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Lesson Ideas

Try These Fun Christmas Stations!

I wanted my students to enjoy their last class with me before the Christmas break, so I planned several stations for them to work on.  The students really enjoyed the engagement of every station.

Station 1:  Students picked out a pine cone and were instructed to find seeds inside the pinecone.  I showed them a picture of what pine cone seeds looked like.  I gave them magnifying glasses so they could look closely and deeply into the pine cones.  I instructed them to draw a picture of their pine cone and to draw a picture of the seed.  In preparation for the next station, I instructed them to find two more pine cones that were really “pretty” and “tree shaped”.  I really wanted them to find two that were opened up really well so they could see the difference in station 2.

 

Station 2:  I had students place two nice flared out pinecones in water.  Students made predictions before they placed one pinecone in cold water and one pinecone in warm water.  I have no sink in my room, so I had a gallon jug set up for the cold water and a crock pot set up with warm water for them to dip from with a measuring cup.  Make sure to have paper towels on hand for any water that is spilled.  Now, students can watch the pinecones for a while, but it will take about 30-45 minutes before students will see any changes.  I make students look and notice what happened.  I don’t tell them.  Now the last group that does this station probably won’t notice what happens.  They won’t have enough time in an hour long class period to notice the pinecones change.

(So what does happen?  Pinecones close up when wet.  Why does this happen?  Pinecones don’t want to release their seeds when weather is wet because they want to allow their seeds to fly as far away as possible during drier weather so that they won’t compete with the parent tree.)

After students have noticed the pinecones closing up, make sure you leave time at the end of the stations to ask the students why they think the pine cones are closing up in the water.

In case you are wondering, yes the pinecones will open back up when dried out.

 

Station 3:  What happens when you place a peppermint under water?  After students have watched, then what happens when you place M & M’s under water?  This experiment wasn’t that impressive in my opinion, but the kids loved it!  The experiment works best in a white bowl.  The plates were way too messy when kids tried to throw out the water.  Water, of course, spilled everywhere.

Students predicted first what happened with the peppermint.  Most guessed it would turn white, but few guessed it would streak the way it did.  You must keep the dish still and not shake the desk to get the full effect of this.  

 

After students watch the peppermint for about five minutes, have them predict what would happen when they place out M & M’s around the bowl.  I bought the small ones so there would be more color.  If students place them around the edge of the bowl, it makes a dramatic rainbow like this.  Again keep the bowl as still as possible.

 

Station 4:  Light up a Christmas light with alligator wires and batteries.  This station by far had the biggest WOW factor for the kids.  I didn’t give kids many instructions with this station.  I wanted them to do experimentation to figure this out.  I made the kids predict which type of batteries would work to light up the battery.  They lit up a small LED bulb.  (this wasn’t actually a Christmas light bulb).  To get these bulbs  I bought a $1 LED flashlight at War-Mart and banged the flashlight with a hammer until I broke it enough to get the lightbulbs out.  It’s cheaper to buy bulbs that way :0.  To light up the bulb students need at least three batteries placed end to end with at least two alligator clip wires–one each touched to the positive and negative ends of the battery.  I used D batteries because I had a bunch in a science kit, but this will work with smaller batteries.  I hovered around this station because I knew students might struggle here.  I made it a point to talk about how scientists struggle until they figure things out.  We talk about how Edison didn’t give up the first time his improvements of the light bulb didn’t work and they shouldn’t either.  Now in reality, it would have been a lot cooler if I actually did have Christmas light bulbs, but I already had LED bulbs on hand so we used them.

I got alligator clips like these here.

ChristmasScience Here is an editable document I used when students visited science stations.  This is nothing fancy, but you are welcome to use it for your classroom and make it your own.

Cheap and Quick STEM Lesson Your Kids will Love #2

This STEM lesson was more fun than I had anticipated.  We picked up ice cubes with a piece of string.  There are few materials needed.  The materials are cheap and it doesn’t take long to carry out the lesson in the classroom.

