Monday, April 17, 2017

Setting the Stage for Student-Led Morning Meetings

"Everyone has highs and lows that they have to learn from, but every morning I start off with a good head on my shoulders, saying to myself, 'It's going to be a good day!'."
-Lindsay Lohan*

One tenant of our classroom routine has always been morning meeting. While I was doing my student teaching, my cooperating teacher introduced the idea to me. She said that she found giving them an overview of the day helped put their minds at ease and allowed them to focus on their work instead of wondering what was coming next. When I got my own class, I decided to continue with this concept. In years one and two, morning meetings were short - a brief overview of the day, followed by a reminder of the classroom expectations. 

I changed things up in year three. I added some elements to make it into a more holistic experience. We still begin with the daily schedule, but then follow it with a page from Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome. This book was a gift to me from Greg Bagby and holds many snippets of wisdom that kids can relate to. After the page is read, the students reflect and do a "turn and talk" to discuss what they thought. Some volunteers also share their ideas with the whole class.

After that, we have time for open sharing. This might sound like wasted time, but think of how many times a kid can't concentrate on a math lesson because he wants to share about something he built on Minecraft. This five minutes in the beginning of the day helps save hours of time throughout the week.

Sometimes, this sharing time becomes a very deep experience for the students. This is the time I chose to share my cancer diagnosis with the class, but an even more powerful example comes from when one of my students decided to share about her disability. She led a great discussion about why her bones formed the way they did and how it impacts her life. It was her choice to do this and helped the class understand her better. 

Following sharing time, I say the first part of our classroom motto ("We don't make excuses,") and the class finishes with "We make changes." The students are then dismissed to their table groups to begin working for the day. In total, morning meetings last from 5 to 15 minutes, but can run longer if the sharing time becomes something especially meaningful.

Mid-way through year three, I wanted to make it a student-led experience. We had already done student-led conferences so I knew they were capable of being leaders to their parents. Being a leader in front of all your peers is another valuable skill and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. 

Since we had been doing Mr. B-led morning meetings in the same routine for a few months, the students knew what to do. My lesson plans are posted on the classroom website, so they can read the schedule to the class. We've worked on having the students share the specific activities we are going to be doing ("Today, we'll be playing Quizlet live to review the American Revolution") versus "We have VA Studies today" (of course we do, we have it every day!)

Each day, the next page of Kid President is read and discussed, and the student places the bookmark on the next page for the following day's reading. Some leaders choose to have a turn and talk, while others call on volunteers to share thoughts. It's a great way to throw in some extra fluency and public speaking practice for the morning meeting leader. 


Last year, I had a student who had difficulty decoding words on the fly due to a reading disability. Knowing that he was sensitive to this, we figured out which day he was going to be the morning meeting leader and photocopied that page from the book. He and I rehearsed during lunch and he practiced at home with his parents. When it came time to read from the book, he did so with flying colors and no one was the wiser. Those little tweaks are needed to make sure each student feels successful in their leading experience. 

The class decided that we would limit sharing to four sharings per morning meeting. As the students in the audience share, the leader is tasked with responding to the comment either with more questions or something to acknowledge the thought (beyond "okay"). This helps to build a stronger sense of community and conversational skills. It makes the person who shared feel valued and respected. 

After sharing time, there is a time in which I get to speak to the class. I share anything that may have been missed from the lesson plans, remind them of upcoming important dates, or reinforce any improvements that need to be done. I try to keep my part short, because I want the focus to be on the leader instead of me. 

I also provide specific feedback to the leader, highlighting things they did well during morning meeting and what they could improve upon for their next cycle. (We just go in reverse alphabetical order, so each student will get numerous opportunities each year. Now, I start student-led morning meetings within two-three weeks in the beginning of the year after I have led some morning meetings so they understand the routine.)

One thing I would love to see improve (and welcome suggestions on) is getting the students to share "real" things. It's great to hear that Johnny had soccer practice, but after hearing it twelve times, it loses its luster. I want my students sharing momentous accomplishments and what challenges they face, either individually or as a class. It's hard to prompt them into doing that without making it feel forced or fake. Let me know in the comments below how you accomplish this in your class.

