# Alexis Jones

Wednesday April 10, 2013

We've discussed cross-curricular resources on this blog before, but I wanted to focus on something a little more specific today - math and health. As we are all sadly aware, the problem of childhood obesity is one that we have not begun to solve in this country. Don't worry, teachers, I'm not putting this weight (no pun intended) on you to solve, but there are ways to teach some great math activities that also promote exercise and healthy eating.

Exercise is a great way to get the sillies out of your students, utilize that natural energy they arrive at school with, and also teach some math concepts! One way to do this is to have students check their heart rates before and after exercise, with the hope that they will both learn some graphing skills and how exercise positively affects your heart function.

While it's never a good idea to set up shame around certain foods, web resources make it very easy to track the sugar content in our favorite foods. When I did this once in my class, I discovered that my favorite bakery bagel had huge amounts of sugar. I don't think I've been able to eat them since!

Wednesday April 10, 2013

Long gone are the days when teachers shopped for hours in the local teacher supply story for lesson idea books. Now we all have resources at our fingertips! The only challenge here is being able to sort through the 130,000 sites you see in front of you when doing an online search for "multiplication" or "formative assessment".

If you haven't already discovered Pinterest, I highly recommend checking it out very soon! While it is engaging enough to suck the time right out of your day, you'll find incredible pictures, book reviews, and lesson ideas from teachers just like you. While there are a lot of lesson collections out there, I personally love being able to see an actual picture of a completed learning center or bulletin board.

Happy searching! Please leave comments with some of your other favorite sites, and I'll be sure to create updated blog posts with your ideas!

Wednesday February 27, 2013

Quiz question: What math subject is used in many lines of work and our personal lives, but often gets short shrift in the classroom? Answer: Measurement! From the doctor's office to the grocery store to a construction site, measurement and its close cousin estimation are hugely practical aspects of math.

These topics can be addressed early and often in the classroom! Often young children begin by learning about nonstandard units of measure. They can practice their "end-to-end" techniques - these will come in handy as they begin work with rulers and measuring tapes later in their school careers. The vocabulary necessary for future measurement lessons is important to address early on. And other important lessons in measurement include the choice and use of appropriate tools. After all, we don't want our children measuring a 5K route with a ruler!

Measurement and estimation often don't feature as prominently in our classrooms as they do in our lives. So give it a try - cooking, <a href="http://mathlessons.about.com/od/fourthgradelessons/a/Lesson-Plan-Area-And-Perimeter.htm"building, or shopping - whatever sounds good to your students!

Saturday January 26, 2013

"What do you teach?" asks the innocent inquirer of the elementary teacher. "Everything!" you reply. And yes, it's true. You teach everything - math, science, social studies, reading, writing, computer skills, social skills, sometimes even PE...I could make this list even longer, but I thought I'd limit myself to the basics.

When you are responsible for teaching every subject under the sun, it can be next to impossible to fit everything in every day. And we don't want to be "fitting" in important content, we want to be teaching it. Teaching it in depth and with consistency. Enter the cross-curricular activity. A way to get more bang for your buck, or rather more content covered in an engaging and meaningful way.

Sentence fluency is a trait of writing that can be studied and graphed during language arts, **or** you can use your students' favorite book to study this during math class. If your students have interests in music, they can practice their multiplication facts with their own created songs, or you can introduce fractions using musical notes. Origami is a beautiful and exciting art project that incorporates numerous geometry concepts, and your students can keep track of their geometry vocabulary in their very own student-created dictionary.

Monday December 31, 2012

I have few school memories from my childhood, but one that I do remember is learning multiplication. My elementary school was considered a fairly progressive site, and the techniques they were using then are still some of the best! In one particular lesson, we learned multiplication by using counters, and making a matrix of three rows by four columns to illustrate 3 x 4 = 12.

Using "stuff" to help students learn the concepts of mathematics is still a very valid and recommended approach! The fear many teachers have is that they will lose control of their students after passing out the materials. Never fear! If passing out long rolls of paper for a number line lesson, consider giving students a little time to decorate one side of the paper before turning it over for the real business of math that day. The younger the students, the more they may need to play with any manipulatives before acting out the math. Give first graders a chance to really **look** at geometric solids before beginning a lesson on three-dimensional figures. Kindergartners may want to play with their tangrams before you have them turn them into pictures. And it's not a bad idea to give young students lots of time exploring pictures of symmetrical objects before they cut their own!

Tuesday November 27, 2012

Like it or not, the disappearance of pumpkins and ghosts from your neighborhood store means the welcoming of snow, jingling bells, and holiday advertisements. Our nation is filled with a wide variety of wonderful winter holidays, and while Christmas is certainly the squeaky wheel, it's possible to celebrate many different traditions at this time of year - and even tie them to mathematics! You will know your class and school environment well enough to know which of these are the most appropriate.

