Release Time!

Some of the most invigorating and inspiring experiences I have had as a teacher have been when we visit other schools. Last week, our third grade team had a half-day of release time to visit Adelaide Elementary. Former Wildwood teacher and friend Jake works there now, and I interviewed with Jason back in the day when I was first applying to be a teacher (I dare you to find a more passionate, driven leader — he’s great). They are an incredible bunch.

The school is calm, and you can tell the kids are excited to be learning there. Here’s their behavior rubric that’s posted in each class and in the halls.

Behavior Rubric
Behavior Rubric

Sondra Maier, one of the school’s literacy coaches, showed us around their Teacher Resource Center, a kind of uber-book/supply room that goes beyond just function to be a place that’s truly inspirational.

Holy cow, leveled books

All their books are leveled so they can be pulled for guided reading groups. Each book set is in a bag with an index card, so teachers can check out an entire bag of books at a time.

A book bag
A book bag

The leveling is done based on AR level, but I think we’re looking to level our book library by Guided Reading level.

DRA books
DRA books
Intervention materials
Intervention materials
Professional development books
Professional development books

I loved that the TRC seemed like a place where teachers were really being motivated to improve their practice, not just taking care of business.

Note the sharing board, where teachers can post ideas, new graphic organizers, blacklines, etc. (sorry the image is rotated funny)
Note the sharing board, where teachers can post ideas, new graphic organizers, blacklines, etc. (sorry the image is rotated funny)

When we were there, a team of 1st grade teachers were meeting to put together their reading preassessment for next fall. They were focused and working thoughtfully. I wanted to join them!

This is a board where staffers can see thumbnail sketches of how students are doing.
This is a board where staffers can see thumbnail sketches of how students are doing in reading (and math).

I’m a visual person, so I love that each pocket shows an approximate level of where each student is currently performing. That way, intervention specialists can make sure that no students are slipping through the cracks.

Sample focus board, so students know what they're expected to know and why.
Sample focus board, so students know what they're expected to know and why.

Sondra took us into two 3rd grade classrooms to observe their reading block. Adelaide uses this framework as a bit of a guide/backbone for their literacy program during the school year:

K-5 Reading Strategies
K-5 Reading Strategies

And Adelaide’s TRC doesn’t just help teachers with reading materials. Oh, no. Last year, they collected all math manipulatives from the teachers, organized them, cleaned them up, and stored them all in a central location. That way, no one winds up hoarding anything, and intervention specialists always know what materials are needed.

Holy cow, manipulatives.
Holy cow, manipulatives.
...and more maniuplatives (with a cart of shared reading texts)
...and more maniuplatives (with a cart of shared reading texts)

I’m dying to show you the organizational systems we saw in the classrooms we visited, but I’m waiting to get the teachers’ approval. Fingers crossed!


The Learning Gap

Now that my book is grossly overdue at the Seattle Public Library, I’ve finally finished The Learning Gap: Why our schools are failing and what we can learn from Japanese and Chinese education. (My overdue fees are going to hurt all the more because the whole book is available for free online…)

There were a lot of interesting ideas and observations in this book, which was written in 1992. I have a few major concerns with some of Stevenson and Stigler’s arguments, but I think their main takeaway is definitely worth taking a look at.

My scanner is MIA, but for example, I thought you needed to see this graph on what parents in Beijing value versus parents in Chicago:

Defining the Ideal Teacher
Defining the Ideal Teacher

Look at those huge differences in clarity and sensitivity, as well as enthusiasm. What do you think causes them? How would you answer this survey?

