Sunday, October 23, 2016

Warm fuzzies

"Please, thank you, you're welcome, excuse me, good job, nice try, may I, borrow mine..." Are these words that you often hear in a first grade classroom? No, of course not. Often, it's more like, "Here, give me that, let me have it, I don't want that one, move, GOOOOO, you ruined it."

I'd heard just about enough of that, especially since they were all such nice kids. I was teaching a lesson on friendship later that afternoon, and I decided to switch it up a bit. I stuffed my pockets with "warm fuzzies" and listened attentively for the first polite gesture or comment that I heard. Of course, I made a HUGE deal out of it once I heard it. The students were allaboutit for the rest of the day.

I heard all kinds of nice manners and kind words that made my heart feel warm and fuzzy. Genius, I know.

What have you done today to make someone feel warm and fuzzy?

How To Help Your Child Avoid Making "Silly Mistakes"

Every October and November, I start getting phone call after phone call about math. So many parents call us because their child is struggling in math. September is sorta like the honeymoon stage for math; most of it is a review of skills, and the class always seems deceptively easy. October is about the time that the grades start to plummet, and that's when the calls start rolling in.

One thing that I hear all of the time is, "My child just makes lots of silly mistakes on tests. S/he does well on the homework, but it's like s/he bombs the tests." After doing this for 4 years now, I've come to realize that it's more than silly mistakes. 

A silly mistake is when you do something incorrectly that you almost always do correctly. You may have added something incorrectly, or mistaken a 9 for a 4, but the mistake should be out of the ordinary and easily recognizable and fixable by the student. If it's a mistake that continues to happen, or if the student does not recognize their mistake, there's something else happening.

Math is logical, follows a predictable set of steps, and makes sense. When students don't understand how the steps work together, or don't have a general roadmap of what they're doing, they make all kinds of mistakes. More often than not, it's usually something simple. The tough part, however, is getting them to remember that "lost" step. 

Let me share an example with you. Last week, I was working with a seventh grader on rational numbers. Rational numbers is a big scary math word that means any number that can be written as a fraction. This includes fractions, decimals, and integers. Are you half asleep yet?

Here's the fun part. Most students forget one step or concept during a problem that gets them all mixed up. This student was forgetting to simplify her answer, so she was being marked wrong if her answer was not in simplified form. She used to HAAAAATE fractions, so she's really proud of herself when she finishes a problem. And who am I to remind her, after every problem, that it's wrong, again? Last week, I told her that instead of me reminding her to check her answer after every problem, she was going to remind herself. We used a post-it note to cover up the next problem so that she would be forced to move the post-it, and therefore READ the post-it, before moving onto the next problem:

She liked it because she felt in control of her own work. And she EVEN told me that she liked having it because she could use it on her other homework assignments when I wasn't around to remind her. I've always loved post-it notes, but this just tops it for me.

What do you do with your post-it notes?

Math Monday: ONE Question To Ask Your Kids When They Ask For Help

Whether your school-aged "kids" are your biological/adopted children or the students in your classroom, there's a good chance that they've asked you for help with a math problem. It's easy to give them the correct answer or help them figure out the first step, but doing so helps our kids become dependent upon us.

Every school year, I choose a new math mantra to practice with my kids. This year, I've chosen to focus on "PERSEVERANCE" for math. The new Common Core Standards have 8 mathematical practice standards that all students will master as they work through content. Here are a few that correspond to perseverance:

MP.1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
MP.3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
MP.4: Model with mathematics.
MP.5: Use appropriate tools strategically.

Before students can solve a problem, they need to UNDERSTAND what that problem is asking them to do. In multi-step problems, some students read the problem once and then ask for help because they don't immediately see the arithmetic that is needed to solve the problem. Today's students are used to Googling questions, asking Siri, or texting friends if they get stuck. It's important for us to teach them HOW to work through problems that aren't easily solved. Students must be able to understand the problem, solve it, defend their steps/reasoning, and use that understanding to critique others. Students should be able to use models (tallies, pictures, diagrams, tables, etc) to help them explain their reasoning, and become more efficient when using these tools to solve problems.

