deck. She did pretty good. I showed her how to deal the cards. Then there were the instructions of how to play.
Cribbage is all about points, and there are many ways to earn them. One of the ways to earn points is to form groupings of cards whose combined value total 15. When I witnessed Scarlet, who just turned 8 one week ago, working out the different combinations of 15, I was not only impressed with her math skills. It hit me that she was analyzing the cards and evaluating the future potential they held.
This is a little tricky to communicate via text. Without describing the entire game, let me try to convey what Scarlet had to think about when it came to the 15s. It takes several rounds to accumulate 150 points and win a game of Cribbage. Each round begins with all of the (3) players getting 5 cards. The first thing that you do is try to decide which 4 cards you keep, for you are to give up one of them. It can be a challenging decision to make.
See, you don’t just record the points represented in your hand. You play your cards against opponents’ cards. And then, there is a starter card that you use over and over, too. Finally, there is a crib that goes to the dealer. This is what you contribute to when you discard a card at the beginning of the round. If you’re not the dealer, you don’t want to place cards into the crib that will easily form combinations of 15, giving your opponent more points.
So, it’s Thanksgiving. The dinner is cooked, consumed, and cleaned up. I’m watching my daughter wrestle with the cards in her hand. Of the five she is holding, which should she throw in the crib for someone else to use?
Sometimes it is simple. The starter is a five, and you have three face cards (valued at 10, each), a five, and a four. Throwing the four into someone else’s crib is a no-brainer. It won’t make any points for you. How many different combinations of 15 are you looking at without the four? Try working it out.
The answer is six different combinations of 15 can be formed (3 combinations using your “5” + 3 face cards & 3 combinations using the starter card which is a “5” + your 3 face cards). What if rather than a five, you had an Ace (valued at one in Cribbage)? Now you have 3 face cards worth ten each, an Ace, and a four. And, don’t forget the starter, which is a five. If you give away one of your face cards, you would have four combinations of 15. If you gave away the four this time, you would only have three fifteens: Your 3 face cards, combined with the starter.
It’s extra hard when you have to add the numbers to make fifteen. Let’s say the five cards that you are dealt are 4, 5, 6, 3, & Ace, and the starter is an 8. You have to discard one of those cards to someone else’s crib.
Ace, 3, 6, 5 = 15
4, 6, 5 = 15
Ace, 6, 8 = 15
3, 4, 8 = 15
Am I missing any? It takes time and is pretty tricky finding all of the combinations. You can’t overlap any, using the same grouping in a different order.
As I’m sure you can imagine, this is great for developing number sense. It also helps grow critical thinking skills. Scarlet was doing all of this math in her head. Once in a while, she would ask for some help. We worked through all of the different combinations to make the best decision possible. She ended up winning, surprise/surprise!
What struck me most about this experience was the inner conflict centered on deciding which card you would choose to relinquish to the crib each round. I knew this to be an important part of the game, but watching my daughter wrestle with the decision, round after round, brought new light to the fact. With practice, she got better and more confident at choosing the card that she would let go.
The inner conflict of choosing the best cards to keep and which to get rid of reminded me of using controversy in the classroom. Making topics controversial by providing students with opposing, nearly equal in value concepts that they must analyze and evaluate to decide which is better or more appropriate for a given situation would develop the skill of critical thinking. Cribbage could be a great way to grow this higher order thinking skill, while also developing number sense.
This got me thinking about other card games. How might a teaching style be analogous to these card games:
“Go Fish” — Students ask for information. If you know it, you hand it over. If you don’t, the students fish for it online (ask Siri). What are students learning when you use this style of teaching? Education is a take/receive, skill-less process. During the card game, only conflict comes in deciding how honest you want to be;) The controversy lies solely in morals.
