Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

Connected Measurement

If you have read my book or have been a reader of this blog, you know that I am committed to the idea of connecting my classroom. I have seen so much deep learning, both expected and unexpected, come from connected learning that I now think of connecting as an option as I consider teaching methods for most classroom topics.

We’ve done a lot of connected work with numeration in mathematics this year, but measurement and geometry are part of my curriculum as well.

Karen Lirenman, who teaches in Surrey, British Columbia and I were teaching measurement to our students at the same time this year, so we decided to find ways that our classes could help each other to learn these concepts.  Fortunately, both Karen and my curriculum focus on the comparative aspects of measurement and the ability to use the language of math in this area rather than on exact centimeters, grams or milliliters.

Instead of having my student just use this language with the others in our own classroom (although there was plenty of that as well), we played games to compare and talk about the concepts with Karen’s class.

Comparing Length

First, we compared length. Each class had chosen a number of items that embodied the idea of length– either long or short.  During our call, one student from each class chose an object from this collection and held it up to the camera for the two classes to compare. I had two cards: one had “shorter” written on it and the other said “longer”. Each time we played a round, I shuffled the two cards and randomly chose one to hold up. Then, the students in both classes had to decide which of the two items met the criteria on the card. We kept track of which class had the “winning” item. A couple of times rulers had to come out in both classrooms, but usually we were easily able to tell. Fortunately for both teachers, we ended in a tie and all of the students felt contented and successful—and had practiced the very skill we wanted to teach.

(If I were to do this game again, I would skip the competitive aspect, which did not have any real purpose. Before I had this epiphany, we did play this game on Skype with an American class and my class “lost” very badly. I had to cope with a very grumpy group of competitive boys—an experience I have no desire to repeat.)

Comparing Weight

We also compared the weights of two objects. We both set up a balance scale in front of our computer’s camera and then students took turns holding up two items.  All of the students in both classes would predict which item they thought would be heavier.  One of the teachers would say, “Hands on your head if you think the crayon is heavier, hands on your lap if you think the marker is heavier, one hand on your head and one on your lap if you’re not sure.” (This meant that everyone could participate—no excuses!)  Then, with the predictions in, a child would put one item in the bucket at each end of the balance scale to see which item was truly the heaviest. This was more popular than the longer/shorter game because everyone could cheer.

Comparing Capacity

Our last measurement Skype call was about comparing capacity. We played this game in the same way as the heavier/lighter activity, but this time, a student held up two containers and everyone had to predict which one would hold more beads. Once the predictions had been made (again, with hands on head, hands in lap or one of both) one of the containers was filled with beads and then those beads were poured into the other container.  If the second container overflowed, the students told us that the first container held more and could explain how they knew that. If there was still space in the second container when all the bead had been poured in, the students could explain how they knew which one held more as well.

All of three of these games could have been (and were) played with only the students in each classroom, but practicing these skills with another class made the exercise more engaging and motivating for the students and taught them that other students are learning the same skills that they are. Karen and I both grew as educators as we bounced ideas off each other and prepared for our calls.

Our geometry units are coming up and we are planning to help the students learn those skills while working together again. Have you done this? We’ve got some ideas, but we’re open to others…

Mystery Number Skype: Even a Six Year Old Can Do It

I’ve heard a lot about Mystery Skype calls over the past few years.  If you’re not familiar with this term, the basic idea is that two classrooms chat via Skype and try to guess where the other class is from by answering questions with only yes or no answers. I’ve always thought this would be lots of fun, but it has always seemed out of the reach of my six year olds, many of whom are still struggling to realize that they live in both a city AND a province.  Answering questions about our location would be out of the question.

I toyed with many ideas for ways that my class COULD do a Mystery Skype, (mystery letter, mystery word etc.) but it wasn’t until I saw a document about Mystery Number Skype that the lights suddenly came on.  For my class, numbers to one thousand (or even one hundred at that point) were out of the question, but suddenly, I realized we COULD do a call about numbers to twenty. You can get lots of ideas for doing a Mystery Number Skype with older students on the document I just mentioned, but if your students are still learning their numbers, this is…

How It Works in My Classroom

While there is no one way to do a Mystery Number Skype call, we’ve now done about a half dozen of them and this is how we have found it to work best.

  1. When we are getting ready to play mystery number Skype, everyone, including the teacher, writes the numbers up to 20 on a small whiteboard. (We got this idea from Karen Lirenman’s class during our first Mystery Number call.) Paper or a drawing app on an iPad could also work.
  2. Each class secretly chooses a number between 1 and 20. We usually do this before the call as well.
  3. Each class asks questions with yes or no answers to try to guess what the other class’s number is.
  4. For our purposes, we have one class guess until they get the correct answer and then the other class guesses. For my young students, this has so far worked the best.

Crossing Off Numbers

As the students determine which numbers have been eliminated, they cross them off or erase them from their boards. I do the same to help those who are still unsure of their numbers (or who were distracted and missed something). Besides being a great way to practice identifying the numbers, it keeps all of the students engaged during the call.

Hints to Get the Most Out of the Call

If you teach young students, remind them that it is a MYSTERY number, like a secret. In one of our calls this fall, a student in the other class kept bursting out “it’s sixteen!” I tried valiantly not to giggle as my students ignored this and went on guessing.

