How To Celebrate Math With Palindromes In 2021!

How To Celebrate Math With Palindromes In 2021!

Here's how you can have fun with palindromes in the math classroom!

Download a free list of palindromes for your classroom!

What is a palindrome?

A palindrome is a word, phrase, or sentence that is spelled and read the same both forward and backward. Kids love to share simple palindromes like:
  • aha
  • did
  • level
  • noon
  • Anna
 Older students often discover longer words such as:
  • racecar
  • kayak
  • civic
  • repaper
  • solos
Keep working and you'll find phrases such as:
  • My gym
  • Top spot
  • Too hot to hoot.
  • No lemon, no melon
  • Don't nod.
If you've run out of other examples, pull out these mind-blowing sentences:
  • Madam, I'm Adam.
  • A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.
  • Pull up, Eva, we're here, wave, pull up.
  • Was it a car or a cat I saw?
  • Mr. Owl at my metal worm.

Number Palindromes

     Teachers can make a math connection with palindromes. Numbers that are read the same forward and backward count as palindromes. Go as simple as you wish - even a number such as 55 is technically a palindrome. Challenge kids to create palindromic numbers like:
  • 12321
  • 42877824
  • 3434343
     When a day, a week, or even a month contains a forward-backward date, palindrome fans and symmetry lovers are delighted! This year, 2021, contains a few palindromic dates, but you may have to play with the format.

     Now is a great time to introduce or review the concept and set kids up with some fun activities to mark these special dates. Maybe you could text or email your students from last year and remind them to celebrate!

     Remembering that different places use different date formats, here are the palindromic dates for 2021:
List of palindromic dates 2021

And it's always fun to get a streak...
So, how do you celebrate Palindrome Week? Here are some ideas:

List of palindrome activities 2021

Let me know how you prepare and celebrate Palindrome Week, 2021!  

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Growing Grade By Grade
7 Things To Know Before You Live Stream Your Classroom

7 Things To Know Before You Live Stream Your Classroom

     If you're thinking about, or even required to, live stream your classroom, there are seven important things you should consider first.

1. Live streaming leaves teachers open to privacy violations.

      Live streaming your classroom puts students and teachers at risk of sharing personally identifiable information. Two federal laws work together to protect students. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) place strict limits on what information a school can collect and share about students. Anything considered personally identifiable information (PII), including images, is on the table. Violations can cause districts to lose funding.

     A loophole is that schools can share "directory information" without a parent's consent, including a child's:
  • name
  • address
  • telephone number
  • date of birth
  • place of birth
  • height
  • weight
  • dates of attendance
  • major field of study
  • participation in sports activities and teams
  • degrees and awards
  • previous schools attended
     That's a lot of personally identifiable information! The safeguard for parents is that schools have to inform them of what directory info they plan to share and give them a reasonable time to opt-out.

     All of this puts parents in the driver's seat, as they should be, when it comes to sharing information about their child. 

    There are countless ways that personally identifiable information can be accidentally shared during a school day. A birthday chart, small groups of students based on an IEP, a SPED teacher coming to the door to pick up a student, even calling a child's name could all be deemed unintended violations. 

     Consider your own privacy as a teacher. Everything you say or do, every private conversation with a child or another adult will be filmed and possibly overheard.

2. There's potential for misuse by viewers.

     Live streaming your classroom into a home opens everything that is said, done, or seen to those who might misuse it, including pedophiles. We were only a couple of weeks into distance learning during the COVID-19 quarantine when several instances of sexual photos, racist comments, and other vulgarities came into virtual classrooms without warning. We even gave it a name: Zoombombing.

     When you live stream your classroom, it is open to anyone who can access the stream. Parents, students, and guests in the home can record you, screenshot you and your students, and then manipulate it for wrong purposes. They can criticize, critique, and share on other social media that you don't even know about. Children's images have even shown up on inappropriate websites. Once it's on the internet, it is there forever.

     The most common distance learning platforms are highly monitored and controlled. Schools vet them very carefully. However, no streaming service is 100% safe. If you can stream it, they can hack it. The more you stream, the more hackable content is available and at risk. 

