The Comma Method for Reading Large Numbers

Once I developed this tip, my students quickly mastered how to read long numbers.

Take the example 165,247,873

I showed my students that within each comma, the numbers follow the standard hundreds-tens-ones protocol. The comma simply indicates whether you are dealing with millions, thousands or plain old units (the name some people give the hundreds-tens-ones group.)

Each three-digit group can be read as if it were just a hundred. Referring to our example number, you first say “One hundred sixty-five.” The comma signifies millions since you are in the third comma group from the right. Thus, you begin reading the number by saying “one hundred sixty-five MILLION.” (Capital letters added for emphasis—they’re very helpful for students.)

Then, you read the next three-digit group as if it were a hundred: “two hundred forty-seven” and then add the THOUSAND. (I point to the comma as I loudly say “THOUSAND.”

Last, read the last three-digit group as a regular number: “eight hundred seventy-three.”

Thus, your number is “one hundred sixty-five MILLION, two hundred forty-seven THOUSAND, eight hundred seventy-three.”

Once I taught my students this, they understood why each place is important. They had less trouble reading and writing numbers with a zero as a placeholder, such as 207,800. After all, you just read each three-digit group as a regular old hundred: “two hundred seven THOUSAND, eight hundred.”

Ironically, our math book teaches place value only to the ten thousands. I think that’s to save children from that horrifying extra place value that would take them to the hundred thousands. But when I taught to the hundred thousands and even hundred millions using this method, the confusion (for the most part) went away.

Posted in Academics,Math by Corey Green @ Nov 29, 2011

 

Muppets in the Classroom Part Two

In honor of The Muppets, released November 23, I offer several applications of Muppets to the classroom.  Some suggestions are actually good ideas.  Others have no basis in sound educational theory…but I’m not saying which are which!

Part One covered the 3Rs: Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic.  Now for the really fun stuff—everything else!

Science: Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker have given us so much.  From elevator shoes to make “short, stubby people like Beaker here” taller to alchemy gone bad (turning gold into cottage cheese), these hapless scientists demonstrate what NOT to do in the lab.  They provide fodder for endless discussion on ethics in scientific experiments.  If Beaker could talk, he might have something to say about subjects’ rights!

Social Studies: only on the Muppets can Sly be your guide to Roman history.  My students love to watch him as a singing gladiator in a Muppet recreation of the Coliseum.  Cross curricular connection: if Sylvester Stallone and the lion can agree to disagree, even going so far as to sing Gershwin’s classic “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” can’t we stop poking our neighbors with erasers?  Click here and watch the whole thing or skip to 5 minute mark for the gladiator number.

Music: Obviously, The Muppet Show is full of music, but I think a special shout-out should go to the Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody that catapulted them back onto the World Wide Web stage.  It’s brilliant!  Beaker’s Ode to Joy and Habanera are fun, too!  Also, don’t miss the Muppet band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, shown here singing Rockin’ Robin in a tree.

Character Education: I just love to use the classic “Why Can’t We Be Friends” number when my class devolves into pointless squabbles.  The number releases tension and students are singing instead of bickering!  (Note: this only works with minor, sibling-type squabbles.  Serious problems need to be taken seriously.)  Cross curricular connection: try to name all the soldiers and battles referenced in this ultimate conflict!

Health: “And now, the continuing stoooory of a quack who’s gone to the dogs,” opened Rowlf’s Veterinarians Hospital, which has many applications to the modern health classroom.  Where else can you encounter so many puns is so short a lesson?  Doctor Bob can help any patient, from a telephone to a train conductor.

We are thankful for the Muppets!

Posted in Academics by Corey Green @ Nov 24, 2011

 

Muppets Teach the 3 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic)

Muppets in the Classroom

This year, we give thanks for The Muppets!  At long last, a new Muppets movie will be released on November 23.  It promises zany antics, copious cameos, moments of genuine emotion, and probably more than one karate chop from Miss Piggy.  I don’t know about you, but I’m also looking forward to the wit and wisdom of Statler and Waldorf as they resume their posts as official hecklers.

In honor of the movie, I offer several applications of Muppets to the classroom.  Some suggestions are actually good ideas.  Others have no basis in sound educational theory…but I’m not saying which are which!

Part One: Muppets Teach the 3 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic)

Reading: On Sesame Street, reading lessons abound.  The Muppet Show has its fair share of teachable moments.  One of my favorites is opera star Samuel Ramey singing “L Toreador” about his love of the letter L.  It’s beautiful!

