“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver


Saturday, 27 October 2012

Differentiation using CHOICE Boards

It is a super busy time for me at school right now.  My fall progress reports are due on Monday and I have a student teacher candidate starting her four week block as well.  When we were discussing how she would plan for her block, and meet the needs of gifted students, I suggested she try using a CHOICE board I had created for a First Nations unit.  The topic in grade six Social Studies is "First Nations and European Explorers".  I felt that tackling both topics would be overwhelming for my teacher candidate during her first teaching block EVER, so I suggested she use the choice board for First Nations.

About 5 weeks ago I introduced CHOICE boards to my grade six gifted class.  I did this in anticipation of the upcoming unit in Social Studies.  I chose a low risk topic, Addition and Subtraction of Decimals.  I did this for two reasons, I wanted to see how much my students knew about decimals, and I wanted to see how they would respond to the CHOICE board format.
Math Choice Board
I originally was inspired to use CHOICE boards by a book by Laurie  Westphal called Differentiating with Menus in Social StudiesI loved how the book was formatted and allowed for multiple entry points.  In her books, Ms. Westphal includes the product criteria for her CHOICE BOARDS, as well as a FREE CHOICE proposal form.  There are other versions of the Menu books available, including Science and Language.  I highly recommend them all, even if just for inspiration in creating your own MENUS and CHOICE BOARDS. 
The math choice board I used is adapted from one of Laurie's and the First Nations board I created is inspired by one she created for European Explorers.

The experience with the math CHOICE BOARD was eye opening for me as a teacher.  I had used this format several times over the past few years with great success.  I was surprised at how difficult it was for my students this year to use this format.  Even though I had provided them with the product criteria from Laurie's book, and I had given them the assessment rubric I was intending to use, ultimately I realized that many of them did not fully understand what was being asked of them.  I tried to rectify the situation when I provided students who struggled with the tasks with descriptive feedback.  It was clear to me that although I had given the students several WEEKS to complete the tasks in class, and I checked in with them at several points, the creation of the final products was challenging for many of them.  When I assessed the final products, I realized, for example, that even though a student may have said they understood what a "mind map" was, and was able to show me what they thought it should look like, ultimately, they needed more guidance. 

I took this as a perfect "teachable moment" and gave each student specific feedback about not only their final products, but also about how they approached each learning task, from the planning, to the research and finally to the product creation.  I asked the students to reflect upon what they had learned, and put their reflections in writing.  I was pleasantly surprised to read that most students felt they had learned about how to approach a more "open ended" task and one even said "We clearly need another chance to demonstrate what we have learned". 

The students are going to get another chance.  This week my teacher candidate will be introducing the CHOICE BOARD I created.  I have explained to her the teaching learning cycle I went through with the students over the past few months.  I am hoping that the students will not only enjoy the "second chance" they are being offered, but will also enjoy the flexibility and differentiation being offered to them.  If you would like a copy of the CHOICE BOARD I created for social studies just click on the link below.  For more information about using Menus and CHOICE BOARDS, I highly suggest you check out Laurie Westphal's books.



Saturday, 20 October 2012

Math Survival Guide

Let me start this post by telling you that I do not use regular math textbooks or math work books.  I realized after trying to use the board approved text book for one year of teaching gifted students that it just didn't work...for them or for me. 

I use a variety of hands-on, minds-on teaching strategies such as those found in the Ministry of Education's Guides to Effective Instruction in Mathematics.  I find these activities to be much more engaging for the students I teach.  I also use the dynamic geometry software Geometer's Sketchpad (GSP) for teaching the majority of the geometry concepts I cover in grade six.

That being said, I do think that students need to record their learning, so I created the Math Survival Guide.  Students use these throughout the year as we cover each of the strands.  I started my first math class by having the students make their own "survival guide".  I gave each student half of a file folder...I try to be environmentally conscious and reuse ones the main office doesn't want any longer.  I cut the file folders in half using a paper cutter.
Start with an old file folder.

Cut the file folder in half.  Now you have TWO covers.


Open one half like this with the "fold" in the middle.
Each student glues a large piece of quad paper face up to one half of the open file folder.  You may need to trim off the holes and a few rows from each side of the quad paper to make it fit.
Students fold the paper into eighths.



Make sure all the creases in your fold are nice and "crisp".  Students can use a straight edge such as a ruler to get nice, clean folds.
Students continue to fold until they have the right fit.

Add a cover.  (My students do a much better job than I do!)

Students use four squares of the quad paper for each entry.  They must include the word/concept, a written definition and a picture, diagram or symbol.



I use this technique to activate prior knowledge.  I put the math vocabulary for the task/unit/activity we are exploring on the overhead, or I make up cards with the names on them.  I ask the students to copy each term onto a four by four box.  After they have copied all the terms and concepts, I ask them to try and write something in each box.  They are to use a variety of words and pictures/symbols.  If they do not know a term or concept I allow them to talk with their "elbow" partners and see if they can add some ideas.  If they are unsure about their idea, I recommend that they use the small size Post-It notes to write on.  Gifted students often don't want to record something if they don't KNOW for sure it is correct.  The Post-Its allow them to "guess" and then "check" as they go about completing the task/activity.  These notes fit perfectly, and students can then "confirm" or change their initial thinking and put a final entry in the box when they are satisfied.

This activity is great for me at the beginning of any new unit/task/activity because I get to walk around and see what the students know and don't know.  It is not as intimidating as always giving a "diagnostic" pre-test.  Students seem more willing to show what they know, and I am not sure they even realize that I am collecting diagnostic data at this point.