Agree on the rules ahead of time.  Assume nothing. In another of our calls, I assumed that the other teacher had seen a post about our first mystery number call on our classroom blog and was familiar with the way we had been doing this. Imagine the surprise of my students, some of whom were still working on their numbers to ten, when the other class’s first question was “what is two eights plus three?” (This could also have been a great way to practice numbers together, but was not what we were expecting!) You might also want to clarify what the other class knows about numbers. There is no use to ask if the number is divisible by 8 if the other class does not yet understand that concept.

Ready to Guess the Number

Think about who will ask the questions. At first, I allowed the more confident children to do this, but I now want to give a little nudge to quieter students who can also participate with some support.

I encourage what I call “fat” questions (these questions can eliminate multiple numbers) by discussing options ahead of time, but allow the students to ask questions of any kind.  My students’ questions range from “Is it eight?”  to “Does the number have a curved line?” to “Is it between sixteen and eighteen?”

Why I Love Mystery Number Calls

These calls work well on so many levels. I use Mystery Number Skype calls in our classroom because:

  • My students are writing the numbers to get ready. Purposeful practice.
  • Everyone is learning at their own level, whether that student is still learning to write the numbers, is struggling to distinguish between 11 and 12 (why do those pesky numbers not follow the ‘teen’ rule?) or is formulating questions that eliminate lots of possible numbers. We can all participate in the same activity, but the learning is differentiated.
  • While we are discussing numbers, my students are learning that other children far away are learning the same things as they are. This is a big step in global awareness.
  • My students are learning one more way to use technology to help them to reach their learning goals. This kind of digital literacy is important for children growing up in an online age.

If you have other great ideas for dong this that have worked for you, I’d love to hear them. We’re looking forward to more calls like this—soon we’ll be ready for numbers up to one hundred!

1st Look: Skype Group Video Calls

This article was originally posted on the Voices from the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

Group Skype Call A couple of weeks ago, Skype announced they are now allowing educators free access to their group video calling. This would mean that in a call with multiple users, you would be able to see the video feed of all the participants. Previously, this feature had been restricted to premium users who pay for the service.

This sounded intriguing to me, so I went to my free Skype in the Classroom account and logged in to get the access code. I followed the instructions, waited 48 hours and voila! I had access to the service. The only thing left to do was to try it out. My primary students had learned so many things in past Skype calls. What would we be able to learn now?

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, I had also signed up for Jennifer Wagner’s project to count the marshmallow shapes in a box of Lucky Charms.

I knew that other teachers on Twitter had also signed up, so I tweeted to ask if anyone wanted to join my class and count live together via Skype. A kindergarten class from Winnipeg, a grade three class from northern Manitoba, a grade one class from Surrey and a grade two class in Regina all decided to join us. When I got to school the next day, the teacher next door to me wanted to be part of it as well, so that made six classes for our group video call!

How did it go?

We planned to have a story, to count our Lucky Charms and to share our results via the group chat. One of the teachers also suggested that we could share our results using a Lino.it (which we did).

I have been using Skype fairly regularly for several years now. There are occasional hiccups, but we just hang up and try again. Five other classes instead of one other class meant five times as many chances for hiccups (and there were a few), but the class next door to me just came into our classroom instead (their video froze) and the one class that none of us could see could see almost all of us, so everyone was happy.

The counting took longer than anticipated, and several of the classes had to leave for various reasons. In the end, it was only my class and one other, so several of my students watched as they finished counting. In the end, we too ran out of time.

Fortunately, we were able to arrange a one to one Skype call with one of the classes the next day to compare our results. I know that other classes were able to work this out as well so that the opportunity for the students to share—the best part of the experience—could be maintained.

Marshmallow Count in Our Lucky Charms Box

What did my students learn from this experience?

  • Counting and Sorting Skills – My grade ones counted the various marshmallow shapes and my grade twos counted the regular shapes.
  • Addition – The grade ones had to add each of their totals together to get a final count. This involved much higher numbers than they were used to using, but they used the strategies they had been practicing on numbers to twenty and were successful. The grade twos also used strategies they were practicing to help the grade ones and to add even larger numbers.
  • Estimating – In the end, there were just too many regular cereal pieces for the grade twos to count, so they used the piles of one hundred they already had and estimated.
  • Comparison – Comparing totals with the other classes.
  • Other Students Far Away Learn the Same Skills We Do – This important notion cannot be over-emphasized. It gives much more credence to your learning when you see other children practicing the same skills.
  • Sometimes Adults Problem Solve, Too – Again, it is valuable to learn that sometimes you need to try other solutions to a problem.

What did I learn?

  • Skype is a great tool – And the opportunity for educators to use the group video feature at no cost is a valuable one.
  • Planning is essential – In hindsight, we had planned far too many things for this call. Having many classes meant that people were not heard. A group call among three or more classrooms needs to be much better focused than a one-to-one call does.

The ability to have group calls has been available on Google+ for a while now, but I think many more teachers are comfortable using Skype as a tool than Google+. While our first experiment with this new free serve may have felt a bit overwhelming, we’ll definitely find great ways to take advantage of it. It will be a valuable addition to my connecting arsenal.

Skype on!

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