Archive for November, 2013

Not many of the tasks I post about here happen due to careful, calculated efforts on my part. Sometimes I am simply riffing from another idea I see. Sometimes it is out of sheer necessity. Sometimes it is pure luck. Such is the case with this task: it was pure luck that I happened to have in my classroom, stuck in the closet, three different sizes of Play-Doh canisters awaiting purpose. And a game is born. 

The canisters happened to be empty because, as it is in life, Play-Doh when played with enough is eventually left out or falls on the floor or is eaten by hungry students and thus an empty container is born. Luckily for my students, I never throw anything away that has a lid. Everything is useful. (Seriously, the smallest containers have been in my classroom since January 2012. I'm not even sure we used the fake-doh that was in the canister because my paraprofessional would not permit it. She said, "It's fake!")

So gather the Play-Doh containers, grab an empty shoe box, and sort through your box of random or leftover manipulatives and, Voila!, a sorting, ordering, sequencing task is born. 

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For the most part the lid colors are the same. Only the smallest green lid differs from the two larger green canisters. There was no intent here; just what was available. I will probably rectify this at some point in the future–and if you want to use this task, you should probably just build it correctly to begin with–but for now, it is sufficient. 

You can see that the three canisters in each column are of three distinct sizes. There are also four distinct colors. You can use any colors you like, but I chose simple colors for the purpose of this task for a specific reason: there are objects inside the canisters that match the canister lids. 

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Notice also that the sizes of the objects are also relative: small, medium, and large. These objects fit inside the small, medium, and large Play-Doh canisters according to color. Really, this task is about as simple as it gets. 

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Below is the jumbled mess. You can start the task here by asking the students to sort the objects by size, by matching the manipulatives to the correct canister size, or matching by color. Frankly, you can have students work this task any way you like. That's what is fun about it. (I start with all the lids off the containers too just to make the mess in the box look even worse.) Differentiate the task by including less objects and/or less containers. Some students may need only one size; some may need only one color; others may need only one set of objects. Really, it's up to you. 

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At the end, all the pieces fit nicely into an empty shoe box for safe and convenient storage. You may want more uniformity in your choice of objects that go inside the Play-Doh canisters. That's fine. Honestly, I should probably be more concerned about it, but again, for now, it works just the same. 

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This task came together in a matter of about 10 minutes or so. It was easy to build and it will be a nice addition to our classroom curriculum. And not only that, but we have saved space in our local landfill by keeping 12 empty Play-Doh cans and a shoebox out of it. 

I would categorize this as a math task; however, we are also working with fine motor skills too. It is a chore for the students to remove and put the lids on the Play-Doh containers so they will have to work at it. I also use tasks like this for measuring what I call 'time on task.' That is, it's a long task that I want the student to work at for more than 5 minutes. 

So enjoy the task. Let me know about your use and variations on the task. I'm always happy to hear from readers. 

Related articles

Building Curriculum: Recycle, Reuse
Cereal boxes, breakfast bars, etc: Reuse, Re-purpose, Recycle, pt 3
Recycle, Reuse: Country Time Lemonade Containers & Film Containers
I Love Old Shoe-Boxes: Recyle, Reuse, pt 2
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I confess that I am not much of a math student, but that doesn't mean I do not try to be the best math teacher I can. In my multiple-disabilities, self-contained classroom, I am the students' sole source of match instruction. I take every opportunity I can to learn about math, math techniques, and ways to teach math that eschews worksheets. I work very hard for my students because they deserve my very best efforts. And math should not be boring.  

By that I mean I am always looking for new, creative, and interesting ways to teach math concepts. I recently attended a two-session math seminar hosted by our local State Support Team and featuring math professor Ky Leigh Davis from Muskingum University and learned about some fantastic tools that I can add to my toolbox. Ideas shared during that seminar inspired me to come up with my own ideas. This post is about one such idea. 

This quick math game I invented for my kids in order to learn either addition or multiplication. So depending upon which skill you want to teach, it serves both purposes. 

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What you see is two separate number grids. Both grids contain the numbers 1 through 9. We intentionally mixed the colors. It is not necessary to do so, and one can use more than two colors if you like. You could use the different colors to differentiate (notice all our lower numbers are one color and the higher numbers are a different color) or simply to make the game more interesting. 

Another important aspect is to make certain the numbers are mixed up on the board. It is probably unhelpful to put the numbers in order; although, it might not matter at all. It just depends upon your preference. 

After you have assembled the two boards, laminate them. This will preserve the boards for many uses (especially since the game will be played on the floor). You can make the boards as big as you like. Ours are about 18 inches square. We also used pre-manufactured numbers as opposed to trying to write or draw them in freehand. I think it makes the game more uniform and appealing–plus, the numbers are big for those who may have visual impairments. 