I am now on the lookout for a “Math Set.” Stevenson and Stigler mention this manipulatives kit, and many other researchers quote it, but I can’t seem to find a set that contains “a box of colorful, well-designed materials for teaching mathematical concepts: tiles, clock, ruler, checkerboard, colored triangles, beads, and many other attractive objects.” (186)

I also wanted to share this passage:

If we were asked briefly to characterize classes in Japan and China, we would say that they consist of coherent lessons that are presented in a thoughtful, relaxed, and nonauthoritarian manner. Teachers frequently involve students as sources of information. Lessons are oriented toward problem-solving rather than rote mastery of facts and procedures, and make use of many different types of representational materials. The role assumed by the teacher is that of the knowledgable guide, rather than that of prime dispenser of information and arbiter of what is correct. There is frequent verbal interaction in the classroom as the teacher attempts to stimulate students to produce, explain, and evaluate solutions to problems. These characteristics contradict stereotypes held by most Westerners about Asian teaching practices. Lessons are not rote; they are not filled with drill. Teachers do not spend large amounts of time lecturing to children; and the children are not passive automatons but active participants in the learning process. (176-177)

Definitely something to think about.

Finally, here’s what the authors recommend we should do to define our solution to improving instruction in US public schools:

1. Free Teachers (give them more time to prepare lessons and for professional development)
2. Improve Teacher Training
3. Make Systematic Use of Learning Principles (research-based instruction)
4. Teach to the Group (hold high standards?)
5. Consider Increasing Class Size (with the opportunity for “more time each day to plan lessons, deal with individual children, and consult with colleagues” (212))
6. Revise Textbooks
7.  Free Children (more frequent, shorter breaks)
8. Eliminate Tracking
9. Respect the Age of Innocence (keep learning fun)

Make Realistic Assessments (of their students) and Raise Standards
(American kids were always the worst at math, but their families always thought they were better at math than anyone else)

Value Education
Believe in Effort

If you’re interested in more, here’s a thoughtful article from the NCTM.


Range Finding Reflection

Although I missed our class dearly, I have to admit that I had a great time in Olympia. I’ve talked a lot about “range finding,” and the best way to describe it is this:

We looked at the rubrics for the short answer questions on the math WASL. We looked to make sure the rubrics were fair and reasonable for 3rd-5th grade students.

It was a good experience because I think sometimes we teachers spend a lot of time blaming “the people in Olympia,” but everyone I encountered here had students’ success at the forefront of every decision they made.

Here are some photos from my trip — they’re not terribly exciting because most of what I did was a) confidential, b) eating, c) doing Pilates, or d) sleeping. :)

Olympia is Washington's capitol
Olympia is home to Washington's capitol building

Now, although the domed building is called the capitol, the city of Olympia is called the state’s capital.

This is Capital Footwear, because it is located in the state's capital, Olympia. It is on Capitol Street, because the capitol building is at the end of the street.
This is Capital Footwear, because it is located in the state's capital, Olympia. It is on Capitol Street, because the capitol building is at the end of the street.

I stayed further down the street, in the Phoenix Inn. The employees took very good care of me there.

This was my home for the last three days!
This was my home for the last three days!
Here's where I wrote my blog posts to you all!
Here's where I wrote my blog posts to you all!
Waving from the giant bed
Waving from the giant bed

Keep your fingers crossed that I did a good job and that I’m invited back in the future!

Oh, finally, before we left, I had to determine the total time we spent range finding. Seriously — I was the official time keeper. If I kept time incorrectly, we wouldn’t get paid for the full amount of time we spent working! Remember the discussion we had about real-life problem solving in class last week, ladies and gentlemen? That’s what I was doing! I thought you might enjoy seeing the elapsed time problem I had to solve (I got it wrong the first time, but I fixed it!).

Show your work using words, numbers or pictures
Show your work using words, numbers or pictures

(Note: I rounded a bit at the end at the request of our facilitator.)


This Just In: New Nines Song!

About ten minutes ago, with the help of my talented class, we wrote a new multiplication song. My students told me they were still struggling with their nines times tables, although we learned a few other strategies earlier in the year. This is what we came up with:

When the Cats Go Meowing In
(To the Tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”)

Oh when the cats
Go meowing in
Oh when the cats go meowing in
Well, nine lives is their luuuucky number
When the cats go meowing in

Oh 9, 18
Oh, 36 and 45
54, 63, 72
And 81 go meowing in
**There’s 90 now**

Soon to come: our first music video!