‘Riting: The Muppet Show itself is a tribute to great fun writing, and mini-lessons abound.  From the Swedish Chef’s Following Directions demonstrations to Alice Cooper offering Kermit legal advice on how to get the best deal when selling his soul to the devil, the Muppets always offer good writing tips.  And there’s the classic Muppet advice for how to spice up a slow scene: when in doubt, blow something up!

‘Rithmetic: Where would we be without The Count?  Okay, so he’s mostly on Sesame Street.  Still, he did make a cameo on The Muppet Show, and he appears in some of the movies.  We tell children that “math is everywhere,” and The Count proves it.  Cross curricular connection: click here to watch everyone’s favorite arithromaniac Count his blessings.

Thank you, Muppets!

Return to Class Antics for Part Two: All the Subjects You Cram in after State Testing (working title, and I bet it gets changed!)

Posted in Academics by Corey Green @ Nov 21, 2011

 

The Mouse on the Mayflower

Mouse on the Mayflower is a good movie for teaching the classic Thanksgiving story—the kind that’s as much story as history.  As the title suggests, it’s a mouse’s eye view of the experience, from leaving England to the first Thanksgiving.  The movie focuses more on education than entertainment, so students will learn plenty about details like how the pilgrims repaired the Mayflower en route while still enjoying cartoonish fun.

Songs by Tennessee Ernie Ford are sprinkled throughout the movie.  On the whole, they are very good, but watch your kids snicker during the love song!  You might wonder why the pilgrims were singing love songs when the Puritans objected to such frivolity.  Oh, well.

The movie is definitely pro-pilgrim, which makes sense because William the mouse did sail across the Atlantic with them.  Conflict with the Native Americans (Indians in this movie) is presented with the view that there are buffoonish instigators on both sides.  The mice help to bring everyone together, of course.

Enjoy this for what it is—a nice 50 minute movie that effectively dramatizes the Thanksgiving story.  Your students will like it!

Note: this movie is currently not available on DVD, but you can buy it cheap as a used VHS.

Posted in Academics,Holidays,Social Studies by Corey Green @ Nov 16, 2011

 

Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities (Part 3)

Part Three: Build relationships with your part-time students

This is part of an occasional series about Professional Learning Communities— I dubbed it Trade & Teach, a practice of assessing all students in a grade level and creating leveled groups taught by different teachers. It can work really well in elementary schools, but I have noticed the trend is to reinvent the wheel in the name of teacher buy-in. Rather than that, I offer Best Practices advice from tried and true implementation experience in real third grade classrooms. If you’re not familiar with Professional Learning Communities, read the Wiki here.

It’s always important to build relationships with your students, but in Trade & Teach, it’s absolutely essential.  The students are disoriented unless you make a special effort to build community.  (After all, we’re talking about Professional Learning Communities, aren’t we?)

**In order to build these relationships, you must have students for a significant length of time.  This is just one more reason to assess wisely—and not too frequently. 

There are definite benefits to building community:

Optimizing the learning climate: If the students feel like they have been thrust into an unfamiliar classroom with a different teacher and different classmates, what do you think will be foremost in their minds?  Not learning! Give the students a chance to get to know you and each other.  Play icebreaker games or just introduce yourselves.  Find out students’ favorites in regard to the subject matter at hand.  Let students form teams based on their homeroom.  This way, they can tackle learning challenges without stressing about working with unfamiliar classmates.

Assessing & Addressing Students’ Needs:  Sure, you have a general idea of what your students need because you know how they scored on the assessment: above level, on level, or below level.  You can prepare lesson plans based on that, but your teaching will be more effective if you get to know the students as individuals.  You might tap into shared interests that can provide structure to otherwise rote practice, such as practicing paragraph writing about animals, cars or whatever your students like.  You might discover that the students are already very good at some skills but just need advice on how to show this on tests.  Test-taking lessons are very different from skills-based lessons.

Forming a Partnership: When Trade & Teach is really humming along, students benefit because they have two teachers who truly care about them.  You are the specialist, and you can coordinate care with the primary provider—the child’s homeroom teacher—and the child’s parents.  For extra games or resources to use at home, communicate directly with parents.  Got a problem or concern?  Go to the child’s homeroom teacher first, then the two of you can decide how best to approach the parent.

Trade & Teach can really help if you think a child needs targeted intervention or testing for a learning disability.  With two or more academic teachers seeing the child, it’s easier to tell if problems are part of an environment or seen across the board.  It’s harder for gatekeepers to dismiss a problem as one teacher jumping the gun if several teachers worked with the child and noticed the same issues.