Since transitioning to a student-led experience, I've seen students flourish in this role. It ensures every student gets many opportunities to be the leader and helps them to overcome any "stage fright" they may encounter. They clearly take my feedback to heart, because students do a much better job of sharing detailed lessons and responding to sharing comments than they did in the beginning of the year. 

We have roughly 36 days left in the school year, which means each student my class will be able to be a morning meeting leader at least one more time. I'm looking forward to their personal best from each and every one. 

*I don't really think Ms. Lohan is a good role model for education, but this quote works pretty well here. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Talkin' Bout My Numeration

"The power in the Number Talks comes from inspiring each child to think and make sense of the mathematics they are presented. They are never trying to figure out what the teacher wants. Rather they are totally engaged in their own sense making process."
- Kathy Richardson

This year in math, we have started each day with a number talk. I first learned about number talks last year when I was taking a Stanford online course about building mathematical mindsets with Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck. At their core, number talks are 10-15 minute experiences where students are presented with a math prompt and have to work out various solutions using only mental math. The teacher acts as a facilitator, never agreeing or disagreeing with any answers. 

To do number talks successfully, there are some norms we established. When a student has a solution to the problem, they place a thumb on their chest. If they have more than one answer, they put up additional fingers. This is done rather than raising hands so other students who take a little more time to answer don't feel overwhelmed when they see lots of hands in the air.

We also have signals for agreeing and disagreeing. If students agree with each other, they give the "hang ten/surfer dude" signal. This provides affirmation to the student who answered and shows we are a community of learners. On the other hand, if a student disagrees with an answer, they raise their hand. They are welcome to disagree at any point, as long as they do so respectfully and support their disagreement. 

In addition to the norms, we also have a variety of "frameworks" we use for number talks.

1. Which One Doesn't Belong: These are mostly based on the examples from wodb.ca. In this format, students are presented with four images. They may be numbers, objects, shapes, or anything else. Of the four, they need to decide which one does not belong and support their answers.

In the example to the right, students could say the bottom left doesn't belong because it has no numbers, the top right doesn't belong because it has no individual minute lines, or the bottom right is the outlier because it is not in the one o'clock range.

We did this particular one in the ninth day of school. One student who had not been participating in number talks regularly put his thumb up. When I called on him, he said, "The top left one doesn't belong because it is an acute angle and the rest are bigger." We had never touched on angles yet in the year, and it's a fifth grade standard. It floored me to see a usually disengaged child come up with a more advanced term. The other thing I like about WODB is that there are no right answers. As long as students can support their case, it's a valid thought.


2. Balance the Scale: In this scenario, I draw a rudimentary seesaw on the board. On one side, I put a box with a number in it and two empty boxes on the other side. If you can't see where this is going, students have to balance the scale by putting things in the empty boxes to equal the value of the filled box. As we progress, I add more filled boxes on the right and empty ones on the left to increase the level of challenge.

I tell the students they can use any operation and whole numbers, decimals, or fractions (even though we haven't started operations with decimals or fractions.) Students took risks and tried adding and subtracting decimals and fractions. Some were accurate, others were inaccurate but were caught by peers, and others were incorrect but no one (aside from me) caught it. However, it is important to me not to correct them because the number talk is not about being right or wrong.

3. I Notice/I Wonder: I don't have any picture of this particular one, but we did a number of them during our graphing unit. When using these with graphs, I would take two days to do each one. On the first day, I would show the students a graph, but axis labels, scale, and title would be covered. To the right, there was a T-Chart with "I Notice" and "I Wonder." Their Notices were things that they observed and Wonders were questions they had. On the first day, they usually Noticed things such as the varying bar heights, the labels were missing, and the trends. They Wondered about the labels and why different trends were happening. Many made predictions for what it could be.

