More on Spelling Investigations: Kids at Work

I was excited and inspired by the conversation I had last week with my teammate about spelling.  To share with each other this week as we’ve put the investigations into practice has been even better.  Similarly to the punctuation studies I’ve done over the years, kiddos figure out all sorts of amazing things when you get out of the way and let them discover!

We began with a story about names.  As I had talked with Mitzi, my teammate, she started telling me about how they had decided to spelled her new grandson’s name, explaining the rationale behind the combination of letters and connections between his first/last name.  It made me remember doing the same thing when we chose how to spell my daughter, Allison’s name (Allison, Alison, Allyson; should it be Allie, Ally, Ali for a nickname–it was hard work!), and it became clear that this would be how we could introduce the investigation to our kiddos, too.

After I told Allison’s story, I showed them that thinking with my name…


…and then we tried it together with Grant’s:


By this point I think they knew what I was going to say was next (and they were excited to do so), and so I gave them the invitation to try their own name.  We talked about how it was easy to see the different sounds/chunks/letters when we did it in different colors, and we talked about the kind of paper to use, but beyond that, they had free reign to find whatever they could.  Before releasing them, though, I made sure to help them see our purpose as I asked this question:  How does knowing about our names help us become better readers and writers? Some kids worked alone, and some talked to their friends while they worked.  Whatever they chose to do, everyone investigated their names. 🙂

The room was abuzz with conversation and electricity as they worked, asking questions, making suggestions and trying things out with their names or their friends’.  By the end of the first day, everyone had found some pretty interesting things about how their names work.

On Day 2, we went a little deeper, and our job was to take the chunks/sounds/letter combinations we’d found the day before and do something with them.  I showed them an example with the -er in my name:


Together we made a list of as many words as we could think of (or find) that had that -er chunk.  Along the way a couple of suggestions were made that I knew had /er/ spelled with -ir, -ur and -or, and we saved those for later (that’s more for Days 3 and 4!).

After this inspiration, kiddos did the same thing with whatever part of their name they wanted to work on.  Again, some worked alone and some worked with partners, some just wrote words they knew, and some used other resources.  It was great to watch how differently each kiddo approached the challenge.  As I looked around the room, I saw iPads, dictionaries, and kiddos using classroom text (including the word wall!) to find words that matched their patterns.  Students had even more energy and excitement about this job today and spent more time digging in and investigating.

As with our punctuation studies, the focus is not on the activity itself, but on how the learning that comes from it will help us in future situations.  Even though we’re only 2 days into this official investigation, there are already glimpses of how kiddos are using this knowledge in other places.  In almost every reading group I worked with this week, someone’s name was used to help us figure out other words.  We kept adding to a big ‘ole list of words where the letter a sounds like a u (like almost half of kiddos in our class!).

I’m excited to see what happens this week as we continue to use our names to connect to new things!

I Speak Greek When I Teach Math–PART 2

Wow–I’ve been doing a horrible job with updates lately!  I’ve left this one hanging for over a week, and I’m sure you were waiting on the edge of your seat to hear the rest of the story, right?  Well, thanks for being patient. 🙂   The “rest of the story” will actually end up being told in two more parts.

Remember how we were working with a problem about ranch dip and I was baffled by what was going so wrong?

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Ranch dip problem, part 1

Part 2

Part 2

Well, what I don’t think I told you last time was that I had a conversation with a colleague of mine, who happens to be a fabulous math teacher, too, and we agreed there could have been many reasons why this was trickier than I had intended.  I decided to tackle these issues one at a time.  The first one we thought of was related to the context.

I think I may have taken for granted the fact that my kids would know about teaspoons, tablespoons and just the whole act of mixing it all together.  There were actually several kiddos who could not relate to what I was talking about with making the dip, so I decided to fix that problem.  I hoped that using the recipe would help them better understand what I was asking them to figure out.  So we got cooking!