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You will need:

  • an ice chest or freezer
  • ice cubes (the kind you freeze in ice trays) make about 5 per student to make sure you have enough
  • string (like the kind you fly kites with)
  • styrofoam bowls
  • table salt (one container should be enough for a class of about 20)
  • small cups or containers to distribute the salt
  • paper towels
  • water

First, we watched a video about how salting roads helps salt trucks melt ice and snow on roadways here:

Then I explained to the students that we were going to make a string stick to an ice cube and that they would be able to pick it up.  I had the students predict how long they thought that it would take to attach the string to the ice.  I realized mid lesson that the kids thought I wanted them to literally tie a string around the ice cube.  I had to clarify that we were not lassoing the ice cube, but that the salt would make it stick if they were patient (insert lesson about perseverance and patience here, wink wink).

These are the student directions in order.

  • In your bowl of water put 1 ice cube (I passed these out when I was ready for them to begin).
  • Put a pinch of salt on top of the ice cube
  • Lay the string on top of the ice cube
  • One team mate needs to watch time (I had this on smart board). The other team mate needs to watch the ice cube and pull on the string when the predicted time is up.
  • If your string doesn’t stick, make a new prediction and try again. Switch partners.

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I had a sheet in which the students predicted, and I also took some of their predictions and wrote them on the board.  Some students predicted up to 30 minutes.  Eventually, I reeled this in and said it wouldn’t take 30 minutes.  In honesty it takes somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute.  Also, I reminded students that they would only need a pinch or so of salt on the ice cube.  Some students think that the more salt they use the better the string will stick and end up using WAY TOO MUCH!  The important part of this experiment is the waiting.  I told students that if they added salt that they would need to add it a pinch at a time.

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For those students who are successful, I challenge them to make more than one ice cube stick and predict how long it will take for more than once ice cube.  I walk around with a ziplock full of ice cubes during this time.  When students get more than one ice cube to stick it becomes a contest about who can get the most ice cubes to stick at one time.  The most I had students able to stick was 5 ice cubes.  Not many kids were able to do this.

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After this experiment, it is fun to discuss more of the science behind why this activity works.  Because I did this during a 30 minute slot at a summer camp, we didn’t really have time to talk much.

I hope you can enjoy this experiment with your students, too!

 

The After-School Book Club that Worked For Me

I am teaming up with my dear blogger friend Pat McFadyen, a talented 5th grade teacher,  from Growing Grade by Grade to host a post she has written about book clubs.  We met at a recent TPT conference and have kept in touch ever since. I hope you enjoy!

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“Book clubs can be a valuable part of a school’s literacy program.  They can:

•Improve student reading fluency
•Present new vocabulary to students
•Introduce new ideas and concepts
•Teach students to consider others’ perspectives
•Teach students to present their own ideas
•Teach students to analyze books
•Encourage turn-taking

However, book clubs can only do all of the things if they work. Not all book clubs work. Here’s what  happened to mine…

About fifteen years ago, I was asked to coach an after-school book club for our 4th and 5th grade students. At the time, I had a self-contained 5th grade class, meaning I taught all subjects, so I felt confident enough with my ELA skills that I thought I could do it. I’d always wanted to have a book club, so I was really excited as I scheduled and organized.

Unsurprisingly, there was no money for books. I had to get really creative digging through old stashes of books in classrooms and the library to have enough copies for everyone to read the same title of a book they hadn’t already read. At this point, I don’t even remember the book we started with, but it doesn’t matter. The results would have been the same.

Within a couple of weeks, the group was experiencing problems. Faster readers were already finished with the first book and anxiously ready to discuss it and move on to the next one. Slower readers were struggling. Less serious club members were using the time as a social club. Over-scheduled kids missed meetings. I was moving away from “friendly book club coach and mentor” to “teacher who has to fuss to get kids to do their work”.  No one was really happy.

We stumbled along like this for a while. I was ready to throw in the towel and tell my administrator that the club wasn’t working and I wanted to close it out. I was dejectedly web surfing one night (and keep in mind this was long before really good browsers – or even Facebook! – so results could be sketchy), when I found a teacher chat group. One wonderful teacher mentioned that she had had good results with a “genre book club”. Instead of choosing one book for everyone to read, she chose a genre of literature. She collected as many examples of the genre as possible and let students pick from that collection. There wasn’t a lot more information, but it stopped me in my tracks.

