Coordinate Grids

The week or so before the holidays is always a little… most teachers can fill in this blank with any number of words!  Because of this chaos, I typically try to do something highly engaging and honestly, something not too terribly hard.  This year we worked on coordinate grids.  Of course, I tried to include as much tech as I could, to hold both the students’ and my own attention.

2013-01-11_2130We started the mini-unit with a note-making activity.  Students watched a video segment from called Rectangular Coordinate System.  (Searchable with the tags: coordinate grid, grades 3-5 – it is a video segment lasting 11:34).  The video segment does a great job of showing the parts of a coordinate grid and giving examples of how to find ordered pairs on the grid.  The purpose of the note-making activity was to define the vocabulary words: x-axis, y-axis, coordinate grid, and ordered pair.  They also had to tell how to find an ordered pair on the grid.

2013-01-11_2135After some instruction and practice in our interactive notebooks, it was time for a little bit of independent work.  Of course, there’s an app for that!  I used the app Butterfly Brunch as our independent practice app.  (This app is also available as part of a set of apps in Maths Attack Vol. 2.)  Students must move a butterfly to a given ordered pair to feed him his snack.  It’s a simple game that allows for students to correct wrong answers.  It is best used in a small group where the teacher can monitor the accuracy of the butterfly feedings.

Our performance assessment featured my new favorite classroom tool, the Ken-a-vision document camera and Educam app.  I posted before the holiday craziness about getting to test out this great device (see here).  Lucky for me – I get to keep using it!  With this unit I put a blank coordinate grid under the document camera and and sent the image to the students’ iPads.  I worked with students to begin identifying ordered pairs.  The students were given a list of ordered pairs to plot on the coordinate grid using the pen tool, and then uploaded their saved images to our Dropbox folder.  The assessment itself was to simply plot the points.  The fun part of the activity was after uploading the completed grid, students had to go back and connect the dots, in the order that they were plotted.  They loved the finished product!  And it of course lent itself to the season.

Students had to plot a given set of ordered pairs using the Educam app and upload their image to our Dropbox.

Students had to plot a given set of ordered pairs using the Educam app and upload their image to our Dropbox.

Next, they had to connect the points in the order in which they were plotted.  They were quite happy with the results!

Next, they had to connect the points in the order in which they were plotted. They were quite happy with the results!

We did have one other, completely not techy, activity that the students loved.  We played a game called Candy Grab – using a blank coordinate grid, students placed M&Ms on each of the intersections in the grid.  Working in pairs, they took turns rolling dice.  The red die was the X-axis coordinate, the green die was the Y-axis coordinate.  Students had to find the ordered pair and if there was candy at the point, they got to grab it.  There was candy involved, I’m sure you can guess how well this game went over!  We do recommend using plain M&Ms though – turns out the peanut ones roll unpredictably!

After rolling dice to create an ordered pair, students got to grab the candy if they could plot the points!

After rolling dice to create an ordered pair, students got to grab the candy if they could plot the points!

Overall, the unit went great and was a nice way to round out our math instruction before the holiday.  It kept the students focused, well behaved, and addressing standards – all difficult tasks the week before the holiday break!

iLesson: Literature Genres

In my fourth grade inclusion class, we started the year by studying the characteristics of literature genres.  The general education teacher and I did some pre-assessments and determined that our students had almost no knowledge of the different genres.  In order to address the Common Core Standards relating to the comparison of genres, we needed to make sure our students knew what the genres were.

Students note-make using a Literature Genres podcast.

The unit began with the students having to note-make using a podcast on literature genres.  (See blog post on note-making.)  With no prior knowledge of the word genre, it was easy to set the purpose for the note-making.  On their side of the interactive notebooks, students were to first define the word genre.  The second responsibility was to list the nine literature genres and a clue or hint for each genre.  All of this information was clearly stated in the podcast.  Following the note-making procedures, students watched the podcast twice.  The first time just to watch.  This allowed students to watch the entirety of the podcast without trying to write notes.  The second time the timer was set for 20 minutes and students were reminded how to pause the podcast to make notes.  They were off and running.

This was the first note-making experience for nearly all of these kids.  With this in mind, I stopped the timer after about 7 minutes to model my own note-making.  On the board I illustrated how I would organize my notes into a T-Chart.  I listed the first genre on one side and the clue for that genre on the other side.  However, I also was sure to state that this was how I would note-make, not necessarily how they needed to do it.  The beauty of note-making is allowing the students the freedom to create notes in whatever format is going to best help them.  After modeling the note-making and answering any questions, the students fell right back into their own note-making.

This was also my co-teacher’s first experience with note-making and podcasts.  She was stunned at the engagement of the students.  For nearly 40 minutes (20 minutes was not long enough for the students to complete the task) 100% of the students were 100% engaged in the lesson.  There were no disruptions, no behavior problems, and no off task behaviors.  All in an inclusion classroom with half of the students receiving special education services and during the last period of the day.