3. It's not always conducive to teaching K-12.

     Educators are trying hard to make it all work. What I'm hearing from teachers who live stream is that when they're standing so they're always in front of the camera, they are no longer teaching naturally. 

     Most K-12 teachers are not lecturers. We move about, interact with our students, refer to visual aids around the room, and work with small groups. Standing in one spot in a classroom is not natural, comfortable, or helpful to students.

4. Teaching in two different formats is ineffective.

     Teachers are learning new ways to teach. Recording yourself teaching lessons, called asynchronous learning, helps students because they can rewatch the clips multiple times when it's convenient for them. Synchronous learning, interacting in real time with students over a video conferencing platform, supports building relationships - especially important during a pandemic - and a more natural give-and-take like in the classroom. 

     Some districts are allowing - even requiring - teachers to use both formats simultaneously, calling it a "blended" or "hybrid" model. Teachers are reporting that it is frustrating at best, and ineffective at worst. It seems that both groups of students are at a disadvantage.

     Students online at home are bored and unengaged while waiting for classroom tasks to be completed, for recess, or for lunch. There is a good bit of downtime during a typical school day. Imagine being a remote learner and having to watch the stream for the whole day. 

     Students in the classroom must wait for the remote kids to have questions answered, get directions for digital responses, and have their fair share of the teacher's time. 

     To further complicate an already difficult situation, at least one district expects online kids to be brought into small groups. So we'll have small socially-distanced groups of kids around a table with one or more laptops sitting on the table with a child's head onscreen. 

     Teachers are finding it an unrealistic task to track engagement and understanding of their remote students while also having students in front of them.

5. Inadequate technology can create problems.

     It's no secret that many classrooms and students don't have the technology they need. Sometimes students don't have wi-fi available at home or can't afford devices. Classrooms may have to share limited devices with the rest of the school. This alone makes live streaming far more challenging.

     The lack of adequate technology shows up in other ways. If there is a fixed camera in the classroom, the teacher may very well be tethered to one spot during the day. A noisy HVAC system can make serious competition for a teacher who is wearing a mask. 

6. Protocols may be hard to remember during emergencies.

     The best protocols in the world are useless if they're not followed. In a classroom emergency, teachers tend to react immediately to assist the child. It's likely that they will forget to turn off, unplug, or mute technology for privacy's sake. This means that misbehavior will be streamed online, as will medical emergencies, personal embarrassments, and emotional moments.

7.  Teachers will live with the pressure of being observed all day, every day.

     Being observed by an administrator is a judgment on not just your content presentation, but on your dress, your manner with kids, your tone of voice, your content knowledge, and a myriad of other elements. Most workers in any field are observed, of course. But, all day, every day? 

     The stress of being observed nonstop by anyone who is watching, most of whom aren't educators, will be tremendous. It's likely that many teachers won't be able to stand the pressure. Always being on stage, always having to perform at 100% will be overwhelming. 

 Consider carefully.    

     None of these points are to criticize live streaming as a concept. Communicating and collaborating virtually is keeping businesses afloat, giving isolated people a vital window to the outside world, and helping us through an extremely difficult time in our country. 

     It's important that educators consider the risks involved before diving in. If you'd like a one-page quick reference sheet to share with administrators and planning committees, CLICK HERE. 


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Growing Grade By Grade
The 3 Most Important Things To Do If Your School Closes

The 3 Most Important Things To Do If Your School Closes

We are floundering in uncharted territory. Our nation is struggling to make education work as COVID-19 forces schools to close.

Who thought at Back-to-School Night that a global pandemic would affect our health, our future, and our day-to-day?

Bonus: Download free Math Choice Boards here.

What To Do Now

It's too late to go back and be proactive. What we need now are ideas to support kids and their learning when we can't be together in school as usual. Here are 3:

1.  Protect your own family first. People must get to work to support their families, but not at the risk of teachers' lives and their families. Go to school for as long as you believe it's safe. When it's not, stay home.

2.  Plan hard copy and online lessons now, even if you haven't been instructed to. I was expected to prepare a week's worth of substitute plans at the start of each school year. It took a crate to hold them, but OMG, they were a lifesaver! When my kids or I got sick unexpectedly, I just asked my team teacher to pull them out for the sub.

