Breakthrough Challange-Place Value edition!

Several weeks ago, my colleagues and I had the amazing opportunity to see James Nottingham speak on education and the importance of giving students the tools to succeed at school by promoting their growth. One of the amazing tools and ways to do such as he explained is through this idea of a ‘breakthrough’; essentially presenting something new to the students and allowing them to figure it out using their prior knowledge and problem solving skills.  I immediately thought of fun and exciting ways to implement this idea of breakthrough in my classroom!
The following week, I presented the weekly Breathrough Challenege in my class during Math Facts! Every week (mid week) the students would be given a question related to the math concept we are studying. Students would be able to use their prior knowledge to solve the question and conversely, have a breakthrough in their learning! This is a great tool to introduce new concepts as the questions that arise during the consolidation of the Challenege can lead the inquiry of the next concept.
The Breakthrough Challenge for this week surrounded the hundreds block in place value. Students were already familiar with the tens and ones blocks. The question presented to them was how many tens and ones blocks can you fit in this hundreds block? Using the chart down below, in a group they had to discuss what they thought and how they knew using the blocks provided to them as their evidence.

The consolidating of these Breakthrough Challenges are our favorite part of the experience as we all love to hear what everyone came up with and their rationale behind their answers! It’s always great to see my students so excited about their learning; especially when it is through their own discoveries!

Zahra (banner)


Anytime Games for Rote Facts

I find helping kids memorize math facts, sight words (we call them tricky words), or even the basic phonics sounds in English is a long boring journey.  I have lots of games to help them practice and I invent stories to give a context but at the end of the day it often becomes a drill and kill flashcard run either at home or school.  I couldn’t really accept this so I went on the hunt for more whole class time filler games.

I’m ok with ‘Around the World’ but I hate that some kids never feel successful with it.  I started playing ‘Doggie, Doggie’ to help kids learn sounds and sight words and my wildest dreams came true … they memorized!  I used my sound or tricky words cards and asked the class to sit in a circle.  One kid would be the doggie (use name sticks to make sure you evenly spread this privilege out) and would pretend to be a sleeping dog in the middle of the circle.  While they were hiding their eyes, I would show the rest of the class the word/sound/math fact and then place on the child’s back.  I would then point to a student to take the card of their friend’s back.  My classes like to have everyone make little noises on the carpet to make it harder for the doggie.  When the card is safely hidden behind the new child’s back the whole class chants. “Doggie, doggie where’s your bone? Somebody stole it from your home.”  This is the doggie’s cue to look up and guess who has taken their card.  We give them 3 guesses and then show them the card.  Whether they guess who took it correctly or they are told, they get to take as long as they need to tell everyone else what is on the card.  If they want help from the class they can ask for it.memorize sight words

Kids love this.  My colleague, Mrs. Zahra, took this idea and also played it with “Heads Up, Seven Up”.  Her variation was that instead of pushing down thumbs, students would give out letter cards.  When everyone was able to look up the students had to first say what sound their letter was and then guess who had given them the card.  The kids love this as well.

Both of these games are perfect fillers for odd chunks of time that come up in the school day.  I use them as an incentive at the end of the day or sessions.  Both games get kids excited about memorizing which in turn makes me excited that we’ve found an effective way to kick some of the boring bits out of school.free math facts game

At home, we play a lot of War or Top It with math facts. The best part of this is that the games are easily differentiated for the differing abilities of my son and daughter.  He plays with multiplication; she plays with addition.  He has the adult wait 5 seconds before calling out the answer of the two cards that have been laid down; my daughter has the adult wait 10 seconds.  It works wonders and the kids forget that they are learning – a win.Little Vikings




How Big is My Shadow?

Kids are naturally inquisitive and shadows are endlessly fascinating.  I needed to 1) help students inquire into how the light changes throughout the year 2) how this affects both living and non-living things and 3) cover measurement, time, and data objectives at the same time.  Whew!  Plus I needed to make sure my EAL kiddos understood all of these ideas, which meant it needed to be a hands-on-activity.  I decided that we would document our shadows at several points throughout the year and then inquire into why they change.  I had to pat myself on the back for such a great idea.  Inquiry into time and measurement

Except, hmmmm, I forgot an important thing.  Scandinavia hides the sun behind thick clouds most of the fall and winter.  For two weeks I would walk around outside to determine if the sunlight was clear enough for the kids to outline shadows.  It took two weeks, but we finally had a clear day.  We quickly ran outside with our roll of paper, scissors, and markers.  Word to the wise: I forgot to account for wind- take things to weigh the paper down with.  1st grade measurement
A day later we measured the shadows using both standard and nonstandard units.  We recorded our findings and compared them to our earlier shadows that we had taken at roughly the same time of day two months before.  Even though the kids knew the basic science about how the earth moves around the sun this activity led them to ask more in-depth questions.  It also gave them a purposeful reason to have ACCURATE measurements.  kindergarten measurement

The journaling pages we used along with other time investigations and games are available in my store at both Teachers Notebook and Teachers Pay Teachers.  Though this activity can easily be recorded in kids own math journal that they normally use in class.  Telling time games
Jenny (banner)


Investigating Nonstandard Measurement

investigating measurementWe had a brilliant inquiry planned where kids would go outside and we would measure their shadows. Somehow we forgot two things: 1) it is fall and 2) we’re in Scandinavia.  The sun was completely hidden behind clouds which is probably where it will be for the foreseeable future.  So we had to switch up our plan.