- Hanukkah - Taking place over eight days, Hanukkah is a great opportunity to talk to students about different calendars - the secular calendar many students are used to and the Hebrew calendar, which defines the beginning of Hanukkah. Have them create their own nine day calendar with fun family activities for each evening.
- Christmas - The number 24 (as in the 24 days before Christmas) is a fun number to play with. It's the smallest number that has seven factors. Coordinate the seasonal love of trees and the number 24 to create a factor tree with 24. Your kids could also calculate the volume of the boxes into which they'll pack their family's presents!
- Kwanzaa - Kwanzaa lasts for seven days, and is based on some traditional African harvests. A straw mat covers a kente cloth, in the traditional colors of red, green, and black. Have students create their own patterned kente cloth using the colors of red, green, and black.
- Winter Solstice - This is the time of year when the day is shortest and the night longest. Have students do a little research and graph the length of time during the Solstice and a few days before and after so they can compare the length of the days and nights during December.
- Las Posadas - Taking place over nine nights, traditionally children will dress up, play the parts of Mary and Joseph, and break open star-shaped pinatas each evening. You and your students could construct nine small pinatas out of toilet paper rolls and tissue paper for each child in a Kindergarten or 1st grade class, which requires some serious calculations before collecting materials and beginning the craft!

Thursday October 25, 2012

Have you ever noticed how antsy you get on a teacher inservice day? When you sit at a table (or worse, a student desk) and wish the speaker would give lots of breaks? This is how many of our students feel on any given day. The quiet kids try to hide it, the squirmy ones....well, you can tell that they are itching to get to recess. Besides the fact that movement enhances learning at all ages, our students have different learning preferences. And most often, our kinesthetic learners get left out in favor of the auditory or verbal learning activities.

There are a number of ways to get kids up and moving in your math class. How about having the little kids be their own clock hands and move to make 3:00, 6:00, or 9:00? Find a large enough space in your building or outside when the weather is nice to construct a coordinate plane or to make human-sized pie graphs. Younger children could count to ten while doing jumping jacks or jumping rope (thereby integrating PE and math class!) or could make their own human addition and subtraction problems. Moving + math = engaged learners!

Saturday September 22, 2012

Students insist that 42 - 15 = 33. They get confused when comparing quantities like 390 and 309. And they really aren't sure how to describe the difference between 39,000,000 and 39,000.

Place value is the bane of the elementary teacher's existence, isn't it? Conceptual understanding of ones, tens, and hundreds needs to begin so early in a student's career, and then builds every year. It's so vital to a student's understanding of other math concepts that many math misunderstandings can be blamed on a student's gap in place value understanding. It affects an understanding of large numbers, rounding, and as students get older, multiplication and division.

A fun way to highlight what our Base Ten system represents is to experiment with other bases. Let's say, for instance, that we had a Base Six system. A few days of experimenting with counting in Base Six (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20...) adding in Base Six, even multiplying in Base Six (that's hard) would really give students a reminder of what these different "places" our large numbers represent. Even as a math major, I never explored concepts of numbers like this until well into my college career, and it's an excellent way to teach and review place value understanding!

Wednesday August 29, 2012

A train leaves the station at 9:00 am, heading East at 60 miles per hour. At 9:30 am, you begin running toward the train at 5 miles per hour. At what time will you and the train collide?

Remember problems like this? 98% of us had nightmares about these story problems as children and teenagers. I was a math major for two and a half years of college and I still have trouble solving these! And our students are no different.

However, well-written story problems are the practical side of mathematics. Figuring out how long that bookshelf should be, or the slope of a plane's wing, or even how much vanilla to put in the muffins when you double the recipe...this is the stuff of our real lives, both personal and professional. So helping our students solve real problems is vital.

One way to get students to enjoy the process a little more is to have them write their own problems for others to solve. Even the youngest writers and mathematicians will be able to construct something like the following:

**Ann went to the store. She bought 5 apples. Her brother bought 3 apples. How many apples did they have altogether?**

Simple, huh? When modeled, it really can be. Your students will need to know that they first have to set up a scenario. (Ann going to the store.) Then something has to happen that involves a quantity - apples, candy canes, packs of toilet paper, whatever. (Ann bought five apples.) This quantity has to be added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided by another number. (Her brother has three apples.) Then they have to ask the actual question, "How many apples did they have altogether?" which is a fantastic opportunity to talk to young children about common math vocabulary. "Altogether" means you are almost certainly adding two numbers. "Difference" means you will probably subtract. As the students get older and the problems get tougher, they'll encounter multi-step problems that will be more complex, but with this foundation, word problems will be much less painful than most of us remember.

Tuesday August 28, 2012

We've already discussed here how children's literature provides an engaging, meaningful, and cross-curricular way to get students interested in mathematics. Quilting is yet another way to get students to reconsider math concepts like fractions, geometry, and area in a very hands-on and visual way. No needles, thread, or fabric required!

Smaller children can explore the tiling aspects of simple geometric figures like squares and triangles. For the five and six year olds, the challenge will be to see how to fit their smaller shapes within a larger quilt square (i.e. 9 x 9 piece of white paper) without overlapping them or leaving any white space. This is a great lesson in the properties of shapes - the number of sides, how polygons fit together, and what can be created with some very simple shapes.

Your older children will be able to construct more complex designs, and can explore additional areas of mathematics as they do so. Take their completed quilt squares and question them about fractions. What fraction of your quilt square is red? Yellow? For students who have begun exploring the concept of area, ask them to calculate the area of their quilt square. You can even ask your more challenge-ready students to calculate the area of their square that is white, blue, green, etc. All students in the upper elementary grades should be able to measure and then calculate the perimeter of their square and the class-made quilt. All of these are excellent math extensions from what seems at first glance to be a fancy art project.