Tag Archives: 4th Grade

Math in a Movie Trailer

Last Wednesday at a PLC meeting, our district instructional technology specialist did a presentation on Blended Learning.  She did a beautiful job of demonstrating apps and web-based activities at various entry levels, so each teacher could participate. One of the fourth grade teachers expressed an interest, and a bit of fear, in trying to use ipads as part of her classroom routines. Since I had been in her room doing some math coaching the previous week, I offered to help her design an activity and give her a hand in the classroom with the ipad piece if she was not comfortable.

We met the next day to start our planning! She was just ending her 3D math unit in which students had been identifying 3D shapes by their silhouettes and attributes and finding volume of a rectangular prism. As a culminating activity, we decided to have the students create a movie trailer in iMovie that “told a story” about the unit. I sent the teacher home with one of the ipads to “play around” with iMovie, since she was not very familiar (or comfortable) with it.  I was so excited to come in the next day to see a trailer she had created at home that night! I LOVE when people jump right in!

This is how our lesson played out over the next two days…

– We created a room in “Todays Meet” on their ipads and had students go in and do a test post.

– We posted the question, “What is the purpose of a movie trailer?” in the TM room and let them type as we showed two movie trailers (Percy Jackson 2 and Despicable Me) on the SMARTBoard. When the trailers were over, we switched back to TodaysMeet on the SMARTBoard to go through their comments and have them expand on them. Here is a clip of the conversation:

TodaysMeet– Next we asked them to continue chatting about things they learned during this math unit. We noticed they were just writing one or two word things so we asked them to expand a bit and use more of their 140 characters. Sample clip:

TodaysMeet2– As a class we scrolled back through and had them stop and ask questions of each other if they didn’t understand what someone had posted. They were so engaged and they all kept asking if they could do this at home?!? YES! Next time I will leave the room open for a longer time frame so students can post as they think of things at home! What a great way to open class the following day!

– We took them through a brief “tour” of iMovie and let them move to a place in the room to look through the themes and storyboards and start brainstorming ideas for their trailer.

– To help them organize their thoughts, I had put a template of the storyboards: http://tinyurl.com/c3g5r2e in the Dropbox that was on each ipad. The students exported the PDF to UPad Lite: Upad

and let them play around with how to write on the document with pen width and different colors.

– The following day, students got in their groups (of 2-3 students) to plan out their storyboard and decide on pictures they need for their trailer.

When we meet on Monday, we are taking them around the school and outside to take pictures they need for their trailer. They are working this week finishing up the project, so this story will have  To Be Continued…

Mathematically Yours,


Who is Coaching Who Here?

I am so fortunate to be involved in a wonderful state-wide cohort, MiST (Math Instructional Specialist Team), organized by MSERC and made up of specialists from the University of Delaware, the Delaware Department of Education and districts across the state. This year, one of our foci has been content coaching, looking deeply into the structures that need to be in place and how it can be used to develop lead teachers in our schools. Our latest “homework” for the group was to try content (math) coaching with a teacher in our building.

At my school, we do not have a coaching model in place as of this current school year. However, with our implementation of the CCSS, we are writing a district plan that involves structuring a content coaching model into each of our elementary schools. We are fortunate to have both a math and reading specialist in each elementary school, so we are starting with a foundational structure in place.  I thought it would be great to “try out” a coaching situation with one of the teachers in my building to bring back to MiST and get a feel for how it would work.

I have a wonderfully open 4th grade teacher in my building who is always excited to learn and willing to have me in her classroom and go through this process.  I find one of the more difficult things of coaching is finding that teacher who is open to having someone else in their classroom and sees the value in the learning experience.  I really lucked out with her! We met a week prior to the the day I would be in her classroom to choose the lesson and chat about which area(s) she would like to focus. The lesson we chose was on linear equations and in our pre-conference she wanted to focus on the timing of her launch and how to meet the needs of her “done early” and struggling students during the lesson.  We  planned a day to meet within the next few days to discuss the details of the lesson more thoroughly.

Having never taught this particular lesson before, I read and re-read the lesson, taking notes on the math involved, the launch of the lesson, how to extend and intervene for the students. I really was feeling the pressure to know EVERYTHING about the lesson and be overly prepared for any questions asked of me.  I think I was more nervous about this meeting than she was.

The day we were meeting about the lesson (pre-conference), I got to her room only to find out the plan had completely changed. She had just found out that in another RTI group (where @ 6-8 of her students go) they had already done our planned lesson. Oh No! We had to refocus quickly (45 minutes of planning isn’t much time), so we looked ahead to where she would be in her core math class and chose another lesson.