This series on Professional Learning Communities Best Practices is made possible by Valerie, Donina, Bethany and Heather … an amazing third grade team!

Posted in Professional Learning Communities by Corey Green @ Nov 14, 2011

 

Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities (Part 2)

Part Two: Address students’ needs

This is part of an occasional series about Professional Learning Communities— I dubbed it Trade & Teach, a practice of assessing all students in a grade level and creating leveled groups taught by different teachers. It can work really well in elementary schools, but I have noticed the trend is to reinvent the wheel in the name of teacher buy-in. Rather than that, I offer Best Practices advice from tried and true implementation experience in real third grade classrooms. If you’re not familiar with Professional Learning Communities, read the Wiki here.

In order for Trade & Teach to be successful, the emphasis must be on addressing students’ needs.  Think about the strengths and weaknesses of students in each group, and address them directly.

I have seen Trade & Teach function in the opposite way— students split into leveled groups, but all teachers teaching the same subject—Chapter X.  All students take the same assessment a week later.  What actually happens is just leveling students, then teaching to the middle in each group.  Such a situation can arise as an unintended consequence of violating the rules of wise assessment.

Following are Best Practices for addressing students’ needs.  I have given examples for each of the 3 Rs: Reading, wRiting, and ‘Rithmetic.

Above-level students need a challenge that focuses on synthesis and application.  Regardless of the subject, they should be working on solving problems and functioning as independently as possible.  Try to put these students above their comfort zone.  They spend most of school well within it—which is not the best place for learning.

Reading: Compare a novel or short story to research on that topic.  (Examples: From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and research on Michelangelo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Or Teammates and research on Jackie Robinson.)  Then show how the book used information correctly in some places and took poetic license in others.  Bonus: Write a short story using information about a certain topic.

wRiting: Create advanced material and be meticulous about taking it through every stage of publication.  Be sure to make the material fit the intended audience.  Example: survey classmates to assess their favorites, then create a newspaper, blog or magazine tailored to the taste of the class.

‘Rithmetic: Apply area, perimeter and geometry in designing a blueprint for a house.  Work within constraints—lot size, budget, time, materials.  Another idea: break a skill down to its component parts and design a small workbook to teach younger children.

***

On-level students need to work on skills maintenance—these are the students firmly based in the “use it or lose it” camp.  Without constant practice, they will slide, not grow.  On-level students also need challenges, but theirs should be scaffolded so students feel successful at every step.

ReadingPractice fluency by performing Readers’ Theater plays.  Focus on skills with workbooks targeted at the components of good reading—comparing, summarizing, finding details, etc.  Read a novel together with scaffolding to ensure comprehension at every step.  Different activities for different chapters will keep things interesting: summarize some, create a timeline for chapters with lots of action, and predict when a chapter ends with a cliffhanger.

wRiting:  Work together as a class to outline and then write a five paragraph essay.  Students should spend ample time at each step and get teacher approval before progressing.  This way, mistakes can be corrected and techniques can be honed.  Children at this level would also enjoy creating comic strips to give directions or teach about a topic.

‘Rithmetic: Work on problems from the grade level standards and textbooks, but stop and remedy problems that crop up along the way.  For example, this group may be fine at 3 digit subtraction, but not if it involves subtracting across zeroes.  Slow down and focus on this skill.  A good scaffolded project would be creating a picture book that depicts multiplication arrays with a fun theme, similar to the cookies in The Doorbell Rang.

*** 

Below-level students need remediation.  I show them that the root word is remedy—a cure.  They need tasks that are like medicine for their skills.  If the kids realize that each task is designed to really help them, not just take up time, these students will work harder.  Whatever the subject, the bulk of the lesson for these students should focus on just one or two skills at a time.  However, a small portion of your time (perhaps 25%) should allow students to work on tasks that require using several skills, techniques or strategies.

Reading: Try to get a sense of what holds this group back.  Is it decoding words?  Or do students look at the first few letters and guess?  You may have to break this group into 2 camps to address each type of need.  The other group can read independently or complete skills sheets while you work with students.  If you want to teach whole-class, have students practice sight words, simple Readers’ Theater scripts, or word families.  May I also suggest the wonderful Little Critter reading series of workbooks?  They are pure magic at this level.

wRiting: These students probably need to practice with basic word families and phonics skills.  They also need lots of practice with writing complete sentences.  I also find that children at this level can benefit from copying fluent but simple writing—they see the patterns and get a feel for the structure.  You can teach these children to write paragraphs or even five-paragraph essays, but you’ll need to scaffold every step.  I would have the class make one outline together, then have each student work from that.  Did I mention that there are Little Critter Writing workbooks, too?

