Friday, January 10, 2014

I Came in like a Rekenrek

Hi Friends,

A very happy Friday to all! Today I'm featuring a super simple and affordable way to help students with their mathematical reasoning. It looks like a simplified abacus, but the tool is called a Rekenrek and it's a great way to help students think of numbers in groups (subitize) and quickly see patterns. Now that the new standards in math are placing more of an emphasis on conceptual understanding, manipulatives like the Rekenrek can really help to build a strong conceptual foundation of numbers for primary students.

I was first introduced to this tool at a Common Core Mathematics professional development in-service provided by my district. Being on such a limited budget, however, I was worried about how I could actually get my hands on a class set. Turns out these bad boys are extremely easy to make and can be a fun DIY project that can be completed in just one day. Here is my quick and easy tutorial on making your own set of Rekenreks. I can't wait to use them in the new year with my kiddos!

Step 1: Gather your materials. You will need 2 different colored beads, pipe cleaners, cardboard (or any other sturdy and durable surface), an X-acto blade, and scissors (not necessary but helpful if you want to trim the pipe cleaners or have difficulty pulling the pipe cleaners through). After finding the cardboard in my school's supply closet and having already had an X-acto blade in my apartment, the total for all the materials came out to about $9. I have 20 students making the total cost of this project $0.45 per student. I'm telling you, it doesn't have to be fancy or costly people!

Step 2: Create a slit. Using your X-acto blade cut an 'X' in the cardboard a couple inches in from the side of the board. This will allow for you to easily thread the pipe cleaner right through and provide a secure placement for it.

Step 3: Thread the pipe cleaner. Send one end of the pipe cleaner straight through the slit as pictured.

Step 4: Bead. Add 5 beads of one color and 5 more beads of another color.

Step 5: Finish a row. After beading the beads, push the red beads (or whatever color you have chosen) to the other side where you would like your row to end. I just eyeballed it and created another slit using my X-acto blade where I wanted the other end of the pipe cleaner to go through. Push the other end of the pipe cleaner through the slit to secure and push the second set of beads to the very end (see picture). Repeat these steps for the second row.

Step 6: Tie a knot. Using the excess pipe cleaner ends you will want to fasten the two ends of each row together. Simply twist the top and bottom pieces to create a knot. I left a little bit extra so I could slip the metal part of the cleaner under the knot.

Step 7: All done! That's it. Turn it around and you have a fully functional and inexpensive Rekenrek.

Step 8: Ask students questions like: How many ways are there to make ___?, Show me ____, etc. In the pictured example you can see I made 12. Students can easily see 12 can be made up of 2 groups of 5 and 2 more or one group of 10 and 2 more. I love it! :)

I hope you enjoyed today's hands-on post and as always thanks for reading. Have a great weekend!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Three Days with Grams

Hello Friends,

A very happy belated New Year to all! I have had an amazing past couple of days to kick off 2014. In addition to still having just under a week left of my winter vacation left (got to love the year-round school schedule!), my grandmother on my mom's side is visiting from Korea for roughly three months. I haven't seen her in at least five years, but I reckon in actuality, it's a lot closer to a decade. Since both of my parents work and my brother is gearing up to start school again, I thought it would be nice to spend some quality time with my grandmother and maybe help her fight some boredom while waiting for everyone else to come home.

Upon seeing her, my heart felt very heavy. Not to the mention the precipitation collecting in my eye sockets was rather difficult to conceal. It was evident that time had taken its toll on her as she had visibly aged much from the memory that I had of her when we were travelling around and exploring Cheju (or Jeju) Islands together the last time I was in Korea. It was quite sobering. I think sometimes I get lost in the every day bustle between my career, relationships, and hobbies. So much so that I often don't realize how much time has really passed. At least her hair was as jet black as I remembered it to be.

I immediately caught my grandmother's hobble as she walked up to hug me. My mom had told me awhile back that she had been in a car accident, but I had no idea that it had affected her mobility this much. It was a struggle for her to walk and it quickly became evident that all the fun things that I had planned were probably not going to all happen. So I scaled back the itinerary and we spent our first day at the Rose Float post-parade viewing and our second lovely day at the South Coast Botanic Garden. At the very last minute I decided to hang around for an extra day and took her to the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. So you got a grandmother visiting from out of town? State? Country? Or maybe she's right there. Here's my guide for a fulfilling 3 days of adventure.

Step #1
Take her to see some flowers. Chances are your grandmother likes flowers and depending on what season it is, the aroma can be intoxicating. Given the timing of my visit, I took my grandmother to the Rose Float Parade float viewing on Jan. 2. Contrary to my own assumptions, as visually stunning as the floats were, my olfactory system wasn't nearly as delighted. Which I guess when I give some more thought to makes sense since the flowers have begun their natural process of decay by this time. Regardless, it was my first time seeing the floats in person and they were just astounding! The colors, the creativity, the attention to detail... I'm always amazed with what people can create with our hands and a little imagination.