First, we reviewed the recipe and talked ingredients so we made sure we knew what to do. See how handy our iPads are for jobs like this? 🙂


Sorry, this ones a little blurry, but we’re smelling the spices the recipe called for: onion powder, garlic powder, parsley and dill. Many hadn’t ever seen these before!


Oh, and there’s basil in it, too! Smells yummy already!


The recipe calls for sour cream, but I decided to use plain yogurt instead. Man, I must have been stirring fast!


We discovered another part that was important (and in many cases missing) knowledge–knowing the difference between the sizes of teaspoons and tablespoons. Knowing that there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon was necessary for use in the final answer, but this was hard for some kids to image without seeing it.


Spice mix ready to be stirred!


We needed a 1/2 cup of yogurt for every tablespoon of spices.


Looking good!


I forgot a knife. 😦 Cutting a cucumber with the back of a fork is harder than it looks! Eventually I made it happen, though. 🙂


Yum! Ranch dip with cucumbers and Triscuits for our morning Math snack!

So while my cooking class didn’t solve every problem we were having (which I’ll tell you about in Part 3), I do think it gave many of them the ability to make connections they were unable to make before.  And there is so much math (and science) in cooking and baking, I don’t know why we don’t do more of it.  TOTALLY wish my classroom had a kitchen!  It has also made me and my team think about how we want to purposefully involve more of these types of activities into our classes for next year.  We’re thinking it would be a great addition and preparation for next year’s Feast Week, too.

How do you use cooking in your classroom?  What connections do you make for your kiddos to math and science?  Or maybe even reading and writing? We’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions as we make plans for next year. 🙂

1/8 is 12 1/2%

At our school we use Investigations for math.  One thing I love about the program is that it usually digs into the why of each math concept instead of just the how.   It encourages students to create their own strategies for solving problems, emphasizing that there is not just one way to come to a solution. In the case of our fraction/decimal unit that we’re in now, we are doing more than just learning the rote definition of a fraction and coloring in fractional parts of pictures or just adding or subtracting them using the method I directly taught them–like I know I did in 5th grade.  Instead, we are investigating and creating and figuring out and–most importantly in my opinion–using what we already know to discover something we don’t.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

We are at the beginning of a unit called What’s the Portion?, which includes experiences with fractions, decimals and percents. Yesterday and Thursday we were working on figuring out the percent that is equivalent to a fraction.  We started by making drawings on a 10X10 grid (which helped us “see” what was going on) since we know that percent means “out of a 100.”

We used this visual, and what we knew about fractions and percents already to figure out that 1/8 is equivalent to 12 1/2%, because 1/4 is 25% and an eighth is half of a fourth. Our music teacher, Mrs. Kesler, will be tickled to know that I even had one kiddo make the connection between this and what he knows about music notes to help him figure it out.

So after the initial idea of fraction and percent equivalents was presented, they were to dig in a little deeper.  I gave them a chart to fill in, that had lots of other fractions to work with.  I told them to fill in all that they could with the directions to NOT do thirds and sixths, that we’d do them the next day.  But what they did instead, was make it their goal TO DO the thirds and sixths.  In this case I didn’t really care that they did the opposite of what I said, because it meant that they were going to try something that might be a challenge, might stretch them a little, might give them questions to ask when we worked on it together.

And for the most part, they all totally rocked it.  They made it look really easy.  Like they’d been figuring out fraction and percent equivalents for years. (Ok, 5th grade readers—which character from one of our favorite read-alouds did that sound like?  Comment on this post with your answer if you know!!)

Here’s what our chart looked like when we were done:

The thing that I think is really remarkable about the thinking behind this is that they are already getting comfortable with going back and forth between fractions and percentages, and can tell you how that relates to a group of things, like how getting 10 out of 20 of your spelling words right is 50% or that 3/4 of a class of 24 is 18.  There is understanding being created that goes far beyond just memorizing definitions.  I like that.  And they like it, too.