‘Rithmetic: Basic facts!  These students must learn them.  Spend a good deal of time practicing basic facts in many ways—worksheets, copying, games, flash cards, Learning Wrap Ups, computer programs—anything that works.  These students also need lots of help with place value.  I find that sometimes, learning basic facts is a gateway to understanding place value.  As students gain more confidence writing and manipulating numbers, the place value creeps its way into their number sense and your lessons are better received.  My free software, Best Times Tables Practice EVER! and Best Addition Practice EVER! are great for this level because you can scaffold learning.  Start with easy facts and work your way up.

This series on Professional Learning Communities Best Practices is made possible by Valerie, Donina, Bethany and Heather … an amazing third grade team!

Posted in Professional Learning Communities by Corey Green @ Nov 8, 2011

 

Figurative Language with Taylor Swift: Our Song

This is Part 6 of a series about Fun with Literacy: Taylor Swift lyrics

My students enjoy applying the principles of creative writing, description and figurative language to pop culture.  Taylor Swift’s “Our Song” is one of my favorites.  One year, I was a judge for talent show auditions, and I heard this song several times.  The lyrics are fun!

I like this song for teaching because it is full of metaphors.  Similes are much more common, so it’s nice to show students that metaphors can work well, too.

Quick tip for teaching students to write metaphors: have them write a simile, then erase the word “like.”  Ta-da!  A metaphor!

I extend the lesson by comparing “Our Song” to Elton John’s classic “Your Song.”  The students enjoy finding similarities and differences.  I like showing them how self-aware these songs are—they’re songs about not having a song.

Deep stuff for third grade!

Click for literary analyses (pdf files) of Taylor Swift’s “Our Song” and Elton John’s “Your Song.”

Posted in Fun With Literacy by Corey Green @ Nov 4, 2011

 

Best Practices for Professional Learning Communities (Part 1)

Part One: Assess Wisely

This is part of an occasional series about Professional Learning Communities— I dubbed it Trade & Teach, a practice of assessing all students in a grade level and creating leveled groups taught by different teachers.  It can work really well in elementary schools, but I have noticed the trend is to reinvent the wheel in the name of teacher buy-in. Rather than that, I offer Best Practices advice from tried and true implementation experience in real third grade classrooms. If you’re not familiar with Professional Learning Communities, read the Wiki here.

Trade & Teach looks at all students in a grade, then creates groups based on students’ levels of learning or achievement in a specific area.  For example, if your Trade & Teach focus is on reading, assess students’ reading levels and form reading groups for intensive instruction.  The highest reading group, for example, should be the largest group because the highest  readers need less formal instruction, while lower readers require intensive individual attention, thus mandating a small student-teacher ratio.  Teacher buy-in results from knowing that the group skill levels are clustered, resulting in fewer strategies for student engagement and greater focus on learning. 

In order to assess wisely, you need a clear goal.  Are you trying to remediate a specific skill such as addition, writing complete sentences or distinguishing cause from effect?  Or are you teaching reading, writing or math in general?  Decide what you wish to accomplish, then design an assessment that lets you differentiate among the students in that one area.

It really helps to use just one measurement to sort students based on their learning achievements.  Minor adjustments can be made based on teacher discretion.  Overall, you’ll be glad you only have one variable to deal with for each assessment and learning objective.

After you assess, I recommend creating a spreadsheet or using an online grade book like JupiterGrades to store data.  Input all student test or assessment scores.  Then sort and print.  Draw lines and voila!  You have your rough estimate of groups.

Part of wise assessing is knowing how often to assess.  I recommend that you leave students in their learning groups for at least a month.  Assess too often and you’ll spend more time evaluating and regrouping than actually teaching.  Besides, student growth is often more apparent if you give children long enough to learn new ideas and cement them into long term memory before you assess again.

How often you assess is determined in part by the goals of your Professional Learning Communities.  If your goals are more specific skill-based, you might assess more often.  For example, you might spend a month on place value and related skills, then reassess before forming groups for a very different skill like geometry.

Overall, I like the general-goals plan for Professional Learning Communities.  If you sort students by overall proficiency in math determined by, say, a Star Math score, then you are better able to adjust instruction for students’ needs.  For example, one group might need to spend a great deal of time on basic facts while another group can focus on problem solving.  More about that in the next entry in this occasional series…

This series on Professional Learning Communities Best Practices is made possible by Valerie, Donina, Bethany and Heather … an amazing third grade team!

Posted in Professional Learning Communities by Corey Green @ Nov 1, 2011