With all of that being said, here are the 6 steps I am using this year to help my kids persevere through difficult math problems:

1. Have a positive attitude.
Having a positive attitude is a necessity. Many students that have not built up math stamina have a hard time entering a difficult task with a positive attitude. Help them by having them repeat positive affirmations, such as ,"I will try my best," "I can learn anything," "I'm making the decision to try," "I can do it," and "I believe in myself."

2. Read the problem, write an answer sentence, and read the problem again.
Have the student read the problem aloud. Ask them to locate the sentence that asks for an answer OR the sentence that asks a question. Using that sentence, write a sentence farm that answers the question, and use a line where the answer will go. For example, the last sentence of a word problem that asks, "How many flowers does Sophia have?" would turn into a sentence frame that says, "Sophia has __ flowers." Some students don't complete all of the steps for completing a multi-step problem, so writing this frame helps them figure out whether or not they are done solving the problem.

3. Underline/circle important information.
Help students read through the problem to look for information that helps fill in the answer frame. Students might circle numbers and key words, such as "altogether" or "how many more." Use the key words to help students figure out WHAT to do WITH the numbers. 

4. Try different strategies.
Students build mental toolboxes of strategies in school that they can use to solve problems, such as drawing a picture, using tallies, making a diagram, using manipulatives, and making tables. Encourage your kids to try different strategies if the one they're using isn't helpful.

5. Ask for help.
Some students skip step 1, complete part of step 2, and then jump straight to step 5. The BEST thing that you can do to is ask your kids the following question:

"What have you tried so far?"

It sounds simple, but it serves 3 purposes. First, it helps you see whether or not your student has worked through any strategies on their own. If they have, they should be able to tell you what they were. Make sure you praise them for any work already attempted on their own, especially for students with low math confidence. If they haven't, it will remind them that they need to go back and try some strategies on their own. Second, it helps students explain their work so far. Sometimes, explaining their work helps them redirect their own thinking. Third, it helps you understand where they got stuck. They may have copied down a problem wrong, used a strategy that isn't appropriate for the problem, or computed the wrong arithmetic.

6. Fill in your answer frame and check to see if it's reasonable.
It's so important to check answers for reasonableness. If a problem is asking for the difference between 2 numbers, the students should not end up with a number greater than the largest number in the problem.

Our kids will all be challenged with difficult problems this year, so make sure you encourage them to work through these problems. Be sure to ask them what they've already tried before offering any assistance to help them build up their math stamina.

Happy problem solving!

What is Non-Fiction Text and Why Should Your Kids Be Reading It At Home?

The Common Core state standards are attempting to correct the imbalance of fiction and non-fiction reading by emphasizing non-fiction texts in elementary school language arts instruction. Research shows that students are reading an average of 25 minutes per day at home, and of those 25 minutes, only 4 minutes are spent reading non-fiction texts (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010).

Other studies show that children's fiction texts outsell children's non-fiction texts by 4 to 1 (millet, 2010), which suggests that children aren't reading non-fiction because those texts aren't as easily accessible as fiction texts. Prior to the Common Core state standards, roughly 10% of primary texts in classrooms were non-fiction (Duke, 2000). Common Core's push for non-fiction texts in classrooms is opening the doors to a new gateway for learning. 

With so many electronics and multimedia options, shouldn't parents just be happy that their kids are reading? Students who read more tend to learn more vocabulary, become more proficient readers, find reading more enjoyable, and thus continue to read more and become ever better readers (Stanovich, 1986), so does it really matter what they're reading? Should we be ripping Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter out of their little hands? The answer to that is complex. Let's take a look at what non-fiction text is, what is has to offer, and how we use it.
What is non-fiction text?
Non-fiction text gives information, unlike fiction text that tells a story. There are two types of non-fiction text. One type is called literary non-fiction, which includes biographies, autobiographies, and essays. The information is intended to inform the reader, but it's told through a story-like way. The other type is called informative non-fiction, and it includes articles, interviews, how-to reading, and guides. 