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After the boards are assembled, it is up to you how you will play. Again, it can be either addition or multiplication. (I suppose the game can also be used for division and subtraction, but the number boards will have to be adjusted accordingly.) Make a 'plus' (addition) sign and a multiplication sign to place in between the two boards in order to remind the students during the game what sort of math equations they will be working with. Or, as a way to vary the game: make a stack of cards that feature addition (+) and multiplication (x) signs. When a student comes up for their turn, they must choose a card. The sign on the card will determine if the student is to perform an addtion or a multiplication problem.

Now, originally, I thought about having the students throw darts at the boards in order to choose the two numbers they would add or multiply. Then I got to thinking…hmmm…Special Education…darts….nah; bad idea. So I opted for bean bags. The gist is this: the students toss the beanbags, the beanbags (or whatever you use) land on two numbers (one on each board) and the students either add them or multiply them together. (I actually got the idea from a game I played as a kid called 'Toss-Across'.)

Here's a fun variation: do both addition and multiplication. Let the student choose which calculation they wish to make and award points based on difficulty (if, in fact, you make it into a team based competition.)

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This is a simple task that you can use as a group or even for individual work. The kids are learning addition facts and/or multiplication facts while playing a game. The kicker is, they are having fun and learning math at the same time. These foundational facts are so important to the students' future ability to master higher order mathematics that really this is not just as task for special education students. This is a game that anyone can use or play in any classroom, at just about any level. 

Have fun. Be sure to let me know how you use it so that I can add to my own toolbox. 

PS–this is also a great way to help the children exert some gross motor skills, practice mental math, and learn about social cooperation during game play. That's what I love about building games like this: so much can be accomplished during the course of one game. Good luck.

I have a book called Tasks Galore and the task I will share in this post is, to be sure, a riff on a task found in that book. Credit where credit is due and all that. I have modified my taks and made it a little sturdier and, as always, I have used recycled materials to accomplish my task. 

The task is a simple sequencing or sorting task–it just depends upon what you want to accomplish with your students. It is flexible and can easily be modified to suit your needs. Here is a picture of the completed task.

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The materials you will need are as follows:

1. One shoebox

2. Three Countrytime Lemonade containers (minimum)

3. At least six empty film containers w/lids

4. Six plastic counting bears (or other manipulatives of your choice. I used six because that is the six basic colors available.)

5. A few brass fasteners; rubber cement; tape.

Step one is to wrap the plastic film canisters in colorful paper that matches the color of the manipulatives you have chosen. That's why I use the counting bears. There are six basic colors which makes choosing colors easy. 

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Next, you will want to secure the lids of the lemonade canisters to the lid of the shoebox. I turn the lids upside down and using the rubber cement to secure them to the shoebox. While they are securing, I punch a hole in the center and addd another layer of security by pushing a brass fastener through. Now, I push the brass fastener from the top of the shoebox so that the part that gets folded down is actually inside the lemonade lid. Note: only fasten two of the lids to the shoebox lid. The third lemonade lid will remain loose so it can be screwed back on top of the lemonade containter where you will store all of your manipulatives when the task is not in use. 

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In the above picture you can see the fasteners attached to the outside of the lid. At this point, your project should look like the picture below.

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The third step is to wrap the larger part of the lemonade container with a picture of a 'stop' sign. It's not terribly difficult. You can see the sample in the first picture. This will alert the students to the fact that 'this is where the task ends.' You can use different words besides 'stop'. 

That's about it as far as assembly is concerned. When it's all assembled, you can store all manipulatives and parts inside the shoebox. In the picture below you can see how everything fits nicely inside the shoebox for easy storage. (You can also see the brass fasteners. For an extra layer of protection, I cover the fasteners with tape.)

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The final step, then, is simply to open up the task and let the students get busy working. What I like about this task is that it is easily manipulated to form other sorting or sequencing tasks. Here is how the task is set up:

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 You can't see them very well, but in the third lid is the smaller lids for the film canisters. The task follows three steps:

1. Choose a colorful canister.

2. Choose a matching colorful bear.

3. Put the bear inside the film canister.

4. Put the smaller lid on the canister.

5. Place the canister inside the 'stop' container. 

It's a simple task that I use with my students who have autism or other developmental disabilities. And again, you can alter the task to suit your needs: create less steps; create more steps; change colors; etc. 

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This is a fun task for students and it also manages to find a way to recycle stuff that might otherwise end up in a local landfill. 

Thanks to Tasks Galore for the inspiration. Enjoy the task. If you use it and make modifications, please let me know what they are so I can incoporate them into my own version of the task. 

I am a special education teacher. I wouldn't have it any other way. I proudly love what I do. 

I recently began the initial steps of my Ohio Teacher Evaluation System procedures by sitting down with my principal and having my pre-observation interview. It was a lot of fun. 

Much of the interview was about the lesson my principal will be observing, but a good deal of it also revolved around my professional development, teaching style, and relationships with colleagues. I was also asked about my philosophy of education–which I interpret as, "What is your relationship with your students?" Here is what I had to say. 