“Rummy” — Players work at making connections between like cards. They collect as many pairs, three & four of a kind, and make runs. The player who has accumulated the greatest value in cards at the end of play, wins. Analogy to teaching: Making connections is great! Each time you find two like ideas, you group them in your head. You categorize thoughts and store them away. Furthering this game’s message, however; If you’ve played this game much, you’ve probably learned that runs are where the play is. You can play one of your cards off of someone else’s run. You only get the points that your card is valued, but at least you get to play it! This symbolizes a group or team-learning approach. Students must decide which information they want to keep, and which to discard. This decision will be based on how valuable it could be in the future or how useful it is right now. A potential drawback to this approach is that it teaches students that the kid with the most knowledge in the end wins at life.
“Poker” — Kids play this when they try to get away with not completing assignments that they think won’t be checked or graded. The lesson students learn from this teaching style: Life is all about tricking people into thinking you are smarter than you really are, have more knowledge about something than you really do, and/or are able so do something when really you are truly incompetent.
“War” — Without consciously choosing, each player places the top card from their pile face up. Highest card value wins all. When there are ties, War ensues, and only one winner gets tons of cards. This is the opposite of equitable teaching. You teach everyone the same, period; Zero differentiation. Some kids greatly benefit. Everyone else plays along, losing in the end. It should be stated that early on in War, one person begins accumulating the aces and face cards. The other player(s) know that they are going to lose… Unless, they cheat. And, even then, it is hard to come back when you don’t know what card your opponent is playing.
“Solitaire” — “Go practice what I taught you.” Players become familiar with the cards and some relationships between them. They may practice shuffling. An element of racing a time could make this game more challenging, but you might as well be marooned on a literal island!
The thing is, we use each of these styles in our teaching. As teachers, we cannot assess everything, and sometimes we have to use a poker face. Sometimes we need to have students play quietly on their own, and there are times when it is good for a kid to repeat the same action over and over, in solitary practice. When a student does not know the definition of a vocabulary word in the middle of a lesson, it is appropriate for them to
ask, and there are other times when we tell them to “go fish” for it in their text. Everyday, all day long, students are making connections, building relationships between concepts and accumulating knowledge. Hopefully, there isn’t too much “Rummy” being called out in your classroom;)
When the profession of teaching seems to be swimming in data and everything seems like a numbers game, I suggest injecting life into it by making a topic controversial: Give it an element of inner conflict through pitting two or more opposing ideas against one another. This will require some creative thinking on your part, but the critical thinking through cognitive productive struggle that students will be engaged in will far outweigh the work you put into it. Good luck, and let me know what you do and how it goes through tagging me and my research partner James Norman on Twitter and/or using #ControversyCanBeClassy when posting. Also, feel free to leave a comment, here;)
“I have a math test to give you, but I thought we could program some Spheros instead,” I said Friday morning to applause from the Polite Pirates of Room 207. Students’ cheers gave way to music… Mission Impossible Theme Music!
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it… And, you’re going to want to accept it… is to rescue people from certain peril,” I proposed. With everyone on the carpet, I explained that before a rescue, engineers would set up models that they could use to plan out their efforts to minimize loss of equipment and life. Their mission was to program Spheros to make it through a model of obstacles, getting to someone or group of people who needed help. The Sphero couldn’t stray from the path or touch the walls because it would be damaged and not be able to complete its mission.
The students were riveted to my instruction as I taught the “Engineering Process” that they would need to use while figuring out the most effective code for completing their rescue. This was the real reason for the lesson, but simultaneously they would get so much more out of learning/practicing coding, problem-solving, and working together in a team.
I went over each scenario, pointing out the “criteria” and the “constraints”, two vocabulary words from the “Engineering Process” model from Foss Science. Students whispered with neighbors about which they were more interested in trying. I told them that if they mastered one, they may move onto another “Mission”.
Students then returned to their seats to get out their math spiral notebooks for taking notes about how they used the “Engineering Process” while solving their missions. They opened the Google slideshow that had all of the missions, as well as an image with the Engineering Process in it. I had “made a copy for each student” through Google classroom.
I pulled popsicle sticks with student numbers on them to pair kids. As numbers were drawn, pairs came to the carpet to redeem their Sphero robot. Then they chose whatever mission fancied them most. With two pairs per mission, the class was a buzz of engineering within moments.
No one got to complete more than one mission, and most did not completely finish every parameter I had set for them, but every single student was 100% engaged in a learning activity full of purpose.