Non-fiction text is structurally different from narrative text.
Non-fiction and fiction text have two completely different structures. Non-fiction text is typically organized by ideas, and each paragraph typically has its own idea. The sentences within it offer details and explanations in an organized manner that help the reader make sense of the new information. It uses headings, graphs, charts, and other text elements not often found in the narrative fiction to help guide the reader's understanding. Here's an example:
This is a paragraph that has a main idea and three details. Detail one is the first part of the main idea. For example, this example helps explain detail one. Next, detail two is the second part of the main idea. According to an expert, this statistic helps explain detail two. Finally, detail three tells even more about the main idea. The three steps for detail three are one, two, three. Details one, two, and three help further explain the main idea.
Here's color-coded  example of a paragraph organized by main idea, detail, and example/explanation/expert opinion.
If you're hosting a party and you're looking for a great dessert to offer, consider making an ice cream sundae bar. First, guests can scoop their ice cream into a bowl.  Have a variety of flavors to choose from, such as vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Next, they can pour a sauce over their ice cream. According to The Top Tens, caramel and hot fudge are the best-selling sauces for ice cream, so your party guests  should like them. Last, have them add toppings to their ice cream sundae. Offer crushed up candy bars, cookies, and sprinkles to delight everyone's palette. Ice cream sundaes are a great dessert to offer at parties because everyone can make their own according to their personal preferences.
The more non-fiction text that readers read, the easier it becomes to read it, understand it, and condense the information into an outline:

Ice cream sundae bar
  • ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry
  • sauce: caramel and hot fudge 
  • toppings: crushed up candy bars, cookies, and sprinkles 
In contract, fiction text offers characters, a setting, and a plot. Somebody somewhere wants something, but they have to go through a few obstacles (and often fight against a bad guy) before they get it and the whole world can peacefully sleep at night. While fiction is great for learning how to make inferences, compare characters at the beginning and end of a story, see cause and effect relationships, etc., it neglects several comprehension skills that we all need to be fluent readers.

Non-fiction text makes up for 50% of reading instruction in grades K-5.
As students approach third grade, they are preparing for content-specific learning. Students are expected to be able to decode (accurately read aloud) words and use background knowledge to understand information (for example, a child needs to know that California is a state in the USA before they can fully understand 4th grade-Californian- and 5th grade-American- history). Starting in third grade, students begin reading to learn as they digest science and social studies texts. They learn about the world around them, how things work, and where we came from. They learn about the birth of our nation, about the relationship our country has with other countries around the world, and start to find their place in the world. Our students are now being asked to spend 50% of their classroom time reading non-fiction text, and it's important that parents are helping their children read non-fiction text at home.

Non-fiction text is the basis of future, personal-interest reading.
As we grow up, we begin asking more questions about the world around us. We read news articles, we pull up blogs about fashion trends and the housing market, we read reports about finances and sales, and we look up medical information about fevers when our babies have fevers at 2am. With so much information on the internet, it's important that we show our students and our children how to navigate that information and differentiate between impartial, factual information and slanderous, opinionated information. 

Non-fiction comprehension is assessed on the SAT and ACT tests in high school.
The ACT is broken down into five parts: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing. Reading is required for all five parts. Three of the four reading passages are non-fiction, many of the math problems are written as word problems, the science portion ask test-takers to read and analyze passages with charts, graphs, and tables, and the writing portion proposes a few opinions about a topic before asking the test-taker to take and present an opinion. The SAT has a different format, and it asks students to demonstrate the ability to read and critically analyze non-fiction text, but it does not include the science portion.

Non-fiction comprehension is a significant portion of learning in college and trade school education.
Two of a student's first four years of college are spent taking general education courses, many of which require large amounts of reading. The only times I remember reading fiction in college were for a medieval world history course that blended literature with history, for a series of sociology courses that looked at the way individuals interact in society, for a microbiology course (we had to read a novel about an Ebola outbreak), and for an English literature course. Other than that, all of my reading material was non-fiction text that has to be read, understood, outlined, consolidated and analyzed, and memorized.