I try to incorporate everything into my lessons. I think my age is one of my assets with my students. I am honest with them [my students] about what they have to face in life and how their education will aid them in future endeavors, and how a lack of it will hinder them. I encourage them to remember that they have something to contribute to this world. I encourage them to break the shackles of helplessness–which parents and otherwise well-meaning people impose upon them. I positively brow-beat [just a wee bit of hyperbole becaues I don't actually, literally brow-beat] them with the idea that they are responsible for themselves and their actions. I also remind them daily that they are loved and cared for. I try to be to them all the things that teachers and others have not been to me. 

In other words, I work very hard to love my students. I work very hard to make certain that they are achieving as much as they can daily. I do not wait for a principal to observe me. I do not wait for my students to take assessments. I do not wait for my yearly evaluation to be put into my hands. I don't wait for value-added data to be published. I take the responsibility of educating my students very seriously. Considering how much time I put in, maybe too seriously. 

What I do is go to my classroom everyday with the idea that I am never going to see my kiddos again and that I have a lot of work to do with them, for them, and on their behalf. I refuse to be lazy in my classroom; I refuse to produce lazy students. Furthermore, I refuse to allow my students to be lazy in my classroom. Just because a student has special needs or are differently-abled does not mean they are exempt from the rigors and challenges of this life. 

I do not want my students to find themselves at some point in life where they can not take care of themselves. In other words, I think about the what-ifs of life each day. I am especially honest with parents about this too. 

Special Education is not about hiding students in a closet and getting them through year to year with the least expenditure of energy possible. It's not, to be sure, even about getting them to pass Alternate Assessment or other tests the state and federal government impose upon them. (It's an obscene amount of pressure put upon students so that my job will be safe.) Special Education is, on the contrary, about helping the students to function in the real world as freely, as fluently, and as and as frequently as possible.

I despise people who take the path of least resistance when it comes to education, even more those who do that in special education. Our students deserve our 100% effort every single minute of the day. Am I really loving my students if I do nothing but perpetuate helplessness? If my students think I am lazy then what will think I expect of them? Or, how can I expect my students to put forth effort when the example I set for them is one of laziness and indifference? 

It may sound mean, but I give my students as little help as possible in the classroom. Sometimes they need my hands; sometimes my feet. But for the most part, the students need my encouragement to do for themselves. This is how I best love my kiddos.

2nd Test post for FB.

Test Post for FB.

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I have a friend who was married over this past summer and who hosted her own reception after the honeymoon. At the reception, she must have had some massive dish involving green beans (blech!) because she saved the giant empty cans for me, 5 in all. She cleaned them and brought them to school for me. I love these cans!

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That's a lot of green beans!

Well, as it turns out she asked me if I thought the cans would be useful in my classroom. I immediately said, 'Yes!' and about  a month ago we found a use for them. I designed a very simple game that the students absolutely love playing. Seriously took about 5 minutes to invent this game. Here's how we play it.

First, I set the cans up in some sort of configuration on the floor. I make sure there is a wall behind them. Next, we draw a line on the floor with tape and the students have to line up behind the tape. Third, we grab a ball: ping-pong and tennis balls work best because they are small and bounce and cause small damage if they bounce too hard and far. 

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Next, inside the cans I place simple things: numbers, pictures of various coin collections, sight-words, addition/subtraction problems, etc. For example, the next picture shows some simple double digit numbers flashcards I downloaded for free from HaveFunTeaching.com. (I think they were skip counting flashcards.) The cards were then cut and laminated. I place the cards in the cans and the game is ready to begin. 

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We keep score by making a simple score chart on the Smartboard and placing each student's name in the graph. Using the double-digit numbers example, when a student correctly reads the double-digit (say, '22' for example) they receive the amount of points they just read. So, if they read '22', they get 22 points. On their next round, the values are added together. In this case, 22+10=32 and so on and so forth. We keep score and whoever has the most points at the end gets a prize from the prize box or a pat on the head. 

So, the student stands beh iind the line, softly tosses or bounces the ball towards the cans, the ball will either land in a can, in which case we take the card out and they read it, or the ball misses, in which case the student retreats to the end of the line until their next turn. 

You can play as many rounds as you like. I have found this to be an especially fun game when we have 15 or 20 minutes of 'nothing to do.' It is easy to set up and is so flexible. Like I noted above, you can use sight words, number cards, addition/subtraction flash cards, multiplication cards, or whatever. Coin collection cards are fun too because then the students have to add the various amounts of cards and they get that much 'money' for their score. 

Safety note: please make sure when you open the cans that you use a safety opener that will eliminate any sharp edges from the tin. I don't let the kids near the cans anyhow, but this is an important safety tip so as to prevent injury to yourself and, most importantly, the students. 

I hope this little game is helpful to you and that you will find a use for more stuff that might otherwise end up in a landfill.