     If you have digital capabilities, start creating lessons now. If you'll do strictly paper lessons, gather materials that support your curriculum. Whether you use digital or paper lessons, keep these parameters in mind:

          A.  Keep assignments simple; many kids will be with babysitters, grandparents - or alone - with no one to ask for help.

          B.  Explain everything; without immediate access to you, kids and parents can get confused easily.

          C.  Know that you won't grade some of the at-home work. You can't know who is getting help or how much.

          D.  Avoid teaching new material, especially for young children. Even with digital tools, the give-and-take of being with our teacher is invaluable.

          E.  Focus on engaging review work, not busy work. We want kids to think, practice, and grow, but not struggle. While it's great for schools that have amazing technology, the reality is many schools aren't set up for that. Much of what teachers send home will be paper-and-pencil.

          F.  Families are stressed now. Being out of school, possibly quarantined, maybe even sick, is tough. Schoolwork may not be a priority. Make the work do-able.

          G.  Depend on fun, creative, low-stress activities. Consider journal entries, reading a book, color-by-code puzzles, and creative writing.

          H.  Avoid overwhelming families. Schedule each day's work for them, plainly marked. If they work ahead, fine.

          I.  Homes aren't always equipped like schools. They may not have 1:1 devices, construction paper, markers, rulers, and other tools we take for granted. Be careful of the requirements for each assignment.

          J.  Give special attention to your students with special needs, accommodations, IEPs, and 504s. It will be impossible to give them a routine school experience at home without you. Reach out to the administration, colleagues, EC specialists, media specialists,...all of the people who can help you prepare appropriate lessons.

          K. Communicate clearly with parents and allow them to communicate with you.

3.  Prepare to spend some time each day devoted to school. Return parent emails, call or email your students, work on plans for your eventual return to school. It'll keep you in a routine and feeling productive.

In A Perfect World

If this happens again - heaven forbid - we'll be ready. We'll:

Be Proactive - Providing safety, health, and remote learning for entire school systems is unprecedented. It's a bigger problem than a single teacher can solve. Before the next school year, policymakers and administrators will carefully set protocols in place. They will address equity for special needs students, children who don't have food or supervision when they don't go to school, students who don't have wi-fi or devices for online lessons, and standardized testing.

Plan - With policies and protocols in place, teachers will work with colleagues to create both online and hard copy activities for at-home learning. We'll revisit assessments and grading. We'll send encouraging messages to our kids. We'll be ready to go if the worst happens.

Prepare - We'll have papers copied, packets packed, and online assignments ready to access. We'll practice with kids for online access and activity completion. On Back-to-School night, we'll tell parents about our plans.

I hope there's not a next time. But if there is, it'll be smoother sailing!

We'd love to have you join our group over at Growing Grade By Grade! You'll have access to my FREE Resource Library with materials that can help you support kids in the classroom.

Subscribe here and join us. You'll receive Math Choice Boards for grades 3-5. 

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Growing Grade By Grade
Budget Hacks For The Most Effective Lesson On How Germs Spread

Budget Hacks For The Most Effective Lesson On How Germs Spread

     I'm always looking for elementary science activities that are:
  • easy
  • affordable
  • engaging
  • hands-on
  • pretty much student-led
  • something we can use in real life
     One of the best is to buy that glow-in-the-dark stuff, Glo Germ. You paint it on kids' hands, have them wash, then look at their hands under a black light. They quickly see how hard it can be to get their hands clean. When you connect the Glo Germ to real germs, it makes a lasting impression on them.

     We did this in my science classes until the cost stopped me. I wish I'd known then about these budget hacks. It would have allowed us to benefit from the activity without the budget.  

The Experiment

     First, use a cotton swab to spread some of the Glo Germ on each child's hand. Use a clean swab for each child so you're not dipping contaminated swabs back into the bottle.

     Next, let kids see their hands under the black light. If you're doing a written piece, have kids record their observations.
     Have kids wash their hands. Don't emphasize washing really well yet. 

     Look at their hands under the black light again. They'll gasp at how much glow is still left! 

     Make the point that the Glo Germ is behaving like germs, not making us sick, but staying on our skin. Send them back to wash their hands and check under the black light again. 