On the second day, I fully uncovered the graph. Inevitably, nearly all of their Wonders from the prior day became Notices. I didn't show them this until we were all done, however. They noticed even more and then were able to articulate stronger Wonders now that they had all the information.

4. Addition/Subtraction Strategies: Apparently I dropped the ball on taking pictures of this style, too. I also need a better name for it. More or less, I project an addition or subtraction problem on the board. Students solve it using a variety of strategies, including the traditional algorithm, expanding into each place value, and rounding to different values and adding/subtracting back in at the end.

This is done all in their heads as I write what they said. I like it because it helps them to develop mental math and strong computation. I am excited to try it with multiplication and division and will start those soon.

5. Mystery Number: This one is by far the favorite one for students and me. I give the students clues for numbers one at a time. For example, it may start with "I am a six digit number." Students then generate a few options for this clue. We reveal the next clue ("My tenths and my tens are the same digit".) We go back to the original guesses and eliminate any options that no longer work. In the beginning, students only were thinking whole numbers so usually they would all be eliminated. They've since learned.

I keep revealing more clues until the final clue is revealed. Each time, we will eliminate or carry over old guesses. At the end, sometimes I have prompted them into one correct answer, but often I leave it to multiple numbers would work.

This one really grows their brain, especially when they have six clues to use. They'll catch themselves before anyone can disagree, by saying something like "Oh wait, my tenths isn't the same as my tens. Change them both to a 3."

Another framework I want to try is "Would You Rather." I just saw this idea on Twitter the other day. It was something along the lines of "Would you rather take your little brother Trick-or-Treating for a flat $75 payment or $1 for every four houses." Students would then craft arguments based on their choice.

The number talk doesn't always have to explicitly connect to the lessons for the week. It's more about getting their minds into a mathematical mindset and developing strong number sense. It can be used to review old skills, reinforce current, or pre-assess upcoming topics. The students enjoy them and it's incredible to see the connections they make.

How could you use a number talk with your grade level? How could this concept be adapted to other subject areas?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure: Active Engagement Edition

"Life is either a great adventure or nothing."
-Helen Keller

One of my favorite genres to read as a student was a Choose Your Own Adventure book. In these books, you read a page and follow the directions at the bottom. Maybe you would have to choose to eject from a falling aircraft or chance a crash landing or perhaps you could shoot a laser beam at the alien or try to run away from it. Either way, I usually ended up dead, kind of like my experiences playing Oregon Trail. Luckily, you could always start over.

As I became a teacher, I found out you could do similar tasks with Google Forms and Slides, either through "Go to Page Based on Response" or linking to different slides, respectively. However, my issue with that was the same I had with the books: It's a passive experience. While the reader needed to make a choice, there was little active engagement beyond that.

Bringing it into 2017

While I was out being treated for cancer with chemotherapy, I wrote to my students every day. After a few weeks of this, both the students and I needed a change from back and forth conversation. I thought back to my obsession with Choose Your Own Adventures as a fourth grader and wanted to mimic this, but with more of an active role.

I realized I could use Slides, but give them the story piece-by-piece each day. This way, they were making a choice and also engaging with the story beyond a mouse click. Before they would get the next part of their story, they would need to make a choice AND defend it. This helped build argumentative skills and persuasive writing elements. The "Master Deck" of The Winter Expedition can be found here.

The students didn't disappoint. They crafted strong arguments for why they chose to pick up the ice pick instead of the flashlight (my favorite being, "With an ice pick, I can break things and breaking things is kind of my thing") or why they thought going towards a mysterious odor was better than a growling ("I could just cover up my nose to block the smell, but the growling might be a bear." Plot twist - the odor was a monster. Sorry, kid.)

While I was struggling to get 2-3 sentences in response to "How is your day?" I would get two paragraphs solidifying their choices. It definitely helped improved their writing skills, especially their skills of persuasion.

The final slide asked them for their feedback on the experience. Of my 28 students, about 25 of them preferred this activity to their normal writing to me, with many of them saying they enjoyed being put into the story and having to make a choice. Some even mentioned how they enjoyed having to defend their pathway.