The advantages of a genre book club flooded my thoughts. I felt that choosing a genre and offering students a selection of different titles within the genre would immediately solve some of my most pressing problems.

For our next meeting, I greeted students with a pile of books – literally! I chose the genre “Humor” to begin with and almost cleaned out our school library of joke books, comic-type books, and obviously funny, funny books. I explained to the book club members what I was doing and why. I very honestly shared why I was disappointed in how the club was going. I made it clear I was not disappointed in the students, but in how a one-book focus and a lack of resources seemed to be limiting our progress and enjoyment of reading.

I explained that we would start with Humor as our first genre study, but would gladly take suggestions for our next one. We would keep the time limit for each genre study open in case we wanted to extend one genre or cut short another one.

During that meeting, I briefly discussed the characteristics of Humor as a literary genre. I made it into a poster for later reference. Then, we dove into the stack of books. Hands reached over each other, searching for an interesting title. In just a few minutes, every student had a book. And…they read.

They read! They quietly, absorbedly read our books. For almost the first time, I saw students enjoying reading in our book club. To keep the momentum going, I kept the books checked out of the library under my name and had the club members check them out from me. They could come by my classroom at any time to return/check out these books as much as possible. When we met the next week, we shared what we enjoyed, what we didn’t enjoy, and how the books fit into the Humor genre.

The school year was almost over by this time and we didn’t have many more book club meetings. We were able to include the Poetry and Short Story genres. Most importantly, we ended the book club on a high note with at least some enthusiasm intact.

Lesson learned: If I ever sponsor another book club at the elementary level, I will seriously consider making it a Genre Book Club. I can’t guarantee this would be the best format for middle school or high school, but as an option for developing readers, the Genre Book Club is a seriously viable option.

In a nutshell, these are the advantages of a Genre Book Club. While offering the same benefits of a traditional book club, it can also:

•Eliminate or reduce the need to spend money on multiple copies of the same title
•Allow use of books from your school library
•Give students more choice in what they read
•Offer students a wide range of reading levels within the same genre
•Offer opportunities for students to read at their own speed
•Provide a feeling of ownership and responsibility over their own learning
•Discover personal preferences in books
•Solidify understanding of the characteristics of each genre

If I coached a book club again, I would also offer a way for students to respond privately about their reading and to encourage accountability. Follow this link to check out my Genre Book Report product.

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How To Start A Genre Book Club

If you are tasked with organizing a book club of any description, here is a list of steps to have it up and running successfully.

1.Always get approval from administration. It’s more efficient to have a plan to present before you approach them.
2.Decide what age/grade range you will include in the club.
3.Decide how many students you can comfortably accommodate.
4.Look at the length of time you’ll have. One semester? Two? A single 9-week grading period? How often will you meet? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Create a schedule – either a list-type or an actual calendar. I recommend a calendar because you can see where holidays and special school activities fall. It is helpful to parents when you send home a calendar with your club members.
5.Pick the days that your book club will meet. It’s certainly better to choose the same day each week or each meeting, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Plug these days into your schedule.
6.Decide how you will invite students to join the book club. Will it be a blanket invitation to a grade level? Will it be a personal invitation to selected students? Will there be an RSVP deadline? If parents must provide transportation, make sure it is clearly stated in the invitation. Consider how much advertising you will do to get the word out.
7.Decide how each meeting will progress. Will you serve refreshments? If so, decide how will you access them, via dedicated funds or parents volunteers.Where will you meet? Will you sit on the floor or at tables? Who will run the meeting? It is nice when students can begin to take on leadership roles of this type, but I recommend that the coach/mentor/sponsor begin leading so students can see how it is properly done.
8.Decide on a potential list of genres that you’d like to explore. Use the attached Basic Literary Genres list FREEBIE to get some ideas. Present your genre list to your club members at the first meeting. Consider letting students decide which genre to study next.
9.When you have your genre list, create a poster or other visual that lists the main characteristics of each one. These will be a handy reference tool. Consider using the 22 posters in my Genre Book Club product.
10.Go ahead and choose the first genre. “Humor” worked for me, but there are many others that would work.
11.Collect the books that you will offer to club members for your first genre. If your school library allows, use as many of their titles as possible. Include a wide range of reading levels in your selection of books.
12.Attend your first meeting. Discuss the nature of a Genre Book Club, your schedule,  and members’ responsibility. Start reading as soon as possible.
13.Enjoy your book club! Remember that you are helping students to enjoy reading and increase their literacy skills. What’s not to love?

