My dad and sister visited over the July 4th weekend. When I was at the grocery store picking up supplies for grilling, I was meandering through the toy aisle searching out things to keep people occupied. We have a pool, and everyone will want to hangout by it, but as great as water is, it gets boring, eventually. My eye was caught by some outdoorsy games; GIANT dice, checkers, and… dominoes. I brought home one of the giant wooden domino sets. There was only 28 pieces in the set, but maybe we could figure out the game, together.
July 4th was a blast… literally, what with all of the fireworks and everything! But, the next day was much slower, and it slowed all the way down to “needing something to do”, so much so that I actually got out the giant domino game. There was the tiniest slip of paper under the huge wooden tiles that had the most basic instructions I have ever read. It was my dad, Scarlet, and I working on playing the game, and after giving it a go, we realized we needed more instruction. Other than setting the pieces up to tumble into one another, I don’t have any experience with dominoes.
We watched a Youtube video. It introduced some terms, like dominoes can be referred to as “Bones”, and the pile of extras would be the “Boneyard”. The instructions for play were either not elaborate enough or too complex. I thought this was supposed to be a pretty easy game! I had secretly hoped to bring the giant game pieces into my classroom to use instructionally.
Finally, we found a guy on Youtube who had been in the same boat we found ourselves. He had done some legwork in researching how to play dominoes and put together a very helpful video explaining it for dummies like us. The video is totally awesome, and I recommend you watch it, even if only to see the Weird Al Action Figure play against the videographer! Hilarious.
I’m not going to get into the game of dominoes here. I still need to do more learning and practice. Suffice to say, it seems to supercede all expectations of being able to use in the classroom. You can play with more than just two kids. It is simple enough, combining like numbers, but also strategic: It helps to plan which bones to use in what order. There is a lot of adding and even multiplication/division! But, believe it or not, you don’t actually multiply or divide, so it is perfect for planting the seeds for those future concepts: You have to identify “multiples of five”.
I leave you with this idea: I have been thinking about using Gamification in my classroom, because “everybody (seems to be) doing it”, and I like making school maximum fun! Through exploring articles and thinking about what I want to get out of the school year, however, it looks like “Playification” is more my speed. When I teach a lesson, I present a problem, and then students use what they know to figure out a solution. We then discuss additional possible solutions and ways to get to them. Finally, I let students “play around” with the ideas. “Try using it in a unique way,” you might hear me say, if you were walking by my classroom.
So, more than turning everything into a point system or changing pedagogy into games, I am leaning more toward using games to help my students “play more”. You can cheat a game. The only thing you cheat when “playing” is yourself.
I was going to title this blog “The Building Blocks of Math Construction” because I liked the play on building/constructing learning from material things. Really, though, I think the most important thing about this lesson was plain old ACTION. Yes, it was creative and fun, but rather than teachers reproducing the exact lesson, I want to share the philosophy behind it. It is a difference between building a beautiful, popular burger joint that everyone in a region admires and franchising the concept all over the world.
In preparing a blog, I thought, what I really want is for Ts to benefit from these ideas… I want them to pirate them… Ting is the most open-source thing in the world… #PleasePirate
This is what I did. In thinking about teaching money, I was imagining setting up some kind of store in the classroom. In stead, I brought my daughter’s old school, wooden building blocks into the classroom. I thought I would have the students compete to construct the tallest structure while using the least amount of supply: They would stack blocks of value to create vertical towers and add up what it cost them.
I told the students of my plan. They were ecstatic. I assigned value to the blocks, dividing them into four categories: Many of the blocks were around 14cm. Those would cost 80¢. Any block that was less than 13cm would cost 40¢. (I did less than 13cm, because the 14cm blocks were a tiny bit under 14cm.) Now, the fun part. Many of the blocks had round edges that would make it
difficult to construct with; Those were on sale. They were half off. Here the kids would be using their recently acquired fraction skills. Lastly, there were two gigantic 28cm blocks in the box. Those were $2 each. Why? Because that’s the number that popped into my head. Also, these are super valuable because they are so solid and long. The kids can evaluate the price of these versus the others.
After talking cost, I started centers and left my top kids to figure out constructing cost-effective building on their own, while I conducted guided reading. The buzz from the back corner was electric. Everyone in the class was dying for their chance to add up the cost of blocks!
Halfway through the first center, I stepped away from my guided reading group to check on my little architects. How were they doing?
Rather than constructing a tall tower, this group of three boys and three girls were designing the most beautiful condominium complex you ever saw. They were finding a way to use every single block they could! At first, I was like, “That wasn’t the objective.” But, I caught myself.
