What’s All This “Box Factory” Business?–Part 2

If you read the first post I wrote about Box Factory, then you know about the investigation we finished recently related to volume and surface area.

I think that perhaps one of the most powerful parts of the unit came on the last when each group did a reflection of all that they had accomplished during the unit.  I gave them all the posters they had created during our study and asked them to consider these things with their group mates:

They analyzed and discussed, and then went to write their reflections to turn in to me.

It was really great to read about all they’d accomplished during this unit–in their own words.  Time after time they mentioned how it was hard at first, but then as they kept trying or as their group mates helped them, they figured it out.  They noted how helpful the Math Congress comments were to them, and how these thoughts helped them revise their representations for the next time.  They all agreed that this had been a positive experience, and when asked what questions they still had, many said, “When can we do Box Factory again?”  🙂

Robinson Goes HOLLYWOOD!

See the guy in this picture?:

Well, he’s a movie-maker.  A real one.   Ok, I don’t think he’s a Hollywood movie maker, but he does work at a local university as a filmmaker, and he was making a movie with footage of our class!

Our school is working on a movie to highlight the fabulous things we do each day with teaching and learning, and I was asked to talk about how technology has changed the way I teach and the way kids learn in my classroom.  I did a short piece earlier in the day, and then he came to take some shots of us as we utilized the iPads during our math rotations.  My kiddos were pretty excited about being famous!  Can’t wait to see the finished video that showcases the amazing things that happen at our school every day.  It’s a fabulous place to work and learn!

Here are a few more that I took while he was there:

I took this opportunity to introduce my friends to QR codes, which they were really excited about using!


The Story of How Alphabox Changed My Life

I love learning.  It’s part of the reason I became a teacher in the first place.  And as my kids will tell you, we’re all teachers in our room, so I’m learning every day!

Aside from learning my students, however, I learn many things from my colleagues, as well!  That’s part of what makes me a better teacher–finding out about new strategies and techniques that are working for others and trying them with my students.  And this is how I found out about the Alphabox.  Credit here needs to go to my friend and 5th grade teammate, Genie Hong.  She introduced me to this strategy the other day and it quickly changed my life forever.  Really it did.  Keep reading. 🙂

Really it’s pretty simple: and Alphabox is a sheet of paper with boxes that each have a different letter of the alphabet in them:

But then the  magic happens.

The Alphabox is an organizer that is aimed at helping students summarize information, by choosing the most important word from a text that they’ve read that starts with each letter of the alphabet.  It can be used with anything, really, but we started with some information we needed to read and digest in our Ancient West Africa unit.

A filled-out Alphabox looks like this:


The next step is to put down the book, pick up your paper and try to summarize the part you just read using only the words on your Alphabox!  The first time around this was a bit tricky (some would even say hard!), but once we got into it, we go the hang of it, and really started to enjoy it, actually.  I’ve had several kids mention that they like how this organizer helps them really focus on the important ideas and it sticks in their brains better than things we’ve done before.  I would agree.

Here are some paragraphs we wrote together with our alphaboxes (and sorry for the fact that they have mistakes–I only got pictures of the rough drafts.  I recopied them before I hung them up, I promise!):

I love it when you learn something new and it totally rocks your world! I wonder what I did all those years before I knew about the Alphabox.  It’s so simple, but so powerful.  You should totally try it.  We’re using it all the time now. 🙂

Have you ever used an Alphabox to organize your important ideas?  Tell us what you think. 🙂

Dot, Dash, Slash, Comma (And All That Other Stuff, Too…)

We have been on a journey these last few weeks.  It’s a journey many of my students have never been on before.  And it’s related to these piles of books:

Can you see it?  All the punctuation goodness on that table?  No?  Well my kiddos can now.   Let me tell you about it. 🙂

Punctuation is a funny thing.  No?  You never thought of it that way?  Well, it’s one of those things that has gotten a bad wrap for a long time, and without good cause–in my opinion.  Many people (including most kids!) think of punctuation as a bad word.  It’s just a you-have-to-go-back-and-add-it-in-the-right-place-at-the-end-because-your-teacher-told-you-too kind of a thing.  Not a this-really-matters-and-helps-me-as-a-writer kind of thing.  And that’s too bad.  Punctuation is a powerful tool for a writer, and I want my kiddos to know that.  But it’s only a powerful tool if you know how to use it, and most of my kids don’t.  At least not yet.  With this goal, we started 2nd quarter Writer’s Workshop.