Best of luck to any and all who sponsor/coach/mentor our readers! If you ever get the chance to run a book club, consider a Genre Book Club. It just might be right for your students.”

I hope you enjoyed that fabulous post about her book clubs!  Make sure to stop by her TPT store
to pick up a copy of her Genre Book Club product!

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How to Intervene with Children Who Don’t Know Their Addition Facts

I have worked with children from 2nd grade on up to help them learn their addition facts.  One common denominator exists among all of these students.  That is THEY DON”T SEE PATTERNS!  I remember having a difficult time learning my 9’s facts when I was growing up.  To help myself, I just took one off of the number I was adding to 9 in the ones place.  I noticed this pattern.  No one taught me this.  When I was growing up, learning facts was like, “Ok, Class, let’s learn all our 8s facts, let’s learn all our 6s facts and so on.”  This is not effective for students who don’t recognize patterns on their own. Now with the common core mathematical practices, we should be teaching children to explore patterns through thoughtful placement of number facts to help them recognize these patterns.  Giving students opportunities to see the patterns will result in more students who are fluent in their facts.  I have shown examples of this before such as in this post about using 10s to help with adding 9s.

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But now I have actually put all of my work with struggling learners into a packet which could be used whole group for grades 1 or 2.  At the 3-5 level this could be used for students in intervention or as part of the RTI process.  Here is a look at the packet  that I have put together to help students become fluent with all of their addition math facts.  It is on TPT !

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You can also try out a little sample of this product for FREE here.

Don’t Do This When Teaching Graphs

To enjoy the week before Christmas break, I decided to try out a lesson idea I had about pictographs. I built this lesson around misconceptions that students always have about keys with numbers larger than one. The day before I taught this lesson, I was asked to teach math at a moment’s notice in another third grade class. When this third grade class interpreted a pictograph with a key of four, I noticed that this was really way too easy for these smart students. I decided to change my planned lesson idea into something more challenging. This is how the lesson went…

First, I did a quick lesson for understanding. I surveyed the class about their favorite ice cream: vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry. I then made a frequency table with this information on the board. With some yellow circle die-cuts with one circle to represent two children’s votes, I asked the class how many votes needed to stand for each flavor. Students did this very well even if this required half of a circle for one person. Then I had each flavor group stand in a different area of the room and I passed out the number of circles the children told me to each group. When I passed out the circles to each group and instructed the students to write their name on a circle, some disequilibrium arose. Students said they didn’t get a circle. I told them to talk to their group and they finally understood that they would need two names on each circle. I couldn’t have been more proud of this part of the lesson and the mathematical practices that arose from their discussion. Then came the next part of the lesson…

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I previously gathered real life data about students’ favorite Christmas candy.

  • I chose four types of candy: fudge, candy canes, M&M’s, and chocolate Santa’s. I gave three third grade classes each a roll list with a blank beside it for the students to write their favorite candy on. I collected these vote (data) sheets right before the lesson (mistake #1 don’t do this). I made six copies of the data sheets for each of the groups.
  • In the lesson I presented the children with the data and told them to create a tally chart/frequency table with the data. Students waded through this for a long time without consistent results. I should have counted the data before I passed it out even though I had estimated the results to around a total of 66 students. I ended up having to total it up while the students were counting (mistake #2 don’t do this). Have your data counted before you pass it out, so you know when your students are way off. (But, hey, in my defense, I have been pulled in all directions lately, substitute, fill in secretary, test coordinator, you name it.)
  • I made one student in each group of four responsible to count each class’s data since there were three classes and one student to record the data on a table. This worked very well to keep every child involved in the group.
  • We stopped the lesson to ensure the children had the correct data before we proceeded with graphing. I wanted to be respectful of the teacher’s time while I was in her room, but I may have had them check to see if their data was correct in a different way, such as, compare your data with a different group and see if you agree before I just revealed the correct answers.