Non-fiction comprehension is vital to career development.
When you attend professional development training for your career, there's a good chance that you're going to be reading non-fiction text. It might be a financial report, a summary of findings, a how-to manual, or a step-by-step instruction guide.

What should my kids be reading at home?
There is a PLETHORA of amazing non-fiction text that you can read with your kids that isn't stuffy or boring. Reading non-fiction at home is super fun because you can use the table of contents and index to find topics of interest and skip around in books. You can learn more about something that interests your child, you can show them more about what you do at work, you can explain how the world works, and you can give them the tools they need to be lifelong learners.

You can hop into any local or online bookstore to find great non-fiction books about ANYTHING, but some of my favorite books right now are from Usborne Books & More. They're high-quality books that are delivered to your door, and they're jam-packed with tons of information and engaging photos. 

Here's what we love from Usborne Books & More for non-fiction:

My Very First Book About (3 years+)
My Very First Our World Book
First Sticker Books (4 years+)
First Sticker Book Dinosaurs
First Sticker Book Nature
First Sticker Book Space
Look Inside (5 years+)
Look Inside An Airport
Look Inside How Computers Work
Look Inside Your Body
Lift-The-Flap Question and Answer (4 years+)
Lift-The-Flap General Knowledge
Big Books (4 years+)
Big Book of the Body
Big Book of Rockets and Spacecraft
Big Book of Big Machines
Beginning Readers (6 years+)
Discovery Adventures (8 years+)
Artificial Intelligence
History (8-11 years old)
The World Wars
Timelines of World History
Starting Point Science (6 years+): 
What Makes You Ill?
Electricity and Magnetism
See Inside (7 years+): 
See Inside Great Cities
See Inside How Things Work
See Inside Your Body
What's All About (8 years+)
What's Physics All About
Illustrated Dictionaries (12 years+)
Illustrated Dictionary of Chemistry
Illustrated Dictionary of Biology
There are several different books in each of these categories, so if these topics aren't of interest to your little readers, browse around and see what else Usborne Books & More offers. Some of these books are Accelerated Reader books, which means you can read them for classroom AR points. Some are even Internet-linked books, so you can scan the QR code on the page with your phone and it takes you to a website with a video and/or more information. How cool is that?!

Happy reading!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Kids Under Construction Presents: Usborne Books & More

Kids Under Construction is pleased to announce a fun, new line of books that will be used in the office. Usborne and Kane Miller books are exceptionally engaging and educational books that we love reading at home, and we can't wait to share these amazing stories with you!

We were first introduced to Usborne Books at an aquarium bookstore on a family trip to Las Vegas. We spent the afternoon at the dolphin encounter, and quickly found ourselves walking through the gift shop. Amongst the toys and gadgets and souvenirs, I discovered a wall of engaging books that I was eager to take home. One of the books I grabbed for the office was How to draw Fairies and Mermaids. It's full of crafts and projects to do at home, and I knew it would give me some good ideas for our mermaid camp that summer.
Buy a copy of How to draw Fairies and Mermaids HERE.
My daughter absolutely LOVES puzzles, so I wanted to take a copy of the Under the Sea Jigsaw Book home as a souvenir. It's similar to a board book, but it has a puzzle on each left page with corresponding facts about the sea animals on the right page. I love that we can play and learn at the same time. It's also great for traveling because it's a toy AND a book.
Buy a copy of Under the Sea Jigsaw Book HERE.
And because a child can NEVER have enough stickers, I also grabbed a copy of the 1001 Things to spot in the Sea Sticker Book. My daughter loves stickers almost as much as she loves puzzles, so she had lots of fun reading about sea animals, finding the hidden sea animals, and then placing stickers in the appropriate habitats.
Buy a copy of 1000 Things to spot in the Sea Sticker Book HERE.
I recently looked into purchasing some additional books for our home library, but I couldn't find any at our local bookstores. Imagine my surprise when I hopped on Instagram and discovered Homeschooling With A Happy Heart's feed FILLED with Usborne books, lesson plans, thematic units based on the books, and a link to a website to order books online. JACKPOT!