I forgot to mention: I had introduced the whole idea through telling the class that they were going to be designing high rises in an urban area. We would have Lego people rent space in our sky scrapers.
This group was not making a cost-effective creation. Was that wrong? No. No, it wasn’t. “Okay,” I managed to say. “This is going to be pricey,” I told them. “You’ve built a Five-Star resort, here,” I joked. “Let’s add up how much it will cost to construct.” They jumped on taking it apart, putting the blocks into piles, categorizing by the characteristics I had assigned, earlier. I told them that they could reconstruct their building after figuring out the price tag for it. Amazingly, there wasn’t a breath of complaint. I’m pleased to report 100% success, albeit after quite some time.
After this experience I realized that the rest of the groups would probably need some guidance with this project. I decided to use math time to teach how to evaluate constructions. While students did some online work, I brought groups over to the construction corner of the room. I went over the prices of each of the four styles of block. We analyzed similar blocks and categorized them according to cost. Then I built a simple structure with one of each price. Students used dry erase boards to add up the cost. I also had manipulatives (plastic coins) there to help. It took a few tries, and as students showed success, I let them build a four block building. They had to add up the cost before moving on. With each success, they were able to build more.
I grouped students with like abilities to work together. There was a group that did so well so quickly that I let them work in teams with more than four blocks. None of my builders cared too much about making their towers tall, even though the example that I gave them was straight up, as tall as could be with one of each style of block. I did not emphasize this, either.
Students had a blast building their block structures. One group built a road. Why not?
One thing I would change, and I was tempted to change this halfway through the lesson, is the pricing. I didn’t like that half the price of the 80¢ block was the same cost as the smaller one. The smaller blocks should have been 50¢. Then there would have been more variation in the numbers and coins. Kids would be counting with quarters.
This was solved the next day. We revisited our building blocks motif, but this time with the vertical challenge. I explained that they were constructing in the inner city. I had actually looked up the price of the average urban block. “A city block in Manhattan is worth ONE BILLION DOLLARS!”
“What?!” Screamed the class with gasps of horror.
I had them use my vinyl chess mats as city plans. Each block or square would cost them 75¢. The trick is that for every inch of vertical they could collect 25¢. I formed a bunch of groups and spread students out all over the room, dividing up the blocks. In seconds the room was a buzz with builders. It wasn’t about how tall their building was, so much as how much money they could make.
My students were on fire. They had no idea they were even doing math! I am planning on putting together an elaborate assessment involving an urban plan where city block prices vary, depending on proximity to highway exits. I’ll redo the price of blocks. I’m even thinking about including fractions or weight! We love a challenge.
Every year, on the first day back to school after the winter break, I initiate a competition between two teams in my classroom. The contest is to see who reads more, but the purpose is to make reading a habit and instill an excitement for text consumption. I call it “The Reading Super Bowl”, and it lasts until the actual football game.
The class is broken up into two equal groups. I’ve done girls versus boys, odd student numbers versus even student numbers, and broken the class up according to desk arrangements; Doesn’t matter how you do it. The NFL teams that are entering the playoffs are listed on the board. Kids get the lunch/recess time to decide on their group’s team. Then the players are passed out. I usually project a few pictures of each team’s jerseys on the wall for kids to model the coloring of their figure after.
Before all of this, first thing in the morning, I will have the students sit on the carpet while I explain the rules and how the contest works. Students bring home a paper that has images of footballs on it. Each football represents 20 minutes of reading outside of school. They must be initialed by an adult; parent, caretaker, daycare worker, babysitter, anyone. Each football is one yard. It takes one hundred footballs to score a touchdown, but with the whole team working together, it happens faster than you think. If each kid reads 1 football each night for a week, and there are 12 kids on a team, you are looking at midfield (48 yards) by Friday! As you can see, there is lots of math in this contest. Each touchdown is worth 7 points. Field goals can be scored by students completing book reports.
In addition to the classroom contest, each of the five 3rd grade classrooms compete against each other in a grade-level competition to see who will be MVP. We celebrate the students’ successes with a “Reading Super Bowl Party” the Friday before the NFL’s big game. That is when our contest ends.
The students always love friendly competition. They get into coloring and cutting out their footballs. I have them tape them to the classroom football field that I post in the back of the room. Counting their team’s footballs seriously energizes the students to go home and produce multiple footballs for the next day’s taping session.
I got this idea from John Burger, my mentor in 2010 at Willow Lane. It was his last year, and we were teaching second grade. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got the idea from someone else. That’s how teaching works. If you like the idea, use it, go for it. Good luck!