After spending a bit of time on what they already knew (or thought they knew) about punctuation, I asked them to tell me if they’d ever thought about what it meant.  Most said no.  Some even groaned a little bit at the beginning of this conversation when I said the word.  It was obvious that they’d never had a positive experience with this topic, and that made me a little sad.    As a means to hook them in, and get them to understand my goal for this study, we visited a section of a book we have read together and all love: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea.  I found a place in the book I knew we could all chew on together; the paragraph right before the big action in the book was a great place to dig in.  I asked them to talk to a partner next to them about why the highlighted sentence was written the way it was, and how it would be different if it had been written without the given punctuation.  We discovered that the punctuation (which was mainly a series of commas) was there to force us as the readers to slow down.  The part just before was fast-paced, crazy and choatic; the commas made us slow down and pay attention to what was happening next.  And what happened next was the climax of the story–without it, the rest of the book wouldn’t have happened.

So remember that pile up there?  After we set the table, and got them feeling a little more love for this idea of punctuation, I put them into study groups.  They had one goal (ok, I guess it was really two): find examples of punctuation in the texts they were given, and figure out what it means when authors use it.  They had a chart to fill out with their partners and a big chunk of time to search.

After the groups had a couple of days to study (yep, you heard right–they worked diligently on this treasure hunt for 2 days!), we gathered to collect our thinking on a big class chart.  They took turned sharing the marks they found and telling the rest of us what they thought it meant. For some this was hard thinking, since they hadn’t done it before.  By the end of the first day we had this:

Ok, that’s not exactly true.  We had all but the hyphen part, but hey–good stuff, right?  They were amazed that they had figured all this out, and that they did it all without me telling them what it was.

The second day we added some thinking about hyphens:

I wish I would have recorded this conversation, because it was so great!  It started with the discovery that a hyphen (-) and a dash (–) are actually two completely different punctuation marks, which mean (and are used in) completely different ways! (Did you know that?) This totally blew some kiddos’ minds and so we had to dig in a little deeper to figure out what each meant.  And hyphens were first.  The first two meanings were hard to explain, but once we started to find examples in the texts we were reading that fit each one, it became more clear.

Since then, we’ve come back every day to add a little more smart thinking.  So far (and we’re only a little past halfway done), we have another whole chart the size of this one, plus we’ve started a third.  The things they are discovering are amazing.  The most amazing–and meaningful–part is that they’re doing it all for themselves.  I’m not pouring the information into their heads, or having them spend time correcting sentences in an isolated exercise for morning work; we’re learning together and really focusing in on what these marks mean.  They’re beginning to care, and they’re beginning to notice these marks more and more–in their reading and now in their own writing!  They are aiming to use them in new ways, and can even tell you how a paragraph is punctuated as I read it aloud to them.  Often I’ll stop after we’ve read something in our chapter book and ask “What do you think that looks like?” and they can tell me exactly what kind of punctuation is there!

Teaching about punctuation is not hard.  But it is time-consuming, and it does require me to know more than I may have first considered about the topic, as well.  But the time that is definitely well spent.  These friends are walking away from each conversation we have with a new understanding of how to they can use punctuation just like word choice, organization, paragraphing, and voice to create a more meaningful experience for the reader.   Pretty cool, right? 🙂

Now the first section hangs on our windows, where it will be there for us to use for the rest of the year!  The goal (and I think they will make it!) is to make their punctuation chart “6 windows” long.  So far we’re at 4 or 5, and still going!  SO MUCH LEARNING!!

What are your feelings about punctuation?  How did you learn about it when you were in school?  How do you teach punctuation in your class?  If you’re a parent, what are you noticing (or hearing) about punctuation with  your student?  Please comment and let us know what you’re thinking! 🙂