5th Grade Math Challenge Project with Minecraft

Over the last month or so I have been teaching in a 5th grade classroom.  We rolled out a new math program (Houghton Mifflin Expressions) so I am going into the classrooms and helping the teachers work on the program.  For this 5th grade class I gave them a pretest – which I think is extremely important.  Pretesting shows exactly what the students know and what I need to teach.  Using the information I gained from the pretest – I was able to cut the unit down from 21 days to 12 days.  I taught only the concepts the students needed and then gave the chapter test.  All but one or two of the students made an A on the test! The power of using the pretest is amazing!  It gives us the opportunity to teach what the students need and then be able to challenge the students with the rest of the time. Pretests also allow you to group students in flexible groups within the class.  If not all the students need the unit – give those students challenge work while you work with a smaller group of students that need more help.  This also helps with classroom management because your students that already know the material aren’t bored and distracting other students.

Dollar sign

Because the unit was over multiplication of whole numbers and decimals, I wanted to pick a challenge project that would allow the students to use their new skills.  The unit introduced exponents, so I wanted to be sure the project I picked had some exponents.  I chose to have the students do a project on the National Debt.  The students and I spent two days finding the National Debt and discussing what it is.  We also discussed the types of services the government provides and has to pay for with tax dollars.  We talked about taxation and issuing new money.  It was a great two days of discussion and the students asked SUCH great questions!

Then we moved on to the debt clock.  This is a clock that that shows the National Debt in real time.  It shows how the National Debt is increasing, literally by the second!  We also researched the US population so we could use LONG DIVISION to figure out the national debt per citizen.  The students were NOT happy about long division in the trillions place by millions!  I worked part of them with them and then challenged them to figure out the rest.  I wish I could say that the students rose to the challenge, but they didn’t.  I did have ONE students that worked it out all the way, by hand!  I let the rest use a calculator – clearly our long division skills need work (another reason these projects are great is because you do see what skills your students need work on)!  Additionally, we calculated the national debt owed by all of the citizens in our state (GA) and in our class.  We also used scientific notation to write the debt and discussed how scientific notation is used.  The last part of this phase of the project was to check the debt clock at three different points in time (we did this over several days) and use the change formula to calculate the change in the clock of the three different time periods.

The last part of the project was for the students to show a representation of the National Debt.  I found this website which showed a representation using dollar bills for the national debt (I scrolled quickly through the girl on the couch in the racy outfit!).  The kids were amazed at the amount of $100 bills it would take to represent the national debt (I used the website and not the youtube video because I didn’t like the women on the couch and knew I could have control of the content).

I knew I wanted to students to show this type of representation, but also understand it would take a LONG time that I didn’t have.  So, instead, we used Minecraft.  I loaded minecraft onto our iPad carts and let the students use the blocks to represent the money.  The students had to figure out how many blocks they would need based on the amount of money they made the block.  In general, most students had a block equal 1 billion, so they still had to place 17,000 blocks!  The students had to show the National Debt, Georgia’s portion of the debt and the Classes portion of the debt.  We presented our projects to the class and I graded the project with this rubric.

I think the representations are AWESOME!  I am so proud of the work the students did!  I have linked some of our projects below (Sorry about the quality of the video – you can’t screen record on the iPad).



Bring Your Own Device Pilot – phase 1 FINISHED!

We finished our BYOD pilot last week and I have to say, it was an amazing success!  The students loved the program, as did the parents!  We are in the process of wrapping up the pilot and trying to launch another one with more classrooms.

To effectively measure the success of the pilot I created surveys for the parents and the students, using Google Forms.  When we set out to do the pilot we decided that the program would only be useful to us if the students were engaged and excited about learning, if the technology enhanced learning, and the technology was easy for the students to use.  So, in order to measure our effectiveness, those are the types of questions I asked of the students and parents.

We just sent the parent link out today, so no parents have answered yet.  The student’s responses are coming in and if you are interested in seeing what they have to see about the pilot you can find their answers here.  I think the thing that has surprised me the most is one of the students said they would have liked more direct instruction on how to make a video.  I guess I went into this project thinking that the students are digital natives and therefore wouldn’t need any extra reinforcement on the process.  Also, being that they were using their own devices, I wanted them to pick the tool that they were already familiar with.  In hindsight, I should have had a “mini-lesson” for students that wanted to hear how to make the trailer, instead of relying on the students to teach each other and ask me if they had questions.

One of the “ah-ha” moments for me came with the students said the groups were too big.  I had put the students in groups of three for the project because that seemed like a good number!  However, the students said that working in a group that big on this type of project was problematic.  They would have preferred to just have two students in each group.  I think this is great input.  As a side note, I should mention that surveying your students after any lesson is really important!  The students are the audience and the consumers of the information we as teachers are delivering.  The students have really great insight into how to better deliver a lesson and what worked effectively and what wasn’t so great in the lesson.  I always have a “debrief” with my students after a unit and get their input.  I tell the students that they can’t make me cry, but they can tell me anything negative as long as they phrase it politely.  I also tell them that I reserve the right to NOT take their advice, because sometimes they can’t see the big picture of why we did something (but I do always try to explain the big picture to the students!).

