Saturday, January 31, 2015

Check it Out: National Library of Virtual Manipulatives

Every teacher understands the value of manipulatives as visual and kinesthetic learning tools to help students achieve a deeper understanding of math.  When I first had my Epson Brightlink (smart board) installed in my classroom, I started searching for virtual manipulatives to use with math lessons.

The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives  was the best that I found.  It is incredibly comprehensive and flexible to your specific needs.
"The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (NLVM) is an NSF supported project that began in 1999 to develop a library of uniquely interactive, web-based virtual manipulatives or concept tutorials"

Checking on one of the boxes will take you to a list of Java applets for that math strand and grade level range.  In my third grade class, I use this heavily for place value study.

I love this applet.  You simply click on the ones, tens, hundreds, or thousands blocks at the top of the chart to insert pictures below.  To the right it shows you the number made by the blocks (I will often conceal this from students depending on the lesson focus/purpose).  What I REALLY love about this applet is the visual representation of re-and un-grouping.  For example, you can click a hundred square, drag it into the tens column, and it will separate into 10 ten rods. Or, you could use your mouse to highlight 10 ones and they will turn into a tens rod.  The students really love watching it happen.  I'm always surprised how excitedly they will call out things like"Mr. Thompson!  Turn one of the thousands into 10 hundreds again!". 

There are several great applets for fractions, also. 

 I love how easily customizable these manipulatives are, and that there are applications for so many levels throughout all the strands. 
For fractions there are apps for fraction identification, equivalency, multiplying, and more

Of course there are several applets focusing on geometry.  I love the virtual geoboard!

I would encourage you to check out this great online math resource!  I'm not a fan of Java software, the site isn't very "pretty", and most of these could use some updating to modern web standards, but I haven't found anything this comprehensive and customizable.  It has been a valuable part of my mathematics instruction.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Movie Clip Monday: "Ruben's Tube" Videos for Studying Sound in Science

At least in Indiana, sound energy is studied in third grade science.  I've enjoyed teaching our hands-on sound unit the last few years.  When we talk about sound waves, I like to show some videos of "Ruben's Tubes".  A Ruben's Tube is a tube with tiny holes in a straight line along one side.  The tube is filled with propane and sealed at one end.  The other end has an audio speaker.  Tiny amounts of propane leak through the pinholes.  The propane leaks are lit and little flames appear at each pinhole. Sound waves are compression waves, so gas particles are brought together and pulled apart as the sound energy travels, so when a sound wave travels from the speaker through the tube, gas particles become condensed in some areas (producing a higher flame) and sparse in other areas (producing a lower flame).  This makes for a really cool sound wave visual.  

The first video I've shared here is my favorite of the Ruben's Tube videos.  The second is a scene from the T.V. show "Mythbusters".

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teaching Theme with Fables and Arnold Lobel's "Fables" as a Mentor Text

"CM fables" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

Fables are a foundational genre of literature.  They are prevalent in cultures and folk literature throughout the world and many have survived over 2000 years.  Many think of Aesop when they think of fables, and he certainly was a prolific fabulist, but there have been many great fable writers through the centuries.  Most literary works can have their themes and plots traced back to literary archetypes originating hundreds or thousands of years ago, which is why I think teaching these ancient genres and stories is so important.  You've got to have a meaningful understanding of such foundational literature and genres to truly understand what you read, and the comprehension of theme that can be developed through the reading and study of fables is no exception.  The Common Core standards certainly agree with me, as fables are specifically mentioned in second and third grade standards.

Common Core Anchor Standard #2 reads, "Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas."  RL.2.2 from that strand goes on to specifically include determining "the central message, lesson, or moral" from fables and folktales.  RL.3.2 shares the same wording, but includes myths as well.  Following along to RL.4.2, we see the specific genres are dropped and "message, lesson, or moral" are replaced by "theme".  Common Core supports using fables, and other foundational genres like folktale and myth, in helping students develop an understanding of literary theme.

In my classroom, I use Arnold Lobel's Fables as a mentor text to teach theme every year.  Aesop's fables see plenty of time in my classroom as well, but Fables is an excellent picture book.  The stories have the traditional characteristics of a fable; 20 short, one page stories featuring animals learning teaching the reader some lesson or "moral of the story" (THEME!!!)  Accompanying each story is a full page illustration.  These illustrations are excellent.  They capture the spirit of the stories wonderfully.  I would LOVE to have a few of them as posters in my room; they are THAT good.  

I usually read through the book over the course of two weeks.  I will read a story and ask the class to share what they think the theme is (What lesson did the character learn?  What lesson did you learn about life from this story?).  Often their answers are too specific to the story and we work on making them more general. Students will often bring up these stories the rest of the year ("Mr. Thompson!  That reminds me of..."). It's an excellent book and teaching tool. 

Want to read about more mentor texts?  Check out The Owl Teacher's "Mentor Text Monday" link-up!