The Extensions

     1. You might want to extend the lesson with hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Do they clean our hands any better or worse?

     2. An even more impactful extension of this experiment is to see how far one person can pass germs.  Start by swabbing one student's hand with Glo Germ. He's student #1. Have student #1 touch student #2. Student #2 touches student #3 and so on. Each child checks their hand under the black light. We were 10 kids in before we had trouble finding the glow!

     Emphasize that germs are passed from person to person in the same way.

The Budget Hacks

     What to do if you have no budget for Glo Germ and a black light? We can still make it happen! 

     You need 2 things: a germ substitute substance and a way to see it on kids' hands.  Consider these pairings:

     We ended by reviewing some ways we've learned to wash hands properly. One suggestion is scrubbing for the length of time it takes to silently sing "Happy Birthday" to yourself. We also had a frank discussion of places we pick up germs: the bathroom, doorknobs, other peoples' possessions. It was a  real learning experience all around!

     I'd love to know how these hacks work for you! Enjoy your science and stay healthy!

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Growing Grade By Grade
How To Declutter Your Digital Life In 3 Easy Steps

How To Declutter Your Digital Life In 3 Easy Steps

     Clutter suffocates me. Clutter races my heart but saps my energy. Clutter makes life hard.

The Decluttering Trend

     There's been tons of interest recently in decluttering our homes.  As a nation, we are becoming uncomfortably aware of our obsession with acquiring goods and the stress it brings to our lives.  

     Many authors tout different plans, but the KonMari Method, by Marie Kondo, has been one of the most popular.  Briefly, the method instructs you to pick a category, like clothes, and gather all of those belongings in one spot.  Next, you touch each item and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy in me?” The question has become a bit of an icon, but it is a great compass point.  Those items that spark joy, you keep.  Those that don’t, you acknowledge with gratitude and give away.
     I love the KonMari Method of decluttering because it puts a positive spin on a project that can be seen as drudgery. An urge to clean and organize used to send me to my closet.  I’d look around, think of all the “what if” reasons I should keep different items, pull out three things I didn’t like or couldn’t wear, see no improvement, and give up in discouragement.  Kondo’s method is the exact opposite. You start with joy, proceed with gratitude, and end up surrounded by things you love.

     My husband and I “KonMari-ed” our house in 2015 and it really did change our lives.  It left us with fewer items to manage and clean, but it also left us with a sense of lightness, of being more in control.  It feels good to be surrounded only by things you love.

Why I Decluttered My Digital Life

     In the past six months, I’ve applied Kondo’s method to decluttering my digital life and the results have been just as amazing!  I’m a retired teacher, still involved in teaching and tutoring, and I have a store on Teachers Pay Teachers.  Whether it was personal or professional, I realized that I was feeling irritated and distracted by all of the digital stuff coming at me every day, sometimes every hour.  It was creating anxiety and a feeling of always being behind. 

    I was looking at my Instagram account one evening.  At the time, my one IG account served both my business and personal needs.  I know, not a good system.  I saw that I was following over 4,000 accounts!  It dawned on me that there was no possible way I could genuinely connect with so many people.  And it was my own fault!  In an effort to connect with other educators and entrepreneurs, I had created a digital monster.  That was the night I decided to “KonMari” my digital house!  It has given me the same feeling of lightness and control and has de-stressed me significantly. 

     I didn’t delete any page, account, or subscription out of ill will. I originally connected with each entity because we had something in common. I hoped that we could share and collaborate. However, needs and interests change.  I simply saw that I was not giving or receiving value with many of the people I followed and that my digital “budget” could be better spent in other ways. I believe that reflecting on your digital life is a good exercise for any adult to consider.  Look over your digital house and see where you can remove elements that no longer serve you. Here’s how I did it.

     In a nutshell, you'll follow these three steps:

1. Inventory who you follow or connect with. Consider numbers as well as specific accounts.

2. Reflect with questions such as, "Do I immediately know who/what this account represents?  Do I genuinely connect with this person or page? Do I add value to this person or page?  Do they add value to me?"  If the answer is generally "no", unfollow or unsubscribe.  This step is the most time-consuming, but needn't be overwhelming.  Consider batching or spending 10 minutes a day on the task until you're satisfied with your list.