To sum up, I think the pilot was a smashing success and I am looking forward to expanding the pilot group to a larger group of students.  I will post the parent feedback as soon as I have the results.  Additionally, if you are interested in seeing the student’s work, it can be found here.

Bring Your Own Device Pilot – Day 1

Well, we did it!  We pulled together a Bring Your Own Device Pilot program for our 5th grade.  It was easier than I expected to be and amazingly ALL of the students are participating!  We sent home letters to the the students and the parents asking them to attend a meeting to discuss the pilot.  We also sent home a contract for the students and parents to sign.  On Wednesday when the parents came in, we only had 2 parents!  The parents had so much faith in the program that they didn’t even come to the meeting ( Pilot Letter and  Bring Your Own Device KR)!  One of the parents at the meeting said, “It’s about time the school did this!”.  The parents were ready for this and have been extremely supportive!  I can’t even say that we have had any problems!  In my estimation so far the pilot is going GREAT!  All of the students today opted to stay in and work on their project rather than go to recess!  I think for fifth-grade we can mark that as a success!

For this project the students will be creating a book trailer for the book Hatchet by Gary Paulson.  The students have brought in a variety of devices – one laptop, many ipod, ipad, and itouches.  No other types of devices – the apple devices really are preferred in my opinion.

I was worried about all of the students working in different software packages and with different resources and tools, but it has really not been a problem.  The students have all helped each other with their devices and I have really been managing the process and checking in with the students.  The students themselves are working hard and mostly staying focused – we have had a few music issues where the students get sidetracked by music on their device.

I will continue to blog about my experience with this pilot program, but so far I am very pleased!

Teacher Training and Khan Academy

We went back to school this week and we are all busy getting ready for our little ones to come next week.   I spent some time this week training teachers on resources they can use in their classrooms including activboards and votes, Khan Academy, and Microsoft Outlook.  When I was working with the principal to plan what we would train on during pre-planning week we really wanted to make the training valuable and use it in a way that they teachers would find the time valuable – we all know how hectic it is getting a classroom ready for students and there never seems to be enough time for working in the classroom!  To that end I showed teachers a lot of fun things they could do with voting templates and agenda boards.

I also showed teachers how to use a website called Khan Academy.  I love Khan Academy, it is an amazing website that will change the way teachers teach math!  I used it in my classroom for the last nine weeks of school last year and my fifth-grade students went from 5th grade math all the way through middle school math in 9 weeks.  Of course, not all of my students went that far, but the website is a self-paced math website that teaches math lessons and then gives practice for the students.  The website also allows teachers to register their classes and see how the students are progressing and where they need help.  Did I mention that it is a FREE website!  I have my own children working through Khan Academy because it is such an amazing site!  The teachers are going to use the site for enrichment and remediation this year as they get used to the site, but I am hoping that within the next year some of our teachers will “flip” their classrooms and the found describes in this youtube video.

Eyeplorer and Power Writes

I found a website recently (I am sorry I can’t remember the address) that detailed a strategy for learning called Power Writing.  I had never heard of this strategy before but it sounded so wonderful that I immediately started using it in my classroom.  My students love it!  The process is that you give the students a topic – for example this past week I gave my students the topic – The Civil War.  The students had 15 seconds to think of everything they can about the Civil War.  Then, they had 15 more seconds to narrow down the topic.  Finally, I gave them one minute to write about all the connections they could think of to the Civil War.  The goal, it seems, is to have a brain dump of all of the information the students know about the topic.  The more the students power write on a topic, the more they are going to make new connections and cement their learning.  I LOVE this!  My students seem to have trouble remembering more and more information (I have a theory on that – I will expand upon in a later post!).  The Power Write helps the students make and retain connections.  I can see how effective this tool would be if it were used consistently, day-after-day on the same topic.  I wish I could say I was consistent enough to remember to do it daily, but I get focused on trying to cover my material.

Last week after I showed my students how to power write the they wrote for the first time, they were still a little confused on if they have followed the process correctly.  I used a wonderful tool called eyeplorer to show them what I was looking for!.  I went to the eyeplore website and typed in Civil War and got the map above of the Civil War.  The map shows all the possible connections of the Civil War.  The students LOVED eyeplorer!  So many of them asked me for the website so they could go home and experiment with the technology.  I think eyeplorer has wonderful possibilities in the classroom and can really help students see and understand connections and relationships.  We know that connections between material help facilitate learning – which is the whole point of what we do each day!  If you have a fun way to use eyeplorer in the classroom please share!

Too much technology?