This was probably the BEST thing that could have happened to me, although at that moment, I found myself starting to get nervous.  I am a planner. I feel as the “math specialist,” I need to have all of the answers to any questions the teacher may ask. Which is so ironic bc with students, I am completely OK with saying “I don’t know that answer, let’s check it out” but with adults, I put pressure on myself.  With this unpredicted switch in lessons, I instantly went from coach to co-learner and it was awesome.  We read through the new lesson, asking questions as we went, learning from each other. I was offering ideas, she was offering ideas and we collaboratively “lived” the lesson for her 45 minutes of planning time. We talked through questions (inspired by Lucy West) such as: What is the math in the lesson? What previous experience have the students had? Who will struggle? Who will be done early and what will they do? What will the share out look like? Would you like me to chime in during the lesson?

She taught the lesson the following day, I filmed it, and it went beautifully! (I will be blogging more about the actual lesson soon).  Her classroom culture and routines were evident from the way the students respectfully disagreed with one another and moved around the room. I was so impressed with her! I cannot even express to everyone the excitement I felt when I left the room. I felt the success of the lesson as if I had taught it myself. Things we had talked about in the pre-conference came out from the students during the class. Things we had not thought about came out from the students. I feel like we had a mutual investment in the lesson, both feeling equal responsibility.  Our post conference is set up for next week, so I will blog about both of our reflections on the lesson and the process….so stay tuned!

It led me to ask myself, what does this coaching structure really look like? Who really coaches who? I would argue that this is really a multidimensional coaching model. I offered insight into “the math” of the lesson, the classroom teacher offered questions and insight into her students’ minds, the students offered comments for us to think about in upcoming lessons. When our district revisits our CCSS implementation plan and structure for coaching, this type of experience is critical in setting up those structures.

So thank you to my MiST peeps for the knowledge, motivation and safe environment to learn and share experiences. Thank you to my amazing 4th grade teacher for being so open to having me in the classroom and willing to learn through this with me. Thank you to the students who teach me something new every day I walk in the building.

Mathematically Yours,


Negative Talk Is Not Always a Bad Thing.

My job as K-5 Math Specialist has many facets (too many sometimes) but luckily, a few times a month, I have the opportunity to teach an incredible group of 4th grade enrichment students.

Last month we were playing a fraction game called “Pot of Gold” in which students were adding and subtracting fractions using pattern blocks based on the fraction they rolled on a die.  The game typically ends when a student has lost all of their “gold” (pattern blocks) and the person with the most wins. In one group a student had a trapezoid left in hie pile (1/2 of the hexagon whole) and he rolled ” – 6/8.” He should have been out of the game because he didn’t have 6/8 to subtract from his pile, instead he asked me if he could just have negative 2/8 and try to “earn it back.” I asked the group what they thought and they were all on board so the game continued with the students going back and forth from positive to negative fractions, earning and owing as they went.

That comment opened the conversation up to negative numbers and unfortunately we ran out of time that day (isn’t that always the case?). From that point on, every time I saw one of them in the hallway they kept asking (hounding) me to come back and do something with negative numbers. I love when students are begging to learn math, how awesome!  I scheduled my time with the teacher and then started to plan, it was much tougher than I thought!

The class is a mix of students ranging from those who had a handle on what a negative number is and others who did not. I was worried about some forming “rules” and others, who did not have a good sense of negatives, memorizing them without understanding. I was stressing because I am a bit type A with planning, but I decided to take the pressure off of myself and just let them own this conversation. I could not be more happy with my decision!

The class started and I gave them 5 minutes to write everything they know, don’t know, can draw, have questions about positive and negative numbers. I opened it up to questions first and let anyone in the class who had the answer, answer their peer’s question. I thought I would only hop if any untruths came about.  I could type all of their responses, but I think seeing their writing is so much cooler: Image



ImageI cannot even describe how awesome this conversation was, students were asking and answering each other. I had my phone out, looking up answers to questions like, “When and why did negatives come about?” and “Are there negative Roman Numerals because IV for 4 seems like a negative?” We were ALL learning!

So where to go from here? I remembered a tweet from Andrew Stadel (@mr_stadel) about midpoints of numbers and I thought since the number line came up when talking about negatives, this could be an awesome problem to leave them with:

ImageI had another group to teach and had to leave, so we quickly talked about midpoint being the middle of two numbers (of course one student yells out “median”… I love this class) and I left them with this tweet.

I came back to the class later to collect their work and it was just awesome. They gave me so many things to talk with them about next week, I can’t wait! Here are some sample works:

Photo May 10, 3 54 46 PM

Where would you go next with this group?? I loved the comment in the brainstorm that said, “Positive number – the higher the number, the higher the value. Negative number – the lower the number the higher the value” Hmmmm…do we get into absolute value?

I loved their strategies for midpoints…most used number lines, some found the distance between, divided in half and added to one of the numbers…do I keep going with this?

They also questioned a lot about addition and subtraction of positives and negatives…do I focus on this with the number line being the model?

So much information out there in one short lesson….but what I really learned from this lesson, was sometimes the best plan is to not really have a plan. Let them lead, let them talk, let them be in charge of their learning and they will open up more learning opportunities than you can imagine!

Mathematically Yours,