I want to back up to the beginning of the day, before I tell you how this memorable lesson came to a close. Students entered my room to find me painting posters. They asked what I was doing. Because I didn’t know exactly what to call it, I didn’t give them a straight answer. That drove them crazy. They asked to help. “Sure,” I answered, getting out more paint brushes, cups and paints. All I had to do was outline things, and kids would fill in. When I told them that the white was snow or that the red was fire, it fueled their curiosity all the more! Dave Burgess calls this “Preheating the Grill” (Teach Like a Pirate, 2012). My students were so hooked on this upcoming lesson, they hardly wanted to go to gym! Have you ever heard of such a thing?
While students were at their special, I made some finishing touches and turned a fan on to help the paint dry quickly. Then I came up with names, stories, and varying parameters for each mission. I took pictures of the maps, typed up the scenarios, and threw together a slideshow to share with the class.
Back to the lesson. Throughout the “Engineering Process”, while students were working on coding Spheros, I stopped everyone a couple of times to instruct them to take screenshots of their code. That way they could have snapshots of different levels of success. It would help them describe their problem-solving, later. Finally, I put together a Flipgrid for students to make selfie-videos describing how they used the “Engineering Process” to solve (or come close to solving) their mission. If they finished, they could watch their peers’ videos and comment.
I wish there were more time for it. And, time is my enemy. I have a lot to teach in a very limited amount of time.
Time is against me in another way, as well: I constantly ask myself, “How will this learning stand the test of time? Why would my students remember any of this?”
One answer to this question:
It was the first day of ELA standardized testing. I still had several math concepts to teach before students took the Math PSSAs (Pennsylvania’s standardized tests for elementary schools).
How would I present math when students’ brains were fried?
Serve them up for Zombie hors devours!
I wonder, now, if it was the metaphor of brain-eating, zombie-creating testing that got me on this kick. Either way, everyone loves a good apocalypse theme… And, I delivered. As soon as I got rid of my PSSA tests and dropped my students off at lunch, I recovered my stowed away phone and went to work.
Earlier in the year a student had shown me the app Chatterpix. I used this to snap a pic of our classroom spider and make it talk. This spider, EEKK, named after the way students are supposed to sit on the carpet while pair-sharing; Elbow, Elbow, Knee to Knee; has been hanging out in our third grade classroom since his introduction early in the year. I was moving him every now and again, suggesting that he wanted new vantage points from which to witness students’ good behavior/sharing skills. The students love pretending things are alive, and we had fun with it. When I wasn’t moving him for a while students began grumbling and commenting, so I hid him away. Now, 5 min. away from kids, I took a picture of EEKK who was in a cabinet next to the squirt bottle I use to mist the plants. When students watched the video, they exploded in predictions of where EEKK was hidden!
The message of the video was simple: There are zombies lurking, and we need to learn capacity.
Just as I had predicted, my third grade students didn’t care that a toy spider wasn’t alive; that, if it were, it wouldn’t be able to handle a squirt bottle; or that a tiny squirt bottle of water wouldn’t be enough to fend off zombies! They were thrilled to learn about standard liquid measurement and copy my Gallon Guy drawing from the board. I got out containers, and we discussed capacity.
The next day, was Tuesday, the second day of standardized ELA testing (PSSAs) in the morning. As per law, I put all electronic devices away, until I had rid my room of PSSA materials. While the students were at lunch, I made a new movie. This time, I got fancier. I took a snapshot of EEKK on red tile and used Apple’s Keynote App to erase all of the red background with Instant Alpha. Then I stuck him on top of a pic of a moat.
Chatterpix was used to make EEKK present a new problem of creating a perimeter to protect the classroom spider from zombies while he rested. He couldn’t be on guard 24/7!