As educators we are always striving to help students be a well rounded participants in society.  We have to look at balancing many different concerns in education, including the global society we live in and educating the entire child.  I have found in my experience that it is very easy to get wrapped up in using technology in all disciplines and neglecting other crucial aspects to a child’s development.  I LOVE web 2.0 tools and teaching my students to blog and be useful members of a global society, but it is also important that we teach children basic skills such as writing and cutting on a line!

I know it sounds intuitive but I think as technology driven educators we must balance where we use technology and where we decide pencil, paper and scissors are also a good choice.  This week in class I gave my students the option of using mind-mapping technology or using paper and colored pencils to create a mind map about nouns.  I was surprised when about 7 of my students chose to use paper and pencils.  We are also working on a writing assignment right now, journaling as a slave on the underground railroad.  My students asked if I was going to allow them to use computers and I explained that computers didn’t exist in the 1800’s and they were all disappointed!  However, as an educator I know the important of students being able to write in pencil on paper and cut out an object on the lines!

I wonder if research will come and prove that maybe too much technology too early is developmentally inappropriate for younger students.  I know my fifth-graders do not have very good scissor skills and the ability to color inside the lines.  I haven’t just seen that pattern in one class, it has been multiple classes over multiple years.  I think in our curriculum driven society we lose fact that these students still need help in basic fine motor skills.  I think as educators we need to plan our technology use and the lack of technology use, intentionally as we look at educating the entire child.  As much as it pains me to say we should be unplugged from technology for a bit each day, I think we need to offer our students a balance of technology with the basic cutting and pasting – with glue and paper – not ctrl X and ctrl V.

Students using technology

My fifth-grade students run our school newscast.  Everyday out fifth-graders lead the school in announcements, the pledge, and general information.  I am blown away by how well the students can take the technology they are learning and put it to use immediately!  One of the teachers on the fifth-grade team helps coordinate our students on a daily basis for our TV programs which we call “Tiger TV”.  We have two green screens, a mini-mac, two camera’s lights, a teleprompter, and a board which controls all of the broadcast.  We have students which run all of the equipment on their own.  We have developing our TV program over the past three years and each year we add in a new feature.  Just last week we added the teleprompter.  Well, today it turns out that the two teachers that are always in the broadcast room with the students were both out sick!  YIKES!!!  Our students rose the occasion and ran all of the equipment on their own!  It was an amazing broadcast!  We have several students that are our students directors and then all of the other students rotate on and off of Tiger on a three week basis.  The students that are rotating off of the broadcast train the new students on the equipment.  This year we have even starting allowing our fifth-graders to write our scripts.  I am amazed every day at how well the students acclimate to technology!

I was thinking about this because of another blog post I was reading earlier about letting students play in the sandbox.  This is a concept that was developed by Vicki Davis and the author of the blog was discussing why it is important to allow students to play on technology that we are introducing them to so they feel comfortable.  I think that concept is extremely important and I believe that is why our students have taken ownership of our news broadcast; because they have been able to play, with guidance, and then today when they had to take control and use the technology they had no issue!  The students are using so many different software programs to run the equipment, even from a PC and a Mac, and they have no difficulty.  Allowing students to play in the sandbox and develop a level of comfort with the software will insure success in using software when they are required to apply the skills in class.

I can see in my own classroom where I haven’t let the students play in the sandbox and then I spent a LOT of time troubleshooting with the students.  If we give sandbox time on the front end, time will be saved throughout the lesson.

A new technology innovation for me….

This is my first attempt at blogging and it will be interesting to see how blogging works for me.  I have been requiring my students to blog for two years but, I have never actually blogged myself.  I am finding myself doing things now that I have previously only required my students to do.  For example, I participate in their mad minutes in math with them, I participate in their webquests, their recess games (5th graders only really play dodgeball), etc.  So, now I have taken on the task of learning to blog and seeing if it is something that I can really do effectively and maybe figure out a way to connect with other obsessive teachers.

The goal of this blog for me will be to detail my life as a teacher.  What I learn from others and what I have created for my classroom.  I love using technology so I will focus my blogs on my trial and errors in the classroom pertaining to technology and other things….

I signed up for a google docs account this week and created my very first webquest.  I then decided that my students MUST also sign up so that they may post their learned information to the webquest as well.  I am still trying to figure out how 5th grade parents feel about their students using email to sign up for so many different websites.  So far this year I have had my students sign up for google docs, mywebspiration and my class blog.  I am wondering if and when they will be weary from email sign-ups.   Does this mean that 5th graders should have their own email?  My school provides email accounts for the students but we keep the email accounts from the students because we worry about 10 and 11 year olds having access to email.  I am still on the fence on this issue and I would love to know what other teachers do in their classrooms and their schools.  While on this topic I would love to know if other schools allow students to search the internet for content or do you limit access to content.  How should schools effectively manage all the good and bad that is on the internet and that comes with using technology in the classroom.