I was glancing around my classroom before I unplugged the Christmas lights and took off, yesterday, and I saw this: A chess board had been “put away” by being placed on the Red Bin. The Red Bin is the place where notes, money, messages, etc. for the office are placed first thing in the morning. They then get sent down to the office with our lunch count in the green envelope seen under the chess set.
We are just beginning our school chess club, this year. I accepted too many members, and don’t have enough of the nice big vinyl boards with 3 inch plastic pieces for everyone. (Christmas idea;) So, we have been using a mishmash of different sets. The one in the picture is magnetized, that’s why the pieces can stay in place.
What struck me about this pic is the concept of actually sending the board to the office! Did a student think that this was a message for the secretaries? Should we move a piece and share the board with another class? There is a buzz around the school of students becoming increasingly interested in this “thinkers game”. I have been working on populating a webpage from my classroom website with chess related information that could be helpful not only to the members of our club, but any beginning player. Mr. Vitale, my third grade teammate and partner in running the chess club, and I have made several videos to post on this website. My dream is for the whole school to become interested in playing chess. I wouldn’t be upset if other elementary schools caught this vision. Wouldn’t it be great for our district, state, country to learn, practice, and master thinking strategically, analytically, as well as creatively?
Mr. Vitale and I began a chess game this past week during lunch. We couldn’t finish it, so it remained set up in Mr. Vitale’s room. He couldn’t help but show and talk to his students about it. I took pictures and shared them with my class. By Friday, we were able to complete the game, but only after both of our classes worked on analyzing the following images to help with potential moves. It was fun, exciting, motivating, and infectious. By Friday, my students were sneaking onto Chesskid.com whenever they could. I found iPads with chess games begun, hiding under notebooks.
Here is an idea: Teachers sign up for the Chess Challenge. The magnetic board travels around the school, visiting learning spaces (not just classrooms). A chess enthusiast, either chess club member or one of my students or myself, can visit participants, if desired, to help with some chess instruction. (In other words, teachers shouldn’t feel like they have to be good at the game to participate.) A paper with notation will accompany the board. This will also be posted on the website for classes to keep up with the game, virtually. The color a class is responsible for will depend on which is moving at the time the game arrives at their doorstep. If it is Black’s move when Room 205 gets the board, then they are part of the black team. When a class captures a piece, they get to keep it until the end of the game. They can display it as a chess trophy. Much of the game is strategy, so rooms could even display thinking by posting writing or drawings of the ideas that prepared their move. Perhaps awards could accompany the moves that displayed creative, analytical thought.
My aim is to not only spread the love of chess, but inspire thinking, especially an affection for analytical reasoning. Lets get kids excited about using their cognitive abilities as much as they are pumped to tackle, shoot hoops, hit home runs, etc. The brain may not literally be a muscle, but it should definitely get exercised!
I couldn’t possibly be more excited to be starting a chess club at Willow Lane Elementary! This Tuesday is our first meeting. I had tossed around the idea of starting this club when I began teaching at Willow, 8 years ago. Instead, I began an after school club that published a school newspaper: Willow Lane News Update.
This experience was very rewarding. I learned a lot about iMovie, editing and publishing, plus Google Sites. I found a fantastic tool for online publishing; Smore.com. I don’t regret one minute of it.
The chess club will be a lot different because, while it can be addictive, it doesn’t hang over your head the way a publishing deadline, albeit self-imposed, might. It’s just a game. Or is it? –Check out these two battle for Room 207 2017-18 classroom champion after a week and a half tournament!
The idea for this blog began when I decided to pick up the Newbery Medal Winner that I’ve been slowly chewing, “Tales From Silver Lands” by Charles J. Finger (1924). Low and behold, what do I think of but chess… Of course! But, hear me out: A character from the second story (Yes, I am only on the 2nd tale!) exhibits a wonderful quality that chess shares: Equality.
There is an aging king who is seeking a son-in-law to take over the reign of his land. The beautiful, talented, wise princess has found no suitor to her liking. Men from every corner of land compete in sports and arts to win the woman’s affection. One day a man dressed in rags shows up. Every other suitor brought wonderful gifts for the princess and king. This man has nothing. But, when he competes in the contests, his carefully aimed arrow splits that of the best marksman’s. This ragged man does not just run faster than the deer-like champion. He flies like the wind. And, when it comes to singing, the man dressed in rags attracts the beautiful birds of the jungle, who cover him with wonderful wings. In other words, the man who seemingly had nothing, possessed the greatest talents, abilities, and attraction.