We finished off the lesson with a student led discussion detailing each of the literature genres and the clues associated with them.  As the teacher, I actually gave very little instruction.  It was completely student driven based on the information they gathered from the podcast.  Anticipating gaps in the note-making, and ensuring that every child got the correct information into the notes, students were given a grid of the literature genres and their clues to glue onto my side (the teacher side) of the interactive notebook.  This also served as an accommodation for my students with larger handwriting or for those who didn’t quite get all of the notes completed.  Giving students a clean copy of the notes is often an accommodation we use on the IEPs.

The unit continued with a quick look at each of the literature genres using a variety of teaching strategies, trade books, and apps.  Stay tuned as I’ll be posting an iLesson detailing our final performance assessment featuring Talking Book Covers later this week!  Attached below is the literature genre podcast and a copy of the notes that were handed out at the end of the lesson.

Genre Notes

Genre Podcast – This is a link to my class site.  The podcast is linked under the Files section of the page.  It is already in .m4v file – ready to upload to an iPod.


Teacher work days begin on Tuesday, and students start next Monday.  I’ve faced the fact that my summer is nearly over and I have (finally) started thinking about lessons for next year.  Note-making was one of the most successful practices I put into practice last year, and I think it’ll be one of the first lessons I teach after all of the rituals and routines lessons are finished.  I teach special education, so I find that traditional lecture and note-taking isn’t necessarily the most useful practice for my kids.  If it worked for them, then they wouldn’t need my support.  So, my job is to find alternate ways to help my students be successful.  Note-making was a wildly successful way for my kids to own their own notes instead of simply copying down words they may or may not be able to read into their notebooks.

We begin by practicing with our interactive notebooks.  There are so many different ways to use an interactive notebook, so I’m going to detail how we set them up.  We use a simple right/left set up.  With the notebook open flat, the left side pages are “your side” referring to the students’ side and the right side is “my side” referring to the teacher’s side.  Anything I ask them to do independently they do on “your side” and anything I give them to write down goes on “my side”.  Simple enough, right?  So where’s the tech?

I’ve found that my kids remember so much more if they own their notes.  They generate all of their own notes on topics, and then we discuss and share before I make sure they have all the information they need.  With special education students, I have a wide variety or readers and non-readers.  How can I ensure that everyone has equal access to the information?  Podcasts.

Students watch podcasts twice. The first time to simply take in the information. The second to make notes.

With new topics, instead of standing up and delivering a lesson’s worth of notes, I find or create a podcast to introduce the topic.  I try to keep the podcasts between 5-8 minutes long so that the kids don’t get bogged down in either too much information or useless information.  The rule for all podcasts in our room is Watch it twice.  Once to watch and twice to note-make.  It’s important for kids to just soak up the podcast on the first watch.  If they are focused on note-making when they initially watch or listen, then chances are they are going to miss something.  By giving them the opportunity to view or listen to podcast without the pressure of having to note-make, I ensure that they are attending throughout the experience.  I typically set a timer for twice as long as the podcast on the second viewing to allow time for note-making in their interactive notebooks.  Each podcast is different though, so be sure to check in at the end of the time and see if they need a few more minutes.

After the students make their own notes (which I do not check for spelling or accuracy – the only requirement is that the student be able to read or tell about their own notes), they have a five minute pair share with a partner to prepare for sharing with the class.  The remainder of the lesson is for discussion about the notes they made and me hitting the highlights with the Smartboard.  Students copy down the highlights (which have all come directly from the students themselves) on “my side” (the teacher side) of the notebook to ensure they have the essential information and to give parents trying to help students study some guidance on the topic.

I try not to reinvent the wheel with these podcasts.  iTunesU has a huge variety of podcasts available for download.  I have to say that by far my favorites are from the Tennessee State Department of Education – Governor’s Study Partner Program.  They have podcasts sorted by K-8 Math and English standards.  Since I’m in South Carolina, I typically just have to check the grade levels above or below my own if I can’t find what I’m looking for.  I can also create my own podcasts with software like Keynote or Powerpoint – but that’s another blog post.

ith best practice being student ownership of material, this note-making activity is one way I’ve found for my kids to truly own their education.  Additionally, it provides an opportunity for my students, who may not have on grade level reading skills, to access the same information as their non-disabled peers without stigma.  The automatic hook of using the iPods or iPads keeps them engaged in what otherwise would probably have been a fairly boring lecture.  I have very little behavior management issues after the first few weeks of school.  I’m incredibly strict in my “One and out” policy.  You get one warning with the iPods.  If you can’t follow directions or follow the rules, you lose the use of the device and complete the task using a textbook or reading passage instead.  It typically takes one or two students losing the iPods to prove my point, and then I literally have no behavior problems.  Instead, I have a group of students actively engaged in making their own notes and learning the material.