Monday, April 28, 2014

Common Core Math Can Be Rigorous AND Fun

It is true, there ARE Common Core activities that are actually fun. In this stressful time of accountability and standardized testing, it is easy for teachers to feel the need to test prep. I know that I have felt this pressure in recent years, especially seeing first hand the impending state test (PARCC or SBAC anyone?). Just standing behind student’s shoulders last year as they piloted gave me shivers. For the past year we have been running around digging through data, looking for teaching strategies, test prep strategies, the latest and greatest best practice, adding professional development to every second of the day…it is enough to make us certifiably mad.
Don’t get me wrong, we SHOULD be doing these things, but we also should look at what we’ve been doing RIGHT for so many years, and make it better.

Enter performance tasks, authentic performance tasks I should add. I’ve been playing around with these for a few years, to try to figure out how make them deeper and more meaningful. A truly deep performance task includes a heavy amount of reading and writing, right alongside the math. They are also open ended, so that there is more than one correct answer. These tasks can be incredibly fun for students, especially if they are framed the right way.

One of my favorites is called Doggy Dilemma. In this task students must read through several full pages of text in order to even understand what to do. In the problem their parents are allowing them to adopt a dog. They choose from a list of dogs to adopt that describes the size of the dogs, how high they jump, and how much they run around. They must build a pen for the dog (thinking about the features of each dog and the area of the pen) by drawing a scaled diagram of the backyard. Once they have the pen figured out, they need to calculate the perimeter so that they can choose an appropriate type of fencing. The fencing is also different heights and comes in different lengths. In the end they must write a letter to their parents explaining all of their choices and the final cost. Doggy Dilemma is free if you’d like to give it a try. (Just click on the photo below!)

Math Performance Task

The latest one we are working on in class right now is called Design a Dream Bedroom. In this performance task they are asked to remodel their bedroom. They map out the dimensions of the room and choose furniture, flooring, paint, textiles, and accessories. They must also calculate a final cost for the remodel, and write to explain their thinking. This performance task is even more exciting because I bring in examples of carpet, tile, wood flooring, and paint samples from the hardware store. They get to actually touch and feel the materials! After I introduced the problem, the students literally RAN to the table to look at the samples. They have been devouring the pages for two 30 minutes class periods, and they still have more to do.


Performance tasks, especially when it is something that they care about, can be very motivating. They require complex math, but they are also FUN. Common Core aligned activities really can be exciting! When students are engaged like this, the learning is deep and meaningful. Best of all, it can help students practice perseverance, which will be huge for upcoming standardized tests.

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Jen is a third grade teacher with 8 years of experience teaching elementary students. Her passion is teaching math with a focus on conceptual knowledge through real world projects and rigorous problem solving. You can find more teaching tips and resources (and hear about how much she has learned from her mistakes) at her blog: Beyond Traditional Math. You can also connect with her on Pinterest, TpT, Twitter, and Facebook.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Easy Fraction of a Set Game

Fraction of a set can be a challenging concept for fourth grade.  Often they are still trying to understand the idea of fractions dividing a whole into equal sized parts.  So looking at a given number of equal sized groups that relate to one as "one whole set" is very confusing.

To begin, we go back to the division dots task cards that we used earlier in the year.  This gets them comfortable.  I much prefer the "we did this already" as opposed to the, "I don't get it."  Because the moment they are bored I tell them, "Good, you remember.  Now we're just going to add one more step, which is to color a certain number of sets after you circle them."  And they are on their way!  There are 3 levels of practice in my fraction of a set task cards.

In order to help them conceptualize fraction of a set without a visual, I came up with a quick review game you can do with your class, and all you need is masking tape!  

Here's how I explain and scaffold for the game.  Right before Morning Meeting, I used thin masking tape and divided the rug area into a large area and a small area.  That day I had 16 students.  I told them "I want 1/2 of the class in the large area, and 1/2 in the small area."  They quickly and easily got into 2 groups of 8. 

Next, I asked each group to line up in their section.  I wrote "1/2" on the board and explained that there were TWO lines, because 2 is the denominator.  I asked if they thought they could get into FOUR lines, with only 1/4 on the small side and 3/4 on the large side.  Once that was done, we determined that 1/4 of 16 is 4.  I asked them how much 3/4 of 16 was, and they counted 12.

The next day I pushed them a little further, asking for 3/8 of 16.  They needed some reminding about getting into 8 rows, but what most of them COULD do independently was to get 3 of those lines in the smaller side and 5 on the larger size.  I asked how many kids were in the 3/8 of 16 section and they counted 6.

The final variation of this game was to find a "mystery number."  In Math in Focus, Chapter 6 (Fractions) they have to basically "do fraction of a set backwards." 

In other words, I tell the class that I am thinking of a certain class size that is SMALLER than the number of students present today.  That number is a mystery.  However, I will tell them that 3/5 of that number is 9. 