No matter how large the piece, the symbolism remains the same.
The tiniest chess board can be played with the same depth and complexity as a DGT Timeless set used by championships.
One of the amazing things about chess is that anyone can excel. It is a classy equalizer. No matter the age, gender, physical ability, or socio-economic status, chess is a vehicle anyone can drive.
It was the ability of the man dressed in rags to out match his opponents, rather than his looks, wealth, or status. The events that he competed in could have been practiced for nearly free, so that this character could have grown up running and singing. He might have made his own bow and arrows that he used to gather the food to stay alive. In the same way, chess can be taught to and played by all. It is a game that anyone can learn and grow to play well.
The 2018 World Chess Championship began this week. I was reading an article about Magnus Carlsen, five-time world champion, and was impressed by one of his life goals: “Make chess cool” (Kleinman, 2018). Carlsen has produced an app called “Play Magnus” in which chess enthusiasts can choose different ages of Magnus Carlsen to challenge. The idea is for players to gain bragging rights. This champion of chess is putting himself out there for kids to beat! “I defeated Magnus Carlsen!” is what he hopes to hear from kids who will spread the excitement to future potential pawn pushers. What a great ambition. And, the greatest equalizing part of it all is that the app is FREE!
Another popular and fantastic equalizing story is that of Phiona Mutesi, “Queen of Katwe.” The true story of Phiona, who is from a village in Uganda where kids have to sleep in hammocks, high off the ground, so they don’t get washed away, out of their homes by surprise floods, among other things, was made famous by author Tim Crothers (2013). His book was made into a Disney movie in 2016 (Nair).
Frank Brady, the author of the one of the best-selling chess books in history, “Profile of a Prodigy,” wrote an article about an exhibition, “Into the Human Light: Uganda” (2016), for the US Chess Federation. In addition to all of Phiona’s hardships living in Uganda, Brady suggests that her plight was “sad”… until “She found chess.” Never mind economics, chess can raise the human spirit.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the most influential organizations in helping me prepare to begin the new Willow Lane Chess Club: After School Activity
Partnership (ASAP) of Philadelphia. This past summer a friend, Julia Dweck, invited me to a Scrabble training that took place on the eleventh floor of a building in the heart of Philadelphia. I made the hour-plus drive to meet her there, and it was one of the better decisions I’d ever made! Come to find out the same organization that provides free training and supplies to educators interested in starting Scrabble clubs also promoted chess clubs. I greatly enjoyed my Scrabble training, and before leaving, found out about the chess program.
There is endless amounts of free apps, websites, curriculums, worksheets, etc. about chess online and at libraries. I downloaded a humongous manual on managing a chess club the summer before. It wasn’t until I revisited the ASAP office on Locust St. in Philadelphia, again in July, though, that I felt like I could actually do this. A handful of other future club leaders and myself were shown how to focus on deepening an understanding of each piece, rather than simply explaining the rules and letting kids have at it. Not only is this training completely free, but if I were an educator within the city limits, the organization would have provided me with supplies for free! In addition to the phenomenal training, ASAP also sponsors several free tournaments and other events throughout the year. The kids of Philadelphia are incredibly lucky to have this truly philanthropic organization. It is working to equalize the opportunities for urban kids to be able to participate in the challenging, competitive, thinking, rewarding game of chess.
Most people have heard of the ice-breaking game, “Two Truths/One Lie.” I enjoy this little game so much that I have incorporated it in my first week of school for several years. I changed the name to “Fact vs. Falsehood” because I am a fiend for alliteration and I don’t like the idea of teaching kids to lie. Additionally, it affords me a teaching opportunity on day one: I break out the vocabulary word, EVIDENCE.
In the past, I would teach the difference between fact and false, and inevitably get things muddled with the concept of opinions. I recently saw a tweet by @tomascmurray, who will be keynoting the East Penn Back to School Assembly for teachers on Aug. 22, that gave me an awesome idea for changing my game. He suggested having interactive, thinking-oriented items on desks when students arrive on the first day of school, rather than a pile of books and papers. I loved this idea!
This year I plan to marry two games, and let kids work on figuring out the rules on their own. In addition to “Fact vs. Falsehood”, the second game is “Classmate Scavenger Hunt”. Traditionally, kids would have a piece of paper with a list on it. They would work on finding other kids who share the same experiences, opinions, and criteria from the list. They write the names of peers next to statements as they find students who fit the descriptions.