With each passing day, I added increasingly difficult problems to EEKK’s predicament. After digging a moat, EEKK had to fill it with water. If it took him 5 minutes to get one gallon, and each linear foot of moat required two gallons, how long would it take to completely fill the moat? Was this question real-world? Well, minus the zombie theme, yeah, I think so;)
EEKK wasn’t completely secure, surrounded by only a moat. He decided to build a fort on
the land he had partitioned from the zombie-infected outside. Luckily Amazon was still going strong and available to drone-drop an order of lumber on EEKK’s land square. But, we needed to figure out how much it would cost us. While the outer perimeter of the moat was a 10′ X 10′ square, the moat took up some of the inside space. If the moat was exactly one foot wide all the way around, what would the perimeter of the inner square be? Students needed some perception help with this one. I even had to break out the clay and make a moat to demonstrate the inside square being smaller than the outside one.
Once we figured out the perimeter of the inner square, which would be the length of fence that EEKK would construct, we had to calculate how much this material would cost. Each foot of lumber was going to require $1.25.
The #ZombieApocalypseRoom207 was so much fun that more characters wanted in on the action! Enter the #PolitePirates. Now, #CaptainIronKnee, Mary (pronounced “muh-ree” for a different story), and Zeus want in on EEKK’s pristine perimeter project. They are a little picky, though. They each want their own space. Now, we must figure out how much more lumber we will need in order to build walls within our fort to partition individual spaces for each of the four inhabitants. Plus, they need a “Common Place” for all of them to eat and converse together; a shared space.
For this part of the project, I had students use the geoboard app on their iPads. They had to make the perimeter of the fort, 8 units by 8 units, with one “rubber band”. Then they could create any size spaces within that for the four characters, leaving an additional, fifth space, for the common space. The only parameter was that all of the corners must
be right angles. (This was so that the linear measurement of perimeter was more accurate. It was enough to figure out the cost and time to construct our forts. I didn’t need to teach the pythagorean theorem on top of everything else!)
Once they designed their fort interiors, they had to figure out how much the materials would cost. “Keeping linear units at the price of $1.25/each, how much money are we looking at spending for your fort?”
One thing that was very difficult to communicate clearly was the fact that you didn’t have to count a unit that functioned as two walls twice: If a room inside the fort shares a wall with the outer perimeter or another room, you only count that structure once. (It is tricky, even, to write about this.)
Self-Reflection: What I would do differently
The apocalypse began in fantastic form. The students loved it. The theme was fun and the problems were challenging and engaging. They quickly became overwhelming, however. There needed to be more teaching. I sat with some struggling students and walked them through the use of geoboard. I had them make the same exact shapes as me, and we figured out the perimeters together. This worked well.
Also, the idea of shared walls was very tricky. Two things could remedy this confusion. Make the parameters so that not walls would be shared, or have kids use popsicle sticks to actually build model forts. I wanted to do this last idea, but Wegmans didn’t have any sticks, and I was out of time. Teams could use clay bases and even fill the moat with water. Manipulative money could be used to “buy” the materials from a Zombie store. Students could earn the money by doing chores or figuring out other problems.
Another lesson-learned: Don’t overdo the theme. I am guilty of this. I tried doing a data lesson using the zombies, and not only did everyone grown, but it didn’t even make that much sense without teaching data-analysis, first. The video is cute, and I’ll use it in the future. Plus, students did love the game of throwing zombies at the school.
Self-Reflection: AWESOMENESS and things to grow
Even though the data lesson was not perfect, it gave us Zombie puppets. I had the students use the puppets for an ELA lesson. They made their own Chatterpix videos where their zombies told stories.
The creativity and open-ended practice was unparalleled.
The teaching moments were limitless. I never even got into the cost of carpeting the inside of the fort with different flooring styles! We discussed and figured out area, but it was enough to reteach/learn fractions with four quarters equaling one dollar and division with 12 being broken up into groups of four (quarters) to see the money problem different ways.
And then there is the artwork. In addition to coloring in the zombie puppets, some students drew illustrations for their videos. I had given the class the premise for their zombie stories: The zombies didn’t really want to eat brains. They just wanted to be smart, and they thought that eating brains would help them. The Polite Pirates explained the problem of this misperception to the zombies and everything was fixed. Each student made up his/her own rendition of the story.
The Future of #ZombieApocalypseRoom207
In the future I’d like to incorporate some supplemental reading and ELA components. My friend, Julia Dweck has written a couple of cute kid books about zombies that I would love to incorporate.