3. Maintain your new, smaller list by carefully considering before you follow or subscribe to a new account.  Be as certain as possible that the person or subscription will add value to your life.  If you make a mistake, don't hesitate to cancel or unfollow quickly.

How I Decluttered My Digital Life

1. Instagram:  I went to my profile page and clicked on the number of accounts I was following.  It was a LOT – over 4,000!  A list generated with a “Following” button to the right of each account.  I clicked on the button to unfollow the majority of accounts.  Be aware: It took me WEEKS!  Instagram only allows you to unfollow a certain number per day.  You can’t do it too quickly, either, or they see it as a bot or hacker.  They’ll warn you that you’re done for the day.  I kept at it and am now following a more manageable 410 accounts.  I also took the step of creating a personal account – better late than never – and followed friends, family, YouTubers, and other personal interests separately. 
2. Facebook and Messenger:  Between my personal page and my business page, I was following a great many pages covering different topics, including education, politics, food, lifestyle, friends, and family.  To declutter, I didn’t unfollow many friends or family – I’m pretty careful about who I accept as friends, to begin with.  Education pages that didn’t serve a specific need for me, even down to a particular grade level, went first.  Almost all lifestyle and food pages went.  I kept my top 4-5 pages on news, politics, and politicians.

     Next, I made a point to unfollow “experimental” pages when posts popped up in my feed.  I call them experimental because we all know that FB’s algorithm can detect when we reach out to a new subject or location.  It takes a few moments, and I find new ones almost every time I’m on FB, but it’s worth it to me. 

     A final way to reduce your Facebook interactions is to turn off notifications for specific posts.  Click on the bell icon on the upper right to see the notifications of posts you’re engaged with.  When you no longer want to see all of the responses to a particular post, click on the three dots to the right.  A shortlist of options will drop down.  Click on the “Turn off notifications about this post” line. 

A bonus:  As you unfollow pages, your Messenger account will not receive messages from them.

3. Twitter:  Although I have both a personal and a business account, Twitter is not a platform that I use extensively.  I generally keep up with a few educators, politicians, and friends.  A quick glance once a day is all I need to stay in control.  I only follow new accounts if they are extremely interesting or necessary for my work.

4. YouTube:  Man, I love YouTube!  I call it YouTube University (YouTube U.) because you can learn almost anything on this platform.  Again, I was following, and receiving notifications, from about 150 YouTubers.  I carefully curated my list down to 73.  Now, any notification actually “sparks joy” because I know it’s a video I really want to watch!

5. Pinterest:  I didn’t need to do a lot of work on Pinterest and actually didn’t unfollow any pinners.  The platform is a search engine, so I don’t feel I’m actually missing out on anything if I don’t follow up on all notifications. I can just search for what I want.  Also, users can opt-out of notifications, so you don’t have little red numbers telling you to check out a new pin.

6. Email Subscriptions, Blogs, and Newsletters: Holy moly, this was as huge as IG!  I have never been good about deleting used or unwanted emails regularly, so I had over 140,000 emails in my inbox.  Two tasks presented themselves: 1) I searched my inbox by name or topic and deleted thousands of unwanted emails; and 2) I unsubscribed from as many as possible as I went.  It has taken several weeks this summer and it’s an ongoing challenge, but I’m down to fewer than 40,000 emails in my inbox.  That’s success!

7. Phone Apps:  OK, this can take a minute!  Between social media, news, games, work, banking, music, tools, personal interests, and retail, our phones load our days with information!  I took this time to delete any apps that were giving me notifications that I was ignoring, which increased my stress level.  I thought carefully about which apps I was actually using regularly.  I also took the time to consolidate many apps into folders, which is more organized and visually more attractive.

     Those are the major digital platforms and categories that I have decluttered in the past six months. Of course, there are thousands more that we can use!  It has been a learning experience, both personally and technologically.  I’ve learned about which platforms I truly enjoy, the types of information I value, and the amount of information I am comfortable dealing with in a day.  Mostly, though, it has been a joy to reduce the amount of digital clutter in my life!