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Stop Those Boring Narratives! "STOP IT!" Link-up

You read and read and read.  Students are exposed to narratives of all sorts; literary fiction and non-fiction, humor, science fiction, fantasy, suspense.  They close read it, mark it up, respond to it, and analyze it.  They study the descriptive language, plot structure, characters, and more.

They do journal writing, free-writing, power writing, and guided writing.  You mini-lesson the heck out of the six traits.

They are interesting, intelligent kids with lots of ideas and personality.

Then they turn in the most boring narrative writing assignment you've ever read.


Let's link-up and share our best ideas for improving those narratives!

Graphic novels are HUGE right now.  Our library stocks a nice collection of them and my students eat them up.  I thought I might be able to tap into that interest and improve their narrative writing skills at the same time.  So I decided to start working on sets of comic strips for students to use in creating their own little narratives, the focus being on dialogue and inner monologue.

Wouldn't we all love to see some more character interaction and dialogue in our students' narrative creative writings?  I thought these would help them develop comfort with that concept and prompt them to include it in their narrative writing more often.

Right now you can get 17 different comic strips in three different formats at my TPT store.  They are image files, so print off single strips or combine into one document to make a longer narrative.  You can use them however you like!

Want to get an idea of how these could be used?  Go get an example here:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Adult ESL Thoughts: Dictation

I used to think dictation was a waste of time in my adult ESL classes.  I viewed it as an impractical, unrealistic, purely academic practice that wouldn't help them improve meaningfully.  I've tried it a few times in the last few weeks, however, and my students love it.  I'm really surprised my attitude toward dictation was so bad, and my reasoning was poor.

I've been doing scrambled sentence activities with my adult ESL students for years, even though I could certainly apply the same critique to it that I did to dictation; it is an impractical, unrealistic, purely academic practice.  Yet, I continued doing them.  Why?  Because the improvement I saw in their syntax (both orally and written) was significant, their understanding of grammar improved, and their exposure to content vocabulary was beneficial.
Some students listening to the monologue
The same can be said with dictation, PLUS it has the added benefit of listening practice that so many of my students need.  Even my most advanced students have a hard time hearing the words and sentences separately when listening to English spoken at normal speed by native speakers.  I can relate to that.  I can speak and read quite a bit of Spanish, but when two native speakers are conversing my ears can't discriminate individual words and phrases.

I wish my stubbornness hadn't stopped me from doing dictation more regularly sooner.  The students have really enjoyed it and I believe the results will be seen, especially in listening.

I have been using the dictation activities at  I highly recommend them!

Students check their work 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Kelly and Kim's Kindergarten Kreations: Markdown Monday Linky Party! (January 12th - 16th)...

I have my "Addition and Subtraction Mental Math Grade 1+2 Memory Matching Games" 50% off all week!

Kelly and Kim's Kindergarten Kreations: Markdown Monday Linky Party! (January 12th - 16th)...: Please add your link below to join the linky fun! Link a product from your TpT store that you would like to "markdown" until...

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

January 6th Ramblings: First day back from Christmas Break!

The 2-hour delay this morning certainly helped ease us back into school after a nice, restful break. The dangerous wind chills this week might continue to ease that transition if it gets cold enough for delays or even cancellations!

I'm always pleasantly surprised by my students in January. They start to drag a little bit near the end of first semester in December and you start to feel a little frustrated by the lack of progress. January rolls around and everybody is fresh and my 3rd graders never fail to impress and remind me we HAVE made a lot of progress this year! These kids are halfway to being fourth graders, and most of them are really showing it.

We are working on reading AND writing persuasive texts this week. We'll be analyzing the opinions presented in such texts and highlighting the evidence used to support the opinion. At the same time, students will be developing their own evidence to support their opinions to persuade their readers.

In math, we're heading into geometry. Envision Math starts with solid figures in Topic 10 (Topic 10 and 11 are geometry), and I always seem to forget when I say "Next year, I'm starting with lines, points, and angles. Then, I'm moving to polygons. Finally, we'll head back to polyhedrons so we can discuss them with the vocabulary we learned previously", but once again I forgot and did lesson one today! Oh well...we'll master this material one way or another. I really enjoy a lot about Envision Math sequencing and materials, but this is one example where I don't understand the rationale behind the order. I never feel beholden to a textbook's sequence or methods, so it's not a big deal, but it's always convenient to have the textbook go along with the way you feel something should be taught or presented.

Speaking of textbooks, this is the last year I'm teaching using our book for social studies. I'm tired of seeing one hundred years of history in a paragraph or "Transportation" summarized on a page. Next summer, if I find the time, Id like to work on some materials to cover all the content we need to cover in a more meaningful, interesting way; maybe compiling some primary vs. secondary source material, and raising the interest/relevance level of the readings.

Good (shortened) first day in 3rd grade.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The "story" of my logo.

I didn't want to just have my picture or some random picture.  I used a background I had made, a picture of me working with students, the best face picture of me I could find, and my bearded smiley face magnet from my desk along with my name, which is also my TPT store name and VOILA, my logo was created.  It doesn't look nearly as professional as many others, but I like it.