I crafted a story about how a long time ago people used to get around by riding horses.  (Side note: We took a vote and PYP1 would still prefer horses to cars.)  To get an idea of how tall a horse was they would measure it with their hands.  I picked a student in the class and showed how I could put my hands end over end to measure her.  PYP 1 thought this was a brillant way to measure.  I then asked the smallest child in the class to come up and measure the same student with their hands.  The predictable result was that our measurements did not match.  PYP 1 revised their previous opinion and wondered how we could ever know how tall this child really was.   

nonstandard measurementWe debated about measuring with things in our classroom.  Pencils were picked but none of our pencils were the same size.  While they were thinking about this, I showed them a Sid the Science Kid clip.  After the clip which talks about nonstandard forms of measurement they were sure that they knew what to do.  

They took everything that they could find in our classroom that had a standard size. (Dominoes, white board markers, popsicle sticks, math cubes, etc) and started measuring each other and every surface they could find.  Today we just let them explore and tomorrow we’ll try the activity again and try to write down the data we find.  We still need to reflect on why using a unit that is always the same matters, but they’ve picked up the conceptual understanding that you need units, what they are and how they work.  (PYP Key Concepts: Form and Function)kindergarten measurement PYP

Jenny (banner)


Discovering Addition Patterns

Memorizing addition and subtraction facts is universal and math is often an area where EAL kiddos thrive. (Because in the words of my sister when she was 7 years old and a fresh immigrant to Sweden, “At least the numbers don’t change.  They might call them something else but I still know what’s going on.”)  As a teacher I want to give them strategies to group their number facts (make a ten, +1, doubles) and as a mom I want to see my daughter not have to continually use her fingers.  This is a game that I use mostly to reinforce the idea of “counting on” – the idea that you start with the bigger number and add the second number by counting it out.  (5+3 becomes 5+ 6,7,8)1st grade addition game

I created this game for my kiddos at home to practice addition,  They are obsessed with cake and if I could combine cake and math we would have a winner.  I then discovered that it was such a hit at home that I should try it in the classroom.  My own kids being EAL made me pretty sure that all of my students, including my special needs and EAL students would benefit,  addition games to 12

It was In the classroom that  I discovered that we could explore probability.  It also naturally led itself to an investigation about all of the addition facts that can make up a sum.  So I created a journal for them to write down their findings and an experimental probability tally chart so they could gather data.  They were able to practice basic addition skills and explore more advanced probability.  Oh, and they loved the game as much as my own kids.  I’m marking this one down in the win column.  1st grade addition and probability

Jenny (banner)


3D shapes: they get boring and then you play Snap

We scoured the web and our colleagues brains for ways to interact with 2D and 3D shapes that both let the kids inquire into their properties and connections and reinforced basic skills.  It is a fine line that PYP teachers walk to meet the knowledge component needs and to increase students’ conceptual understandings.

We investigated the names of shapes in all of our home languages and made connections between languages when we saw similiar words. We used the book Animal Zoo as a model for making pictures out of 2D shapes.  We looked at the use of shapes in famous art and created a new visible Thinking Routine called “Artist Talk” where they had to name a picture they had painted and tell what they wanted the viewer to feel when they saw it.  We went on shape hunts and made shape finders to look for shapes in the everyday world.blog 2

We built structures and inclines with blocks and our now infamous pirate ship.  We blindfolded ourselves and tried to talk about shape attributes based on our feeling of touch. We stuck shapes in paint and then rolled them in a drawer to be able to see visible evidence of how they move. (Which is a brilliant inquiry, don’t get me wrong.)  Yet, it happened.  We still got bored of shapes.  None of our games, were helping that final hurdle of the knowledge of names and attributes to stick in their heads.  They could talk about the shapes but, they couldn’t seem to remember their names or important facts like how many sides (edges) or vertices that they had.

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The kids thought we needed a new game to play that wasn’t a board game and wasn’t just about names.  So we made a snap game.  When the kids play it, they have a set of shapes beside them to test and see if their shape rolls, slides, or spins.  They love that they get to hit the cards and oddly they love negotiating and testing their thinking.  After seeing a slap, we often heard statements like. “Yes!  I knew a cube could roll”  or  the more likely, “Slap! Does a cylinder have a square? Oh, no slap.”  They played it for hours and used a simple card game to not just memorize, but inquire into basic facts about shapes.  It always helps to listen to what they want. The FREE 2D Shape Snap is available in both my Tpt and Teacher’s Notebook stores now.  The full 3D Unit with 100 pages of activities (including everything in this post) and games is availain both stores as well.  web cover

Freebie Idea: Try the art project below.  We gave them free reign to make tape shapes and they later had to classify their shapes into groups and count how many quadrilaterals and polygons they had made.

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Freebie Idea #2:  Blindfold a child and put a 3D shape in box/bag.  Let them use their feeling of touch to decribe the shape to the rest of the class.  Have them try to determine how many edges, vertices, and faces the shape.  Based on this information,  have the class guess what shape is hidden in the box.  Unveil to see if they were right.

Here’s to more happy shape inquiries.

//JennyJenny (banner)