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Next, I told students their key had to be 5 or more (I really had 6 in mind), but the teacher was concerned that it wouldn’t come out evenly for the students. The data had to be slightly altered for the die-cut circles to come out with wholes and halves. She didn’t want the students to have to deal with smaller fractional parts. I was actually okay with the students having the data not come out evenly because I wanted this to be a challenge for them to grapple with. In the real world, data doesn’t come out all nice and clean. Third graders had already proven themselves with a key of four, and I felt like they needed a challenge. I wanted them to discuss how much of a circle to cut apart. Again, I wanted to be respectful of this teacher’s time, so I allowed this and the students’ graphs all turned out pretty much perfectly. No fun :/ There was no argument over how much of a circle to cut apart. (mistake #3, don’t make your data work out perfectly). Needless to say here, I had many reflections after this lesson. This was definitely not my best moment as a math coach (I am at a new school this year). BUUUUUT!!! I loved this lesson, it was so great, even though it wasn’t! I know exactly what to do next time to make it better, and it would be an exceptional lesson with lots of mathematical practices involved! Next steps for students after this lesson–ask students what would have happened if the key was 5 or 6 to at least get them to think about this.

Are You Taller Than a Third Grader?

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With the combination of special programs and snow days, our time to teach all of the standards before our 3rd graders’ PARCC test is running out.  With this in mind, I made a graph to help third grade out using the data from the whole 3rd grade with a fraction line plot.  This type of  graph and fractions are not as familiar to third graders because they haven’t been exposed to line plots in earlier grade levels.  I put the graph in a central location where other grade levels could see it.  That way other students could experience measurement and interpreting graphs as well.

 

I started out with an area by the water fountains for repeated exposure to student traffic.

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Next I put up a strip of this amazing ruler like tape that I got at Office Depot when they had all of their special masking tape at back-to-school time.  The tape counts every 12 inches.  So in the picture below, I marked off every twelve inches with little triangles that mentioned that each 12 inches was 1 foot.  Next, I marked off the fractions of an inch with stickers.  I marked off the halves, thirds, and fourths so that students could easily see the relationship between the graph and the tape measure.Tape

Then I had students come a few at a time and measure themselves to the closest fraction of a foot.  Students recorded their X’s on sticky notes.  The only reason I had them record their X’s on sticky notes is because this ensured having them all the same size.  Line plots can make data look skewed if students don’t draw their X’s the same size.  Plus on the PARCC assessment when students drag X’s on the line plot graph questions, students drag the X’s into little boxes which makes test question boxes resemble sticky notes.  Students got to initial their X.  Also, if students in the least bit chuckled about anyone else’s height because they were short, I immediately told them they wouldn’t even get to put an X on the graph.  After I graphed most of the students from two classes, I only had two students who didn’t get to put their X on the graph because of this reason.

Here is the whole picture of everything with a more than willing model :)…Slide5

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Your Kids Aren’t Learning Their Addition Facts?…Try This (Part 7)

After using doubles and tens facts to learn one more and two more than all of those sums, that only leaves students with two facts to learn!!!Slide1

I allow students to tell me ways that these two facts can be easy to learn for them.  Most students say that 3+6 is 9 so it is close to a ten fact.  Some may be more comfortable with 3 +5, but after spending time talking about patterns with students, they will easily be able to discuss a way to get to this fact using a known fact.   The thing that is uncomfortable about using 6+4 is that students have to go backwards and it is uncomfortable for them to go backwards in counting.   Students favor going forward…cause more is better (like the commercial! :))  Also, 8+5 to me is an oddball.  I can think of no easy way to get to this fact, but most students will say that 8 + 5 is close to 8+4 which is 12 so they know that 8+5 makes 13.  Other students will say they know 8+2 is 10 so they can count up 3 more.  I really don’t like that they have to count up 3 more, but at least it is better than counting up 5 from eight.

I will have to say that after working with intervention groups with all of these fact strategies, their answers aren’t as immediate as I would like, and at times they still use their fingers.  I believe they still use their fingers because it is comfortable to them—more comfortable than thinking.  After a strategy is learned it is imperative that they still practice with flash cards so that the facts remain fresh in their minds.  I don’t work with a student population that readily has parents practicing with them at home on flashcards so the only extra practice they get is with me.