Again, to start out they need reminding that they need to get into 5 rows.  They remembered on their own to have 3 rows on one side with 2 rows on the other.  Then I reminded them that there should be 9 kids on the side with 3 rows.  At that point, they remembered they needed equal sized groups.  

When there was a single student left over, not in a row, they determined that the class size I was thinking of was one less than 16:  15. 

In the end, we discuss 3 ways to find fraction of a set.  I had a few kids find the algorithm (method 2) on their own as they were working on the task cards!  They really feel like they "own" it when they "Find a method."  

Do you have any tips for teaching fraction of a set? 

Shut the Door and Teach
Amber Thomas's Classroom Favorites on TPT

Monday, April 21, 2014

Introducing Division Concepts

As we started to dig into our division studies, it became painfully clear to me that some of my students had some major gaps in their understanding of multiplication and division concepts.  I decided to put the main unit on hold for this group and wanted to design some activities to help bolster their understanding of grouping and sharing.  

To begin, I wanted students to really understand the idea that multiplication and division are so linked that we can almost use them interchangeably in our minds—but that our math language needed to reflect what we are doing.  What do I mean?  We often teach students what many call “turn around” facts.  We tell them that 4 x 3 is the same as 3 x 4.  But is it?  Is four boxes of 3 pies the same as 3 boxes of 4 pies?  No it isn’t.  They both represent 12 pies—but the situation is totally different.  I decided to play with this a little and made up a version of a grouping game I have used for years.  Here’s how we started.

I told the students that they were going to be a “herd” of animals today and that I had researched a whole bunch of animals that traveled in herds.  I also let them know that when animals who travel in herds are threatened, they sometimes break into smaller groups to protect each other.  I told them that I was going to break them into smaller groups today and then we would write the mathematical equations that we discovered in the process.  We counted our “herd” and found that we had 20 animals this day.

I taped off an area of one of our empty classrooms (this would have been fun to do outside as well with a chalked off area) to have as our “pen” for extra animals that couldn’t find a group.  I also put some animal “tokens” in the pen so that each child who ended up there took a token—and the token was a “get out of the pen free” card so the same students didn’t always up there!

So here’s how the game worked…

First of all, I called out a type of animal (buffalo, giraffes, zebras, wild boars, cows, bison, elephants…) and the size of the group I wanted them to form.  For example…“Elephants—form groups of 5!”

The students scampered to make their groups and I asked for help writing the equation on the board. 
20 ÷ 5 = 4 

and then I restated….“So I just formed four groups of 5? 

I wrote 4 x 5 = 20.

We tried again.  “Giraffes—form groups of 2!”
Students quickly paired up and we wrote the equations.

20 ÷ 2 = 10
10 x 2 = 20

The students were getting the hang of the game so I decided to move to the next steps.  “Buffalo—form groups of 8.”

The students struggled a bit to make their groups—but eventually four of the leftover buffalo found their way to the holding pen.  You can see their
“tokens” so they wouldn’t have to be in the pen again!  We worked
to write the equations this time.

20 ÷ 8 = 2 groups with 4 remaining
(2 x 8) + 4 = 20

We continued with several more rounds until I could see that the students were getting the hang of it!  We wrote down some of our rounds on the board (when I remembered!) and then I asked them to try to do some mental math to determine what would happen if I asked them to make groups of 9…then groups of 6.  They did a great job!  I knew that I had given my entire class enough to go on—and I was ready to continue the work with my more struggling students back in the classroom.

While my other students were working on some problem solving, I pulled my intervention kiddos to continue with our “herding” activities.  I made some cute little animal tokens (the ones we used in the game) to use as counters and we started working to tell herding stories. I wanted to see if they could apply the skills of the game a little more independently and could make the shift to recording their math equations on their own. Much like the game, I told herding stories but this time gave each student a baggies of animals—and I was able to change the number of animals in the herd at will.  So the questions began…

“You have a herd of 12 animals.  Divide them into 3 groups—what do you get?” 
“You have a herd of 16 animals.  Divide them into 8 groups—what do you get?”
“You have a herd of 20 elephants.  Divide them into 5 groups—what do you get?”

We did several rounds where the groups worked out with no remainders, but then they BEGGED for remainders! Students started really seeing the connection between their multiplication facts and the division problems! We kept track on the recording sheet to make sure that we were getting the practice with the math language and grouping concepts. We kept going for another few rounds, and I gave each one of them a baggie of critters to teach their families about “herds” at home! 

I knew I wanted to have some additional practice activities, so I wrote up this activity, made some fun animal "tokens"/counters, added in some word problems and bare number problems and put it out there as a product--but as you see, this would be SUPER easy to do on your own!  Get creative and have fun building math understanding with your students!


or find me on Twitter at @FourthGrStudio 
or Instagram @Fourthgradestudio

Friday, April 18, 2014

Testing Time is Upon Us!