Moving Forward

     I didn’t go through all of this decluttering just to have it pile back up again! I am being very firm with new digital opportunities. New friends, blogs, subscriptions, platforms, and apps must pass the acid test before I sign on: Do they offer me, or allow me to offer significant value? If not, I pass. It doesn’t mean I don’t acquire new digital relationships, but they are few, far between, and full of value when I do.

     Have you decluttered your physical or digital life lately?  I’d love to hear about how it went for you!
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Growing Grade By Grade
Why You Need To Teach The Brain Dump As A Test Strategy

Why You Need To Teach The Brain Dump As A Test Strategy

     Do you need a great testing strategy to teach your students? Think brain dump. I recently visited an amazing 4th-grade math class and was reminded of the power of this tool.

What is a brain dump?

     A brain dump is a transfer of knowledge and ideas to another storage medium, like paper or a computer document.  Its purpose is to store the material temporarily so we can access it while we use our brainpower to process information.

     To really understand a brain dump, be aware of what it is not.  It is not a:

Stream of consciousness that attempts to record all thoughts and feelings passing through the mind.

Brainstorm, which is an activity, often in a group, that produces new ideas and solutions to problems.

     Brain dumps can be used for academic, professional, or personal purposes, or a mixture.  A real-life situation can be seen as a 4th grader who is handed a geometry quiz.  The student takes a few minutes to “dump” onto a separate sheet of paper things like:

  • the definition of a kite 
  • a sketch of a trapezoid 
  • examples of acute, obtuse, right, and straight angles 
  • concepts that he is concerned he’ll forget or confuse during the quiz  

     He has learned that if he jots down the tricky information to refer to later, his brain is freer to think about the questions in the quiz.  Note: This is not a situation where students make notes outside of class to bring to a quiz, although that is a strategy some teachers offer.  This is only the information that the student can transfer during the assessment period.

     Another real-life situation might be for an overwhelmed high school senior to make an exhaustive list of all of the pre-graduation requirements she must accomplish during the often crazy last semester of school.  It gives her a list for reference as she checks off each task and relieves her worry that she’ll forget something. 

The advantages of a Brain Dump:

     A brain dump can be a powerful tool for students.   Some of the advantages are that a brain dump…
  • Builds confidence: Students can feel that “look how much I know” pride.
  • Reduces stress: If a student can capture info that she fears she’ll forget, that reduces her stress.
  • Organizes learning: Creating schemas, the cognitive structures that we use to organize knowledge and choose behaviors is central to learning.   When we can add to our schemas, learning grows.
  • Can help our EC students: When a child struggles to focus on a task, it can help to have a “parking” place for facts that often get lost while processing the task itself.
  • Is individual and personal: Each brain dump is personal to the child who created it.  The student “dumps” the information that is valuable to her/him, not what a teacher believes is useful. 
  • Is more meaningful:  We tend to buy into products that address our specific needs.
  • Is kid-centric: A child’s brain dump comes from his/her perspective.  Teacher-created materials, while well-meaning, come from an adult’s point of view.
  • Can be used with any medium:  Students can use any type of technology, from computers to paper and pencil.  It can also be used with a scribe.
  • Is created casually: There are no punctuation or grammar rules to follow, no must-have talking points, and neatness doesn’t count.  These are not to be graded!  Kids can relax about not being judged.
  • Can be used as a testing review tool: One of the best uses of a brain dump is during an assessment, whether a shorter quiz, a unit test, or even yearly standardized testing.  For all of the reasons listed above, it can be a powerful tool.

How to Create A Brain Dump

     Teaching students how to create a brain dump can be fun and casual, while still emphasizing its usefulness.  Here’s how:

1. Explain the purpose and advantages of the activity.  Consider using the list above.
2. Explain that the activity isn’t timed, but should only last a few minutes.  The purpose is not to spend all of your quiz time creating a brain dump, but to store information so your brain is freer to process questions.
3. Pick a familiar topic or one you’ve studied recently.
4. Decide how you’ll display as you’re teaching.  Consider using a document camera, a whiteboard, or a giant sticky chart/bulletin board paper.
5. Model as you go. Show all of the different ways you can express on paper what you’ve learned for the topic.  Use as many formats as possible, including sketches, diagrams, lists, computations, definitions, basic facts, and charts.  Talk about why you’re using each format.
6. Let students call out additions to your model.
7. Emphasize that the activity should only take a few minutes.  It shouldn’t take a large part of the assessment period.
8. If students have been writing along with you, let them share their work with a class gallery walk.  
9. If students have been watching you model and teach, they should be getting familiar with the concept. Now, it’s their turn!  Pick another practice topic and turn them loose.