Step #2
Take her to a garden. Still running with the presumption that your grandmother likes flowers, take her to a botanical garden and explore and learn about your local flora together. We visited the South Coast Botanic Garden located up the Palos Verdes Peninsula and enjoyed a nice stroll through their Japanese Garden, Vegetable Garden, Children's Garden, Rose Garden, and Meadow. Fun fact, I overheard the lady at admissions telling a co-worker that some episodes of Dexter were filmed here. I Googled it when I got home and discovered that the cabin in the Everglades (Season 2) was in fact filmed here. I was an avid fan for the first four seasons so that was an unexpected bonus.

Step #3
Take her to a museum, preferably a historic one. I don't know what it is, but in my experience, I've noticed that grandmothers really like presidents and anything related to them. I remember when I was little my other grandmother gobbled up Clinton's autobiography like it was her last meal on Earth. So I did some research and stumbled upon the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda. In addition to various exhibitions, you can see Nixon's helicopter and birthplace (literally the bed he was born in!). Really fascinating stuff and a good brush up on some American history!

And there you have it! Go figure, my favorite thing about my entire little vacation with my grandmother was the way she held my hand each step of the way :).

As always, thank you so much for reading and do me a favor, give your grandmother a huge hug or kiss the next time you see her will ya!?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My First Month

Hello Friends,

Since my last blog post two months ago, I completed my long-term substitute job teaching fifth grade at a different school than the one I currently work at and signed a one-year contract to teach a kindergarten/first grade combo class for the rest of the year. If you read my previous post, then you know I had my doubts about having my own classroom this year, but as things tend to go for me, sure enough I was picked up and without a moment left to spare!

This Halloween marks the end of my first month at my new job working in a new district, at a new school, and with a primary combo class that had had 5 different subs over the course of the entire first quarter that I was not there. I have a couple of things to share from the past month and my new experiences.

1. Small tweaks can make the biggest differences. I can't quite pinpoint exactly where I picked it up but over the course of my attending a string of professional development opportunities and watching tons of videos of effective teachers teaching, I noticed that those teachers were calling their students 'scholars'. My go-tos last year were the tried and true: boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, class, kiddos, my dears, and my loves. "Scholars? That's awesome! I wonder if my kinders and first graders will get it," I thought, but I resolved to call my students that the very first day I met them.

Well, it's been a month and my kiddos, scholars have lived up to their sophisticated title. What has happened in the last month has been nothing short of MAGIC. We went over what it means to be a scholar when we created our classroom norms together at the beginning of the month. As a class we agreed that scholars listen and follow directions, do their personal best, respect themselves and each other, are kind, courterous, and polite, and finally, take pride in all they do. If these sound like every other classroom rules posted in most classrooms that's becasue they are, but as my scholars internalized these norms it was easy to add more and be more specific. Scholars are laser-focused, scholars don't cry, scholars never cheat their brains, etc. Bottom line, my students LOVE being called scholars and they totally own what it means to be one.

It's literally gotten to the point where they get offended when I call them boys and girls. "We're not boys and girls, we're scholars!" they'll tell me. If I catch them acting naughty I just remind them that they are acting like little boys and girls and immediately they show me scholarly behavior. It's incredible. I wish I would've done this my first year of teaching! (I'm also aware and thankful that I just have a really angelic group of children this year.)

2. I love teaching writing in K-1. I'm no Shakespeare but it's no secret that I get a deep sense of joy from writing. Although I find it's one of the hardest things to teach and teach well, man, oh man, I love teaching writing to kinders and first graders!! My school is using Lucy Calkins' Units of Study and I am a huge fan. Yes, I love Lucy. This is my first year implementing a writer's workshop and I am really pleased with the level of enthusiasm my students have for writing and equally as pleased with the caliber of work that they are producing. Right now we're working on informative writing via chapter books. The sample below followed a mini-lesson on how to write a "How To" chapter.

This is one of my kinders who wrote this and I thought it was hilarious.

Shark Pups

Mermaid drops a purse so the sharks have pups.
Pups turn to babies.
Shark pups turn to baby sharks with boosters.
And they grow up.

I toyed with the idea of letting him run with this, but then remembered we're working on informational text. His brain darn near exploded when I told him that sharks don't really have boosters. We shared a great moment.

I am counting down the days for our Publishing Party. I told my scholars I'd invite my friends and their families to come celebrate their chapter books once they are published. They are all working so hard and diligently to write the best chapter books anyone has ever read!

With that, have a grand evening and as always, thanks so much for reading.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Perspiration and Perseverance

Hi Everyone,

Gosh, it's been so long since I had some free time to type up some of my thoughts and general happenings in life, thank you Labor Day weekend. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Being Pro-Active

Hey Friends,

I found out last Thursday that I wasn't going to be rehired by the district I taught for this past year. It was a really strange feeling because I had assured myself, after nailing my interview, that I would be returning for the upcoming school year. Oddly enough, I was on a phone interview with another district at the exact moment my old principal called to relay the unfortunate news (at least the greater universe knew it wasn't a good idea for me to put all my eggs in one basket).