Greetings Dear Friends!
If your school is like mine, you are currently in the "AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH" mode of state testing. This year, Utah instituted a new test called SAGE (Student Assessment for Growth and Excellent).
It has been interesting to see how the students have reacted to the new format- most have commented on how much more they like the test because it is more engaging and interactive. So, I hope that works out in the end!

But, I will say that I have spent HOURS teaching and teaching and teaching concepts. This is the first year that I did not "stop" teaching to review. There is so much to learn that I can't stop to "just review". Instead, I gave the students 5 minutes at the beginning of class to look through their journal and look for things "they forgot they knew". Then they would share with a partner 3 things they forgot they knew. It does work wonders and it is surprising what the students come up with to share- and it is usually DIFFERENT ideas meaning the two students heard SIX things they forgot they knew. SCORE! I do this each day during the "testing" window! LOVE IT!

One of the favorite things the kids like to review in their journals is their Order Up! pages. If you haven't had a chance to try them out, you can get this one for FREE! Just click on the picture to check it out! To get them to fit in their journals, I copy them at 50% (the strips and the work mat). That ways they both fit on one page AND in their journals. WAHOO!

Click >>HERE<< to get your FREE set!

I have had many people tell me that Order Up! has been a fun way to review with their students for the text and have had great success with the 60+ sets of Order Up! that range from math and science to language arts and more!

What about YOU? What strategies, activities, and methods do you use to help those kiddos ROCK THE TEST?

Have a great weekend-
John, Created by MrHughes 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fun, Quick, and Easy Reading Comprehension Games for the Entire Class!

Hello friends!

It's Jen Bengel from Out of This World Literacy. 

Spring Break!!

I hope you all are having a wonderful spring.  Many of us have had our spring break and some are still counting the days until it is our turn.  My family and I are actually on the beach this week enjoying some fun, family, spring break relaxation!

Reading Comprehension Game One: New Learning Share

Materials Needed: a mentor text


1. Gather the entire class and have them stand in a circle

2. Tell the class to listen carefully as you read out loud to them.  When they learn something new they are going to jump forward into the circle.  

3. When every student has jumped forward stop reading and shout, 'SHARE!'

4. Students will then turn to a partner and share what they are thinking and learning.  

5. Give them 30-60 seconds to share and listen to as many people as they can.

6. The teacher then shouts, "TIME' and the class gets back into their circle.

7. Have a few students share what they heard someone else say about their new learning and thinking.  Ask if others were thinking the same thing!

8. Repeat steps 1-7 several times as time allows.

*** This is such a fun game because it gets ALL students involved, thinking about the text, and actively learning!  You can also play this game in any subject or as a review for a test!

Reading Comprehension Game Two: Question and Answer

Materials Needed: Unlined index cards (2 per student)
                             Popsicle sticks (1 per student)

Preparing to Play:

1. Pass out two index cards and one Popsicle stick to each student.

2. Instruct students to write a large 'Q' on one index card and a large 'A' on the other.

3. Glue the cards back-to-back between the Popsicle stick so that they make a sign with the 'Q' on one side and the 'A' on the other.


1. Gather the entire class and have them sit in a circle where they are all facing each other.

2. Tell the class to listen carefully as you read out loud.  When they have a question about what you are reading tell them to hold up their stick so that the 'Q' is facing the circle.

3. Continue reading until several students are holding up the 'Q' side of their sticks.

4. Stop, call on one student with their stick up to share his/her question.  Tell the other students if they think they have an answer to hold up the 'A' side of their sticks.

5. Go around the room, giving each student with a question a chance to ask it aloud to the class.

6. When every student has asked his/her question (some may be the same), tell those students who held up the answer side of their sticks to go to the person whose question they can answer.  

      ***Students will shuffle around into small groups.  It will be confusing to them at first, but they will quickly catch on.  If some students have neither a question or an answer, tell them to sit tight.  This also is a great assessment because it tells you these students may not be thinking much during reading.  You may want to have some reading conferences or guided reading groups on thinking during reading with these kids!

7. After a few minutes, have the students return to their original spots in the circle.  Ask those who had questions if their friends were able to help answer them.  This will be a great conversation!!

8. Repeat these steps as time allows.

*** This game is so fun because everyone gets involved.  And it allows students to take charge of their own questions and answers.  They have power over their own learning.  It is also an excellent assessment for teachers to see who is carefully thinking during reading and who seems to not have any questions/answers.  It works really great with informational texts in science and social studies.

I hope you and your class have fun trying these games out!  I would LOVE to hear how it goes in your classroom!!!  Please consider leaving a comment below.

Thank you all for reading and I hope you are enjoying some relaxing time before the big push for the end of the school year!

You can click on the image below for a free spring resource from my store.  I hope you can use it with your students!

Best wishes,
Jen Bengel
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