     In the class I visited, the instructions were to "dump as many things as you can remember about math from this year".  That's a tall order, but the kids were up to the challenge!  Here's the brain dump I did with them.

When to Use The Brain Dump

     In a classroom setting, teach students to use a brain dump just before an independent activity, a quiz or test, or as a pre-assessment review.

     As they become more familiar with the process, encourage students to try using this powerful tool in their personal lives.  Challenge them to share with the class.  As it becomes a part of your class language and culture, you can all access it for growth.  I'd love to hear how it works in your class!

     Would you like another powerful tool for your students?  Grab these free Growth Mindset Math Posters!  They make a great, positive display to encourage your math students!

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Growing Grade By Grade
3 Powerful Fraction Concepts Students Need To Know

3 Powerful Fraction Concepts Students Need To Know

     There are so many fraction concepts that elementary students need to master! They need to read, write, model, and reason about fractions. They move on to computations with like denominators, then unlike denominators, followed by multiplication and division. The goal is to be able to apply these skills in real-life situations.

Where Is The Power?

     I've started focusing on three powerful fraction concepts that students need. Students need to clearly understand each concept and be able to explain each one in words and modeling. The power comes when students can integrate the concepts, model all three, and explain the differences between all three at the same time.
poster with 3 powerful fractions and fraction models 

Finding The Power

     When we begin our fraction work, identifying a unit fraction like 1/4, or one out of four pieces, seemed to come relatively easily. We use manipulatives, colored area models, and number lines.

     Next, we look at 4/4, or four out of four pieces. That's the whole one. This was a little tougher because one is usually written as "1" and we tend to neglect seeing that it can be 3/3, 5/5, 10/10, or any other whole fraction.

     When we're well into fraction studies, we talk about fractions greater than one whole, often called improper fractions. That's what 4/1 looks like - and is - to my improper fraction. What we were forgetting to emphasize was that 4/1 is four whole, individual things: 4 pizzas, 4 books, or 4 days. We all got that 4 means four wholes. It's the format 4/1 that kicked us a little.

     My mistake was in always teaching these three concepts in isolation from each other. Students could show an understanding of each one individually, but to compare even two caused some confusion.

     One day, almost in desperation, I wrote these exact fractions on the board: 1/4,  4/4, and  4/1. I directed students to explain the differences between the three, using pictures, words, area models, or whatever worked for them.

     "Can I use a number line?", one student immediately asked. I answered, "Absolutely", and off we went.

     As I expected, modeling and explaining 1/4 was pretty easy. Most students quickly used one of the area models you see in the first column above.

     Modeling 4/4 made a few pause to think, but most moved on quickly. Yep, it's the whole thing.

     The format of the third fraction, 4/1, slowed down almost everyone. I could almost hear students thinking, "I know that's four separate things...I think..." As I peered over shoulders to see how we were doing, I got a number of those hopeful looks that ask, "Is this right?"

     When we pulled everyone back together to share, I actually saw the relief on students' faces - the same relief  I was feeling! Yes, they knew what each fraction was in isolation and could define and model them. More importantly, I was sure that they knew the differences between the less familiar fractions and how they relate to each other. Whew! What power!

Why We Should Use This Activity

     I love this no-prep activity because of its low floor and high ceiling. We can repeat it with different fractions from time to time to keep skills sharp. I especially value it because it reaches down and builds foundational math concepts that are essential to student mastery.

     Consider trying this activity with your students. Begin with unit fractions that have smaller denominators, such as 1/3, 3/3, 3/1 or perhaps the example of fourths used in the image above. If you'd like to challenge students, move away from unit fractions and see what happens!

     I'd love to know how working with these three powerful fraction concepts works in your classroom!

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