Lines, Line Segments, and Rays

Today’s our last day before Spring Break, and we’re taking our Unit 6 assessment on geometry so we don’t have to worry about it after break. Here’s one of the songs we came up with for remembering the difference between lines, line segments, and rays:

Lines, Line Segments, and Rays
To the tune of “Silent Night”

A line is straight
Goes on forever
Add two points
Still a line? Never!
Now it’s a line seggggment
One point is a ray

Lines, line segments, and rayyyyyyys!
Lines, line segments, and rays!

We have gestures that go along with the dance too. One of these days I’m going to figure out how to get a halfway decent audio or video recording, and rest assured that as soon as I do I will post it promptly!


Polygon Song

I can’t claim to have come up with this delightful tune, which my students use to help remember the different types of polygons. I do need to create one for the different types of quadrilaterals, which always seems to be a problem spot for kids 2nd grade on up.

When we sing our version of this song, we usually go up a half-step in pitch at each new verse, just to change things up.Wait, There’s More Sides!
To the Tune of “Alice the Camel”

Polygons with three sides, triangle
Polygons with four sides, quadrilateral
Polygons with five sides, pentagon
But wait! There’s more sides!

Polygons with six sides, hexagon
Polygons with seven sides, heptagon
Polygons with eight sides, octagon
But wait! There’s more sides!

Polygons with nine sides, nonagon
Polygons with ten sides, decagon
Polygons with two sides, just an angle
And now we are done!

We also love reading Marilyn Burns’ The Greedy Triangle during this unit.


Operations Song

We just finished a unit on multi-digit addition and subtraction. I thought I was going to tear my hair out reviewing and re-reviewing the four main operations. We use our arms to gesture addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, so as I call out “Sum! Difference! Product! Quotient!” it winds up turning into a dance of sorts.

But we still couldn’t get consistent answers. We kept mixing up sum and difference. So I turned once more to a song. I’m looking for a catchier title…

To the Tune of “Ode to Joy”

Pro-duct answ-ers mul-tipli-ca-tion     (X)
Sum is act-ually a-ddition               (+)
Quo-tient is div-i-sion a-nd              (/)
Diffe-rence is sub-tra-ction            (-)

I attempted to put in the rhythmic breakdowns so you could see how I wound up singing it. I’ve had a few people ask me to record my songs, but although I can sing just fine, my voice sounds miserable when it’s recorded. I’m trying to figure out how to recruit my kids to help me out. I’ll definitely keep you posted!

Copyright 2009 Shannon Houghton


Gallon Man

Here is a song our class uses to remember the units of US capacity. We hope it’s useful to you, and we would appreciate it if you leave us a comment if you use it in your class!

If You Need a Gallon Man
To the Tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”

If you need a Gallon Man, you need 4 quarts
If you need a Gallon Man, you need 8 pints
If you need a Gallon Man, 16 cups can be your plan
If you need a Gallon Man, you need 4 quarts.

Because a gallon, don’t you know, equals 4 quarts
And a quart, don’t you know, equals 2 pints
And if a pint is where you stand, then 2 cups can be your plan
‘Cause if you need a Gallon Man, you need 4 quarts

Copyright 2009 Shannon Houghton


Weekly Report

We didn’t have a chance to fill out our yellow Weekly Report sheets on Friday, so we will show you here what we did in class last week.

Name: Ms. Houghton’s Class

Date: Week of December 1-5

This week we did many things in Ms. Houghton’s class. In math we made Yardley, we took our unit math test, and we took our district math test.

We have been learning about typing up our essays in writing. This week we learned how to take an idea and make it into more than one sentence.

One of the books we have been reading is CinderEdna. Ms. Houghton chose that book because it’s about Cinderella, and we just finished reading the original Cinderella from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Another thing we did in school this week was we started this Blog! A blog is short for Web log, and it’s a type of Web site.

We’re very proud of our work on this Web site because people as far away as Germany and Georgia read what we wrote!

Our goal for next week is to finish our essays on What Make Our Class Great!