I realize as a classroom teacher, it might seem overwhelming to have to paste in new parts of a story each day, but it could easily be done during part of a planning period, during lunch, or in the evening. In total, once it was set up, it only took about half an hour to read each response and paste in the next section. I'll trade half an hour a day for more active engagement in writing.

So how do you do this with your class?

I've developed this Doc for planning it all and this Slides template for designing each slide. (Clicking on those links will give you a force copy of each document.) Both templates have directions on what to do. I recommend starting with the Doc and then transferring to the Slides; that's how I laid it all out.

Once you are done with the "Master Slides," make a copy and delete all but the starting few slides. That's what your students will start with and you'll add to it from there. Attach this new Slidedeck onto Google Classroom as "Make a Copy for Each Student" so they each get their own deck to work on.

I also made this screen cast to explain it all, since I wasn't sure if the written directions were enough.

One student already started on making his own
versions on Google Docs
Try it out, tweak it, do whatever you see fit. The students will enjoy it and I will be challenging mine to develop their own CYOA stories to send to partners. If you have questions, feel free to reach out via Twitter, email, or the comments below.

Now it's your turn to make a choice:

Do you share this article through Twitter to your online PLN or email to a colleague in your school? Why did you make that choice?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Small Group Collaboration in Google Classroom Made Easy


Google Classroom has come a long way since it was first released. In my first year of teaching, I used Edmodo, but I was one of my district's early adopters of Classroom the following year when it debuted. In my opinion, Classroom has been superior to Edmodo in every way except for one.

I couldn't assign to individual students or small groups, which was one feature that I extremely enjoyed about Edmodo. If I wanted my students collaborating in a small group on Classroom, I would have to post an assignment with one Doc for each group and project a list of who was in what group. The whole class would have edit access to each group's Doc, which led to some problems (and also lessons on digital citizenship).

We've all been there; 25+ fourth graders on on shared Doc is just asking for trouble. Asking students to share Docs to each other is manageable in some cases when the usernames make sense, but some districts use a string of letters and numbers for each kid. Simply put, small group collaboration wasn't the easiest or most intuitive thing to do natively through Google Classroom.

That all changes today.

As part of a onslaught of features released in a new GSuite update, teachers can now assign assignments to individual students. This makes individualizing work much easier, but I began thinking. It's being touted as a differentiation method, but I see power in it as a collaboration tool. Could this be the solution to my "small group collaboration" struggles?

If you're good at reading blog titles, you already know the answer.

After tinkering around with the new "Assign to Individual Students" feature, I found that you could assign one Doc (or Sheet or Slides or whatever) to a group of students (let's call them Ben, Brett, John, and Josh) and set that file to "Students can edit." Ben, Brett, John, and Josh can now collaborate on that Doc, without anyone else being able to access their work. Ryan can't get on accidentally (or purposefully) to delete or modify their work, nor does Ryan even know it's been assigned to the gentlemen. Each student only sees their own work, and doesn't explicitly know who else got the same assignment, unless they are collaborating together.

The instructional implications of this are boundless. My students often write scripts for mini-skits together, and now each group can have their own meeting place. Do your students do collaborative research? They can work together without other groups disrupting them. Co-authoring a short story would be a breeze, and would making a presentation with a small group. Making collaborative math Slides would be as easy as pressing Assign. Think about how you want students collaborating in small groups - this can be a powerful tool to make that happen.

Below I've included a video tutorial of how to do this and also written out directions.

Video Directions:


Written Directions:
  1. Make a new Assignment in Google Classroom, just like you would for any other assignment. Title it, write a description, add a due date, etc. 
  2. Attach a Drive file (Doc/Sheets/Slides/etc).
  3. Just above the title, choose the drop down menu that says "All Students." Uncheck "All Students." Select the students you want to receive this file. 
  4. Change file permissions to "Students can edit."
  5. Press Assign. Your work here is done. Allow the students to take charge. 
How can you see this being used in your classroom?