I plan on posting some of the materials I used to practice facts with the kids soon.

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Your Kids Aren’t Learning Their Addition Facts? Try This…Part 6

If you have been following the previous posts, then you will see the progression of teaching number facts strategies.  Nearly the last part of teaching addition facts focuses around doubles and doubles plus 2.  I think this is one of the hardest strategies because kids may not readily see the double when it is two numbers away. With a little thinking and prodding, however, they will see the fact without using their fingers.  Line the numbers up side by side so that students can see examples of both sets of numbers–the helping fact and the double plus 2.

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Again, when having students recognize patterns and see relationships, I like to write them out of order so that students don’t say that the numbers are counting by 2’s etc.  If students struggle to see the patterns, underline numbers to help them focus on what you want them to see such as underlining the second addends on both sets of equations.  Then underline the sums on both sets of equations.  Step back for a few moments and let the prolonged silence aid students in thinking about the relationships in the two sets of numbers.  Give students time enough to generalize about how doubles can be a helping fact.  * Note that students have already learned sums of 10 and 10s plus 2 more so they have strategies for 5+7, 4+6, and 6+8.

After this, students only have a few more facts to learn!!

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Thank you Erin Cobb!  Frames Courtesy of Lovin Lit.

You’re Kids Aren’t Learning Their Addition Facts? Try This…Part 5

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(Thank you Erin Cobb from Lovin’ Lit for the pretty border!)

Now after I have taught everything that I previously blogged about in Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, which includes tens and tens plus one.  Learning the sums/bonds of 10 is the foundation for this discussion.  One of the tens plus 2 will already have been learned because it is a double, but there is no harm in learning multiple strategies to reach one fact.  Also, doubles plus two facts will be learned later and doubles plus two will also give students a strategy to reach 7+5=12 and 5+7=12.  Allow students to recognize this on their own when you reach that lesson.  The more ownership students can have of the strategies without you telling it to them, the more they will remember the strategies and feel smarter for being able to discuss the strategies.

Again when you introduce these facts write them out of order on the board.  Step back, wait, have children quietly look at the number facts and find relationships or patterns in their head.  I use the Number Talks strategy and have them put their thumb on their chest when they find a pattern.  This keeps everyone attentively looking for more patterns without the dramatic hand raisers flailing their arms in the air.  If students say that they see lots of tens and twelves acknowledge this and then ask students to look for more.  Eventually you will get what you are looking for if you have the foundation built from the previous lessons.  If no students say that one of the addends goes up by 2 and the sum goes up by two, offer a hint by underlining these numbers so that they are focusing their attention there.  Follow this up by fact (flashcards if you prefer) practice over the sums they have just discovered a strategy for and over previously learned facts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Your Kids Aren’t Learning Their Addition Facts? Try This…Part 4

So far if you have followed my previous posts, students will have learned their bonds of 10, their +1, +2, +9, +10, and adding one more to their bonds of 10 facts.  Next, I like to focus my students’ attention on learning their doubles.  Most of the time students are already comfortable with their doubles up to 5+5 since they easily see these doubles on their fingers, on dice, and in other real world examples.  At least when working with my intervention groups, this is the case.  The doubles kids most often struggle with are 7+7, 8+8, and 9+9.   When writing the doubles on the board, kids can easily see that the sums of double numbers turn out to be even numbers or the numbers that count by 2’s.

Slide1 I also like to use videos and games to help kids remember their doubles.  Here is one of the videos that I like to use.

This is only a preview of the video.  The other part used to be free but is no longer free.  The video costs $2.49 to download the 6-10 doubles, but is worth the purchase in my opinion.

After kids have learned their doubles, show them these doubles plus one more.  Don’t tell them that they are doubles plus one more, but let them see the pattern and tell you about them.

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 Allow the kids to notice the pattern in the doubles and doubles plus one and express to you how the numbers change when one is added.  Kids will excitedly see the relationship between the double and how it goes up by one more.  After discussing the patterns from the previous posts, students will more readily see this pattern and relationship.  Then when using flashcards to follow up, students will sometimes think out loud about their strategy, and you will hear them thinking about the relationships they see to get to a new sum.  When you hear this you know you have taught them well!

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