Wednesday morning I woke up at my usual 4:55AM with an idea in my head. I had been planning to assess elapsed time in math class (3rd grade) this week, but hadn’t decided on how. All kinds of ways to quiz my students’ understanding abounded, but none were optimal for this subject… or situation.
During the previous week, out of the blue, Laughlin came up with an astounding; an outrageous; a formidable goal. If all of the students in the class get a 100%, we should have a party. Immediately, I softened this to “between 90% and 100%–If everyone earns an A.” Through this suggestion, I was admonishing my acquiescence. And, I told them all that “If everyone received an A, I’ll bring in ice cream sandwiches for the whole class; except the two who are allergic–they would get something super special; I don’t know yet, but it will be awesome!”
Now, I know that grades are perceived negatively in some circles of pedagogical thought (Don’t hate me, @MaireCervenak), and there will be blow back from the start of this concept, but I am writing about it anyway, because I am looking for some help. My students and parents are used to grades from previous years and I have (yes, I’ll admit it) handed out grades, this year. What I am looking for is a way for every student to get to the A (mastery of the subject), while I can still assess each one’s understanding through standards-based assessment. I think that I am almost there, but I would like your feedback and help.
This is what my brain cooked up: I came up with a story where students would have to use elapsed time to solve a mystery. Rather than there being several questions that students answered right or wrong, I would have them wrestle with timed events to figure out the conclusion to one massive mystery.
Here is the premise: A parent comes home; it could be a mom or it could be a dad; late from work. The parent usually gets home at 5:15PM, but today he/she had a meeting that was two hours long. So, immediately, students are working out an elapsed time problem. What time did the parent actually arrive home? [When I introduced the story to them, I gave them this one. They all knew anyway, that the parent walked through the door at 7:15PM. I tell them, “This is just an appetizer; Wait until we get to the meat of the problem!”] After working hard all day, the parent is not too happy to find the house in disarray. There is a huge mess! And, here is the ONE question for the whole quiz: “Who dun it?” (Here is a link to the Google slideshow containing the story. Feel free to use!)
I explained to my class that the kids are all guilty unless they can prove that they were so busy the whole time that they couldn’t possibly have had time to make a mess. It was my students’ job to figure out if the kids filled up the time from getting out of school to the time that the parent arrived home with activities. If there was any missing or unaccounted-fortime, then that kid was a suspect. My class liked the idea, but they hadn’t fully bought into it, yet. “So, we are like detectives…” Avery offered.
“No, you are not like detectives. You ARE detectives,” I countered. Huge smiles of glee infected the room. Not only was this going to be fun, but don’t forget that we are working for As, so that the whole class (minus a couple, who are going to get something super special) can receive ice cream sandwiches. Now, they understood that all they had to do was figure out the answer to one question: “Who made the mess?”
Okay, I have to backup a little, here. While all of this may sound awesome, it would be too much for third graders to just throw a long tale full of times at
them, no matter how well I prep their minds. First of all, this story, which I wrote from start to finish between 4:55 and 9AM that morning, was three long pages full of text! If I were truly assessing only the math concept of elapsed time, I would have to find a way around the students who need help reading and comprehending text. I have read test questions to my class in the past, but this is a long story that was full of information and nuance. Keeping everyone together would be too much. I decided to record myself reading the story.
I had just recently found an online, free teleprompter program that I was planning on having my students read from when video-recording themselves to use picture-in-picture within iMovie for a research project. I had already mentioned this to my students, but hadn’t shown them how to use it, yet. I decided I would take my math assessment story and use it to show them how the teleprompter program worked. At 10:30AM I got the equipment ready, and projected my computer screen onto the wall so students could see exactly how it all works. I copied the text from the slideshow that I had typed it in and pasted it into the teleprompter program, all the while explaining what I was doing. Then I tried different speeds available for reading. I was learning how to use this software right in front of my entire class. (I also had a student videotaping this whole process. See video below: Warning, it’s a little shaky:)
Finally, I did record my reading of the first section of text, right in front of my class. We have an early lunch, 10:45AM, so we had to pause the project, so I could bring the class to the cafeteria. When I got back to my room, Ms. Bee’s student teacher was waiting for me. He said that he had a question about how to get a Word document into an email. I hadn’t freaked out, yet, but I was teetering on the verge. I smiled at him and told him that I would like to help, but “I have a test that I still have to make, and I am planning on administering it in 30 minutes… I would be happy to help you, but I can’t right now. I recommend using Google Docs and sharing a link with your professor. Good luck, and stop back later, okay?” He assured me that he had time, and we agreed to get together after school. Alright, it was go time!