Here's some additional information about Usborne Books & More from their website:
Usborne and Kane Miller books are the most exciting, engaging, and educational books on the market today. They are high quality, innovative, lavishly-illustrated and best of all they are the books kids love to read. Choose from over 1800 bright colorful and fun titles covering a wide variety of subjects. More than 30 years ago Peter Usborne pioneered a new generation of books that prove that it is possible to create books that compete with the vast media that attracts children today. From activity books, to neat fiction series, to internet-linked science and history encyclopedias, Usborne does books better. Kane Miller has published award-winning children’s books from around the world for more than 25 years. They bring to life fantastic fiction stories for older readers and wonderful multicultural picture book stories for younger readers. All of these are stories that will make you smile, think, cry or laugh ‘til you have tears in your eyes. The combination of Usborne and Kane Miller books enables Usborne Books & More to offer you one of the most creative and original book lines in the United States.
Shop the entire Usborne Books & More collection HERE.

We hope you'll look around and find some amazing books to add to your home or classroom library. We can't wait to share more of these phenomenal books with you!

Student Notebooks, Part 3: Growth Mindset

All of our students have data notebooks that we are using to keep track of their academic goals, achievements, and progress. Research shows that students that keep track of their learning goals and achievements are more successful than students that passively receive (and disregard feedback) such as quiz scores and test grades. On average, students that tracked their own progress had a 32 percentile point gain in their achievement. You can read more about Marzano's research HERE. We decided to implement that research this year by creating student data notebooks.

This post contains affiliate links; read more about them at the bottom of this post!

If you missed our post on how we use notebook covers and learning inventories, you can view that HERE. And if you'd like to read about how we're keeping track of our students' progress on grade-level common core standards, you can give that post HERE.
Student Notebooks: Growth Mindset
There's been a lot of chatter about using a growth mindset since Mindset: The New Psychology of Success got into the hands of teachers. Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, developed the concept of fixed and growth mindsets, and it's lighting the education world on fire. A fixed mindset is the belief that one's intelligence and abilities cannot be changed.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the belief that a person's abilities and intelligence can be developed through practice, hard work, dedication, and motivation.
What are the benefits of encouraging a growth mindset?
Encouraging a growth mindset in students helps them actively solve problems, take on challenges, set goals, use problem-solving strategies, ask questions when they don't understand, seek feedback from others, monitor progress to visualize growth, avoid feeling discouraged by others'  successes, and avoid being discouraged by mistakes.
How do our tutors help students develop a growth mindset?
In our student notebooks, one tab is dedicated to growth mindset. We use an amazing resource from Schoolhouse Diva on Teachers Pay Teachers that includes worksheets, mini posters, and a list of do's and don't for parents.
Growth Mindset from Schoolhouse Diva
We also use another great resource from To The Square Inch on Teachers Pay Teachers. Have you seen our  #mindsetmonday posts on our Instagram and Facebook pages? We post a new quote every Monday morning, and we continue work on that quote for the week with our students. And if I'm being completely honest with you, I internalize those quotes the more that I work with them. We love this resource because it comes with a great set of posters that we display in our office, as well as cards of encouragement and a flip book that helps us illustrate the concepts in more depth.
Growth Mindset from To The Square Inch

How can I help my child develop a growth mindset?
If you're reading this, there's a pretty good chance you already "preach" a lot of these ideas at home. There are some great books readily available online that are great for reading together.
The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
The Story of Inventions
The Most Magnificent Thing
Be The Change Make It Happen
What Do You Do With An Idea?
The Dot
How can I develop my own growth mindset?
There are some GREAT books that you can read to help develop your own growth mindset.  
The Big Leap
The Growth Mindset Coach
We use our one-on-one tutoring sessions to help foster a growth mindset, and we love the progress that we're seeing so far!
Check back next week for Student Notebooks, Part 4!

AFFILIATE LINKS: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using this link. I purchased all of the items myself, and all of the opinions expressed here are my own.