This year, however, I plan to break up the Classmate Scavenger Hunt paper list. I will make cards that contain one statement each. They will be placed in a bowl that I’ll put in the middle of each group of desks. Some example statements include:
I don’t have any pets.
I have more than one favorite color.
I have written a book. (Some kids love writing stories into mini booklets.)
I took the bus to school today.
I have never been to Disney World.
I love to swim.
My birthday is in the spring.
Summer is my favorite season.
Because there won’t be anything else on the desks, and kids can’t help but touch stuff, I expect that they will begin digging into the bowls and looking at the cards. I hope that they communicate with each other about the statements, finding out which ones they have in common. (Later on we can use the cards to make Venn diagrams, displaying similarities and differences between students.)
In the past, I taught the students in a whole group setting the difference between “facts” and “opinions”. This year, I am going to see if kids can figure out the difference by separating their cards into two different groups. I won’t tell them what the criteria is. They may decide to make a pile of things the classmates all share in common, leaving the rejected statements to their own pile. That would make sense. I’ll simply have them try to find another difference or criteria to categorize the two piles, until they realize that some statements contain phrases that make them opinions.
Eventually, I’ll bring the thinking around to noticing that some of the statements can be proven, while some are impossible to prove, even though you might feel like they are true. The ones that are “prove-able” — able to be proven — are facts. And, how can you prove their accuracy? With… drum-role… EVIDENCE.
My birthday is in the summer. This is a fact. What proof do I have to support this? The evidence can be found in a few places: Driver’s license, birth certificate, social security card, passport, etc.
“Summer is the best season” is an opinion. No matter how much you love it, or how many people agree with you, this is NOT a fact. You simply cannot prove that summer is better than other seasons. It might seem that way, but there isn’t any evidence to back up the statement.
Opinions are not bad or wrong to use. In “5 Classy Elements of ‘The Story of Mankind’ (1921)” I praised the author, Hendrik Van Loon, for providing his personal opinion within a history book. I enjoyed reading some of the ideas that he gleaned from his study of world history. It is helpful to let people know your likes and dislikes. Those are opinions.
Trouble arises when opinions are made to seem like facts. “I have a lot of homework” might seem like a fact, but in actuality, this is an opinion. When the phrase “a lot” is used, a statement that might otherwise be a fact turns into an opinion. “A lot,” compared to what? Comparing your amount of homework to what a kindergartener brings home would make it seem like a ton. But, compare your homework to what an eleventh grader might receive, and your task is minuscule! You DO have homework. That is a fact. You can prove that. Your evidence is written on your assignment book page, and you may even have physical papers that are not yet complete. So, saying “I feel like my homework will take a long time to complete” may be a more accurate statement than the one above, but until you actually complete it, there isn’t any evidence to prove just how much homework there really is.
“My homework took twenty minutes to complete, last night.” This is a fact, as long as it is true. There are parts of this statement that can be proven. Did you do it last night? Did it take twenty minutes?
Classy Fact (dressed up)
“My homework took me two hours to do!”
“It felt like I would never finish my homework last night.”
“It took me twenty minutes to complete my homework last night.”
“I was surprised to find out that it only took me twenty minutes to do my homework last night, because it felt like it was taking forever.”
Facts can be dry and boring. That’s why we season them with opinions. “My birthday is in the best season, summer.” Your birthday may very well fall within the calendar days that land it in the season of summer, but who is to say that summer is the “best season”? That is your opinion.
Also, opinions are increasingly useful, the more they are explained. While you can’t actually prove an opinion, you CAN support it. A classy person may say, “I love summer because you can swim, there isn’t any homework, and my birthday is in August.” Now, we understand several reasons that cause you to like summer more than other seasons.
For “Fact vs. Falsehood” to work, students should write down two facts that can be proven with evidence, along with one untruth that also can be proven inaccurate with evidence (i.e. “I have three sisters” could be a falsehood if a student only has one.) After students compose their sentences, we go around the room sharing and guessing which of the three statements is false. In this way we learn a little about one another, hear each other speak, practice good listening habits, and appreciate some classroom rules.
To close the entire lesson, I might display the following table, reiterating the differences.
Opinion/Fact (classy compound sentence)
“There were one hundred people at my house last night.”
“There were too many people visiting last night.”
“I had five extra people in my house last night.”
“Five people probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but that more than doubled the normal number of people using the bathroom, showering, and making messes.”
Every year, just before school begins, family visits my house. It is the end of the summer for them, which is a perfect way to wrap it all up. But, it is the beginning of my preparing to start the school year! I’m happy to host, but it is not the best timing. Is that an opinion or fact?