Not only did I have to make my video so that kids could listen to it, but I still had to print out the papers that I wanted them to record their work on!!!
As I write this, I honestly don’t remember the exact order that I did things; It is all a blur in my memory. I’ll tell you the outcomes, though. I screen-casted the teleprompter scrolling through the script that I had already recorded myself reading. Then I prepared the teleprompter with the next section of text. I screen-casted that as it scrolled. I videotaped myself reading the text. I then airdropped the screencasts to my iPad. Using iMovie, I created a movie with the screencasts. I put the videos of myself reading out loud into the movie as a picture-in-picture. This way my students would see, but more importantly, hear the text being read to them. I thought about providing some voiceover of instructions on how to use the movie, but I didn’t have time. I just got the raw footage ready, edited it a tiny bit, making sure the PIP wasn’t covering any of, or very little fo the scrolling text, and double-checked that all of the volumes were appropriate (I even stuck background music in; Thank you Bensound.com. You are awesome.) Then I exported it.
While my iPad was uploading the video to Youtube, I got the story ready for printing. I was able to at least type my instructions into the top right hand corner of the first page of my story. My district has begun using ReadyMath this year. ReadyMath has a very specific way of having kids proceed through problems. I am supposed to be using this curriculum with fidelity, and I have been, for the most part. But, this story-quiz was all me. Here I had the opportunity to merge my assessment with the ReadyMath way of teaching.
Now, we back up even more. I had come up with an idea a couple of days earlier that I thought would help the class all get As. They would not take this quiz as though it were a standardized test, with desks spread out and stress prevailing. Rather, I would have them work the way they were used to:
And, now for the secret weapon: After solving the problem multiple ways, they would discuss what they had figured out with their turn and talk partners. In order for this to work, they must “Record their process”, so that they can more easily and accurately communicate their work their partners. (Of course, I wanted to see what they did, also, but I didn’t even have to say the most heard phrase in all of math, “Show your work.”)
Back to my lunch. I was sneaking bites of a tuna sandwich, while typing, formating (I needed students to have plenty of space next to the text to record their work.), and printing the papers. Before collecting the papers from the printer to bring to the photocopier, I (virtually;) grabbed the link of my movie from Youtube, threw (again, virtually;) it into Google Classroom as a “Question” and punched keys (literally at this point) to provide a minimal outline of expectations. I pushed this out to my math class. iPads were ding-ing acceptance of their new assignment as I rushed out the door to print the paper versions of the assessment.
With thirty copies of my story/quiz in hand, I met my students as they entered the building, from recess. After walking them up to the classroom, I sat them all down on the carpet. Before launching the assessment that I had just barely managed to pull together, I told the students a different story.
I wrote times on the board, as I explained all of the things that I had done that morning prior to arriving at school, starting at waking up at 4:55AM. Other than being inspired with this great idea of a math story/assessment, it was a pretty typical morning, so it was easy to rattle off all of the stuff and times. They were in awe of an adult life’s responsibilities. I ended with “What time did I get to school? –Go!” They rushed to their desks to get Math Spiral notebooks. No two students figured it out the same way. Most everyone got the same answer. After discussing it a little, I told them that this was the hors d’oeuvres for their assessment.
On the fly, I decided to separate the first page of the story from the other two and administer it independently. The papers hadn’t been stapled, so it was easy. Before handing it out, I displayed the page on the screen and went over the directions. They still didn’t know that they would be “discussing” their findings with their neighbors. I told them that when they read the text, they should highlight the important information. Then, as I read, we made high-pitched, inquisitive sounds of marvel at each mention of a time. This was hilarious and reinforced picking out the necessary numbers.