As the unit/task/activity continues, students go back to their survival guides and revise/edit their initial entries or they confirm their thinking.  At the end of the unit/task/activity the students can use the information to help them study for any quiz or test I might administer.

By the end of grade 6 they have a complete math dictionary divided into the five strands of the Ontario Curriculum. We also add a section on problem solving strategies as we work through our Problems of the Week each week.  The teachers in grades 7 and 8 often tell me that my students keep their survival guides and bring them to junior high school with them. 

This is only part of how I run the math program for my gifted students, but it is a great way to start the year, and to start any new unit/task/activity!

Brain Breaks

 


Well the weeks are flying by and my students are settling in to the routines and expectations in the classroom.  I have a large class this year (do I keep mentioning this?).  I know to some of you having 28 students is not a large class, but in my small classroom 28 grade six bodies seem to take up a LOT of space.  My class is becoming more focused, and they have started to realize that how I do things in my classroom might be a little different from what they have experienced before. 
 
This week I implemented BRAIN BREAKS in my classroom.  Why, you ask?  I have been reading extensively over the past few years about the brain/body connection and how teachers can improve student achievement and engagement by having students use all facets to experience learning.  I first read about Brain Breaks during the summer, and I thought it would be a great idea to try to implement in my classroom this fall.  My observation has been that students tend to get antsy and need to move to around especially before and after an intense mental task, such as taking a test.  I saw a variety of ideas on different blogs including some great ideas at Rachel Lynette's Minds In Bloom blog. 
 
I chose to download and utilize the Roll Some Brain Breaks instructions from Your Therapy Source as I liked that I could print out the colourful pages and use them right away.  I downloaded the page, made multiple copies (1 per pair of students), mounted them on card stock, laminated them and then put them into large sized Ziploc baggies.  I added a single standard die to the baggie (from the dollar store) and added a die I had created myself by using white blocks and coloured stickers (also from the dollar store). 
 
I now have 14 baggies with the cards and dice in them.  I put all of the baggies into a large white tub.  I assigned one of my "teacher assistants" the job of being the Brain Break Monitor.  On my cue, he passes out the baggies to each of my classroom "elbow partners' and they roll the dice and choose which brain break to take.  I usually put on some music, either from a CD or something I have on my laptop ("Share it Maybe" by Cookie Monster from Sesame Street is a current favourite).  The students continue to roll and follow the instructions on the cards until the music ends.  When the music stops, the students put the dice back in the baggie, zip it up, and the Brain Breaks monitor collects all the baggies, puts them back in the tub, and puts the tub away.  We can usually accomplish this all within 5 minutes.
 
What a difference a little brain break makes!  The students are much faster to settle, focus and produce better results.  I have noticed an immediate difference, especially on days when it is rainy and we don't get outside for recess.  I plan to continue using this strategy and hopefully my students will be healthier and happier because of it.
 
What do you do to provide your class with a brain break?



Saturday, 13 October 2012

Problem Solving Template

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

I hope everyone has had a great week.  I am a little overwhelmed at the moment, I had a super jam packed week and I have spent 5 hours today assessing and evaluating...and I still have hours left to do.  It is that time of year, pre-report card writing.  Here in Ontario we are using the Fall progress reports again, which are in check box format, but still require detailled comments to accompany the checklists. 

I have spent the past 5 weeks getting to know my students, trying some new activities with them (I love BRAIN BREAKS and so do the students!), and administering some diagnostic assessments (CASI, Morrison-McCall, a Math Survey, Laura Candler's Problem Solving assessment, OWA (Ontario Writing Assessment)) and I have been collecting samples of student work.

This weekend I had to bring home a basket full of literature response role sheets (the students have started literature circles with the book "Shakespeare's Secret), "Communicating Skills" unit tests, OWA (Ontario Writing Assessment) writing samples, and some addition and subtraction CHOICE activities for math.  I am finished with the role sheets (need to ask students to add more details to their responses) and with marking their tests (need to ask them to review nouns, proper nouns and verbs AGAIN) but I am putting off evaluating the writing samples and the math activities.  I have created some great rubrics to help me with the assessments and evaluations but it still takes a long time to do a quality job and I have 28 students this year.

So, instead I was thinking about our first CLIP (a version of a professional learning community pathway) at school this year.  We have chosen to focus on Problem Solving and problem solving strategies as a pathway for our K-6 staff and students.  As part of my leadership role, I have started to collect a variety of resources for the staff.  I handed out a template I have used in the past.  It is called a KWC and APEC model.  Some of you have probably read my APEC POST FOR LITERATURE RESPONSE.  Well, KWC and APEC are similar in design to that model.  The KWC stands for KNOW, WANT TO FIND OUT, CONDITIONS and the APEC stands for ANSWER, PROOF, EXPLAIN AND CONNECT. I was trying to think of another graphic to use for Problem Solving strategies that might be more appealing to the primary and LD students in our school.  The graphic organizer I have used for KWC/APEC seemed a bit daunting for students younger than the ones I teach in grade 6 gifted, so I have spent part of today creating a new template.

I have posted the template HERE FOR DOWNLOAD as a FREEBIE.  Let me know if you use it with your students.  I am going to try it out with mine next week.

If you missed out on downloading my Problem Solving Strategy Posters, CLICK HERE FOR ANOTHER GREAT FREEBIE.  

Thanks for stopping by!  I guess it is time for me to put dinner in the oven and tackle some more of my school work!  Have a great week everyone!