Finally, it was time to set them loose. I explained the video available in Google Classroom. A student asked, “Do we have to watch/listen to the video?” It hadn’t occurred to me that they might not want to.
“No, you definitely do NOT have to watch the video,” I answered. I knew that several would need it. But, it started to sink in that the video could very well be just a distraction for strong readers. As I handed papers to students, they went to their desks to begin figuring out whether or not the first-born child of the parent in the story might have made the mess.
All the papers being handed out, students either watching the video or reading intently, the classroom was as silent as the morning after an evening snowfall. I finished my tuna sandwich and took some pictures and video. I dragged teachers in from the hall to witness my class. I was so proud of how hard they were working and what I had put together for them.
This might be hard to believe, but when I was writing this story, I was adding the times of all of the different activities that each kid was using as an excuse up in my head. I didn’t even know if I had done the math accurately, or which kid was really responsible! I know this seems crazy, but it made it extra fun for all of us. I ended up having to figure it out with the students when they had questions, or told me they were done.
As it turned out, Angela, the oldest of the three kids and first to provide the parent with her excuses, had provided times adding right up to the minute that the parent came home. Only a handful of my students were not accurate in their calculations. I encouraged them to try solving the mystery through using a different mathematical strategy. Everyone recorded more than one way to solve Angela’s elapsed time. This brought us to the end of our math hour, and I collected everyone’s paper.
Overnight, I scanned everyone’s papers using the Notes App on my iPad. I was insecure about students changing their work when they discussed with partners. In this way, I would be able to see how well each student understood what he/she was doing. How well did they meet the standard?
At the very beginning of math the next day, the class revisited the premise of the assessment. “What are we trying to find out?”
“Who dun it?” –Who made the mess?
In order to solve this mystery we were calculating the times of the kids’ excuses to see which, if any, had any unaccounted for time that might mean they might have used this time to make a mess. With all of my students on board with the mission of our mystery, I handed back the paper they had worked on the day before. They were instructed to discuss with their partner what they had done. I was explicit in that they were not to erase anything. I told them that they could add to their notes if, in discussing with their partners, new ideas or information came to light. I told them I had scanned the papers, so they were not going to be tricking me at all if they decided to break the rules. I don’t think anyone did. The discussion was lively. Everyone was energetic about figuring out “Who dun it?”
I then handed out the second page of the story. This one had Angela’s brother, George providing excuses. This part of the story has a lot of dialogue between the kid and the parent. Students were again able to access the video to listen to the text being read aloud. Many did. They were told to highlight the important information: the times. After students had ample time to complete their calculations, providing more than one strategy for solving the elapsed time, I had them again discuss their work with their partners.
It was now time to work on the third and last page of the story. This was a kid with a slightly different name. Rowan was a relief. His times were just half hours. There were six of them, so students could try using multiplication or repeated addition or skip counting. The timeline method seemed to work best. Once they had finished this and discussed their work with partners, I explained that it was time to provide answers. Students were to use the work that they had diligently recorded on their papers to provide explanation for their choice of who they think made the mess. They were to revisit the Google classroom and type the name(s) of the culprit(s) (another vocabulary word stemming from the experience), along with why they think that these children might be guilty.
When finished typing, they were permitted to read each other’s answer and comment within the Google Classroom on each other’s answers. The room was pin-drop-quiet for fifteen minutes. You could smell the neurons firing.
They loved interacting with each other within Google Classroom.
And, now it is Sunday morning. I have a pile of papers and a Google Classroom full of answers. Did everyone get an A? Did every student display mastery? They were all present for the assessment. One student left her grandmother at the airport to not miss school!
The work looks very impressive, but I will have to comb through it all. I don’t think everyone got everything perfectly accurate. As far as the mystery being solved, the story ends with the parent saying that he/she trusts the kids’ stories and just wants some help cleaning up the mess. In the end, as long as everything is straightened up, it does not matter “Who dun it”.